This is what LDF events look like. Image from Infestation website.
The London Design Festival is where designers come to party and to launch their new work each year. People get excited about what others in their network have been working on over the past year, and support each other by going to launch parties. There’s free booze and opportunities to meet your design heroes every night during LDF if you know where to go, and you’re constantly surrounded by beauty. It’s a hugely exciting, buzzy thing to be part of.
When I got into service design, I was really sad to leave the festival behind for a bit. I couldn’t understand why service design wasn’t part of LDF. Why was LDF only showing product and furniture design? There’s so much more to design than just those disciplines, especially in this creative melting pot of London.
In 2014, by chance, I bumped into someone who used to work for LDF at a gallery. I knew him from having volunteered for the festival as a student. I started complaining about service design not being part of LDF, and he agreed that a change should be made… and gave me his new card: he’d become the director of 100% Design (a big important commercial design show).
After that, I HAD to do something. I met up with a few people I knew, who encouraged me and helped with the practicalities. We had a big service design event at Designersblock in 2014, and then 15 events across London in 2015, and this year, we’re planning about 20 even better events.
We’re not affiliated with the London Design Festival: we’re ‘fringe’ in that we’re happening outside the bounds of LDF. It kind of works well because service design is still ‘fringe’ as a discipline right now.
Apart from having a great party, the festival aims to tackle some teething problems of the emerging service design industry. Three big ones:
- Not enough people have heard of service design.
- It is difficult to get a job as a junior service designer.
- There’s not enough sharing of best practice in a safe critical environment – something we very much need to enable positive useful growth of the discipline.
So, here is what the service design fringe festival aims to do…
Increase RECOGNITION of service design
- Put service design in front of the public, so that service design becomes a thing the public has heard of, so that we don’t have to keep explaining ourselves to clients and friends.
- Link the service design industry to the wider design scene, so that service design will be recognised by other designers.
Nobody asked me what a furniture designer was when I was doing that – because they have heard of furniture designers before. They weren’t surprised that furniture was designed. One day it will be a given that services are designed, and I won’t have to have that conversation any more.
Consumers are increasingly interested in services – we’re moving towards a service economy. We need more service designers, and people that know how to design other stuff often make great service designers. Product designers could benefit hugely from using service design in their work to consider the system around the physical objects they conceive. So, let’s help connect all kinds of designers to service design.
Increase EMPLOYMENT of service designers
- Demonstrate the value of service design to potential employers and clients, so that more jobs are created for service designers.
- Connect service designers to potential employers and clients.
- Support the creation of career paths within service design.
I struggled to get enough freelance work in 2014. There weren’t enough contracts to go round. There weren’t enough opportunities for junior service designers to work with a senior service designer to learn. There are many junior service designers, but the jobs on offer need experienced service designers – of which there aren’t terribly many. But how can a junior service designer become a senior service designer without experience? We need to figure out how to develop career pathways in service design.
My LinkedIn inbox always has an unread message from a recruiter in it now, which is an exciting development. Service design was too young three years ago for recruiters. However, recruiters still have a way to go in understanding service design skills in order to match people to the right jobs. Also, lots of people hire service designers then have no idea what to do with them. If we can help people understand how to work with service designers better, service design work will be more effective.
There’s plenty of networking opportunities during the festival. I know anecdotally that someone got a job last year because she came to the festival. We want to start measuring that properly this year.
Increase CRITIQUE & therefore VALUE of service design work
- Encourage an attitude of helping each other improve practice as an industry. Less competition, more collaboration.
- Connect service designers to others’ good examples of best practice.
- Create an environment for discussions that push what service design can be, and therefore increase its value as a discipline.
A few years ago, I was working for service design agencies and itching to share my work to other people – but it wasn’t allowed, because there was so much competition to get service design work from clients. Now, there’s plenty of work to go round – so we can finally be more open with our methods and examples. At the festival, we don’t want just the shiny bare minimum information; we want to hear the difficult knotty bits – the weak bits of service design – in order to collaboratively improve it.
The festival can be a hotspot for critical discourse based on practitioners’ lived experiences of working as service designers. What is said about service design can be very different from the reality of working in the industry. Together, we can work out best practice on working in different kinds of contexts. By sharing our ideas and experiences and knowledge, we will vastly strengthen service design as a discipline.
If more service designers are put to work (because it’s recognised and people are connected to each other), more delightful customer experiences are going to be created in the world.
The experiences will be more delightful still as the industry shares best practice and critiques itself, increasing the value of service designed effects.
The change that we want to see can only happen if we all get involved. Please come to the festival – share your experience, ask questions (even the ones that seem basic and ‘stupid’), and point out the elephants in the room. Everyone is welcome – whether you’re a service designer, a client, another kind of designer, or a curious member of the public. Everyone’s ideas can help make service design better.