Archive for October, 2007

Stefan Moritz’s 2005 thesis Practical Access to Service Design [PDF 2.5MB] from Köln International School of Design is by far the most comprehensive overview of the discipline I’ve encountered. Weighing in at over 200 pages plus appendices, Moritz digs up 16 different models for understanding service design and a collection of memorable quotes from luminaries in the field.

He also includes brief service design vignettes for Virgin, Orange, FedEx, First Direct, AT&T, Lufthansa, Streetcar, Heathrow, Black and White, Juniper, and London Oyster cards.

A while back Rosenfeld Media surveyed business magazines and analyst firms to get a sense of their “UX consciousness,” inferred by how often terms like “usability” or “user experience” came up in their literature or on their websites.

Bain & Company’s Management Tools and Trends Survey [PDF 448K] provides a similar view into the world of management (and management consulting). Since 1993, they’ve surveyed executives around the world about the management tools they use and how effectively those tools have performed. For the 2007 survey, they focused on 25 of the most popular tools and techniques that are “relevant to senior management, topical (as evidenced by coverage in the business press) and measurable.”

There’s a bare glimmer of overlap with design techniques. Starting this year Bain began measuring collaborative innovation and consumer ethnography for the first time. The techniques show up on the radar of fewer than half the executives surveyed.

Pine and Gilmore’s book The Experience Economy is chock full of helpful frameworks for understanding the concept of experience. Last week I wrote about how they distinguish experiences from other economic offerings. Today I want to focus on their framework for understanding experience itself.

Their Experience Realm framework organizes experiences on two axes according to the level of guest participation (active vs passive) and the connection between the guest and the environment (absorptive vs immersive). This results in four quadrants:

  • Entertainment – Passive events such as attending a concert, a sporting event or the theater
  • Education – Events that require active participation and reflection such as school, college or workshops
  • Escapism – Active and immersive events such as theme parks, casinos, video games or paint ball
  • Esthetic – Passive and reflective events such as viewing natural wonders or attending an art exhibition

For Pine and Gilmore, an experience is a memorable event. The first step toward making an experience memorable is to make it recognizable. The philosopher John Dewey wrote about this process in his classic essay “Having an Experience” (from Art as Experience). Most experiences are what Dewey called inchoate; they’re unfulfilled, with no closure. To elevate an experience from the daily stream of activity that we encounter, that experience needs to be fully formed with a clearly articulated beginning, middle and end.

Think about this in terms of the experiences Pine and Gilmore enumerate. Stage plays have a clearly articulated beginning. The lights dim and the curtain rises. A successful production engages the audience until the end when the cast takes a bow and the audience leaps to their feet in applause. That traditional act brings the experience to a satisfying conclusion.

Well-defined examples are everywhere. The opening tip-off at a basketball game. College graduation. The grand finale of a fireworks exhibition. The Olympics opening ceremonies. The Main Street Electrical Parade. Johnny Carson’s opening monologue. The closing keynote at a conference. The starting pistol. The ending credits. These bookends help define an experience and give it power.

Richard Chase wrote about this phenomenon in HBR in an article entitled Want to Perfect your Company’s Service? Use Behavioral Science. “Ultimately, only one thing really matters in a service encounter—the customer’s perception of what occurred.” It’s entirely possible to shape this perception by how we form the experience. His first recommendation? Finish strong.

Design 21: The Social Design Network showcases some inspirational projects worth checking out. Some, like the One Laptop per Child project have been on the public radar for a while now, but many are more obscure. The site asks, “are you a socially conscious designer, non-profit, individual or organization who believes social change can happen through design?”

Here’s how they frame the collaboration:

We came to recognize the need for a network that might bridge the gap between the organizations that support causes and the people with the design expertise to provide smart solutions.

We’ve got to get past the image of the benevolent designer handing down solutions from on high; it’s a little too product-focused and top-down to be considered service design. But any uptick in the understanding that design can impact broader social problems is a good thing.

See also, Social Design Site.

[via Good]

ATM Ambassador

Bank of America recently installed some new streetside ATMs at their Van Ness location here in San Francisco. Today, on my way home I noticed a man hovering around the ATMs with a nametag that read ATM Ambassador. After I finished my transaction I walked over and asked him why he was there. He explained that the machines were new and then pointed to a lady who was apparently confused by the new deposit protocol (no envelopes). He darted over to help and I took my leave.

As I walked home I thought more about it. Bank of America has a history of service innovation, but I couldn’t decide whether employee-facilitated ATM transactions were a step forward or a step back. Seems to defeat the purpose.

Either way it seems like there would be some thorny issues concerning how to insinuate an employee into an automated transaction without startling the customer. The standard banking “uniform” isn’t enough to distinguish employees on the street, and the nametag doesn’t project authority, especially from a quick glance over the shoulder as a strange man looms into your personal space. I wonder how often he gets maced?

Service Usability

Researchers have been working to quantify the concept of service quality for nearly twenty years. A. Parasuraman’s perennially debated SERVQUAL scale is probably the best known example. It measures the reliability of the service, the responsiveness, assurance and empathy of its frontline personnel and the quality of its tangibles (i.e. touchpoints).

Live|Work has a similar index for what they call “service usability” (borrowing a page from the HCI playbook). Here’s an overview from earlier this year in Business Week:

The index starts with broad questions such as: do customers understand the service’s benefits; is the experience enjoyable, easy to use, and accessible? Then it drills down to assess how the customer experience ranks at every touch point, such as the Web, marketing materials, and call centers, to the service itself, scoring each step.

Measuring an intangible offering is a tricky proposition, and it’s not a substitute for design. But it is a siren song for business so it’s not surprising that service usability consultancies are stepping up to the plate.

For the culmination of the 2007 Design of the Times in Newcastle, several students from Köln International School of Design have launched an unofficial service design blog to share their photos and observations. They’ve also posted interviews with service designers Alex Webb Allen from live|work and Julia Schaeper from Engine.

Update: John Thackara’s overview of the festival.

Disney is generally held as an exemplar of experience design. For an example of how experiences build on services which build on systems, dig into the Wired archives and read Hack the Magic, the exclusive underground tour of Disney World.

From a system point of view, it makes sense for most cities to place trash cans at intersections between paths, so the trash cans serve traffic in two directions. That cuts down on the number of trash cans. But at Walt Disney World, a decorative trash can is never more than 25 paces away from any spot in the park. They’re always within view. It’s more about optimizing for tidyness than optimizing for trash cans. An artificially clean park is part of the experience. Ubiquitous trash cans and the network of cast members who clean up after guests are examples of systems and services that support that experience.

For more on the inner workings of Disney, check out the book Inside the Mouse: The Project on Disney.

Service designers are pretty good at explaining the difference between products and services. We’ve had 30 years to articulate the distinction to the point where it’s become boilerplate for the first five minutes of any service design pitch. But we’re not as good at articulating the difference between services, experiences and transformations. Chris Downs talked about this problem during his keynote at Emergence this year.

The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore presents a framework for understanding the distinctions. Most people remember this book for its emphasis on theatre and the staging of experiences and I’ll come back to those topics in a future post, but for now I want to focus on their framework for understanding services, experiences and transformations.

Their basic argument is that a natural progression of economic value exists, starting with basic commodities and building to products, services and experiences before culminating with transformations as the offerings becomes more customized and tailored to the individual.

Here’s their table of Economic Distinctions.

  • Commodities are fungible materials extracted from the natural world. The raw materials are the offering.
  • Goods are tangible products that companies standardize and then inventory. The products are the offering.
  • Services are intangible activities that are delivered for a particular client. The operation is the offering.
  • Experiences are memorable events that are staged for individuals. The event is the offering.
  • Transformations are custom experiences designed to guide individuals through a process of change. The individual is the offering.

Pine and Gilmore see services, experiences and transformations as distinct economic offerings, each incorporating the previous levels of the hierarchy, just as services depend on products as key components (touchpoints) for their execution.

Using this framework, service design itself seems a little dry. Very much about operational efficiency. Blueprinting processes and executing them. More about the system than the individual. Much of the service design literature from the 1990s reflects this industrialization of service.

My hunch is that most service designers embrace goals that go beyond simple transactional models of service delivery. They aspire to work in the realm of experience design and transformation design. The problem is, those still sound a little exotic to most clients, even eight years after The Experience Economy was published. I’m fine if we use “service design” as a less pretentious umbrella term to get through the door.

But experience design and transformation design are still lurking just beneath the surface and it’s important to tease out the distinctions as we go along. Pine and Gilmore’s work provides the best roadmap I’ve seen for finding our way.

I missed this report last month while I was on the road, but the Fora Concept Design [PDF 17.9MB] study out of Denmark is worth taking a look at as long as you’re not completely burnt out on neologisms. “Concept design” is essentially an umbrella term that they’ve invented to describe elements from service design, business design, strategic design and transformation design, with an emphasis on the transformation aspect.

I wasn’t familiar with the term, but apparently San Francisco is a hotbed for concept design studios. I even used to work for one. They designate IDEO, Smart Design, Frog, Adaptive Path, Cheskin and Jump Associates along with over two dozen other firms from around the world as “concept design” exemplars. From my experience it seems like Cheskin and Jump are a reasonable fit, but I get the feeling that Adaptive Path would bristle at the suggestion that they only design concepts.

Of course, Fora’s argument is more complex than that, and I’m not familiar with many of the international firms so it wouldn’t do to dismiss the idea out of hand. Take a look and see for yourself. Regardless of the verdict, the report is interesting for its glimpse across so many high-profile design studios. Is anyone not using post-it notes and whiteboards?

Here’s some background on the methodology [PDF 992K].

[via Leland]