Interview with Shelley Evenson and Birgit Mager

I wrote this article with Thomas Brandenburg’s help for the Service Design Network U.S. 2017 conference’s blog

Mager and Evenson stand with the other conference organizers at the SDN Global Conference in 2014 in Stockholm.

The friendship of Shelley Evenson and Birgit Mager represents a collaboration that has sustained the field since its early days. Their work has been especially instrumental in the United States. Service design’s origins are in Europe, but early interest in the field across the Atlantic played a part in the development of the global Service Design Network. Though it only went on for only two years, the Emergence Conference in 2006 and 2007 marked the first service design conference in America, and was an important tipping point in the history of the field.

This year, the SDN hosts the first U.S. National Conference on service design. In an interview this summer, Evenson and Mager reflected on their work with the SDN, the Emergence conference, and the way the field of service design in general has grown since its early days in 2003.

“At that point I did not really grasp the significance of what was happening,” said Mager, reflecting on the first Emergence conference.

“I think it was really a starting point for a bigger movement, and gave me the confidence that [the field of service design] is not just the few of us, but that there is a huge interest. I cannot underestimate the confidence and awareness level [that the conference created].”

Though the Service Design Network was founded in 2004, the community was initially quite small outside of Europe. Mager, the founder of the SDN and a professor at Köln International School of Design, wasn’t acquainted with Evenson, who was then teaching at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design.

“I had been asked to teach a week-long course at the Interaction Design Institute at Ivrea,” said Evenson. “They wanted to learn about service design, which I really did not know anything about. We had been doing design strategy for a long time, and we would write product-slash-service, but we never really explored the service side. After this week it became clear I had to learn about service design. It was suggested to me that I contact Birgit.”

“I received an email from Shelley from Carnegie Mellon. I was not so sure what she wanted,” said Mager. “At the time, we were building the Service Design Network; we decided to go to Chicago to meet with a group of people. I thought, since Shelley is in the United States, she could come to Chicago. I was thrilled and amazed when she said yes.”

Said Evenson, “It’s funny, I do remember, I asked you for articles you had written, and you said they were in German. I said, send them anyway, and I put them into Google translate and made sense of it, which was remarkable!”

In Chicago, said Mager, “we had a good talk, good beer, and good jazz, and we made friends!”

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