Service Design - Make products and services optimally tangible.

DESIGNBOTE editor Wolfgang Linneweber spoke with me about the importance of service and experience design.

Georg S. Kuklick
June 22, 2024
 min read
Tom Ford and John Suger.

In retrospect, I was very right with my 2019 inventory.

The Interview:

Can you briefly define 'Service Design'?

It describes the process of designing various services and processes involving customers or users. Service Design starts from the first contact with a company, such as clicking on a banner, and extends through consulting product information, searching for a parking space, experiencing a queue at the checkout, dealing with complaints, and ultimately the end of the product's life and disposal. The aim is to create a unique, positive customer experience by making all interactions as simple as possible and always conveying a positive feeling. Service Design can optimize services around a product significantly and bring forth highly innovative, original, and groundbreaking services.

Two years ago, you shared your personal design trends for 2018. You predicted: "Service Design will push traditional consulting and mundane marketing further into the background." Can you elaborate?

Previously, it was enough to develop a product or service with a lot of ego and then persuade potential target groups to use it through marketing and advertising. That doesn't work as well today. Ego-driven design is a relic of the past. Customer Centricity and Value Driven Design allow us to determine the real needs and then develop appropriate products. The human and their real needs are increasingly the focus. A good example is Taxi vs. Uber. Both services take you from A to B. How did Uber become such a threat to the taxi industry worldwide? Uber looked at the entire user journey of a taxi ride, identified the relevant weaknesses from the user's perspective, and gradually eliminated them. This was long overdue and relatively simple in principle.

You have worked as a designer for digital products and services in both Germany and the USA for years. What are the biggest differences between here and there?

In startups with up to 50 employees, the difference is not particularly large. However, budgets in the USA are bigger, and growth is faster. Overall, US-founded startups are less hesitant and bolder, partly due to investor pressure. Sometimes this is an advantage, but not always. At the enterprise level, the difference is immense. Unfortunately, Germany, similar to 20 years ago with the internet, has missed the transition from the IT age to the Service Design era and still massively underestimates the importance of design (here: design beyond aesthetics, design of intangible products and services).

What do you mean by the Service Design era?

When looking at globally dominant companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook, they are primarily service providers. Amazon also makes a huge portion of its profits from services, such as providing an e-commerce platform, logistics, and the AWS Cloud Service platform, which now also offers tools for AI and Machine Learning. Of course, Apple also sells hardware, but the profit lies in services like the Apple App Store, Apple Music, Apple Pay/Card, and now Apple TV and Arcade.

Why does Germany find it so difficult?

Many managers still think they can simply hire an agency or consulting company and everything will work. They often rely on the usual suspects in Germany, with whom they already collaborate in consulting, marketing, and/or advertising. This, in my view, is a serious mistake. Instead of building the necessary structures internally, they rely on external help and fail to develop the necessary expertise internally. BMW doesn't develop its cars at Boston Consulting or Accenture either. The external service provider often remains the one-eyed among the blind.

Isn't the result from specialized service providers the same or even better?

Having worked on both the client and agency sides for 20 years, I can say that the business model of an agency is not to develop the best possible product. It's about satisfying the client enough with the minimal necessary effort so that they are willing to pay the bill. Anything beyond that would be waste through overachievement and would be prevented by any professional key account manager. In my view, service design expertise must be built internally and firmly anchored in the company or management structures.

Such a paradigm shift requires not only rethinking at all levels but also the creation of structures and the redistribution of decision-making powers. There is often a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) but no designer at the C level. That was fine 20 years ago; today, it would be more important the other way around.

What do you mean by the other way around?

In most cases, it looks like this: There is a CTO at the C level and 4–10 IT specialists for every service designer. Consequently, budgets, decisions, and processes are accordingly. There is now sometimes a service/product manager at the C level, but their background is usually in business administration rather than service/product design. This unfortunately results in at best mediocre products and services.

Isn't that also due to the often reported 'skills shortage'?

It's not as bad as it seems. There is often enough knowledge and ability to develop good digital products/services. Unfortunately, this knowledge is incorrectly distributed, more in a pyramid shape. The higher you look for design knowledge in the structures, the narrower it gets. The lack of understanding of the importance of design at the top management level is then reflected in budgeting and decisions. It is also rare for a designer of digital products to earn more than €250,000 a year. Compared to the potential value creation through good design and compared to automotive or fashion designers, this is not quite understandable.

Is it so different in the USA?

Not everywhere, of course. But wherever the necessity has been recognized, change is driven with a much bigger hammer. You can't offer mediocre design anymore. Twenty years ago, good design, like a Braun HiFi system, was established only in small target groups. Today, almost everyone uses a Google or Apple product and a service like Gmail or Apple Music. The design quality of these products/services is now the benchmark that the standard consumer is accustomed to and now expects.

Is it really as bad as it sounds?

Unfortunately, yes. Although budgets for digital transformation are getting bigger and the will for transformation is constantly discussed, the changes are rather meager or the money is wasted with poor results. In recent years, many companies have established autonomous 'design labs' and spent a lot of money on them. But unfortunately, in most cases, they have only created new knowledge silos.

What needs to change in Germany from your perspective?

Design must be firmly anchored at the C level and provided with the necessary decision-making power over structures and processes. If you can't find a designer who meets the leadership and business requirements at the C level, then you need to provide them with a consultant or mentor to compensate. I would subordinate the IT department to the product/service design department. Often, there is no need for a CTO anymore. The question should no longer be: Can our IT realize this? But: What should our IT be able to realize? Design expertise must be built internally and not outsourced to design agencies. Structures must be adapted at all levels. I would completely abolish success bonuses for product/project managers, as they only lead to poor products.

How does that relate?

The product manager agrees with the director of product on a rough roadmap for the annual target bonus. This roadmap is planned without sufficient consultation/estimation with design and development and is therefore unrealistic. When it comes to implementation, many features or details desired by the design are evaluated as not absolutely necessary and not implemented. It then becomes more about the number of delivered features rather than their quality. Roadmap goal achieved, bonus received, but the product is at best mediocre.

What needs to happen at universities for Service Design to get its deserved status and appreciation in Germany?

Things are not so bad there. The market also already offers enough skilled workers. But they do not get the right positions or are not taken seriously there. The problem sits higher up. There should be sensitization or further training at all management levels.

Can you tell us what kind of job is currently on your desk?

I am currently working for Unqork Inc. based in New York. It is about no-code solutions for digital transformation at the enterprise level. This is by far the most exciting thing I have been involved in in the last 5-6 years.

What led you to orient yourself towards NYC?

After 20 years of designing digital products and services, I have seen pretty much everything in Germany. The hot topics of the future, crypto technologies, no-code, and machine learning, are underestimated, hindered, and sometimes completely ignored in Germany. I simply want to be where the action is. This is hardly possible in Germany.

You are often there: How does the Big Apple feel?

When friends ask me why New York, my answer is usually that Berlin is the most wonderful place on earth and my home. But New York is a completely different planet. New York makes no sense. Broken streets and subways, garbage everywhere on the sidewalks; everything stinks and is dirty, and there is no winter without the heating or hot water failing. Great, right? In recent years, I have mostly used WeLive on Wall Street for living. That was the best solution for me. After a few weeks in the East and West Village, I now occasionally stay in Greenpoint Brooklyn.

What do you do when you are in NYC?

Art, art, art, and visit music shows. The offer is incredible.

What is your current reading or listening material?

I am currently reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel for the second time. Although the author and his companies are rightly controversial, this book is a must for anyone interested in entrepreneurship.

Apple Music Username: @downtownberlin

A look into the crystal ball: Is a farewell to the material announcing itself? After an era of unbridled materialism, is an age of immaterial

I'm a sucker for Vinyl. So I hope not. I see a strong trend towards nature in New York. Many are attracted to hike upstate on the weekends and some peace in nature. A small house in the Catskills is surprisingly relatively affordable compared to the cost of living in New York City. However, if your life moves from Paycheck to Paycheck, what is left for you besides clothes, food and Netflix. Not much.

Your forecast of the trends 2020 and beyond:

Machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and crypto technology will continue to determine the hype train, the associated controversies make the topic omnipresent in the media. However, I see the much more current revolution elsewhere. No-code solutions such as those of Unqork Inc. are currently shaking up the entire enterprise universe. Processes in a fraction of the conventional time, without digitizing a single line of code, is a game changer and will massively change the IT landscape.

Thank you Georg for having time for us!

Link to German version

Link to original Interview

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