To Serve People Better: A Look into the First National Service Design Conference

By Carol Massa and Anja Huebler

The first Service Design Network (SDN) National Conference took place on August 10th and 11th in Chicago. We experienced two inspiring days filled with stories and lessons learned from the experts who are leading the way organizations practice service design across the country.

Service design in the US is rapidly becoming an internal capacity and that brings with it the responsibility and opportunity to curate and leverage this expertise.

First, here’s a quick refresher on the definition of service design:

To design for services with a human-centric holistic view involving stakeholders and transdisciplinary teams co-creating in an action-driven approach with the intent to understand and design for multiple touchpoints providing conditions for meaningful experiences.

After hearing how organizations of all types and sizes use service design to help serve people better and improve their lives, what did we learn?

Some of the most interesting discussion topics during the conference included how to look for current and future market forces, how to interpret them and how to design for them, and how to be aware of the fast-paced scenarios of industry ecosystems. These conversations reminded us of how ethical considerations are important when we are dealing with today’s complex environment. Our actions today impact current and future generations of service designers and people.

Here are eight key takeaways we find worth sharing:

  1. The combination of human and machine increases our design capabilities to respond to problems in ways we haven’t experienced before
  2. Practices and mindsets last forever, so make sure you are conveying them in an ethical manner (also respecting and learning from previous generations)
  3. Always design for the darkest scenarios – designing for the unknown can expand your solutions to places you wouldn’t have thought before
  4. Be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty
  5. Aligning expectations and framing the problem is key to designing meaningful solutions
  6. Service remixes (aka – when two services mix their value propositions and create a new one) can uncover new business opportunities that meet customer needs
  7. Ideas are cheap but execution is hard, so prototyping is essential
  8. Shared purpose is driven by creating and nurturing relationships

Overall, when designing for an end solution, the design should be seamless and produce nothing less than a Minimal Awesome Service (MAS).

At Sparks Grove, we will continue to grow this field of practice by applying service design principles to help our clients solve complex problems, create opportunities and improve people’s lives.

See the complete program from the conference here.

Want to know more about SDN? Follow or sign-up for the service design global community here.

Reach out to Anja and Carol with questions and comments at and