Archive for February, 2008

Personal Space

Robert Sommer’s 1969 book Personal Space: the Behavioral Basis of Design should be on every service designer’s bookshelf. Sommer was a student of Dr. Humphrey Osmond and continued Osmond’s research into sociofugal and sociopetal patterns.

What is needed is a middleman who is acquainted with the design field as well as the social sciences to translate relevant behavioral data into terms meaningful to [architects and building administrators].

The first part of the book covers much of the same terrain as Edward T. Hall’s The Hidden Dimension in regard to spatial behavior. This is valuable — and lays a necessary foundation — but where the book really shines is through Sommer’s analysis of particular spatial settings in part two. Hospitals, schools, taverns and dormitories; along with passing anecdotes from diners, coffeeshops, prisons, libraries, subways and airports.

The book is nearly forty years old, so there are some anachronisms (he speculates on the future impact of “talking typewriters” in schools) but human behavior is more stable than technology. Sommer’s work is a fantastic exploration of behavior and environmental impact.

Here’s a nice overview out of the Cabinet Office in the UK. Pocket Guide to Service Design Principles [PDF 1.8MB]

Service Design should be an integral part of policy making — policy should be developed with full regard to how it would be implemented and delivered. That means understanding the customer, the delivery chains, the organisation and the communities that they serve.

They pull out a list of service design objectives: “Organisations will strive to be excellent, accessible, equitable, efficient, effective and empowering.” There’s also a list of nine service design principles: Personalisation, collaboration, responsiveness, openness, flexibility, reliability, value, learning and innovation. Strangely, the document is 9½ x 7 inches; maybe the term “pocket guide” means something different in the UK…

For further reading, there’s a list of publications to check out on their website (at the bottom of the page).

[via Open Eye]

Over the weekend, I decided to visit the Olafur Eliasson exhibit (Take Your Time) on its last day at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. It turned out to be a compelling synthesis of experience design principles.

Eliasson nimbly merges art, science, and natural phenomena to create extraordinary multisensory experiences. Challenging the passive nature of traditional art-viewing, he engages the observer as an active participant, using tangible elements such as temperature, moisture, aroma, and light to generate physical sensations.

At first, I slowly made my way through the packed exhibition space, basking in the sensations. Then I stepped back and looked at the artwork from an experience design perspective.

Eliasson starts by initiating the viewer into the experience through a One-way Colour Tunnel that resembles stained glass. There’s a fairly standard collection of models, sketches and conceptual work on the other side, followed by an exhibit that manipulates light in a way that is interesting, but fits fairly easily into the frame of what “modern art” can be.

Then Eliasson turns the world upside-down, with Room for One Colour bathing the viewer in a spectrum of light that induces a sensation of color blindness. As it dawned on me that my perception was being manipulated — that I was literally seeing other people in black and white — it inspired a giddy sense of wonder that made me smile.

Many of Eliasson’s works focus on a manipulation of vision with mirrors, color and light. His 360° Room for All Colors was fascinating. Just a simple round room with white translucent walls that gradually shift color over the entire spectrum. It creates a peaceful feeling of depth. Of infinity.

By far the most immersive and multisensory of the exhibits was also one of the oldest. Beauty, from 1993, consists of a thin sheen of mist falling from the ceiling in a darkened room, illuminated by a single light. It stimulates every sense except for taste (which none of the exhibits addressed).

Touch – Before even entering the room, the air feels cool and damp, like a cave, and the walls are a rough, faceted rock texture that practically begs to be touched.

Smell – The air smells rich, and slightly musty. Again, like a cave.

Sight – The curtain of mist looks different depending on the angle of view, refracting a peaceful rainbow from one perspective and becoming a brilliant spectacle when backlit.

Sound – An awareness of silence fills the exhibit as people stop talking and contemplate the mist against a barely detectable hiss of white noise from the nozzle. (This silence was heightened by its juxtaposition against the conspicuous squeak of a wood floor in an adjacent exhibit).

A few brave souls darted through the mist, feeling it on their faces and outstretched fingertips. This struck me as magnificent. The sense of touch is generally prohibited in museums, but here was an exhibit that actually encouraged active tactile exploration. Each group seemed initially unsure whether they could interact in this way, but eventually an explorer would venture forward and reach out their hand.

The fact that the artwork so skillfully addressed four of the senses made the lack of taste (literally, not figuratively) all the more evident. It’d be interesting to consider possibilities for how that might be accomplished.

Upon exiting the exhibition space, the viewer is again forced to pass through the stained glass tunnel (control is an overriding feature of the exhibition). It was only then that I realized the stained glass was black from the reverse perspective. The contrast was a surprising revelation, and created a memorable bookend to the overall experience.

Update: Here’s a less charitable analysis of Eliasson’s work as faux-phenomenology.

I came across a surprising perspective on HBR and McKinsey while compiling a list of business magazines a while back. This is from a thread over at Metafilter:

I find the Harvard Business Review somewhat of a joke. It’ll have good case studies and an interesting article from time to time, but it lacks substance. It is like the Redbook for CEOs. … Many consultants read the McKinsey Quarterly, though it’s barely more thoughtful than HBR.

I say surprising simply because I see so many references to HBR in the service design literature. I think it’s fair to say it isn’t as rigorous as an academic journal, but a joke? That’s pretty harsh. Mefites aren’t above posturing from time to time, but my background isn’t in business so it’s a little hard to evaluate.

If HBR and McKinsey are the “Redbook for CEOs,” that would make Business Week, Fast Company, Business 2.0 and Inc. the equivalent of Bazooka Joe comics.


The prosaically-named SERVQUAL scale for measuring service quality originally contained 22 separate metrics for evaluating services. Recognizing that the scale was too complex the authors grouped the attributes into five categories: tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy. It was a step forward but it wasn’t until 1992 that they hit upon a clever mnemonic for re-ordering the scale: The RATER model.

Reliability – Ability to perform the service dependably and accurately.

Assurance – Employees’ knowledge and courtesy and their ability to inspire trust and confidence.

Tangibles – Appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials.

Empathy – Caring, individualised attention given to customers.

Responsiveness – Willingness to help customers, provide prompt service and solve problems.

It’s a subtle shift but I appreciate being able to quickly run through the service metrics in my head when I’m out in the field without lugging around the Journal of Retailing.

I’m a fan of mnemonics. Besides the five Ws, one that I use all the time is LATCH, developed by Richard Saul Wurman to describe the possible axes for organizing information: Location, Alphabetical, Time, Category and Hierarchy. I’m also quite fond of the AEIOU ethnographic framework developed at eLab: Activities, Environments, Interactions, Objects and Users.

Palojono rounds up several more ethnographic frameworks with helpful mnemomic devices. A(x4), POSTA and POEMS (along with a couple that lack memorable hooks). They’re not particular to service design but they’re useful supplements to RATER in the design research toolkit.

I was intrigued by the concept of “experience report cards” in the Joie de Vivre podcast earlier this week so I did some digging and came up with an actual example. It’s from the new 2007 edition of The Experience Economy (a response to Pine and Gilmore’s classic 1998 book of the same name).

The authors share part of a faxed experience report card for the Phoenix Hotel here in San Francisco. It’s from 2002 and appears to be truncated — I’m not sure it adds up to 40 points — but it’s interesting food for thought:

1. Sensory stimulation. What are the immediate cues? Are they positive?

2. What are the most memorable and unique impressions upon entering the business?

3. Is there take-away memorabilia that can help to spread word-of-mouth advertising?

4. Which five key words describe the hotel, and are all expressions involved in positioning the hotel consistent with that?

5. Does the hotel do anything explicitly in the following areas:

  • Provide opportunities for customers to interact?
  • Form a club or opportunity to become a more special customer?
  • Theme a process?
  • Invite people to think of themselves like a VIP?
  • Engage people even before they undergo the experience?
  • Is education used as a way of connecting with the guest?
  • Is the entertainment unique?
  • Can the “experience” be made any more personal?

6. Are the staff involved in the process of directing the experience?

7. Are there any (intangible) moments at which this hotel could become the top “experience” stager of the year?

It’s worth taking a moment to compare this to the more traditional hotel metrics that Conley describes as “tangible and outdated.” I had no idea what the standards were for a one star versus a five star hotel so I tracked down the Mobil star criteria and AAA diamond ratings. They both focus on tangible aspects of the facilities and guest room, but Mobil goes a step further and includes intangible standards for service.

Geoff Mulgan’s NESTA pamphlet Ready or not? Taking innovation in the public sector seriously [PDF 336K] is a fantastic exposition on the subject. The paper sheds some light on the obstacles to public sector innovation and provides a wealth of great examples. The appendices and bibliography alone are a goldmine.

In the public sector, as in other fields, innovation can mean many different things. It can mean new ways of organising things (like Public Private Partnerships), new ways of rewarding people (like performance-related pay) or new ways of communicating (like ministerial blogs). Distinctions are sometimes made between policy innovations, service innovations and innovations in other fields like democracy (e-voting, citizens’ juries) or international affairs (prepayments for new vaccines or the International Criminal Court). Some innovations are so radical that they warrant being seen as systemic (like the creation of a national health service, or the move to a low carbon economy).

Mulgan was the founder of Demos in the UK and has written many other books and pamphlets. I’m working my way through one on social innovation at the moment. Lots of good stuff here.

[via choosenick]

Consumption Map

Interesting diagram over at Tangible Critical Service Design that examines the process of consumption:

Consumption can be seen and dealt with from a number of angles, some of which I have attempted to map. When we decide to spend time and money on new things, there seems to be a rather complex combination of influences backing that decision.

Full Image [PNG 448K]

This is coming across my radar a little late, but if you happen to be in Copenhagen next month the Institute of Interaction Design is holding a Service Design Symposium on March 6th and 7th, 2008. Scheduled speakers include Bill Moggridge from IDEO, Lavrans Løvlie from Live|Work, Oliver King from Engine and Shelley Evenson from Carnegie Mellon University.

[via CPH127]

Peter Merholz interviews Chip Conley of Joie de Vivre Hotels about how they create unique experiences at dozens of boutique hotels around California. Conley describes a tool called “experience report cards” which seem akin to service usability in terms of quantifying the intangible:

Each of our hotels are graded twice a year by someone who goes out to each hotel and asks “how is it doing” on an Experience Report Card. The number one way that we get our stars and diamonds as hotels is from Mobil and AAA, and it’s based upon very tangible and in many cases very outdated definitions about what it takes to be a four star versus a two star hotel. Frankly, it has nothing about experience built into it.

For a boutique hotelier, we’re doing something that is very experience-driven. One example is that in every one of our hotels, within the first five minutes a person comes into the lobby the hotel is supposed to stimulate the five senses of the guest in a way that fits with the overall psychographic profile and personality of the hotel.

Just to take a step back, each of our hotels is based upon a magazine and five words. So doing what we do we have a touchstone for the personality of the hotel we’re trying to create. … So if you go to the Hotel Rex [based on the New Yorker] we would stimulate the five senses of a guest upon arrival in ways that would befit those words [artistic, sophisticated, literate and clever], as opposed to the Phoenix Hotel, which is based on Rolling Stone and as a fifties, Rock and Roll hotel is funky, irreverant, cool and young-at-heart. So how we address the taste buds of a guest with something sitting on the front desk at the Phoenix would be different than it is at the Rex. But in both cases they’re supposed to do that.

Now do they do that perfectly? No, this Experience Report Card has 40 points on it. No hotel of ours has ever made 40. We don’t get it perfectly, but we leave it up to the staff and the general manager of the hotel to evolve their experience for their customer in a way that is actually befitting the five words that define the hotel.

One thing that jumps out at me (besides the fact that he only lists four of the five words) is how Conley drifts back and forth between the idea of service and experience during the interview. He even frames their service offering as a “product” once or twice. He gives a tip of the hat to Pine and Gilmore, so it’s clear he understands the distinctions. It’s a good example of how service design as a term is actually a little fuzzy.