Tag Archives: service design

Lior’s 2016

Hi all! I haven’t had much time to write on here this year, so here’s an update of what I’ve been busy with. Much has changed this year for me. The top three developments: Rainmaker, the service design fringe festival, and feeling like a grown-up.

1. I joined Rainmaker.


I joined in January as the first service design hire at Rainmaker, and now there are quite a few of us. I introduced Rainmakers to service design, and it fits perfectly with what Rainmaker does. Rainmaker is a digital transformation consultancy, working mainly with government clients.

Unlike some pure service design agencies, Rainmaker has a huge wealth of experience in ‘delivery’ – a word that business/government people use to mean getting stuff done despite obstacles. Making service design activity happen can be problematic because it’s often unfamiliar in the organisation we’re doing it in. ‘Delivery managers’ know how internal politics work, so they help remove ‘blockers’ (business-speak for obstacles). This expertise makes all the difference in a service design project.

I’m pretty happy with this arrangement. I play to my strengths more. I’m part of making a more effective change in this sort of team set up.

With Rainmaker, I’ve worked at the Food Standards Agency; Business, Innovation and Skills (now Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy); and HS2. The big-picture design research project at HS2 laid the foundations for a whole ream of further projects that Rainmaker is still working on. 9 months on, HS2 and Rainmakers at HS2 are still using a toolkit I made happen in collaboration with the client-consultant team. Not bad for an intense week of work at the end of a 10-week design research project. (Ok, ok, I’m thrilled and flattered that I ended up doing something useful!)

I’ve never felt more supported at work than at Rainmaker. They are flexible and concerned when I am unwell, take me seriously if I flag an issue, receptive and collaborative when I have ideas, and wholeheartedly endorse my own enterprise, the service design fringe festival.

2. The Service Design Fringe Festival is really flying.


The 2016 festival was double the size of the 2015 festival – double the attendees, and double the events. We had 30 events over 11 days, with almost 1000 attendees in total. We had spaces in the Oxo Tower with other events going on all around London.

For the first time, the festival attracted significant funding, allowing me to hire a few part time pros on contracts for a few weeks to organise the festival together, and I could cover my own time too. We attracted 50 volunteers, though we didn’t have the capacity to work with them all this time. We upped our game in terms of quality: we invested in the website, maps, social media, and event space setting. We even have a bank account now. We got attention: I was interviewed by Design Week on my birthday, and we were in the top 3 recommendations from Plan over the course of LDF. Lots of people said nice things about us, with visitors scoring events 8.6 out of 10 on average. I don’t have anything to compare that to, but I’ve got a feeling it’s a pretty darn good rating.


We learnt a great deal from running the festival this year. The new scale brought unprecedented challenges. We anticipate that 2017 will be bigger yet, so we are working now on developing how we do things. (Please give me a shout if you know someone who’d be good as a sponsorship manager for the festival!)

My post-uni plan for years was: work for a few years, do an MA, then launch a consultancy off the back of the MA. What’s happened instead: work for a few years, learn more from working than current MAs know how to teach, occasionally lecture on MAs, launch a design festival, help build a service design practice within a consultancy. Turns out I didn’t need an MA to make cool stuff happen.

I feel so privileged to be working on something that I believe in, in a style that I enjoy. I work with people I like, I play to my strengths, I get to have ideas and make them happen, and goodness, I actually earn my living from this! However, I work so hard that I get ill, so that’s the issue to work on for 2017.


3. I feel like an adult.
I’ve learnt a bit about managing people through the festival – and my style is what I could have predicted it to be: encouraging people to trust their own instincts, which works because I hire the right people in the first place. And only adults are managers, right?!

Another thing that made me feel like a grown up was my proactive reaction to this year’s global political shifts: I asked myself, ‘what is within my power to change?’ I promptly wrote an inclusion policy/manifesto/thing for the festival, which I hope to develop and test with the 2017 festival team. In addition, I have been writing and speaking more publicly about my experiences of discrimination. I hope that by being more open about my experiences, people that don’t experience discrimination may act with more empathy than before, and people that do experience discrimination feel understood. The personal is political.

At my core, I strive to be non-judgemental; act with empathy; listen and playfully collaborate; be authentically me; and know that change is possible, one minuscule change at a time. I bring this attitude to my work and it runs through my personal life, too. I feel like an adult now because I know who I am, and I make time for what I value.

This bit of paper is pinned on my wall. To do this, you also need to know what you value.

Dear reader, I hope you have had a good year, or at least you are able to pick out the good things that happened for you this year. Despite personal & health problems, and global politics not going the direction I’d like, 2016 has been a good year for making new friends and work satisfaction for me. Big thank you to Rainmakers (esp. Matt, Jan, Tom B, Ilan, & Cotters), HS2ers (J2, you were the best), and the festival team (Katie, Harry, Xime, Culainn, Claire, Sean & Emily, Sophia, Phoebe & Jim – what stars you are). Happy new year!

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Why I’m doing the Service Design Fringe Festival

InfestationcozaThis 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.

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Rainmakers map their work on to service design process diagram

I’ve been at Rainmaker for three months now. Rainmaker is a consultancy that works primarily with government clients. They put a big emphasis on helping clients understand their user needs. I’m their first service designer associate.

The first project I did with Rainmaker was at HS2; I worked with a colleague Tom Brown who picked up user research skills very naturally and *gets* service design. I’ve just started a contract at BIS.

Tom and I gave a talk yesterday about service design and user research, and used the project at HS2 as an example. (More on the HS2 project another time.)

The feedback we got from the presentation was very positive: Rainmaker values align closely with service design principles, and there is an appetite for the service design mindset to be spread across Rainmaker projects.


Where does your work fit in to, or support, this process?

We asked Rainmakers to map how their individual skills and activities mapped on to a diagram of the service design process.



Delivery Managers, event organisers and CEOs mapped their activities in their own ways. They marked on with hearts where they particularly enjoyed the process.



I found this interesting as an exercise because it enabled non-service designers to begin to see their work through the lens of a service design process. It also enabled me as a new member of Rainmaker to better understand the skills and approaches of others, which can help me know how to work with them better.


We could do a similar exercise when a new project team is formed. We could ask for people to mark stars on skills they feel particularly good at, as well as hearts to show what they enjoy, and this could help us know how to best share out the work according to their skills, approach and interest.


Thanks to all the Rainmakers that participated!

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Jay Doblin: A Short Grandiose Theory of Design

I totally recommend this read! A Short, Grandiose Theory Of Design by Jay Doblin.

It starts by breaking down design into the definitions: design as a process, design as a state, then design to solve complex problems. The simple diagram eventually develops into…
Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.10.30

…a complex diagram.
Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.10.01

This was written in 1987. It’s talking about design applied to systems.
Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.10.13
This excites me – I would love to know more about the history and evolution of systems/service design. I like the distinction between unisystems and multisystems.

At UKTI we are certainly looking at multisystems – a vastly complex picture of not only the many services UKTI offer, but what services the whole of Britain offers exporters, and also what’s going on for exporters the world over. Such a complex picture, that the analysis part of the design process became even more important because the picture is not obvious – it’s too big to see by any one person.

I’m loving the word ‘impresario‘. The article says that impresarios with holistic approaches are the ones that design the appearance of unisystems – starting with a vision of what the user experience should be, the details of the design are painstakingly worked out. I can identify with that.

I’m not sure if I agree with Doblin that designers can usually only do one kind of design. What I’m seeing is that most service designers are coming from what Doblin would call ‘product appearance design’. Learning how to basically design something is the foundation for designing systems.

All images from A Short, Grandiose Theory Of Design.

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What Marina Abramovic’s art has in common with my design approach

I went to Marina Abramovic’s show at the Serpentine Gallery last year, and like most of the other visitors, I was profoundly moved. She is pushing what art can be – she is making art out of interactions.

In this Ted Talk she explains principles behind her work.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 13.55.14Image from Ted Talks Continue reading

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Lecture at LCC on my work

Today I gave a lecture at the London College of Communication on my work. Three masters cohorts attended the lecture, including the two cohorts of the Service Design Innovation MDes led by Omar Vulpinari. Quite a few lecturers, including the LCC Dean of Design, attended too.

Here is the slideshare of the presentation I gave. The talk lasted an hour, with half an hour of discussion afterwards.

Students working with government
The students are doing a project with Lambeth Council about digital inclusion. They are working to engage the 10% of residents who do not use the internet or digital devices. Because of this project, they are already starting to be familiar with the barriers/constraints that design in government presents: privacy issues and limitations of clunky expensive council IT systems.

They asked how to get round these problems, and I was so glad they asked: it validates the experiences I’ve had, when they describe similar problems to what I’ve come up against.

I suggested they write to express the problems if they can’t solve them, so that the articulation may help others who also face the same problem. This is something that I also strive to do – at the moment, I mostly talk to others and in public about the problems, but I hope to have more time for blogging in the next few months!

I also recommended that they try out the approach of suggesting a proposition for the future rather than for right now, or asking the civil servants to imagine a scenario without the privacy and IT issues. If they can propose a future scenario, it can open up a conversation about what can be done in the interim to get to that future solution.

Who wants to work in government?
At the end of the talk, I asked who wants to work in government. A lot of them already wanted to work in government as a result of the project with the council, but about 5 more wanted to work in government following the talk. For me that’s a big success – I was extremely honest (you know me!) about the tough realities of working in government (the pace, the sometimes creatively stifling culture) – yet I must have described the social mission well enough to inspire more designers to want to join.

This is a picture of the students. The ones with their hands up want to work in government innovation. That’s pretty much all of them! I’m thrilled!


One of the lecturers also turned out to have worked in Merton Council on transformation projects, and she said that she backed everything I said. I was very happy to have described design in government in a way that appealed to both designers and ex-council people.

Because we had five minutes at the end, I asked the students to write down three things to create a short manifesto for change for themselves. They came back with beautiful principles personal to them. Change manifestos are inspirational for me – I hope that some students find it a useful practice for them, too.

LCC students, if you’re reading this, please link us to your pictures, tweets and any other media you have from the event by commenting on this blogpost. That way, we can share learning around this topic in one place.

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Call for service designers

The London Design Festival is coming, and service designers are now more involved in the festival. What are you and your team doing for this September to showcase your work?

Last year, we stimulated service design representation in the festival at a fantastic event held in the newly renovated Old Sessions House during Designersblock. There were five lightning talks by talented service designers from a range of sectors, followed by an extraordinarily useful service design skills workshop run by STBY. Networking afterwards led to connections being fostered between potential employees and employers. The event successfully raised awareness of service design in the wider design community, and beyond.

This year, we are producing a map of service design events going on around the capital during the festival (19-27 September 2015). If you would like to show off your team’s innovative work, and demonstrate thought leadership, the London Design Festival is the best time to do it.

The London Design Festival is a celebration of design. As service designers, it’s our due to show the game-changing work we are doing during this world renowned festival. Apart from driving business opportunities and making contacts through sharing your success stories, this is a chance to come together to change culture: we can help more non-designers start to understand what we do.

What you could do to take part:
– hold a studio tour
– host a networking event
– run a talk
– host a Q&A with an experienced service designer
– run a service design skills workshop
– screen a film of your work
– make an exhibition with photos and diagrams of what service design means to your organisation
– give people the opportunity to try out design research techniques
– mentoring sessions for young/new service designers
– ask for participants for co-design sessions – those looking to get into the field would be happy to be involved at this level as a starting point
– run a hackathon
– hold a competition
– release a report about a project that involved service design (plus a launch party!)
– host a recruitment speed dating party

There are lots of people who want to get into service design, and there is plenty of demand from private, public, third sector and start ups for service design input. Working service designers can help strengthen the industry practice by sharing knowledge. It’s also an ideal opportunity to go and see what other service designers have been working on recently.

You can set charges for any event you run if you need to.

Email liorsmith [at] me [dot] com if you would like to be included in this service design map. We are also able to meet with you to discuss how you might be able to execute your idea, including linking up people that could do talks together.

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Oh my goodness. I actually affect the world

For years I felt like I was rushing at work with loads of energy and good intentions, but not much impact on the world.

This is a picture of me as a student – a time where I felt I wasn’t making much of a difference (even though I did, sometimes). Making a cardboard person didn’t change the world.

Finally, I feel like things I do actually do have an impact.

The problem is – I don’t always know which things will have an impact.

Eventually I would like to target my time more sophisticatedly to make the best possible impact on the world. So here are 4 ways I have recently found out that I made an impact, beyond what I’ve been paid to achieve. Continue reading

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Service Design on one page

I’m starting a new job. Going into a new workplace, I have to explain what service design is to lots of people. To get myself into gear, I challenged myself to explain service design on one page. Here it is.


I had a re-read of This Is Service Design Thinking. It made me remember why I got into service design in the first place. Service design is the best description for the approach I was using before I had heard of service design. Continue reading

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What is designerly about service design?


Today at Central Saint Martins I took part in a debate about whether we need specialisms in design. I argued for the movement: I am a service designer, and you need specialist service design skills to be an effective service designer. Continue reading

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