Five years ago Adaptive Path launched the Service Experience Conference, or SX, to focus on the emerging practice of service design. This year was the first that I didn’t direct the conference. Kendra Shimmel, Andrea Fineman, and Nick Remis took the reigns and did an awesome job. They even invited me to speak about scaling service design at Capital One. I was honored to be part of the lineup. Below are my notes and reflections.

Overall themes: people hate change, transformation is hard, culture is design, innovation can’t be forced, service design is brand personality design.

(Click on the speaker’s name to see their video.)

Do Less, More Often

Jeff Gothelf,, Executive Coach & Author, Sense & Respond

In an era of more faster, where sprints dominate our approach to getting things done, this was a welcome message. How can get things done with the least amount of work? (Hear! Hear!) The least amount of people? Start with one product person, one designer, and one engineer, he suggested.

Do less, more often was one of four points Gothelf made during his opening keynote.

  1. Plan for Uncertainty
  2. Create a Culture of Continuous Learning
  3. Do Less, More Often
  4. Organize for Collaboration

Driving cultural change was one of the key themes of the conference (and perhaps a dominant theme in general these days). Gothelf emphasized that changing culture requires continuous cultivation. You can’t just put artifacts in place or give people tools and expect cultural change.

AI Still Ain’t that Smart

Chris Noessel, IBM

AI comes in many forms. And while I’m not sure I understand all of them, Noessel seemed to know what he was talking about, and he reminded the audience that AI is still pretty narrow in what it can do. For example, the AI that was designed to play chess is useless in driving your car.

Noessel is also a very talented sketch-noter (example below). My crude sketchnotes of his talk are above.

Be Inclusive, or Start Over

Khafre Jay, Hip Hop For Change Inc.

“If you design a product from point A to point B and didn’t have women in the room… you should scrap that product.” –


Fail Fast and Digital Transformation Don’t Go Together

Dana Chisnell, Center for Civic Design

For all the talk about organizations acting more like startups, Dana reminded us that this doesn’t make sense for large organizations because they are not startups. Failing fast can be disastrous, particularly for government services. There’s much more at risk, and much more at stake.

Whenever someone says we should act more like a startup, I ask if they mean work longer hours for less pay and likely go out of business soon. You should try it.

Don’t Shut Down Your Bad Ideas Too Soon

Alan Chochinov, SVA MFA Products of Design; Core77

Alan encourages his students to take bad ideas to the extreme, and play them out rather than shut them down. It’s a provocative innovation tactic. During idea sessions, we often declare that no idea is a bad idea. But what if we said, “Yes, that’s a bad idea. How can we make it worse?” People usually love this kind of brainstorming.

Inspire Innovation, Don’t Force It

Rubert Cryer, Cabinet Office, UK Government

With so much focus on innovation, many organizations seek magical processes and structures to unlock this illicit goal. Many cite multidisciplinary teams and collaboration as key, but Robert argues, you can’t force it. No one, or no team, will become innovative because you told them to, or because you gave them a playbook, or because you put them in a room together. They have to want it. Instead, find ways to inspire people to be innovative on their own.

Culture Change is Design

Cheryl Dahle, Flip Labs

To me, this is one of the most important emerging points for design. Everything is design. Creating an organization is design. Creating culture is design. To truly change culture, you need to understand its mechanics, the context, its people, their pains, their joys. Combine this one with Cryer’s point about not forcing collaboration or innovation, and you’ve got yourself quite a wicked problem.

Fall in Love with Ambiguity

Jason Ulaszek, Inzovu

Fall in love with the problem. Fall in love with ambiguity. Yes.

Eat More Crickets

Megan Miller, Bitty Foods

Many years ago, Megan was my client. I took her on research sessions in peoples’ houses to identify new mobile services around magazine content. Now, she’s running a business to change perceptions and behaviors around eating insects. She caught the bug after learning about the sustainability and nutrition of insects versus meat. You can buy her cricket flour at

Successful innovation teams listen, build, learn, and share

Lea Simpson, Brink

There was a lot of great stuff in this talk. But in short, Lea’s research concludes successful innovation teams listen, build, learn, and share. Got that? If you don’t see that, you’re probably not looking at an innovative team. Another point I liked: an innovative team comes up with solutions, a non innovative team complains of blockers (why they can’t do something, or what’s preventing them from being successful). Lastly, she described an innovation mindset as humility, active listening, letting go of your ideas.  I recommend you go watch this one.

Lea Simpson // Innovation Mindsetting // The Service Experience Conference 2017 from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

I am in service to ______________.

Alex Baumgardt, California College of the Arts / Futuredraft

Baumgardt stirred things up by challenging the audience to question what or whom you are in service to. In your work, what are you ultimately in service to? And is that a good answer? If not, why are you doing it?

Data Is the New Oil

Jodi Forlizzi, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

Better get comfortable with data. It’s everywhere. As a designer, you need to know what data is available and how to leverage it in your solutions. Forlizzi predicts a hybrid designer/data scientist as a job category of the future.

Speak CEO

Jess McMullin, Situ Strategy

Design isn’t just about methods and solutions, argues McMullin. As design expands beyond graphics and interfaces, into the service and system sphere, it influences businesses and organizations in ways it hasn’t before. But to influence and create change in this arena, designers need to learn the language of business, to learn to speak CEO.

Personality Is the New UX.

Andy Polaine, Fjord

I often reflect that organizations act a lot like people. If you think of an organization as a person, it’s easier to understand why it does the things it does. The personality of an organization is the combination of its values, behaviors, expressions, and interactions, says Polaine. The words you say, the way you speak, the things you do. These all make up the personality that people interacting with your organization perceive. They shape the impression. While Andy said this is the new UX, I’d argue this is service design.

My Talk on Scaling Service Design

I plan to write a separate post about my talk, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Give Service Design Away (slides)(video), which I also presented the following week at the Service Design Network global conference in Madrid.