(Part of an ongoing series of potential service design opportunities.  International Service Design Institute)

I am continually on a search for emerging opportunities for service designers. So far I’ve discovered service designers will be called upon to solve some of world’s most pressing challenges: healthcare prevention — as the sector attempts to transition more away from treatment. Resiliency in the face of climate change, to install measures that will help protect residents from the effects of a warming climate, and help speed recovery in the aftermath. And, population growth, with services to improve mobility in the face of people migrations, including urban growth, and to manage demand dwindling food resources.

Service design, a field of practice for designing services (much like product design is for products), includes techniques that force designers and planners to tackle these challenges from a user perspective — how it will be used.

Then there are smart cities:

A smart city is intended to achieve higher standards for safety, cleanliness, and efficiency, all while accommodating projected urban growth. Those outcomes involve tying together Information and Communications Technology (ICT), with physical devices using the Internet of Things (IoT) network, and with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for real-time mapping and positioning.

Arial view of Palava, a smart city spread across 4500 acres in India, located an hour drive from Mumbai airport. Courtesy of Indian real estate developer, Lodha Group.

Arial view of Palava, a smart city spread across 4500 acres in India, located an hour drive from Mumbai airport. Courtesy of Indian real estate developer, Lodha Group.

Assembling the components is a challenge well-suited for service designers. They have the know-how, with experience using models, tools and techniques for integrating human behavior into the technologies required for automating the services cities provide.

Granted, there are other specialties, say, Human Systems Integration that support systems development. But only service design takes a comprehensive user-centric approach whose primary purpose is to design services around the user. The service designer’s focus is on outcome while designing a solution based on satisfying user needs.

The Vision for a Smart City


  • Connecting a smart city requires a strong wireless network. This will be provided by cells the size of shoe boxes. And they will be located on street lights, antennas, and on buildings.
  • The inter-connections will provide real-time detection, analysis and reporting to tap any number of public services.
  • The technology will operate lighting, monitor and regulate energy, operate traffic controls, and initiate faster emergency responses.
  • Some of the overarching benefits include higher energy-efficiency, environmental monitoring and response, and better, reliable and accessible high-speed WiFi.



  • Produced closer to where consumers live, thereby reducing dependence on storage capacity.
  • More affordable and environmentally friendly energy supply, largely due to more efficient solar and wind technologies.
  • Also, automation systems that will make setting adjustments for optimum lighting, air ventilation and interior air quality.

Water, Wastewater, Garbage and Recyling

  • Smart technology will help improve how wastewater is collected and separated, lowering energy costs and improving recycling.
  • Garbage trucks will be more efficient, and their routes better aligned to minimize energy and maximize capacity.
  • Real-time water and wastewater usage monitoring will help quickly detect leaks and stoppages for faster remedies.
  • Drinking water will be safer to drink through automated controls, even as populations grow and existing facilities reach present day capacity.
  • What’s more, the use of technologies will promote better water and wastewater system maintenance, which will lowering users’ cost for processing and distribution.


  • Fewer drivers will encounter traffic congestion.
  • Transportation systems will monitor traffic and control signaling, plus communicate alternative routes to drivers and self-driving vehicles.
  • Self-driving cars, also known as semi and autonomous vehicles, will be used as shuttles. That will be an incentive to reduce vehicle ownership, a household cost savings of no less than $4,000 a year per vehicle.
  • Drones, currently in use by some cities, will constantly roam overhead detecting and reporting traffic accidents.
  • All parking meters will be equipped with technology to broadcast availability.

Still, there are major hurdles to overcome for an urban area to transform into smart city, David Pickeral said. Pickeral is chief strategy officer for Parkafon, a smart city mobility consulting firm with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.

What do Singapore, Dubai, Milton Keynes, London, Southampton, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and New York City all have in common? They are all becoming smart cities. Share on X

He said Singapore and Dubai are the most advanced toward becoming a smart city. Other cities with inter-connected ambition include Milton Keynes, London and Southampton in the UK, and Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and New York City.

What’s holding them back were issues tied to funding and compensation, Pickeral said.

For instance, IBM, Siemens, Cisco and Ford have embarked on research and develop to create smart city offerings, including products and services. But municipalities throughout the democratic Western world are dealing with budget shortfalls and the more pressing need to improve infrastructure. Advancing forward would require voter support to raise and spend the sums to acquire and install the technology, Pickeral said.

Then there are the who are attempting to enter the smart city market for profits. But most municipalities offer public services based on a fee to provide them, as is the case with utilities, which users pay for what they use. In the transportation domain, municipalities subsidize as much as 80 cents for every dollar spent by bus and train travel, plus any other modes of public transportation.

“Even if you are losing less money for government, is there recovery for investors?,” asks Pickeral. “Nowadays, even taxis are n jeopardy.” And so are the likes of Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services, according to recent public statements that show they have yet to earn a profit. In April 2019, Uber Technologies Inc. released its financial statement ahead of an IPO, initial public offering, including this: “(the company) may never make a profit.”

Clearly, smart city evolution is in the hands of voters, Pickeral believes. “That is what is going to finally to push this forward. Millennials are (now) voting and voting in these initiatives, holding leaders accountable. It’s becoming real. A critical mass is getting involved.”

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