Design for change – Highlights from the Service Design Global Conference 2023

Authors: Andrea Goebel, Lisa Gumprich, Chu-Yi Vuong

Jamin Hegeman and Adam Cochrane

The Service Design Global Conference is one of the most renowned conferences in the field of Service Design. For the 2023 conference in Berlin, IBM iX partnered with Service Design Network (SDN) and became one of the main supporters. We were delighted to host a pre-event, workshops and to have Billy Seabrook representing IBM iX on stage.

This year’s theme was “Catalyst for Change” and the conference was exploring the role of Service Design in times of change and disruption. Innovation, digitalization, and environmental shifts are changing the way we live and work and service transformation is at the forefront of this change, by creating new service experiences that benefit people, the planet and organizations.

For us, the following topics stood out throughout the conference and we would like to share some of our personal highlights, insights and key take-aways in this article:

AI & GenAI

AI & GenAI —
AI as a driver for change

Billy Seabrook

AI’s role in our practice is expanding rapidly – and AI and generative AI were surely talk of town throughout the conference. The various talks & discussions circled around 2 perspectives:

  • impact of AI it on our work as designers – augmentation in design process etc.
  • to design AI-driven experiences (resonsibly, trusworthay design…)

On pre-conference day, we shared our experience in design for AI with conference attendees in our workshop “Designing Services in the Age of AI” – drawing from different methods from EDT and Design for AI, we explored with the participants how to design trustworthy AI experiences. We structured the activities along Purpose – Value – Trust  – sharing ideas on how to create value for businesses and users alike – and how to address critical and ethical questions (e.g. bias) early on in the process. We were amazed to have such a great group of participants from all over the world – Iceland, Ukraine, Canada, Japan, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and Germany – bringing in their diverse perspectives.  It was a truly successful day with great results and great feedback from the participants.

At the conference, several speakers brought their unique perspectives on AI to the forefront.

We were proud to have Billy Seabrook, our Global Chief Design Officer at IBM iX, sharing our views as IBM on the topic of AI. In his session “AI At Your Service” he took a deep dive into the transformative power of generative AI in the realm of service design.

It emphasized how AI has raised the bar for customer experiences, demanding hyper-personalization, intuitive interactions, and empathetic service delivery.

He illustrated how generative AI can help design and deliver enhanced services, drawing on practical insights from IBM’s work at the US Open. He also shared his view on how generative AI will augment and accelerate our design process.

That was also Cameron Hanson’s (smart design) take on the topic who shared her experience in using AI to validate takeaways and provoke ideas during research and concepting. In her talk “Augmented Intelligence: Using Generative AI in Participatory Design,” shed light on how generative AI can serve as a participatory design tool. Her presentation delved into its potential to foster rich and meaningful interactions with research participants, expedite solution iterations, and catalyze innovation. It also addressed the critical aspects of safety, ethics, and bias that need to be balanced when employing AI in this context.

Mauro Rego (Google) encouraged us to critically assess AI’s application and prioritize back-of-stage processes, rather than front-line solutions. In his keynote talk, “Designing Services with Generative AI,” he addressed the evolving landscape of generative AI and its applications in service design. He delved into the growing possibilities and implications of this technology, providing designers with a roadmap for effectively integrating generative AI into their service design processes.

It was great to see these 3 talks coming together and collectively providing a comprehensive view of how AI is reshaping the field of service design, offering both practical guidance and critical insights into its potential, ethical considerations, and real-world applications.

Sustainability —
Putting our planet at the core

Miranda de Groot

As we are hearing it everywhere, we need to think about our impact on our planet but how can we do that and especially in the field of service design? Many inspiring talks proposed ideas on how we can integrate that into our daily work but something important that we have learned was that we, as service designers, already have the tools to design in a planet-centred way as Miranda de Groot, Service Design Leader for Circularity at IKEA, said.

However, in order to act sustainably, first we need to understand what it entails. As Samuel Huber, Co-Founder For Planet Strategy Lab, said in his talk on “Recalibrating Service Design for a Regenerative Future”, sustainability contains everything that we have at the moment and it is about not making it worse. It is a starting point and a foundation but not enough in order to call something planet-centred.

One significant aspect that we were asked during the conference multiple times was to make our planet one of our stakeholders and most importantly, we were asked to bring the planet “alive”. We are already good at making the needs, pains, emotions and jobs to be done from users visible to stakeholders and we do that by taking different people who are affected by a service into account. This is at least what we do when designing a service experience but why don’t we do the same for our planet? To make it easier for us, Samuel Huber suggested writing a letter from the planet’s perspective in which wishes and concerns are being addressed to the project team, whereas Miranda de Groot gave the idea of using a toy that represents the planet and physically sits in the room to help us not forget their needs.

But making it tangible is not enough. Designing with the planet at the centre means ensuring circularity and therefore regeneration as well.

What regeneration means is that we go a step further and enrich what we have in a meaningful manner (Huber, 2023). To accomplish that, it can be helpful to integrate our 17 Sustainable Development Goals, into the process as well. Thinking about the Service Design Blueprint, it might be worth adding a lane in which we add the sustainable development goals that we would like to tackle within our service. Furthermore, adding another lane, to map out the needs and pains of our planet, as well as thinking about the phase after a service has been used, can assist us in designing in a regenerative manner.

For sure there were even more interesting processes and ways of working that were presented at the conference but these were one of our key takeaways.

Healthcare — Collaboration in design drives the healthcare sector

We already knew, the healthcare system faces numerous challenges. Three innovative ideas demonstrated how to design for change in the health sector.

Today agency’s Strategic Design Director, Dewani Shebubakar, and Service Design Lead, Alex Moshovelis, shared insights on how they helped people let down by mental health systems. In their talk “Lived and living experience leading the transformation of an entire mental health and wellbeing service system” we learned about their unique approach to transforming the system. They created a trauma-informed framework with a focus on Safety – Trust – Choice – Collaboration and Empowerment. Therefore they collaborated with a peer group to develop better guidelines based on their own experiences. Of course changing their habits and learned patterns implied complexity to handle, but this gives us the chance involve all their perspectives for the best help at the end.

”24% of bystanders who experience a life-threatening emergency develop some psychological symptoms, with 7% symptomatic for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).“

Anna Hellmer, Senior Design Lead, and Michelle Wehlast, Psychologist from Falck A/S, collaborated on a project to create a service at the intersection of medical emergencies and mental health. They focused on providing long-term support for families and bystanders, and explored ways to equip paramedics to handle this sensitive task.

Siobhan Manning, Service Innovation & Design Lead at Mater Hospital, highlighted the benefits of collaborative design on the frontline.

She asked the question: “How can Dermatology education be transformed to provide GPs with alternatives to outpatient appointments?” The outcome was as simple as smart, she presented 3D skin model books to enhance dermatology teaching. A better educating about skin conditions can reduce waiting times for patients and improve the healthcare understanding for practinatiors.

Following the intriguing talks, the speakers convened in a panel moderated by David Russo to deliberate on the future of healthcare and the role of service design in addressing the challenges. They agreed that service design can bridge healthcare gaps and make inclusive care accessible to all.

All photo credits: Service Design Network

In summary, the conference proved to be a powerful catalyst in terms of change and expertise, infusing us with a surge of energy and inspiration.

Reflecting on the talks, we feel like, it all comes back to what Service Design is, especially what Lou Downe has mentioned in their keynote at the end of the conference. Designing a service means that we understand how something that we can influence might fit into a service experience that we are not in full control of and to see how we can contribute to help and reduce unpleasant experiences. And as we have learned, the one who is experiencing the service is not only a human being.

It was a lot of fun exchanging ideas with so many passionate people and being a part of this amazing group. We are eagerly looking forward to attending the conference again next year in Helsinki.


Our industry experts are looking forward to a personal exchange!

Andrea Goebel
Design Principal & Senior Design Director, IBM iX Berlin
Lisa Gumprich
Associate Design Director, IBM iX Berlin