Archive for December, 2007

William Choi and Antoine Sindhu’s archaeological history of the slot machine includes a fascinating analysis of casino design, focusing on practices they characterize as manipulative and deceitful. Some techniques are well known, including the noticeable lack of natural light and clocks. A few are more surprising:

Other features of the casino, including the music, carpeting, and even the air conditioning system, are manipulated to the casino’s advantage. Studies have shown that carpeting is often purposefully jarring to the eyes, which draws customers’ gaze upwards toward the machines on the gambling floor. Music is usually mild and soothing, and plays on a continuous loop rather than individual songs, contributing to a trance-like feeling of warmth and comfort in the gamblers. It has even been reported that casinos have attempted to manipulate the air circulation in order to affect the behavior of gamblers….

Casinos are an archetypal example of experience design and Choi and Sindhu’s exploration reflects a theme of “control” that seems to be baked into the discipline.

Update: Johndan Johnson-Eilola takes this theme and runs with it over at work/space.

I’ve been digging through more of the InterSections 2007 transcripts this week and found a great session that touches on the differences between management consulting and service design: What can design bring to strategy?

Our strength is in bringing those threads together and telling stories. A management consultancy report can be quite dry and statistical which for certain people in the business world is the way they operate, they need to see spreadsheets, they need to see data, but ultimately they are trying to reach out to partners, to the marketplace and to do that they can’t go with data, they have got to go with stories and we can take that data and translate that effectively into stories, that is the thing we really need to perfect in a way, is our ability to tell stories. 

Consultants are better at marketing, they market their services better and they are better at networking, they court the influences. If you want to exert strategic influence you have to get close to people to exercise that power. They are better at pricing: well, put it this way, they are better at putting the real value on what they offer and I think the design profession falls down, I think you undercharge dreadfully. They are good at listening, a real skill, they come in, they listen and empathise, they are good at analysis in terms of trawling for data and assembling information and they are very good at assembling an argument in business terms.

They are the good things. What they are not good at is lack of breadth of vision and lack of creativity. I have seen some very good consultants’ reports which analyse situations saying ‘Get out of this market, cut this’ and what ever, I have never seen one that you read and thought, ‘I didn’t think to see it that way’. They miss the big picture, they miss the big opportunities, no-one who has broken in to a new field which is popular and has done fantastically well has done so on the basis of a management consultant’s report. So they have their role, but it is very different, you can see what design brings to it because they are not so good at the earlier points I made they are not really influencing that role.

Steal This Service

I saw a sad little sign at a car wash this weekend and was intrigued by the idea of “stealing a service.” They’re claiming that if you use their change machine to get quarters for the laundromat then you’re stealing their service. I don’t know if the car wash owner is any more persuasive than television executives who claim that skipping the commercials on TV constitutes stealing, but I spent some time thinking about how services manage theft.

Stealing a product if fairly straightforward, but since services are intangible they can only be “stolen” by withholding payment. It seems like the easiest way to prevent theft is to require payment up front. The concept of admission covers this facet of service delivery. Theaters, amusement parks, sporting events. People steal these services by sneaking in. Postponing payment until after the service has already been delivered, like at a restaurant, creates the possibility of the “dine-and-dash” and in doing so shifts the balance of power to the customer but it implies trust on the part of the service provider and creates a more hospitable environment.

You can shift around these patterns, but something is lost in translation. Some restaurants take payment up front—fast food, take-out and cafeteria-style dining—but it’s tough to adopt this structure without seeming a little crass. Could a stylist demand money before trimming your hair? On the other hand, imagine a theater where you only paid on the way out if the movie lived up to your expectations…

Memory Points

Witold Rybczynski’s most recent book Last Harvest is an overview of traditional neighborhood development (TND) in Pennsylvania. For me, Rybczynski’s architectural writings often contain oblique insights into interaction design but in this case I think there are some parallels to service design worth exploring.

One of the themes running through the book concerns the messy process of co-creation. Rybczynski follows the developers as they work with the township to negotiate a plan for New Daleville and then wrangle the builders as they interpret the plan.

Another idea that jumped out at me from late in the book is the concept of “memory points.”

The basement is furnished as a game room, with a trio of framed Indiana Jones movie posters and a large sectional couch facing a television cabinet. Beside the sitting area is a baize-covered pool table with racked-up balls. Like the long, built-in, granite-topped bar [in the kitchen], it is what model-home decorators call a memory point, a dramatic feature that is intended to catch visitor’ attention and differentiate this from other model homes they may see while house hunting.

As a special class of touchpoint, the concept of memory points seems particularly applicable to experience design, where the goal is to delineate a memorable event. It’s easy to think of extravagent memory points: things like the animatronic band at Showbiz Pizza or the fantastically odd underground passage to the United terminal at O’hare airport. But memory points can be more subtle. Less dramatic examples might be the offhand quips from the flight attendants on Frontier airlines or the chilled bottles of water on the shuttle to Enterprise Rent-a-car in the summer. Even the clichéd mints on your pillow once qualified.

One of my favorite unintentional examples is from the Muni subway here in San Francisco. Most of the stations along Market Street look exactly the same, but there’s an old clarinet player who’s always at the Montgomery Street station in the mornings playing for tips. It brightens my day when I hear his music as I’m riding up the escalator.

Mark Vanderbeeken of Experientia talks with Hilary Cottam about her work at the UK Design Council, her new firm, Participle and her approach to navigating bureaucracies. The interview is posted over at World Design Capital.

Transformation design is a kind of catch-all for a very interdisciplinary way of working, because the projects and work we do could not be done by designers alone. We always have at least 3, usually 5 different disciplines in our team, of whom one or two members may have been trained as designers.

I am not a traditionally trained designer and I have no particular interest in it being called ‘design’. Having said that, there are some things that are particularly important about design that no other discipline brings, so I think that design is a critical part of the mix, but it is not the only thing.

Also, here’s the RED paper on co-creation [PDF 4.9MB] she mentions in the interview.

Retail Design Diva

Despite my skepticism about retail design, I find myself getting sucked into the Retail Design Diva weblog. For some reason they constantly refer to themselves in the 3rd person (“Diva thinks this, Diva thinks that”) but don’t let that turn you off. There are plenty of insights into customer service, the hospitality industry and store design that seem relevant to service designers. Launch

Jari Koskinen’s article Service Design: Perspectives on Turning-points in Design [PDF 1.1MB] represents an overview of an evolving discipline as seen from the CID Research Group & Lab in Finland. They’ve launched a new website called that contains this and other articles. Koskinen also has a great bibliography that’s worth checking out.

[via choosenick]

In case you missed their report earlier this summer, or just don’t feel like reading an 86-page PDF, Peer Insight’s Jeneanne Rae has an overview in Business Week of some of the patterns from the Seizing the White Space report for the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology & Innovation:

While the individual cases are intriguing, to say the least, the more interesting thing to me was the set of patterns that were revealed when looking at the group as a whole.

What the US Can Teach Finland About Service