It was an honour for me to be part of the first Service Design Hong Kongconference, where I could share a piece of my mind while learning from a cool bunch of inspiring people. The following is my recap of Day 1 sessions.

What is Service Design?

Adam Lawrence is the initiator of Global Service Jam, which Somia contributed by co-hosting Bali Service Jam (2014) and Jakarta Service Jam (2015). Marc Stickdorn wrote This is Service Design Thinking, which I believe sits on every service designer’s bookshelf. Lauren Currie shares her knowledge and experience on Redjotter blog, while encouraging more and more people to be #UPFRONT and share the stage with her.

Those three make a brilliant trio, driving the conversation on what service design is all about. I agree that the term doesn’t matter. You can call it service design, design thinking, experience design, and so on. The problem is when the term feels familiar, but people don’t quite get it.

Service is about being nice to the customers? Design is about the aesthetics? Service Design is the aesthetics of being nice to the customers? Clearly not!


Service is everything that interacts with the customers. Design is how something works. Service Design is the approach to make sure everything works altogether for the sake of the customers. It’s not meant to avoid mistakes, but identifying and improving them as early and often as possible.

Not Just About the Customers

To be loved by customers, yes we need to be customer-centric. But also think about stakeholder-centric to keep the business going, as suggested by Stephen Wong (Asia Miles).


Prof. Xin Xiangyang, the program leader during my study at HK PolyU, stressed out that companies and customers both transform into citizens of the world. Everyone needs to respect one another, and treat one another as equal human being.


The perspective of employee satisfaction as part of the service stakeholders were further explored in the panel discussion with Ada Yuen (Cool Granite), Michelle Lam (Spoilt), Elaine Ann (Kaizor Innovation), and Sam Lau (Total Loyalty Company). It brought up another layer of understanding employee needs and how it evolves following the current trends in work-life balance.


How to Implement Service Design?

The process of establishing service design comes in three steps, as explained by Michael Lai, who also taught me at HK PolyU few years ago:

  1. Set the expectation
  2. Exceed the expectation
  3. Design the service

Iterating the need to better include employees as part of designing the service, he came up with a customer and service flow map that shows the relation between customer experience and employee activities. I often struggle with a typical customer journey map when I need to see how the customer interacts with multiple roles from the service provider. I’m very keen to try his approach in upcoming projects.


What to do if you want to apply the service design process in an organization where the awareness of design is little to non-existent? Stephen Wong suggested, “Never start with the theories, acting like you’re smarter than the boss! Demonstrate the process in specific problems that you are able to solve”. Take a small pilot to showcase the impact, to be fair to the customers and the business, said Sudesh Thevasenabathy.

Sudesh shared his story leading AXA Customer Experience team, which he envisioned to be phased out in the coming years. Customer experience should be embedded across organization, not just within a standalone team. The last thing we want to do is creating a new kind of silos — becoming exclusive with the part we’re designing and caring less about others’.

Design, indeed, has moved toward facilitation. It no longer emphasizes on the end results only, said Alvin Yip (CIRCUS Ltd). The first step of facilitation is by arranging prospective stakeholders to meet with one another.


Opportunities for Service Design

Alvin is passionate about encouraging changes to happen in Hong Kong — the city deemed to be afraid of changes, despite all the changes happening around the world. He proposed 1% government annual budget to be invested to design innovation. He also aimed at a matchmaking program to connect young designers with social enterprises.

I’ve always been interested to do something with social enterprises. It’s been an ongoing conversation at Somia as well. The tricky thing is how to come up with reasonable business plan. At the conference, I learned from two strong cases in the social sector.

The first one is Shalini Mahtani’s initiative that strives to drive improvement in hospital services. Interestingly, she approached it from the perspective of customers to demand change to happen. She told an emotional story that led her to creating HospitalAdvisor, a portal similar to TripAdvisor for reviewing hospitals in Hong Kong.


Another case is about reducing disposable plastic waste — massive issue in Hong Kong! — through innovating drinking water refill station. Ada Yip fro Urban Spring shared how the details mattered for the overall experience, from how it looks, how it communicates the message, how it can be used, until how to maintain it.

Wherever services occur, it can be made better with design. Look around, the opportunities are endless. Whether building our own business or working for an agency, in-house, government, or nonprofit organization, we just need to discover and scope in the problem to solve. Be wary of the trap of trying to be all and do all. Look into ourselves and focus on what roles we can partake. Start doing and staging our impact in the world!