Industry jargon in 2018: A definitive overview 

We sent a team of five service designers and three strategists to the 2018 Service Design Global Conference in Dublin. Their notes from the conference will be published as a series of three blog posts.

2018-11-09 – 10 min read

While attending the 2018 Service Design Global Conference in Dublin, our jesters had their motley on as they took in the latest shoptalk. And as it turns out, the industry relies on some of the same “universal” terminology popularised decades ago. Who would have thought?

The overuse of jargon is a cross-industry pandemic we are all partly responsible for. Even the model jester, the wittiest court fool of them all. 

Though we might get tired of hearing the same lingo day in day out, buzzwords do serve a very particular purpose. The problems start once all they do is buzz around dialogues like high school rumours. Jargon can quickly descend into meatless bones, and instead of clarifying arguments, crystallising concepts and conveying ideas, they do the opposite.

So let’s set the record straight. Once and for all. 


Agility is per definition “the ability to be quick and graceful.” As an adjective however, agile means something a bit different. But not too different. 

In recent years the term “agile” has become one of the most common buzzwords for agency consultants and their clients alike, often suggested as a solution for wide ranging business problems. 

Agility - the ability of being agile - is sold as a methodology that enables a quick response to change. However, this is a great misconception. Being agile is a mindset – not a methodology – with its highest priority being to satisfy the customer and/or end user. Agility is implemented in iterative ways, through continuous interaction with those end users and customers. More transparent and responsive communication with end users results in higher odds for success, and thus greater agility. 


Simply put, AI is intelligence demonstrated by machines. Intelligence in this context refers to a very general mental capability that, among other things, consists of the ability to reason, solve problems and think abstractly. It reflects a broader and deeper understanding of our surroundings — "catching on," "making sense" of things, or "figuring out" what to do. In other words, it describes the ability to learn or understand new or trying situations.

AI can be summarised as any system that extends human capability by sensing, comprehending, acting, and learning. Basically intelligence on steroids. 

*It is worth noting here that like all buzzed up jargon, AI is an extremely broad concept. Other associated capabilities like machine and deep learning fall below it.

‘Breaking down the silos’

In reality, this expression has nothing to do with destroying actual grain-filled silos, as if a post-apocalyptic famine has set in. It’s not as if we aren’t making bread from crickets these days anyway, so I’m sure we’ll be fine if that does happen.

Instead, the concept refers to the metaphor of “breaking up” traditional organisational divisions and structures though intimate collaboration of cross functional, agile teams. It feels like the second coming is near if we manage to break down all silos once and for all. What a phrase.


Culture can be defined as “collectively regarded manifestations of intellectual human achievement.” In this context, culture refers to that of an organisation, of an entity comprising of multiple actors with a collective goal. Oh, and just like you and I, the office coffee machine is one such actor, playing an important role in facilitating culture.

Culture therefore involves expectations, experiences, philosophy, as well as the values that guide behaviour. Simply put, culture is “the way things are done around here.” The importance of  culture can't be overemphasised. We see a culture-less organisation like a tree without roots - it simply won’t grow.

Customer journey

This is a relatively straight forward one. A customer journey is the complete sum of experiences and stages that we go through when interacting with a service, product or brand. Instead of looking at individual parts of an experience, the customer journey documents the full experience of being a consumer, and becoming a customer.


As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, design is “the art or action of conceiving and producing a plan or drawing of something before it is made.” But I’m not sure that’s the full extent of it, since design can happen in real time as well. It shouldn’t be limited to being pre-meditated.

Design is so fundamental that it manifests in everything from objects, visual communication and symbols, to systems and human interactions. It could be said, in jest, that ‘design can be art and design can be aesthetics; design is so simple, that it's complicated.’

Design is one of the fundamental pillars we use for facing a different tomorrow. For us, it serves as a means to transform abstractions into beautiful, concrete and simple experiences. In other words, design brings ideas from the twilight zone, to the daylight of the real world.


Often synonymously used with “execution” and defined as “the process of putting a decision or plan into effect,” implementation is the activity of getting things done according to a plan. Despite it’s elementary definition, actual implementation remains a difficult undertaking for many. This is where a jester’s helping hand comes into play. 


It seems to me that nowadays leadership is spoken about as an x-factor for the success of an organisation, meanwhile many recognise the lack or absence of it. So what exactly is lacking? 

First of all, no one is born with leadership capabilities, it’s a skill you learn and accumulate over time. Secondly, leadership takes on many forms depending on circumstances. A leader of a sports team will apply different methods than a business leader, though the desired outcome is similar. Thirdly, leadership in a corporate context is about having the courage to:

  1. Be a patient listener
  2. Set expectations and a vision
  3. Use the right language, e.g. “…, yes and…” instead of “…, but…”
  4. Be humble and grateful
  5. Be short and concise, communication is the heart of leadership
  6. Be mindful
  7. Be inspiring and positive
  8. Take and give ownership
  9. Let people know when they’ve done good work
  10. Let people know they can trust you
  11. Always be available, even for a short moment 
  12. Have trust and faith, build belief within in your team


Once again we turn to our trusted jargon-opus, the Oxford English Dictionary, where service is defined as “the action of helping or doing work for someone.” Seems a bit broad for our purposes doesn’t it?

Services are distinct from goods and products, though a product may be prone to services that alter its potential. A consensus regarding the “accepted” features of a service are referred to as “IHIP,” an acronym of: intangible, heterogeneous, inseparable and perishable. 

To make things easier, think of service as anything (yes, a-n-y-thing) that makes someone or something better off in some respect.

Service design & Design thinking

Now we’re entering some very buzzy territory. Let’s put the SDN definitions for both notions under the microscope, and see where we end up. 

Service design is defined by SDN as “the activity of planning and organising people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers.”

Design thinking however, is described by SDN as a “discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible, and with what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

What’s the difference? 

Service design is about people and the right mindset, whereas design thinking is the right mindset. Therefore, service design can be understood as the application of design thinking and design methodologies.

Organizational change 

Organizational change can be continuous or it can occur for distinct periods of time, manifesting itself in two forms: firstly, as the process in which an organization changes its structure, strategies, operational methods, technologies or culture to create or respond to change within the organization; and secondly, as the actual effects of these changes.

At Motley we believe that tomorrow will always be different, since nothing is permanent except change. For us, organisations are living organisms that need to continuously be reminded to live in the present, the “now,” and not attach themselves to yesterday’s successes.


We’re down to the last term and we’ve appropriately reached peak jargon. It’s therefore only right that we return to the Oxford English Dictionary one last time. 

In that vortex of definition and sense, value is defined as “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” Clear enough, right?

However from a service management perspective the definition of value is one of the most ill-defined and elusive. There are several holistic approaches that try to offer an alternative, but nevertheless no further conclusions have been made. 

Instead of defining the concept as such, the focus ought to shift towards the value creation process. This becomes at once easier to qualify, and can be stated as any process that increases a customer’s well-being so that they are better off in some respect.

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Written by

Walter Estlander

Walter is a Strategist at Motley

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