2 June 2017

Making sense of people – SD Drinks #1 Recap

Not long ago, mct Inc. hosted the first opus of SD Drinks, a series of casual gatherings initiated by mct Inc. and Designit to bring together Tokyo’s Service Design enthusiasts.

With the emergence of the service economy, Service Design has become more and more important in helping companies to invent, develop, and deliver service experiences, and has thus gained incredible momentum in the business sphere. In Japan however, Service Design is still a young discipline. Service Design practitioners are still a rare breed and not a lot of cases can easily be found. SD Drinks aims to gather the Japanese Service Design community to share, learn and grow the discipline locally. For the first opus, we had the pleasure to listen to Eric Frey and Shiho Ishihara from mct Inc. and Sandra Lin from Designit Tokyo sharing their thoughts on how to ”make sense of people”.


Eric and Shiho kicked-off the evening by sharing some helpful dos and don’ts regarding user observation. Observation is one of the pillar research techniques employed in service design projects, yet that requires practice and skills to get the most insights out of.

There is never just one way to observe people – the observation approach should always be tailored to the subject, considering three fundamental parameters: the systems, people and their context.

Some situations require designers and researchers to go to the field with child’s eyes, scouting for as much details and insights as possible from all angles. In some other cases, they go with hypotheses in mind, looking to confirm or infirm preconceived ideas. The two approaches will lead to radically different insights, one broader one more precise, and opting for one or the other will orientate the rest of the project.

When talking about observation, most will picture researchers studying users in their natural environment. While this is certainly the most common approach, Eric and Shiho shared that observing people during co-creation sessions or while they are interacting with a solution’s prototyping can bring complementary insights.

Clients are people too

Most service design practitioners would agree that the human component is key to designing great service experiences. Yet, the “humans” that we most of the time refer to are either the end-users or the service providers (staff, hosts, operators…). Whilst they are for sure the primary targets of a good service, another group of people should always be taken into the human equation: the project’s initiators. (Yes, them. Your clients.)

In her session, Sandra touched on the topic, sharing tips and methods for Service Design practitioners to better understand the people who initiate and finance their projects.

To start with, clients are people too. They come with their share of emotions, desires, preconceptions, fears… and lacking to take them into account is minimizing the project’s chances for success. After all, when working on the consultancy side, designers don’t own the solutions they design – the people in the client organization will be the ones carrying through after implementation and handling the long term consequences of the project. Making sure they get involved is making sure that the solution will live on.

Sandra invited designers to make projects personally meaningful and motivating for the clients. What success looks like for them? What motivates them in the project? What are their personal achievement goals? Leveraging one-to-one discussion or casual encounters to pick their mind and answer those questions will help the project initiator keep the passion throughout the project developing journey.

Service design is intrinsically collaborative and involves multiple stakeholders from various parts of the organization. The price of a holistic approach is that multidisciplinary teams can come with a variety of opinions and priorities as well as a lack of focus and ownership. Providing a common vision for the project and designing co-creation sessions that get stakeholders excited are key roles of the Service Design practitioner.

This first SD Drinks was a real success thanks to the energy of the 30 attendees, from all kinds of backgrounds, who also got to share their thoughts and own experiences over food and drinks after the talks.

We are looking forward to the next SD Drinks, which will happen in our Designit Tokyo Lab. If you have stories to share, or you are just interested in Service Design, please join us and come grab a drink with the Service Design community!

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