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Service Design and Design Thinking, a Designers Set of Tools

Arne van Oosterom, founder of the DesignThinkers Group and the Design Thinking Network, talking with Anne Kurth at the d.confestival 2012 at Potsdam.

What is Service Design and what is Design Thinking for you?

For me, both mean freedom. It is the freedom to look at a bigger picture, harness personal creativity, and gain business talent. So freedom is very important. This idea allows us to talk about things that are significant because they are a part of an occurring change. It’s a small part of a big change. These discussions are more intense than before. For me personally, it means that I could start effectively doing what I was already doing for a long time, by using all my talents and giving this attitude a word. So you can discuss the meaning, but the most important of it is that it gave me this word that tells people what I’m doing.

Sorry, are you talking about service design or design thinking?

Oh, for me both terms mean the same thing. One is an attitude and a mind-set, and the other is an open toolbox. I have been a design thinker all my life. Like many other people, and I think everyone is a design thinker, because every human being is creative. You can’t go around and live your life if you are not creative. We are all creative problem solvers, except that we are sometimes in environments where we are not allowed. Schools can have educators that don’t utilize these tools and capacities. It makes it very scary if you don’t know what you are doing. In universities and businesses its normal behaviour to pretend you know everything and you know what you are doing. But there is no human being on this planet that knows everything or actually knows what they are doing all the time. You know we are all insecure beings, but insecurity is the source of creativity. If you are not allowed to be insecure you can’t be creative, and if you can’t be creative you can’t innovate. So if we want to do creative problem solving, we have to do it in a space of insecurity. This is a space of I don’t know that. A space of let’s get through things, let’s unpack everything, we don’t know an answer, and let’s go ahead to the real question. I think there is always another question that we don’t know at the beginning. At school for instance, they don’t teach that. They teach that you must have one specific question or idea before you find an answer or solution. But there must be a moment. A moment that be stretched as long as you feel it must be stretched. You won’t know until this moment happens. Then you can get inspired, ask questions, and explore.

And you have to be curious?

Of course, you need curiosity. Most people are curious but they are blocked. And we have to move that blockade and we have to move that blockade from companies as well. They need that kind of attitude to see the whole picture and now in most companies nobody sees the whole picture. Everybody is in their own little silo with their little budget. They fight for it really hard, with each other, and nobody sees the whole thing. This way has been successful, very efficient, very linear, and it’s not successful anymore. So you have to do something else, but if you don’t know how to get out, it’s difficult. I met a guy on a plane who kind of inspired me. He said it’s like being in a war. We are in trenches and we shoot at each other and it goes on and on. We need someone who says, “Hello, excuse me, why are you in the trenches again?” And if we refuse to stop, for someone to say, “Hey folks, it’s Christmas, let’s just stop fighting and have a celebration together.” It seems to be a sort of need for people to have an overview. And they need someone who says we can’t do this, there are other people doing other things. I think this attitude is most important: What brings design business and start questioning! Researchers think in the same way as well as entrepreneurs. If you are an entrepreneur you are always searching, trying, and experimenting. And you are very insecure and don’t really know what is going on. I really believe in this serendipity. There is no trick, no one-way of doing things. You have to keep moving and when you keep moving, you do all kinds of different things until serendipity happens. Some people tell me, I know the trick. We did this and then the results were that. Design and Design Thinking is all about inspiration and looking at a bigger picture, unpacking everything, and then putting it back together again. This allows serendipity to happen and that is I how I live my life and I how I do my business. It’s a very powerful way of doing things. But I never forget to see the whole thing.

So the process is like an evolution, going forward and step back until serendipity happens?

It is an evolution of many ways and it is not only about learning. Certain things will go, disappear, or other things will flourish. If you stick with that thing is flourishing at the moment, it is going to die in a year or two or whenever. You have to be open for other things and actually that is a mindset, a way of life. It’s an attitude that will enrich your life as well, because you’ll learn a lot, which creates energy and movement. We use design thinking and service design like that, whatever the change that is going on, because it has been going on for probably more than 100 years. But it is happening now, because there is something going on and we don’t know exactly what to do with it. That creates space for us to cradle for more freedom and to learn that competition is not contemporary anymore.

What is social innovation and what is your understanding of innovation in general?

I don’t know much about social innovation. I would say, that it could be a form of public services or a kind of society concept. People say they do social innovation, which can be all kinds of things. It could be service design or a part of design thinking again. For me it’s the same, but innovation means a mindset, it’s a way of giving freedom to explore, make mistakes, to try, to sketch, etc. But it also gives you the opportunity to really listen, look at what people are doing, and have an understanding. You should be open and see what people do because lots of innovations happen. At the moment there are some innovations that are built on another idea or on behaviour. People behave in a certain way or use technology in a certain way. There are many different ways of innovation, but for business it is important to collaborate across discipline, in multidisciplinary teams. There is creativity, not so much design, but design tools. Creative mindsets enable people to talk to each other and allow the process to happen. It creates confidence in the process, confidence that the process is good, and to accept the process. By accepting the process, people take responsibility for it and this is the key. Taking responsibility for a process means you can have ownership of the process. Taking ownership of something also means that if something goes wrong, it is your fault. So if you don’t take ownership you stay completely clean. And many people stick with that attitude. Another thing in innovation is the following problem: We work for a lot of companies and what we see is that they copy each other. They want to be more competitive and then they build the same machine as their competitor. The product has the same parts, the same machine, maybe they give it a different colour and another name, but they have the same people, organizational process, the same hierarchies, the same bonus-systems, the same visions and mission statements. In other words, they are basically the same. They build the same machine, but expect a different result. But of course not, because they produce the same thing as their competitors. They wanted a future thing, but used the same approach. Banks act like this too. For example: the front door of a bank is usually their website. This is a problem, because banks are all the same anyway and if you don’t even see people, or a concrete building what will be the difference between the bank and other banks’ websites? What they do is opening experience centers and they all do it. What is the difference? So innovation again comes from forgetting about being a bank. They need to ask themselves, what is it that people using us for in their business? What is the consumers reason to choose the bank, is it security or do they want to save something. There are goals. Let’s start with these goals, how can we help them and where can’t we help at the moment. That creates a lot of space and that is innovation that takes courage. It takes people to say let’s step back for a minute. So what do we do with top management at these banks, we tell them that we really have to do something, we create an internal team. We involve them, because, they have all the knowledge and they have the skills. They are really smart people in their business; they know their business really well. Then we go slowly to a process of creating ownership of this process. They feel that this is their own process; they want to move, because it’s theirs. They want to start with it and innovation can happen. But it is not just about coming up with a wonderful new technology or great ideas, because you can innovate on many different manners. Here’s an example: A large Norwegian oil company uses a different budget structure, they thought about a question: Why do companies hand out the budget at the end of the year? And they successfully changed their system. But other companies do it in this strange way. What do you think about an employer that says you will have a loan at the end of the year but then there are three weeks left in the year. If the business does not run properly then they say, “sorry, too late.” Such an attitude is hampering and constraints our innovations. Companies do not have the courage to be really different. Apple is so successful, maybe because they make beautiful stuff or maybe because they have good services. But the biggest reason is, they own software and hardware retail service channel. They own everything, the whole range; there is no other company that had a vision like this. Their strength comes from owning the whole chain, which was the new idea of apple. The conclusion is: if you want to be competitive, you have to build something.

Often clients want rapid solution for their design task. Do you have a formula how to convince companies to partake in a more structured, holistic, strategic design process?

This is one of the greatest problems. Well, in many ways it is probably impossible, because the company or management is short time thinking, because management is a short time job. So there is no ownership. There might be shareholders who play another game like selling and buying pieces of companies, a completely different realm. They try to create ownership by giving dividends or shares to CEOs, they think this might create more ownership and by this way a more long-term and more sustainable affiliation, but this doesn’t work at all. The opposite is true.

Because they feel more secure?

Yes, because if they sell more stuff they earn more money. Having no ownership in companies, compared to family businesses, is a big problem. Family businesses have tendencies to think in long term. To most of our clients we have a good relationship, because we work on long-term projects, we changed their organization structures and the way they organize their culture etc. These are companies with a very good understanding, that something needs to be done. And this is not about another campaign, or doing some session with management.

So you have a formula or not?

Our formula is to engage with companies that are on the right level, having conversations with them, creating platforms with and for them.

How are your experiences with small and medium sized companies in this context?

They find it very difficult to hire us. So we work with them through government agencies, which are more connected to SMEs. They have programs for these companies. We work for instance for Amsterdam innovation department, we run workshops for SMEs, so that is how we do this work and how we do trainings, all kinds of workshops, where they can come (because they are affordable), that is the way we engage with them and invite them, so they can actually join us.

For SMEs you can do a lot and effects are quickly visible, they seem not used to design thinking and many design methods. What do you think?

You can do a lot, because you can talk to the CEO there. In these sizes he is not god, he is just someone on the top level of the hierarchy you can talk to. An important thing in innovation is the wired situation in most companies. Many people feel frustrated, because they don’t have connection to higher management and they don’t even know that they exist or who they are. We try to establish a plan that higher management gets more involved. We call them placards of resistance – they have a group and try to trick their management in innovation.

Are they aware of design thinking?

No, service design is actually more common. In Europe it became quite popular. Things like customer journey mapping. Most companies we go to now have already done customer journey mapping. They really don’t know why, why they are researching, designing, and building something, but they want to come further. So it became quite popular.

For companies, that think very economic the measurability of Design Thinking or Service Design is not convincing, do you have tools for that?

No, because if you think like that, forget it. Then just don’t do it, please. Answer this question: What is the risk of not being innovative? How much does it cost you in long term to not innovate?

We are exploring companies that conduct with alternative concepts like anthroposophical concepts or special organization forms, so companies that invest in values – do have any idea why these are so successful?

If the companies are strong in their vision and translate this into Key Performance Indicators, bonus systems, and incentives, into a corporate culture, the way their organization and values create a fit for their customers and customer needs. If this is aligned, then you are unique, because the combination of values and vision creates a unique company. There’s a famous video by Simon Sinek about the golden circle. He explains the importance of companies, why they do what they do. Most companies start with “what do I do? I sell computers. How do we do it?” They never really answer the how. The how is the most important aspect. First of all you have the values and the vision of what you do. Then there is a person, who lives his vision. And people trust that. I do many presentations about trust, what is trust … if you don’t make it really explicit, you will have a problem. Because everything is about community and relationships, and here, trust is so important of both companies and employees. IKEA for instance, they made a bank. If Vodafone would do it, nobody would trust in that. Why? Because they are liars, this is their problem because they believe their customers are the enemies.

What should we communicate to young designers?

Trust in yourself, be yourself, don’t think you have to know everything. Nobody knows everything. We try stuff and we are insecure. Experiment, and try to be happy. Don’t try to be a businessperson. That is really bad. Like a colleague once said: “I started this company and I got millions from people. Investors were interested and I recognized I am building a company I never wanted to work in … so this way something is going wrong … design your space, your life, make something that makes you happy.”

Do have recommendations to challenging subjects or conferences?

Go to conferences that are not about design. Go to conferences that are about optical fibres or something else. Get inspired, go to places where they are not talking about how great designers are. Go to photography conferences and learn how to frame things, contexts change when you are framing in a different way. I’m fascinated of mathematics. They say, if the creation is beautiful, its possible right.

Several studies come to the conclusion that companies that have a very high design level are also highly innovative, do you agree?

I think design is all about being creative and then you are innovative. You have to invent something first and invention is building up something. If you see something that you haven’t seen before you may even not recognize it. It’s all about connecting things. Creative people see connections and they connect things that others didn’t have seen before. If you are design driven you will have people who see connections. And creativity is about connections.

Interviewer: Anne Kurth

18. März 2012, Kategorien: Blog, Soft Skills, Über Design