Ziba: Continually expanding the scope of design


Steve Lee (@steveleedesign) is Senior Service Designer at Ziba (@zibapdx) a design and innovation consultancy based in Portland, Oregon in the USA. Steve talks to Design Transitions about Ziba’s practices in creating beautiful experiences, and what the expanding scope and role of design and the designer really means for business and governments that Steve has witnessed both in the UK and USA.

Tell us about Ziba’s design practices and describe why you do what you do.
Ziba exists to design beautiful experiences. We are an inter-disciplinary studio which began 28 years ago in the field of industrial design, and have subsequently added design research and trends, communications design, UX, branding and service design. Put simply, we make things better for our clients and their users.

Ziba is a very exciting environment for a service designer to be working in, as we are able to influence and be influenced by more of the process and practices that make our designs into reality. To put it another way, many service designers have expressed the ‘service designers lament’ that they don’t get involved in making stuff anymore. It’s crucial that designers stay connected with how their thinking changes things.

What do you think are the current drivers of change in Ziba’s design practices?
Internally, there is a great desire to do great work that crosses and blurs boundaries between the traditional departments. We realize no product lives in a vacuum, no communications are without context and no two digital experiences are the same. There is an increasing drive to foster more and better collaboration techniques across Ziba. Honing our skills in this area allows us to better facilitate and embed this approach to innovation with our clients.

With each project we further our thinking on the role of design, but we have also witnessed much change in our clients and what they ask us for. They are dealing with a complexity that they struggle to manage, and see design as holding some important answers that can’t be found through operational re-shuffling, efficiencies and a quantitative-based approach. In fact, many are aware that doing so may look good on the books in the short term, but dilutes and obstructs the service offer, effective delivery and resultant quality of experience for people.

Despite Europe’s head start in the service design industry, since my arrival in the US I have found clients in the public and private sector to be just as or even more receptive to designers tackling large-scale and complex problems. These problems relate both to external shifts in trends, behaviors, expectations and competition, and internal processes and principles that may evolve the culture and practices of an organization to deliver better services more effectively.

What excites you about design at the moment?
In a short time, we have seen the scope and role of the designer expand, particularly in the field of service design.
Design Thinking has emerged to return some common sense and consumer championing to business-dominated decision making that has eroded experiences and made some service sectors truly painful to interact with.

At the moment, I’m also fascinated by the ability of servitization – to focus on making a service based on the outcome of a product rather than ownership of the facilitating product – to affect environmental, economic and social impact. Portland (where Ziba’s headquarters are based) is a city eager to embrace these new consumption behaviors and servitization can be seen everywhere from car-sharing to informal tool libraries.

What do you think the future practices of design will look like and why?
There will always be room for specialists and generalists. But the state and business sector’s changing perception of design as a way to champion and represent users across channels, service offerings and systems has changed the game for those with a cross-discipline oversight.

Great services are hard to design and even harder to deliver. We are excited about continually exploring how we can support organizations to make the challenging shifts required to deliver exceptional services at every level. Most importantly at delivery, where design intent is often lost when it contends with the realities of interactions in dynamic environments and across multiple touchpoints.

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