Interview with Xenia Viladas, Service Design Professor and Associate Chair at SCAD
By Thomas Brandenburg
“Design education in particular, the way I see it, suffers from a lack of clarity in the offerings: the growth in the number of schools forces them to a harsh competition and a “differentiation anxiety” that results in confusing naming, strange combinations of subjects, and watering down of standards.” — Xenia Viladas
Looking back can you share the journey that led you to becoming an advocate for service design?
I have a trajectory of 30+ years in Design Management. I met Lavrans Lovlie and Joe Hippy in 2003 and was intrigued by what they were doing, but at that time I was not able to embark in new ventures. Some years after that I researched about it, while doing my PhD studies (which I later dropped), and the result of this research was published as a book. The book was a flop but the return has been great, since it gave me a foundation in the matter which I leveraged and kept working in the field, from my position as an independent consultant. Finally, in 2014, I was invited to teach Service Design at SCAD and, since then, I have been teaching, learning and researching Service Design around the clock.
How is design education getting disrupted today?
My views on education are somehow blurred between my experience in Europe and in the US, so anything I say must be taken with a grain of salt.
My main concern with regards to education in general is the lack of coherent public policies and public funding, that provides young generations with a solid cultural foundation that will make them better as professional later in life, no matter what they choose to do.
Design education in particular, the way I see it, suffers from a lack of clarity in the offerings: the growth in the number of schools forces them to a harsh competition and a “differentiation anxiety” that results in confusing naming, strange combinations of subjects, and watering down of standards. The result is a bunch of nondescript profiles that are difficult to identify and to recruit.
I personally like to go the other way: clear denominations, specific, targeted knowledge, higher standards – including great collaboration skills-, for strong profiles and easily employable profiles.
The market today keeps you studying and updating your knowledge all throughout your career, and this is what, ultimately, ends up shaping you as a full rounded professional.
What are some of the gaps in higher education that need to be addressed to help prepare students become successful in practicing service design?
For quite some time Service Design, being a young discipline, may have felt the lack of properly trained educators and the absence of a corpus of theory to support research, but I feel that this crossing of the desert is overcome today.
What are you most excited about when it comes to teaching service design in design schools?
The best thing of teaching is the students, and I am lucky to say that my student bring to the class an amount of curiosity and energy that is truly infectious!
The most interesting thing in teaching SD is to walk the students from a very simple, easy to understand front end of the service into the deep complexity of the interrelated systems: when this transition is properly managed and supported on behalf of the educator, you can see the student blooming and eventually acquiring a completely new, more elaborated discourse, that denotes their readiness to confront the world in which they live.
It is worth every drop of sweat you put into it!
What advice might you have for somebody on the fence about choosing service design as a profession?
Abstain unless you have a great deal of intellectual curiosity and you feel comfortable with ambiguity and confusion. Be ready to work extra hard, and to enjoy every second if it!
Be sure to see Xenia’s keynote presentation, “Scaling SD Object From Touchpoints to Ecosystems – A Personal View” at the upcoming 2017 SDN Global Conference
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