Teaching service design

One of the most striking things about service design as a field is how diverse it’s applications and it’s impact can be. Makes you wonder what you have to teach anyone who want to get into the field. Should we only be teaching designers about services or businessmen about design? How does it have to be taught anyway? Is a service just another type of brief for a designer? Isn’t design such an alien thing to a businessman? Hard questions the world of service design will have to answer in the future if it wants to move beyond conferences where the same names are mentioned over and over again. It’s great that there are pioneers in the field, but where will the new blood come from?

Here are a few suggestions:

In the next few years, growing this academic community will be key in answering key questions like “what is service design?” because defining a curriculum will enable professionals and students to establish a “territory” for this field (something the interaction design community was always terrible at doing) and give credibility to the methods that service design promotes in order to adress some key global issues such as sustainability.

Note: We thank Alexandra for this second-guest blogpost, hopefully more will follow! Be sure to check out Alex’s blog and read about all the interessting things she does!

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Als medeoprichter van 31Volts houdt Marc zich bezig met het verleggen van grenzen binnen service innovatie. Marc helpt organisaties om waarde te creëren voor hun klanten door middel van design.

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  • Comment by Marc Fonteijn

    Thanks for sharing your views Alex!

    What are the important lessons that we can learn from existing Interaction / Experience design educations?

    Make me wonder, why don’t we apply service-prototyping to Service Design courses. Just start off and improve along the way.

  • Yes that would be a great idea. Have one brief that’s adressed with different methodologies over and over again and with different crowds, to see what works out and what doesnt.

  • Comment by Paul Thurston

    Hi Alex,

    I liked your post, it certainly rings true with much of what we are working on at thinkpublic.

    Recently we have been talking about how students can begin to understand these new areas of design, there are obviously some examples where it forms part of the curriculum but this is only in a select few places. I also feel that service design, co-design and experience based design are practical design disciplines which need to be learnt outside of the design education environment.

    Last week we launched a programme called The Real Work Experience, it is only in the early stages but aims to get design students working within public service organisations. I believe that when design students understand how their skills can be applied we will start to see more and more graduates starting to push how else they might apply their skills.

    Student design competitions like the RSA’s Design Directions are starting to address this issue from outside education, although tutors and universities need to be more aware of these opportunities.

  • Hi Paul,

    I agree that the practical applications of service design don’t always fit in the educational environment, but maybe that’s a challenge that needs to be adressed. Many young people I’ve been involved with lately come out of school with unrealistic impressions about the world of design and finding a way to integrate service design in gap years or internship programs could become an interesting way for those young people to develop skills they can apply later. Your program sounds great in that respect.

  • Comment by Marcel Zwiers

    Hi Alex, Marc and Paul,

    I’d like to participate in your discussion about teaching Service Design.

    Last school year I had the opportunity to work on a self initiated project with students of both HKU (Utrecht School of the Arts) and HU (department Business School).

    The project started of with a relatively simple dilemma and turned out to be a great Service Design project. What happened!

    The challenge I presented was to find out what the value could be of a Coffee Kiosk for the social quality of the Utrecht Parks.

    At the HKU I worked with students in Architecture. I talked to them about the challenge. They decide to do a survey and bundle their results in a book. ‘Strong’, coffee with a concept.
    The results where great. They didn’t, fortunately, come up with a newley designed little kiosk. In stead they applied there creativity on the social context of a kiosk. For example, they found out that a Kiosk would be great to have on the little square besides the Utrecht Conservatory. Not because of the nice square, but because of the piano music that fills the air…

    Working with the Business School however was a complete different story.
    My attempt to have them think outside the box, and try a new kinds of market research didn’t work out.
    I wasn’t interested in a answer wether park visitors would drink coffee in the park. What we really wanted was to learn how people experience the parks. Even the slightest form of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking was way out of their league.

    Therefor my view is that I do think that the best way to go is to start teaching designers about services. Things like being able to think in concepts and work in co-creation are strong designer skills.

    It was a great experience to see that the enthusiasm amongst the student to research in different ways was nice to experience.

  • hey Marcel,

    I agree with you that teaching services to designers seems to make sense, but when it comes to building sustainable business models for those services, it can sometimes seem like the leap is too great (web2.0 services are a great example of that)

    In the US at least there seems to be increasing interest in pitching design to the business world as an essential “tool”. I wonder if they are more successful at making business people think out of the box.


  • Comment by Bas Kools

    Great to see this discussion happening in the Netherlands. I’m a graduate from the Royal College of Art London, Design products and looking into finding my way in the world of service design, at the moment just in London. Last week I was at a meeting hosted by ‘Think public’ about how designers and design education can meet and communicate with companies in need of a service designer. they called it ‘The real work experience’ and there should be an active discussion on-line soon.

  • funnily enough Paul from thinkpublic was commenting earlier about this on this thread :)

  • Comment by Marc Fonteijn

    Alex, I think your right when you say that design could be (or is) a tool in business. What’s interesting to me is design-thinking. The way that designers approach problems and the methods they use to find solutions is in my opinion the most valuable thing designers have to offer in the business world.

    The thing is that I have no “traditional” design background (e.g.. product, graphics of industrial). I was educated to _design_ computer software. But by working with Marcel for quite a while now, who does have a traditional design background, I’ve noticed that we share a lot of the same mindset. Most people define designers when you have a traditional, creative background, but in my view designers are people with a skill, mindset and talent to find fresh solutions for problems.

    So we come to the question once again but this time from an other point of view. Who are the most likely (and logical) design students to introduce Service Design to?

    BTW, could you elaborate somewhat on your web 2.0 example?

  • There’s an issue here of people being “creative” while not necessarily coming from a design background. I consider my bf for example to be an extremely creative software developer. Maybe this is the key, defining what “creative” means in the context of a service design project (a holistic approach to problem solving, the ability to find hidden opportunities, etc). These are qualities that don’t necessarily require a specific background, and thus where does education stand in regards to service design in that sense? Could someone from a completely different background be enticed to join a service design program? What are the best ways to attract such people?

    Re. web2.0, I would take advertising as an example of a technique that is “tacked on” o a lot of online services to make them financially sustainable. There is a lot of that going on, more clever businesses have found better ways (37 signals for example).

  • somewhat related this article is interesting in terms of questioning how we will educate the students of tomorrow

  • Comment by Marc Fonteijn

    Like this discussion shows, a Service Design project can require very divers skills. I agree that the question needs to be stripped down to what the core would be of an service design course. It’s an interesting discussion but maybe we should ask someone who had to crack this question before. There is a Service Design course at the Koln International School of Design, we could ask them :)

    On the design background thing, let’s throw in design-thinking. What’s the overlap between creativity and design-thinking. Can you teach someone to be creative? Can you teach someone how to “think in design”? Before we get into semantics I looked up what wikipedia has to say about this:

    Creativity (or “creativeness”) is a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts.

    Herbert Simon, in the “Sciences of the Artificial” (MIT Press, 1969) has defined “design” as the “transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones” (p. 55). Design thinking is, then, always linked to an improved future. Everyone is a designer, and design thinking is a way to apply design methodologies to any of life’s situations.

    Now that we’ve sorted out that everyone is a designer. We only need to know which specific skill are involved in the design of services :)

31Volts [Service Design]