5 x 5 - Get to Know a Service Designer, Rich Ekelman

Interview with Rich Ekelman, Founder of The Service Experience Academy

by Thomas Brandenburg

"I purposely start my process with a rough design that I know is wrong, but I use it as a prompt for my research. I have found that people will give better insights when I show them something than when we talk to an idea."

1. What issue related to service design thought leadership is most interesting to you?

I think thought leadership is holding service design back right now in the US market. I view most thought leadership as noise that makes service design feel like something that most companies are too far away from doing. I like to hear stories about what went wrong. I think those articles and talks are more helpful in evolving the discipline. The topic of designing for a service's personality is really interesting to me and I think this particular topic helps pulls people away from screens and any one particular feature.

2. What skill(s) should a budding service designer have in their back pocket?

Be a good listener, be able to tell a good story, understand how people create value, understand how markets create value, and learn how to make things on and off screen. The methods, tools, and technology will always change and there is no one right answer except don't ever use an emotion line.

3. What reading material (articles, books, blogs, etc) would you recommend reading?

Start with Service Design: Idea to Implementation then read This Is Service Design Doing followed by Touchpoint. Just start at the first issue and read present issues because it will give the reader a sense of how the field has evolved. Megan Miller and Erik Flowers have created a very accessible service design community on Slack called Practical Service Design. I think people will get the most from the Slack community after they have read most of the materials. At times, there is a lot of noise in the slack channel so having a deeper understanding will help a new service designer wade through it.

4. How would you describe your work style?

I use making to drive my strategy and thinking. For me, research, design, and strategy are not separate in service design. I always start with facilitating for alignment on what the needs really are mixed with a crappy design sketch of a service sequence or something that happens on a screen. I purposely start my process with a rough design that I know is wrong, but I use it as a prompt for my research. I have found that people will give better insights when I show them something than when we talk to an idea. In the past I have used storyboards, Prototype on Paper, Legos, and table-topping environments to get the people offering and receiving a service to tell the team something we would not know to ask about. In short, my work style is to be transparent in my process and stay flexible.

5. What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Embrace being wrong and have humility because service design is too big for the "Starchitect" mentality.

Bonus question—What is your best ninja skill?”

I am good at being funny and making friends. To do service design you need a lot of friends that you want to help and that want to help you.

To see Rich Ekelman at our upcoming SDN US National Conference register here

Check out other 5 x 5s on the SDN US National Conference Blog