Fayard, Stigliani & Bechky (2016). How nascent occupations construct a mandate: The case of service designers’ ethos


Anne-Laure Fayard – NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Ilena Stigliani – Imperial College of London

Beth A Bechky – NYU Stern School of Business


Amer Madi – INSEAD

Heather Altman –  Stanford’s Department of Management Science & Engineering

Article link: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0001839216665805


Question 1. You mention that this study began as an interview-based study of service design and later expanded into a five year project that came to encompass the service design community. What did you originally set out to study in 2009? What led to the study’s evolution and expansion?

This study was part of a larger research program on service design run at Imperial College Business School where Ileana Stigliani is based and where Anne-Laure Fayard was a visiting scholar. The general research program was on the emergence, development and legitimation of service design as a new field of design practices. This was a broad question, and Anne-Laure and Ileana, with their inductive mindset, decided to start by doing an exploratory study. After one year of data collection, our emerging findings were mostly around material practices although we also noticed narratives around values and ethos. We both kept involved with the service design community while we submitted a first version of the paper and we were asked for more data. This is what led the second round of interviews.  For us, it was also a great opportunity to further explore the role of values that emerged from the first round of data collection. As the paper developed, we kept in touch with the service design community and attended events and followed online discussions to see if anything new was happening. Our last set of interviews (mostly with clients) was done to answer questions raised by one reviewer. We already had anecdotal evidence from the clients and management consultants, but this allowed us to develop a stronger argument. In a nutshell, it was partly the review process as well as our own curiosity and willingness to unpack some insights further that led to the study’s evolution and expansion.

Question 2. Can you comment more on the process through which these values emerged and came to shape the service design occupation? For example, how were these values negotiated among members of this occupational community? Did the service designers acknowledge a larger number of values at the onset of the occupation, but fewer and more defined values as it developed over time? Or, perhaps, was there a shift in the values themselves over time?

Service design, as we explain in the paper. emerged from the dissatisfaction and even frustration of some designers (industrial designers, web designers, etc.) who wanted to better use their creative skills and felt they did not have the opportunity in their current positions. There was also a desire for some designers to move away from products and to be more sustainable. A few of our informants mentioned that aiming for a triple bottom line was important to them. These different motivations gelled into a number of values that correspond to the main three values we mentioned in the paper. From our interviews and observations, there was not really a debate or negotiation over these values. Some designers used slightly different labels, but there was overall agreement on the importance of holism, empathy and co-creation, and their meaning and role for service designers. One evolution was that the importance of sustainability (moving away from products; triple bottom line) decreased in the last couple of years, as service designers stopped mentioning it.

Question 3. What role did external communities, such as management consultants, designers and clients, play in the emergence and development of the service designers’ values? Was their feedback important or consequential to this process?

Service designers often articulated their values in reference to external communities, especially management consultants and designers. Designers’ values – at least designers embracing a design thinking, human-centered approach – were the source of empathy and co-creation. Interestingly, one could argue that the emergence of service design also led some designers and design consultancies to more explicitly articulate their values of empathy and co-creation. Indeed, discussions of design thinking became increasingly prevalent during the emergence of service design. As we explained in the paper, service designers from the first generation first stopped calling themselves designers but they ended up realizing that they were designers because of their values and practices. It was vital to the first service designers in London to be acknowledged by the Design Council (UK). Several of our informants referred to the time the Design Council decided to mention service design as a field of design on their website.  Management consultants played a lesser role in the development of values except as a differentiator. At the beginning of our study, management consultants mostly ignored service designers. Only in the past couple of years have consultants started to recognize service designers as potential competition and as providing added value on projects. Holism emerged as a way for service designers to differentiate themselves from both designers and management consultants. Clients, while not playing a major role in the emergence of service designers’ values, did confirm the importance of those values with their positive feedback about their work.

Question 4. The discussion of the service designers’ values and need to both express similarity with and distinction from comparable groups reminds us of identity literature on optimal distinctiveness. What parallels do you see between your findings and this literature?

Although our paper did not explicitly discuss the implications of our study for identity literature, we indeed observed service designers’ search for “optimal distinctiveness” when carving out a niche for their emerging occupation. On the one hand, they claimed their identity as designers (thus seeking conformity to this social identity), but distanced themselves from traditional designers by emphasizing the different values inspiring their way of working. On the other hand, they signaled their similarity to management consultants in the type of projects they worked on, but emphasized that their distinctiveness was grounded in the interrelation between their values and their material practices. While doing so, though, they developed and maintained a liminal occupational identity, in the sense that they defined themselves by dynamically spanning boundaries across occupations rather than setting fixed ones.

Question 5. What did not make it into the paper? 

Indeed, it often happens that authors feel pained by a need to cut a lot to tell a story within the space of a journal article. This is why books and monographs are often tempting for qualitative researchers. However, in the case of this paper, we did not feel we had to leave much out. Of course, we have some additional stories and images but the main insights from our study made it into the paper. The only thing we decided to leave out of the details was the initial mention of the triple bottom line and sustainability. These specifics seemed to complicate the story without adding anything to it as the difference was in the motivation and focus on the ethos and practices, rather than the underlying values embraced, that mattered.

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