Transformation Design

Kevin McCullagh’s article in Blueprint is the second conversation on Transformation Design to come across my radar this week. The previous one, discussing last year’s RED paper over at Whistle Through Your Comb gave me an opportunity to examine the intersection of service design and transformation design. McCullagh’s article helps to resolve it in more detail.

Transformation design asks designers to shape behaviour—of people, systems and organisations—as well as form.

Hilary Cottam’s description resonates with me because it’s quite similar to the way Carnegie Mellon frames the scope of interaction design: shaping human interaction with objects, people, environments and systems.

It’s inspiring to see the Design Council go after diabetes or the ATO redesign their taxation system but in the US it’s still a tough sell. At CMU I worked for two years with the US Postal Service on a project that involved organizational change and I remember coming to the conclusion that for transformation to occur it would have to infiltrate under the guise of more traditional disciplines.

That’s the direction service design seems to be leaning. The community treats “service design” as an umbrella term for services, experiences and transformations; even backcasting service design onto product design through the world of touchpoints. Settling on “service design” as the value proposition is a more modest way to frame the offering. Marketing journals have been writing about it for 25 years, so it’s no surprise that service design has more legitimacy in the eyes of business.

What was unexpected for me in McCullagh’s article was the criticism of transformation design as social engineering. I’m used to the argument that service design constitutes arrogance; a power grab. It’s an insult hurled from the old guard, and I think it’s at odds with the truly humble nature of service design and the multi-disciplinary collaboration it entails. But social engineering? That stings a little.

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