Service design: designing interaction. The Design Group Italia experience

Design, Antonella Galli, Design Group Italia,

Service design could open up a new niche in the design disciplines. Creation of complex interface systems supporting networks for sales or financial services, for medical treatment or providing information, is a growing discipline of decisive importance for improving the lives of people and enterprises, according to the Italian service design pioneers of Design Group Italia.

Service design: designing interaction. The Design Group Italia experience

What is clear right away is that service design is a choral project. This becomes perfectly apparent when touring the Milanese offices of Design Group Italia with Edgardo Angelini, Managing Director and partner along with Peter Newbould and Sigurdur Thorsteinsson. In the heart of Milan’s Chinatown, near Via Paolo Sarpi, Design Group Italia has set up its headquarters in an unusual cosy space in the inner courtyard of a "casa di ringhiera", a tenement with a communal balcony typical of the region. With seventy-five professionals, offices in New York and Reykjavik and fields of operation ranging from product design to brand and packaging design and from graphics to digital design, Design Group Italia breaks away from the classic canons of the conventional Milanese interior design studio. Service design is one of the frontiers which the studio, now a member of the Alkemy Group, has been exploring for at least fifteen years, along with the design of spaces interpreted as places of experience and communication. The walls are draped with sheets of paper several metres long, covered with complex diagrams constructed to represent the requirements of the various players involved in each project, in terms of spaces, applications and phases in the process. Then there is the ‘design kitchen’, a multipurpose space containing a little stage, tables, chairs, screens and, on one side, an actual kitchen. This is the workshop where the members of the studio ‘cook up new ideasrsquo; and hold their design thinking sessions, using a participatory working method which clearly stands to benefit service design, in view of the discipline’s inherent complexity.

Design Group Italia comes from a prestigious background: founded in 1968 by Marco Del Corno to design products, brands and packaging, it won two Compasso d’Oro awards in 1979 (followed by two more later on), for the Tratto Pen and the Tratto Clip, products that attained global success. The studio has never betrayed its mission of innovation, interpreted over the past decade with the introduction of digital design and service design. “These two areas are related,” explains Angelini, “even though they are kept separate in our studio. Service design is very often applied to digital design, but it is more than that”. Service Design Director Lidia Tralli goes into more detail. “Service design is an expansion on interaction design: the principles of interaction between man and machine are taken to a higher level. Service design looks at experiences from a macro point of view, taking into consideration interaction with all the points of contact a user might have with a given entity or offer. Service design orchestrates several different elements and looks at them all as a whole to create the best possible experience”, whether it be a matter of buying a new sofa, doing your banking, or obtaining medical treatment, in a hospital or via a remote consultation.

There is one thing that is unique about a designer working on the design of a service: “The person is always the focus of the design,” points out Angelini; “the designer always reasons about the person and the user experience. The goal of service design is to solve the problem of the relationship between a physical or digital artefact or service and the person using it, to ensure that this relationship is of interest not only functionally, but above all in terms of the emotions and the service provided.”

To effectively construct a service experience, it is essential to listen: to users, and to operators, to create a map and understand which methods and connections to work on. “We work alongside the operators,” continues Tralli, “watching them at work, observing the spaces and tools that they use. Every single aspect is involved in this mapping process, even the way they answer the telephone, or the waiting time involved.” Space Design Director Chris Miller describes one interesting case the Design Group Italia recently worked on: “A maker of high-end upholstered furniture and furnishings asked us to improve the customer experience they offered. Their goal was to transform the buying experience, which sometimes takes several months to complete, with the assistance of an architect, and make it into something truly memorable. We started out with the brick-and-mortar shop, while at the same time creating a digital environment that would allow connection points with customers to be maintained as time goes by. After the customer’s first visit to the shop, a digital book is produced which the customer can look back at, in which all the customer’s preferences are saved. When the time comes to make a decision, there is a software room in the shop, in which customers can digitally configure all the possible options and find out how much they would cost.” The service design sets up an enjoyable experience revolving around a buying decision, exploring all the possibilities and making the customer the centre of the whole process. This method can be successfully applied to interactions of any kind, including public services, to improve their level. It has an infinite number of prospective applications.

Antonella Galli

Photo captions

All images: Courtesy of Design Group Italia

01 and 05 The 3M Custom Innovation Center (Sweden) designed by Design Group Italia
02, 10, 11 House of Wisdom Library, Sharja (EAU), FabLab, VR Learning design. Design Group Italia designed a series of experiences and phygital spaces for experiences and learning for House of Wisdom.
03 A workshop in the Milan offices of Design Group Italia
04, 08, 09 D-Heart by Design Group Italia: the first integrated electrocardiograph that can be independently used by patients and caregivers; winner of the 2020 Compasso d’Oro award.
06 and 07 Blue Lagoon Iceland: new concept for the spa experience and shopping in the flagship store
12 Conceptual map of an experiential space (Design Group Italia)
13 The 3M Customer Innovation Center (Italy) designed by Design Group Italia

14-16 Edgardo Angelini, Design Group Italia Managing Director and partner;
Lidia Tralli, Service Design Director;
Chris Miller, Space Design Director.