Marc standing on a stage with people watching him and a presentation with a white slide in the background, that says: "Disclaimer, I don't know anything about the future"

Working towards clear goals: an interview with Marc Fonteijn

October 4, 2022

Professionals working in the experience innovation field represent an array of skills and knowledge: Designers and managers, researchers and engineers, data-driven and creative folks, CX, UX, EX… the profession has many faces. We are thrilled to have a truly inspiring CX expert share some of his background, his learnings, and a few insights into his work: please meet Marc Fonteijn!

My job / my role / how I call myself

These days I would describe myself as an educator and a catalyst. My role is to give service design professionals the confidence they need to step up and lead positive change. 

My professional background 

It’s been a never-ending journey of learning and being surprised. I co-founded the first service design agency in the Netherlands back in 2006. I didn't have any formal design education so I had to learn everything from scratch and I had to figure things out as I went along.

This also gave me the unique opportunity to shape the field in a way that I thought was best so there were exciting times. 

How I got into service design 

I think the first time I got into service design was through an article. I immediately saw the potential of service design. 

I was coming from the software development area where for me it was quite clear which pain or problem service design was solving: there was a pain of developing solutions that eventually nobody would end up using – which was happening a lot. 

I didn't want to spend my career creating solutions that were sort of useless.

The thing that attracted me to service design was that I could focus on what should we build and why should we build it – rather than how should we build it, a question I got pretty bored with quite quickly.

Tools and methods that I use the most

Today I use tools like building a movement, the power of collaboration, giving diverse voices a stage, growing confidence, and connecting like-minded people, … I think those are the tools to achieve the goal that I previously described.

I think in the service design field you need to have relevant experience in/with …

If I would have to pick one thing I would say: understand how and why top-level decisions are made inside organizations, both for-profit and non-profit organizations. 

I think the better you understand that, the easier it is to align with that and to make sure that your day-to-day activities make more sense. 

Building empathy for top-level decision-making also makes you get less frustrated.

An unconventional skill that helps me with service design

I think it’s the ability to play chess. Chess is a very interesting metaphor for service design because you need to both see the bigger picture and be able to plan your next move all in one view; being able to think three steps ahead, but also being in the moment. 

I'm definitely not an expert chess player but I know the basics and I think that helped me a lot.

A secret way of working that helps me to be successful 

To be honest I think it's putting physical and mental health first. 

I do workouts throughout the day: every 50 minutes I take five minutes to exercise, throughout the day which maybe gives me 30 minutes to an hour of exercise every day. I think that's a luxury that most people don't permit themselves with regards to mental health. I also do daily journaling, and I do a lot of walks for reflection.

The other secret is I think that you need to have a hobby, a side project that you enjoy and where you can explore. 

Whether it's brewing beer, cooking, or flying drones – find something that's not work-related and you'll be surprised how many connections to work you'll actually be able to find.

Learning resources 

I enjoy using these channels to take my inspiration from and to get into a creative mindset.

  • Waking up, a meditation app by Sam Harris
  • 2bobs, a podcast with Blair Enns and Davic D. Baker
  • The Futur, a design education platform with Chris Do

My tip for newbies who want to start working on CX projects

Find a way to celebrate the small wins! 

Recognize the small wins and enjoy the journey, because it's a long ride and you have to have a lot of patience. Also, keep your eye on the bigger goals. It's easy to get discouraged if things don't work out as fast as you'd like. You often are already a few steps ahead of the rest of the organization so you have to find a way to recognize and celebrate the things that happen on a day-to-day basis because the big things might be a long, long way out – and if you focus on that, you'll get discouraged. 

The main skill of a CX manager / service designer

I think if we look at the manager, it's all about shaping the environment so that the team can do its best work. 

As recently one of the guests on the Service Design Show said: most organizations aren’t a good fit for service design – your job as a manager is to make that fit better.

The most important milestone of a CX / service design project

I would say it's an initial meeting with a client or a stakeholder. In that initial meeting, you can make sure that you get to work on the right challenges, and that this opportunity in front of you is really worth your time and energy.

I think a lot of certain professionals jump onto challenges way too quickly. Slow down and be very critical about if you'll be able to add value here.

You deserve better clients!

I think if you're professionals sometimes suffer from a god complex; they think that every challenge is interesting and they'll be able to shape it as they go along. I would say: be more critical! Is this really a challenge you should be investing your time and energy in?

Set yourself up for success. Find better clients. 

A great moment of success 

I think it's every time I hear that my content has helped someone to make more impact, maybe helped them advance in their career, or helped them to make the next step in their career, or to overcome a certain fear. 

I get small comments like this quite often and it's super rewarding and humbling to see that the things I put out there have an impact better in people's lives.

It's funny to hear that people are listening to the podcast while they are running or they are commuting to work.

I would never (again) … 

… do my work without having defined my goals for the next 5 years, year, quarter, month, and week. 

I'm quite obsessed with goal setting and having clear objectives; I'm also quite flexible with my goals, but I always make sure that I know what I'm working towards. And I often evaluate what I'm working towards if that's still meaningful.

When I don't have a clear vision of the goals, I'm less productive, I'm less happy, and my outcomes are more incremental rather than things that actually make a bigger impact.

How I think service design will develop in the future

Service design will become – and it needs to become – even more multi- and interdisciplinary.

I think one of the ways we can achieve that is by losing the term service designer.

I don't think there's a service designer – there are people working in the service design space.

That's much more constructive because it's much more inviting for people who have different backgrounds and who don't have a search design degree. Let's lose the word service designer. Let's rather talk about certain professionals and service design as a field where people from multiple disciplines work together on creating better services.

A trend that I observe in the industry 

The strongest trend that I'm seeing right now is that more and more organizations are building in-house service design capabilities. This is becoming so clear and it's a great thing for our field.

You can follow Marc Fonteijn on…