On October 27th-28th, service designers from around the world gathered for the 9th Service Design Global Conference in Amsterdam, returning to the city where the very first conference was held back in 2008.
With 650 participants, it was the largest ever SDG conference, reflecting the way in which the industry has both grown and matured over the past few years. Many of the presenters discussed the rewards and difficulties of being embedded within large organisations, as service design shifts from being a ‘fringe’ topic to the core of strategy and operations.
Service design has also spread far beyond its European roots, and it was fascinating to hear how some of its central concepts are being challenged and adapted in other markets and contexts. The idea of a minimum viable product or service (MVP or MVS) did not go down well in the ambitious and competitive culture of the United Arab Emirates, as Simone Carrier and Muna Al Dabbah explained in a fantastic presentation about redesigning government services. Cathy Huang and Xue Yin of CBi China Bridge explained how they overcame misunderstandings in China about service design thinking due to its implicit Western bias by relating its central concepts to the Five Elements in Chinese philosophy and medicine. And Felipe Cabezas and Stefano Bianchini suggested that in the Arab world, design has to be positioned as solving a problem that boosts the bottom line, rather than just a creative or aesthetic activity.
Another central theme of the conference was where service design fits in with other methodologies such as agile and lean. Our strategy director Geke, who was also MC for the event, gave a presentation the topic of ‘Agile collaboration with large interdisciplinary teams’, based on what STBY has learned from working with Google over a progressive series. She shared her way of finding a balance between the need for fast, iterative cycles of design research and the need to build long-term value for an organisation: creating a treasure trove of shared assets that can be referred to later.
Finally, the conference drew to a close with a standing ovation for Dominic Wilcox’s passionate and hilarious presentation about his exploits as a designer and inventor, reminding us all of the beauty, humour and humanity in design that led us into the field in the first place.
Here’s a beautiful summary with brief write-ups of the contributions, accompanied by marker sketches:
For readers fluent in Dutch, here are two interesting articles about the conference: