Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

An Interview with Service Design authors Andy Polaine and Lavrans Løvlie


We’re thrilled to report that Service Design: From Insight to Implementation, went on sale just moments ago! Written by service design educator Andy Polaine, and Lavrans Løvlie and Ben Reason – both founding partners at live | work, Service Design is very much a practical book. But it also provides a Big Picture of service design, putting this emerging and increasingly critical field in perspective for designers of all stripes.

We got the chance to sit down and ask Andy and Lavrans to give us some insider tips on their experience in the field of Service Design. Here’s what they had to say:

Rosenfeld Media: What are a few things you’d wished you’d known before you got into the field?

Andy Polaine: I wish I knew more about the way MBAs think in order to be able to relate what we do to management in a language they are used to working with. I wish I had known more about working with qualitative field research, particularly the results and how to make sense of them. Synthesis is something that most people learn on the fly, but it’s an essential skill.

RM: So, we need to be better at “MBA-speak”?

AP: Well, designers of all flavors are often loud about championing the user/customer and we focus all our empathy big guns on them. But we’re pretty awful about turning that lens back on our clients and understanding what their issues, beliefs and motivations are. It’s easy to bang on about human-centered design if you’re not the one having to explain why you spent money on it to a board or shareholders who live their lives in spreadsheets.

RM: Could you point out some common mistakes in Service Design so we can avoid them?

AP: Don’t get caught at either end of the telescope. It’s easy to get totally bound up in the details of one particular touchpoint, especially if it has some kind of sexy, new technology attached to it and forget the simple stuff and the overview of how participants in the service move through the entire service ecosystem. At the same time, it’s easy to get caught up in a great, big concept idea and ignore the fact that the details make all the difference.

RM: How about a Service Design horror story?

AP: I once killed someone with a Post-It note. No, not really. But, due to a cancellation and a switch of interviewees, I once ended up interviewing a bunch of lawyers at an oil exploration company about their views on hydrogen fuel cell cars and future transport trends. Naturally, they were a little hostile to the idea. In any case, they refused to sign any release forms, would not let me record anything and refused the interviewee fee (who would have thought lawyers would turn down money?). I insisted I make notes, at least, but had to wrap it up pretty swiftly. This was in 2007 and the place was decked out like an office in Dallas from the 80s.

Lavrans Løvlie: The label was born in the 90’s in academia in Europe, mostly connected to sustainable product design. As far as we know we were the first company in the world to turn it into a commercial proposition. During the early 00’s London was a hub for new design thinking, and benefited from a perfect storm of young designers eager to challenge the industry, a political climate that funded research projects via the UK design council, and customers that were eager to push the boundaries of using design to drive innovation.

During those years we worked systematically to collaborate with other design companies to build a market, define a shared set of language and methods in the industry, publish, teach and research with academic institutions, and to educate the market. By the second half of the 00’s the core thinking of the field was relatively solid, and we have seen hundreds of companies develop Service Design propositions, and clients across the globe put the thinking into practice

RM: So, why do services need design?

LL: Because design serves society, and our biggest challenges in the developed world isn’t any more about satisfying material needs through products. Over the last century have gone from seeking a better standard of living to seeking better quality of life. In simple terms, the world does not need new chairs, but we need banks that work for citizens, health services that provide better for people, transport solutions that don’t threaten the environment, public services that truly serve citizens needs and communication services that enable us to keep in touch with people we care about. All the great challenges in our developed world is in the service space – and new solutions need design to keep the human at the heart of development.

RM: We’ll ask you what we asked Andy: What are some common mistakes in Service Design?

LL: The reason many Service Design projects fail to reach the real world of the market is that designers struggle to understand how difficult it is to implement change. Services cross channels, and impact not only on customers, but on technology, staff, organization, culture, and processes. In short, they affect organizations in broad and complex ways. A humble approach to the challenges that clients face in making concepts real is needed in order to help them reach people with new services.

RM: Thanks guys!

Again, the book is on sale March 13 – today! You can also win an ebook version thanks to a contest sponsored by our friends at Readmill – just follow them at @Readmill. Finally, Andy, Ben and Lavrans will present a free webcast on Service Design through our partner, O’Reilly Media, tomorrow (March 14)!