Thursday saw the start of something big (we hope) for Canberra – the launch of a local edition of Service Design Think and Drinks Australia, presented by Service Designing Australia.

Service Designing Australia is coordinated by Damian Kernahan and Suze Ingram and is a home for information about service design community events in Australia. The get-together we had was part of a series of informal events the guys run for anyone interested in service design to meet up and share idea, stories and thoughts.

Damien from Proto Partners did a great job of gathering local service designers together (no mean feat from his Sydney base) and also bringing the author of ‘This is Service Design Thinking’ – Marc Stickdorn to town as a guest speaker.

We had an interesting mix of service design consultants (such as ourselves) and public servants from some key agencies at different stages of embedding design in some form.

Marc Stickdorn's book

We were also joined by Dominic Campbell from FutureGov who made it along after appearing earlier in the day at the Web 3.0 conference (and braved a trademark Justin Barrie mini-tour of Canberra in the family wagon).

The event was a pretty free-ranging couple of hours of conversation. Here’s some of Justin’s reflections:

• Service design, and designers in general should embrace other disciplines.

Marcus in particular was very strong (and I agree completely) on the fact that often designers can get defensive of their own discipline and as a result ignore the masses of knowledge that exists in others such as marketing, sociology and research. We should be looking to utilise, link with and collaborate with all of these professions.

• In Canberra we are a little obsessed with influence and hierarchy.

It’s really common for service design discussions in Canberra (due to the large amount of public sector design) to come around to design’s lack of influence over the hierarchy of Departments and Minister’s ‘not getting’ design. Firstly – I don’t buy the Minister line. Unlike Department Secretaries politicians actually have to face up to the public to get their job back and I’ve always found them to have an innate understanding of the importance of customer focused design (and service design).

In terms of the hierarchy issue I simply say, you can spend as long as you want trying to evangelise to senior bureaucrats or you can just make difference at a project level and not worry about it. I know which approach I prefer. And if you get it right people at all levels will listen!

• Designers aren’t resilient enough to force change.

This was a reflection from Dominic on the difference between Change Managers (which he identifies himself as) and Designers. He bravely opined that very few designers have the resilience to force change and revert to an ‘if it’s not perfect it can’t work’ position (my words not his).

This was a interesting take on the discipline, particularly as we had been discussing iteration and collaboration as designer strengths, but in some ways I agree with him. Of course if depends a lot on personality and clearly there are some amazing designers who support and drive change but I think Dom is right that some designers can be guilty of wanting ‘the perfect methodology’, or ‘the perfect design outcome’ and this simply doesn’t reflect the reality of the operating environments of our clients and ourselves.

It also reinforced for me the point about needing to collaborate with a range of disciplines to deliver quality service design outcomes, which is exactly what we set out to do at DMA.

As well as these larger points of reflection, I’d also add these highlights as things I will definitely follow up:

• The use of ‘investigative rehearsal’ as a technique to discuss the heart of a design ‘problem’ sounds fascinating
• The discussion of linking with Universities in Canberra for Service Design networks is very much worth following up
• The discussion once again proved to me, through the examples people gave, that visualisation is a key tool to quickly engage decision makers
• The fact that Marc sees Asia and the Asia Pacific as the real growth market for service design and pointed out Korea as a nation getting it right (time to do some market research)

It was also a highlight seeing a visiting Brit and Austrian seeing their first ever ‘cook your own steak’ indoor bbq ;)

So – some challenging conversation and lots of things to think about. From that point of view, the drinks served their purpose and then some.

Thanks again to the organisers and particularly Marc for leading of the discussion. Looking forward to the next one!