16th August 2016

From a simple idea to great innovation: the power of service design


What makes for great innovation? Many things. In Bill Gross’ 2015 Ted Talk, he draws on his experience of being a multi-time founder of dozens of start-ups, exploring what factors make start-ups succeed: from the team it’s made up of, the business model and grassroots funding, the idea itself, and its place and timing. Geovation Challenges work to incubate start-ups from the very root sowing of the seed: coming up with an idea and turning it into a prototype venture, as embarked upon at the Challenge Camp where finalists test and build upon their ideas, competing to win support by a place on the Geovation Programme.

There’s a lot of talk about design these days, but beyond the compelling word and something that ‘might be nice to have’, what actually makes ‘design’ and what value does it give that is increasingly being recognised by businesses (small and large) as critical to success?



Geovation believes and places emphasis on the importance of service design in innovation. The open definition of ‘service design’ is “the activity of planning and organising people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers”. Put simply, if you are building a service for people it should be relevant, useful, responsive and friendly. A fundamental of a start-up venture according to the Lean Startup Model is user research. As Eric Ries, pioneer of the Lean Startup movement says in his book, “Too many startups begin with an idea for a product they think people want. They then spend months, sometimes years, perfecting that product without ever showing the product, even in a very rudimentary form, to the prospective customer. When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it is often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. When the customers ultimately communicate… that they don’t care about the idea, the startup fails”.

Let’s look at some real-world examples of good service design. What do Airbnb, Spotify and Uber have in common? Despite their different industries, the effectiveness of their service has been the centre point of each of their success. They empower users in a great way to do simple things that have always been around – renting a room, enjoying music, and travelling across cities. Chief Design Officer at the Design Council sums up these companies’ use of service design: “the shaping of service experiences so that they really work for people. Removing the lumps and bumps that make them frustrating, and then adding some magic to make them compelling.

Can you think about services you personally use and really enjoy using? What is it do you think that makes your experience positive? It can be surprising how the little, supposedly mundane aspects that may otherwise be overlooked, can make all the difference to the service overall. Taking a service-design approach involves paying attention to every aspect: “Design is not just how it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works” – as Steve Jobs put it. Services make up 77% of UK’s GDP and design-led companies who provide excellent customer experience outperform the S&P 500 by 43%. Through Geovation Challenge Camp, teams are given a taster of this fundamental element of product development, with help from experienced Service Design Innovation MDes students and graduates from London College of Communication, and expert service design facilitators, Nonon.

You will be encouraged to speak and work with others; to test your ideas, to prototype it, to talk to users and listen carefully to feedback to constantly be informing and re-informing the design. Service-design testing is ensuring the customer experience will be positive, a crucial exercise in the process of turning your idea into a prototype venture.

LCC MDes Service Design Innovation students helping out Water Challenge teams at Camp, March 2016

LCC MDes Service Design Innovation students helping out Water Challenge teams at Camp, March 2016

See Geovation’s short 3 minute video explaining the methodology of good service design

Geovation’s next open innovation challenge will be on underground assets – ‘How can we better manage our underground assets, in Britain?’ Stay tuned via our blog, tweets or contact us if you’d like to find out more.