Every (successful) company is a service company

Designers are helping to shape the businesses, products, and services in our changing economy.

By Mary Treseler
August 24, 2015
Waldorf-Astoria construction Waldorf-Astoria construction (source: Pixabay)

Register now for the O’Reilly Design Conference, which will explore the evolving role of design in business and society along with the tools designers need to shape the next generation of products and services.

Loosely defined, service is the relationship between consumer and company. There are traditional service companies, such as hotels and transportation companies, and their modern counterparts Uber and Airbnb.

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Then there are companies that are changing their identities from product companies to service companies, with varying degrees of success: for example, IBM, morphing from hardware to services, and Adobe, moving its software model to a cloud-based, subscription-based service. Whether you’re new to the game or established, almost any product today must have a service aspect.

Why does this matter — and what does it mean for designers?

Tim O’Reilly wrote a recent piece on how the economy is being shaped by software and connectedness. He explained:

One way to think about the new generation of on-demand companies, such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, is that they are networked platforms for physical world services, which are bringing fragmented industries into the 21st century in the same way that ecommerce has transformed retail.

The evidence is clear: we’re living in an attention economy, with thousands of devices and companies competing for eyeballs. Our products are now connected and smart, and the consumer-product relationship is long term, with data fueling the courtship. It’s no longer enough to have a great product — it needs to be coupled with a great service. Service is at the heart of any user experience, and designers are crafting this experience, forging the connections between products and consumers.

The importance of providing great experiences and services is not relegated to corporations and private businesses. We’re watching public agencies and nonprofits use design techniques to address systemic problems and improve services in health care, education, and government. Examples include the work of Code for America, improving local government; the Government Digital Service team for gov.uk, overhauling the citizen experience; and the work of the Detroit Water Project, matching donors with unpaid water bills.

Design’s role in the development of important services is one of the key topics we’ll address at the upcoming O’Reilly Design Conference (registration has just opened). We’ve developed a program that reflects this evolution of design, that views design through a broader and deeper lens, with a focus on the future.

We’re addressing design in three ways at the event:

  • Design Fundamentals: There is a renewed emphasis on fundamentals, and at the same time an expanding definition of fundamentals. Due to the physical/digital divide blurring, designers are finding themselves moving beyond the screen both literally and figuratively: designing for physical objects and designing for greater good. Design, business, and technical skills are part of every great designer’s toolbox.
  • Design as a Corporate Asset: The belief that design impacts the bottom line has placed designers in a fantastic and challenging role, one that requires business acumen. You’ll learn business skills, hear from companies who have made this major change to their culture, and hear what they have learned along the way.
  • Design for the Greater Good: Design can solve systemic problems in our world. You’ll learn from designers and innovators who are making our world a better place through design. In addition to being inspired, I hope you’ll walk away thinking about your work and your craft differently. Design is at the heart of crafting effective services. By focusing on customer needs and aligning the business, technology, and design team members, companies are better able to identify and solve problems.

The keynotes we’ve lined up will address design’s impact on future products and services, on social change, and on business results. You’ll hear from such leading designers as Eric Quint, chief product officer at 3M; Katie Dill, director of experience design at AirBnB; Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk; and Bob Baxley, director of design at Pinterest.

We’ll address the importance of design in business from several angles. You’ll learn from our Design and Venture Capital Panel, moderated by John Maeda, with panelists Irene Au, Jeff Veen, Dayna Grayson, and Enrique Allen talking about investing in design and what life is like as a designer at a VC firm. And you’ll hear from Suzanne Pellican, VP and executive creative director at Intuit, who shares lessons learned in Intuit’s nine-year journey in her session From Design Thinking to Design Driven.

Design’s impact on social good will be discussed from several perspectives: Google’s Tristan Harris will talk about the attention economy and design ethics in his session Design’s Responsibility: Time Well Spent, and Shopify’s Cynthia Savard Saucier will address the good, the bad, and the ugly of design in her session Hostile Design.

We’ll also cover the new design fundamentals — the essential tools and skills designers need to create the next generation of products and services:

Sessions include

Half-day workshops include

It’s clear: designers need to learn more about more, working across teams and disciplines. The O’Reilly Design Conference: Design the Future will focus on providing designers with the full stack of skills needed to build the next generation of products and services. Registration is now open — reserve your spot today.

Post topics: Design