Qin Han – Mind the gap: Theories and practices in managing stakeholders in the service design process
This paper presents on-going PhD research that explores an emerging design field – Service Design, where designers with service organisations from public and private sectors develop service offerings that create value for both customers and providers at different levels.
The emergence of this design field is not only a result of developments in design methods and techniques but also a response to the movement towards service-based economies in many western countries.
In the UK, the service sector has grown at the expense of manufacturing: the data from British National Statistics (2000) showed that ‘the services account for around 70% of the Gross Domestic Product (GPD).’ The social, economic and technological changes in the 21st century have driven service organizations to search for more innovative means of bringing a deeper understanding of user experience into service systems, with the aim of winning the market competition and/or meeting the increasing public expectations. (Pine and Gilmore, 1999)
As creative professionals, pioneering designers quickly take on the challenge of introducing people-centred design approach to these organizations. This approach encourages designers to understand and engage with different stakeholder groups, especially users, in the process of service development. Consequently the complex stakeholder involvements generate the opportunities to explore new types of design practice and to create new roles for designers in service innovation at a strategic level.
How to manage the complex stakeholder involvement in the Service Design process is the particular focus of the research, which emphasizes the management rather than technical perspective of Service Design by comparing Service Design practice with theoretical principles from Service Management literature.
Although linking Design and Management is not a new topic, most research in the field studies collaborations between designer and organizations when the focus is largely upon branding, product innovation, communication and spatial design. The literature describing collaboration between organizations and service designers is less well established.
This absence in knowledge has already attracted some attention from scholars around the world. For example, Rosan Chow and her colleagues in Germany explores new methodological approaches for Service Design research (Jonas, Chow and Schaeffer, 2009); Birgit Mager from Koln International School of Design and Shelley Evenson from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design are looking at Service Design from an Art perspective (Mager and Evenson, 2008); and Lucy Kimbell (Kimbell and Seidel, 2008) from Said Business School in Oxford studies the impacts of service design on high-tech businesses.
At the same time, a number of design consultants from different backgrounds have begun to work with both public and private organizations in designing complex service systems, which includes Live|work, Engine, Plot, Think Public and We Are Curious in the UK, IDEO in the US, and DesignThinkers in The Netherlands. However, compared with the diverse types of practices in Service Design, the research seems to be limited to the study of design tools, methods and processes. The reflections from a management perspective can occasionally be captured by personal reflections by practitioners’ online publishing media such as blogs and project websites. A systematic investigation of how the service design process is managed with multiple stakeholders’ involvement and how the service designers constantly re-define their roles in today’s changing world is noticeable by its absence.
Field research at the early stage of this project suggested that the practice of Service Design is fast developing yet diverse. Due to the absence of an established framework in Service Design in the design literature, theories and principles in service studies were adapted from other disciplines, especially Service management (Normann, 1991; Cooper and Edgett, 1999; Hollins and Shinkins, 2006), Service marketing (Palmer and Cole, 1995; Zeithaml and Bitner, 1996) and customer experience (Schmitt, 2003) to create a conceptual model (see Image 1). This model aims to link the contribution of design to existing principles of service development. However, rather than using the model as an answer to the research questions, in this research it is developed as a method of investigating the field of practice and locating research inquires.
Five British service designers participated in the research, including one as pilot study. With each participant, two semi-structured interviews were carried out. The first interview collected reflections on a typical service design project. Using a visual mapping method (see Image 2.) developed from the conceptual model, the participant was asked to describe the people involved in the design process and articulate the key knowledge and skill contributions from different stakeholders. This map was later analyzed and compared with the principles from the literature. In the second visit, variance between the principles and the practices would be presented to the participant, followed by a discussion which explored the possibilities of overcoming or encouraging certain variations in order to improve future practice.
The findings so far suggest the possibility of linking Service Management literature and Service Design practice with a conceptual framework, which provides insights for both practice improvement and theoretical development. These findings will be investigated in further interviews with participants in the later stage of this research.
Here three main aspects of the general findings will be discussed: stakeholder relationship, design process and knowledge management.
The organizational environments where service designers operate are dynamic and many design consultancies are gradually learning the complex stakeholder relationships by working with a number of different clients from public and/or private sectors. In the four cases studied conducted in this research, the relationships within one service providers or sometimes among different service providers within one service network, appear to be more complex compared with the descriptions found in the management literature. For example while working with the public sector, some designers find that the definition of “user” is interpreted very differently within one organisation. The influence such complexity could have on the design practice is expected to be one of the main topics for further discussion with the participants. However, the management literature provides a means to relate the design practice at a meta level with the organizational development within the service provider(s).
Most of the service designers show a strong understanding of the process in NSD. Some design consultancies have developed more standardized internal design processes than the others. However, compared with the NSD models in the literature, the designers are in general fully aware of the iterations that happen at different levels in one stage or serial stages. Interestingly, some designers creatively merge different stages together by building tools and methods that serve multiple purposes in one encounter with different stakeholders.
There is a strong tendency for service designers to communicate with visual design outputs and metaphors, both within the design team and with other stakeholders. In order to collect tacit knowledge embedded in certain stakeholder groups, techniques such as card-sorting and story-telling are adapted, facilitated with carefully designed pictures, models, and even videos. These techniques are often used in different stages such as idea generation and testing stages. Furthermore, some service design consultancies, as a growing business, learn the lessons from management consulting practice, and are willing to develop internal knowledge management systems which document and assesses the knowledge created in different projects. Such a system has at least two functions for service design:
1. to prepare the designers for their future practice; and
2. to identify the absence of certain skills and knowledge within the design team at both project and operational levels.
Taken together, these findings show that the ability to connect user experience to the complex internal operation system, the highly people centred tools and methodologies designers introduce to the service development process, and the creative tools and solutions they suggest, would provide a rich base of case studies for the continuing study of service development and innovation from all disciplines.
-British National Statistics (2000) The UK Service Sector, London: National Statistics.
-Cooper R. and Edgett S. (1999) Product Development for the Service Sector. New York: Basic Books.
-Hollins B. and Shinkins S. (2006) Managing Service Operations: Design and Implementation. London: Sage.
-Jonas W., Chow R. and Schaeffer N. (2009) Service Design Descriptors: A step towards rigorous discourse. In: Malins J. (ed.) Design Connexity: 8th International Conference of the European Academy of Design, Conference Proceedings.
-Kimbell L. and Seidel V. (2008) (ed.), Designing for Service – Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Oxford: Saïd Business School.
-Mager B. and Evenson S. (2008) Art of Service: Drawing the Arts to Inform Service Design and Specification. In: Hefley B. and Murphy W (ed.) Service Science, Management and Engineering. New York: Springer.
-Normann R. (1991) Service Management: Strategy and Leadership in Service Business, 2nd edition, England: John Wiley & Sons.
-Palmer A. and Cole C. (1995) Service Marketing: Principles and Practice, U.S.: Prentice Hall.
-Pine B. and Gilmore J. (1999) The Experience Economy, U.S: Harvard Business School Press.
-Schmitt B. (2003) Customer Experience Management, U.S: John Wiley & Sons.
-Zeithaml V. and Bitner M. (1996) Service Marketing, New York: McGraw-Hill.
The author wishes to thank Professor Tom Inns and Professor Bill Nixon for their suggestions and guidance on this research, as well as all the support from her colleagues at the University of Dundee. She would like to acknowledge the contributions from all the participants, especially service designers from Aptide, live|work, Engine, Plot and We Are Curious, for sharing their experience and insights.
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