Dividing by Zero

Cross-cultural communication often highlights the existence of unspoken assumptions and unwritten rules. Alexandra writes about a recent experience with conflicting definitions of service design that brought the problem to the fore:

I quickly realised though that we were talking about services in really different ways…. Definitions are always useful and I get the feeling that in these pioneering years of service design, we’re gonna need one really quickly.

Besides the traditional “services industries” that she encountered, I’ve also seen some competition from IBM’s Service Sciences for mindshare in this space. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) comes up again and again in my research, further complicating things, and design firms here in the states think of “software as a service” whenever you mention service design.

Richard Buchanan commented on the state of affairs at the most recent Emergence conference:

Did anyone find a definition of service design? I didn’t find one, and I am not bothered by that. Defining disciplines lacks value. Instead, we should ask ourselves, ‘What is the result of service design? What industries does it touch? What is its deeper purpose?’

His conclusion was that the ultimate purpose of service design is to give people the information and tools needed to act—to be free to live as they would choose.

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