Select Page

Rethinking Service Design + Student Projects + Community Systems with Amy O’Keefe — DT101 E56

Amy O’Keefe is the Studio Director of Northwestern university’s Master of Science and Engineering Design Innovation program, where she leads the human-centered service design studio. We talk about how the pandemic and the expanding awareness of systemic racism might change services, design, project partnerships, service design studio courses, and communities of practice in design education. Show Host: Dawan Stanford

Show Summary

Amy was always interested in experience design, but in the early 90s, there wasn’t a specific discipline teaching it, so Amy had to find her own path by way of studying English literature and architecture during her college years. Her senior thesis — an examination of how people experience memorial architecture, with a focus on the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. — was her first real foray into human-centered design and experience design.

Her original intention to continue studying architecture in graduate school changed after taking a job at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she had the opportunity to dig into digital technology. Instead, she pivoted into a fifteen-year career designing digital products and services. Eventually, Amy returned to university for a graduate degree in product design. She began teaching service design while finishing up her graduate work.

Our conversation takes a look at the world today through a service design lens and talks about how service design is changing — and how it needs to continue to change — in response to what’s happening around us right now.

Listen in to learn more about:

  • Systemic racism and its effects on service design
  • Ways to ensure service design is focused on equity for marginalized populations
  • Some of the projects Amy and her students have worked on in healthcare and social impact spaces
  • Northwestern’s Student Health Leaders project
  • The value of design communities finding ways to connect and converse with one another
  • Fluid Hive’s Adapt, Respond, and Evolve experience
  • Service Ecosystems and Chicago’s Center on Halsted as a great example

Our Guest’s Bio

Amy O’Keefe is the Studio Director of Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) program, where she leads the Human-Centered Service Design Studio.

Amy frequently partners with physicians and healthcare organizations to bring a human-centered approach to addressing complex medical issues. Amy has consulted on service, experience, and integrated multi-channel initiatives for Fortune 50 retail and global Am Law 100 clients. Her professional background includes more than a decade leading multi-disciplinary service, product design, and development at a Chicago-based tech startup acquired by Thomson Reuters. Amy received her MS in Product Design and Development Management from Northwestern. As an undergraduate, Amy embraced the Liberal Arts, majoring in English at Davidson College and studying Architecture in Florence, Italy.

A sampling of Amy’s recent studio collaborations includes: a partnership with Procter & Gamble that led to the 2016 launch of the integrated laundry service, Tide Spin; engagement with Northwestern Medicine and Lurie Children’s Hospital resulting in lead findings presented at the 2016 American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting; and engagement with Penn Medicine’s Anesthesiology and Critical Care team informing the best practices for patient awareness and management of postoperative delirium discussed at the 2016 American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Brain Health Summit.

She is a founding member of the Integrated Design Innovation consortium (IDI) and is working with colleagues from peer programs at University of Pennsylvania, MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, Harvard and several other schools to establish, evolve, and expand the category of Integrated Design Innovation programs in engineering education.

Show Highlights

[01:36] Amy’s “crooked” path to service design.
[03:35] Amy defines intentional design.
[03:51] Her job at the Art Institute of Chicago was her introduction to the idea of digital design and creating digital experiences.
[04:49] Pursuing a graduate degree in product design and teaching service design.
[07:22] Looking at the world and current events through a service design lens.
[08:15] Amy talks about how most of our daily and activity journey maps broke this year.
[09:10] The responsibility of service designers in our current environment.
[11:05] How systemic racism and other world events has affected how service design works and the way Amy teaches service design.
[12:26] Amy’s work on a new framework to encourage a better understanding of all stakeholders and complex adaptive systems in a problem space.
[13:28] The need for service designers to understand the various privileges, power, and identities of potential stakeholders.
[14:39] How many service design tools are problematically designed for an idealized world that doesn’t reflect reality, and how Amy helps students to dig for more accurate insights.
[15:22] Service design, acknowledging risk, and running design prototypes to test the impact on marginalized populations.
[16:45] Putting ethics first as a service designer.
[17:25] Amy talks about how she chooses projects for her classes.
[18:35] Amy offers examples of some of her students’ projects.
[19:30] The Student Health Leaders project at Northwestern.
[23:58] Solving versus responding when it comes to problem spaces.
[26:46] Ways in which the various design practice communities are starting to come together to share ideas and have conversations about the work.
[32:06] Amy asks Dawan to talk about Fluid Hive’s Adapt, Respond, and Evolve experience.
[34:03] The value of bringing leaders from many different schools together to talk about the current challenges and to share lessons learned.
[35:38] The definition of a service ecosystem.
[36:30] Amy talks about Chicago’s Center on Halsted’s LGBTQ service ecosystem.
[38:42] Amy recommends looking up the Fogo Island Inn and Zita Cobbs’ Service Design Network conference presentation.
[40:47] Books and other resources Amy recommends for learning more about service design.
[42:27] Where to find out more about Amy and her work.


Amy at Northwestern University
Amy on LinkedIn
Engineering Design Innovation at Northwestern University
Zita Cobbs and the Crisis of Belonging
Book Recommendation: Service Design: From Insight to Implementation, by Andy Polaine, Lavrans Løvlie, and Ben Reason
Book Recommendation: Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, by Eric Klinenberg
Book Recommendation: Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E. F. Schumacher
Book Recommendation: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein

Other Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Mapping and Service Design + Implementation + Accessibility with Linn Vizard — DT101 E17
Designing Culture at Work + Social Innovation + Necessary Disquiet with Laurie Currie — DT101 E29
Adding System Awareness to System Design to Your Innovation Stack with Julie Guinn — DT101 E43

Tell me how the show helps you.

Photo of Dawan Stanford

Your ideas support and develop the show. Tell the world how the Design Thinking 101 Podcast has helped you think and solve like a designer. Then, tell me how I might make it even more helpful.

Cheers ~ Dawan

Need help right now? Try Fluid Hive's Innovation Shield.

Download this step-by-step guide!

It helps make everything you create more valuable by asking simple questions.

Our workshops and courses are built on Fluid Hive's Question-based Learning and filled with tools ilke this one. Enjoy!

Images of pages from Innovation Shield

Join Dawan in a Free Design Skills Workshop!

Innovation Smart Start Workshop

29 May 2024, 3:30 PM ET, 90 minutes, Register Here!

Solve Like a Designer

11 June 2024, 1:30 PM ET, 90 minutes, Get Notified

Free workshops for people who want to develop, practice and learn design skills for creating services and solutions.

Live, interactive, practical experiences led by Dr. Dawan Stanford.

Get Cool Free Stuff from Fluid Hive!

Join my free Ask Like a Designer Studio!
You get:

  • ideas, lessons, templates, and Ask Like a Designer articles
  • invitations to free events like my Design Skills Workshops
  • Design Skills Course discounts
  • Design Thinking 101 Podcast announcements

Everythig is desinged to help you creare, solve and succeed!
Cheers ~ Dawan

The Designing Facilitation Course

Are you ready to design outstanding events that will engage participants and get the outcomes you need?

Fluid Hive's Designing Facilitation Course is a step-by-step design thinking-fueled system for creating and leading events, workshops and meetings that solve problems, save money, and protect your reputation.

Find Better Problems Course

In this self-paced, online course, Find Better Problems: Creating Better Solutions by Framing More Valuable Problems to Solve, you will learn to create more effective solutions by understanding the problem you are trying to solve.

Creating effective solutions begins with finding, defining and refining the problem you're trying to solve. I help you do that and more with step-by-step instruction and practical templates.