Ten years of Koos (part 2)

Robbert-Jan van Oeveren

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6 min read

Jun 17, 2021

Last year, we celebrated the ten year anniversary of Koos. Naturally, this milestone is the perfect time to look back. In this three part blog series, Robbert-Jan - one of Koos’ founders - reflects on a decade of Koos by answering ten questions. In the second part of the ‘Ten years of Koos’ blog series, Robbert-Jan reflects on how Service Design has developed as an industry and as a profession. Furthermore, he finally explains how we ever ended up in Lisbon (spoiler: It has something to do with the weather and a particular Portuguese snack).

What is the biggest difference between Service Design in 2009 and 2019?

Back in 2010, practically no one knew what Service Design was. I remember one of our first new business meetings, where we talked for an hour about why Service Design is awesome. At the end of the conversation, the client bravely asked us ‘Well that sounds great and everything, but what is it you actually do?’. If you don’t know what Service Design is, it can be really hard to grasp. Design? Isn’t that something about creating beautiful chairs? At the same time, it was hard for us to point out the unique aspects of our way of working and its benefits. The design approach was all we knew.

Throughout the years, we got better at explaining ourselves. Sometimes this meant that we did not mention ‘Service Design’ explicitly, as it might trigger the wrong connotation. Instead, we talked about the benefits of a design driven approach, like ‘prevent spending big budgets on new ideas, only to find out that customers don’t want it when you finally go live’ or ‘realise a faster time to market’. Who does not want that?

If you don’t know what Service Design is, it can be really hard to grasp. Design? Isn’t that something about creating beautiful chairs?

Nowadays, Service Design as a discipline has matured. Not only have new tools come and gone, but the reach of our methodology broadened and has become better integrated with other fields like UX Design or agile development. Also, the challenges we work on have become more complex as entire organisations are implementing the methodology and mindset. 

I’m very proud of the fact that Koos has been continually evolving and pushing the limits of service design. The fact that we currently have our own Service Design Academy, a full-fledged UX-team and a maturity model to assess organisations is something I could have never guessed when we started out with Koos ten years ago.  

Koos website 2009 vs. 2020, which is your favourite?

Haha, what do you want me to say? Obviously I have to pick the 2020 version, otherwise our UX-designers would be very upset. But seriously, I think the current website is way better than the old one (visit the old website by clicking here).

If you think of Koos as a person, it has grown, learned a lot, and is wiser now. I think this is perfectly reflected in the website. We started with a one pager with very limited information, but with a refreshing style and tone of voice. Everything screamed youthfulness. Our current website is a different cup of tea. Our services have expanded and there is a lot of information on the site. Not only Koos, but the market has matured too. This shows on the website. We used to start our page with an explanation of what Service Design was, as that was the first question everyone always asked us. Nowadays, most people that contact us already know about Service Design, allowing us to move this section to a blog. 

All versions of our website have had a playful twist and this is luckily still the case. It is a good reflection of who we are; a mix between analytical thinking and creative problem solving. That’s the reason why I like our current website better. It is a better reflection of who we are at this moment.

The new 2020 Koos website, professional with a playful twist. Coming soon...

Koos opened a Lisbon office in 2017. Why did Koos go there and how was it established?

Nice weather, beautiful beaches, great surfing, delicious food, why wouldn’t you want to go to Lisbon? But on a serious note; we’ve been in Lisbon since June 2015. Me and Jules were at our old office at Rokin when the phone rang. It was a team from NOS, the leading Portuguese telecom provider (the equivalent of KPN in the Netherlands). 

NOS told us they wanted to redesign their complete service from a customer perspective. But that was not all. They also wanted us to train the organisation in applying Service Design. At that time there were not a lot of companies outside the Netherlands that knew how to find us, so we were a bit skeptical. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is, right?? However, they were asking for help in an area that was spot-on with our competencies (and we were craving for some pastéis de Nata), so we decided to go for it.

Training NOS employees in Lisbon to help them apply Service Design in their organisation.

We flew over to Lisbon for an introduction with the NOS team. They asked us to write a proposal straight away, so we spent that entire night writing it. We presented it the next morning and we left for the airport right after. It’s safe to say these two days were quite the rollercoaster ride. A few days later, they called us and said that we had a go for the project. This was of course fantastic, but also led to our first challenge: We needed a full-time team of three in Lisbon for a couple of months to actually run the project. As there were only a handful of Koosjes at the time, you can easily see the impact that had on our operation! 

A year later, we still had recurring business with NOS. Around that time, Kasper, who lived in Rio de Janeiro at that moment, walked into our office to visit a friend from university. Ah, you speak Portuguese. Ok, and you’re a Dutch Service Designer looking for a new challenge? Hmmm… 

Obviously, it didn’t take us long to connect the dots and ask him if he wanted to start a Koos office in Lisbon. And what shall I say, the rest is history! I must admit that if we would have made a thorough strategic analysis, we probably wouldn’t have started in Lisbon. But the opportunity was there; We had a launching customer, Portugal was getting on its feet again after a heavy crisis, we had the right person who wanted to go for it. How can you possibly not get excited about that?

Today, there are four Koosjes working in Lisbon. The team has seen rapid growth last year, growing three times faster than the Amsterdam office. Their ambition: outperform the Amsterdam office. The best thing about our Lisbon office is that we’ve learned a lot, leaving us wanting for more. So… what country will be next?

Stay tuned for more Koos history. In the meanwhile...

Service Design Days 2020: Harry Potter, Kings Cross and Spaceships

Service Design and the transition to a Circular Economy

Looking back on our first fully remote project

Preparing for the new world

Anniversary Interview – Jette

How to fulfill work-related needs?

The new balancing act between life and work

Why design can help your company in times of crisis

How do you set up a remote user test?

When your home becomes your office