Bridging the Front Stage and Back Stage

Robert J. Glushko and Lindsay Tabas from UC Berkeley wrote a paper last summer exploring the tension between front stage service design and back stage system design.

Service designers with a “front stage mindset” strive to create service experiences that people find enjoyable, unique, and responsive to their needs and preferences. Front stage designers use techniques and tools from the disciplines of human-computer interaction, anthropology, and sociology such as ethnographic research and the user-centered design approach to specify the desired experience for the service customer. They capture and communicate their service designs using modeling artifacts that include personas, scenarios, service blueprints, and interactive prototypes.

Service designers with a “back stage mindset” follow different goals and techniques. They strive for efficiency, robustness, scalability, and standardization. Even though some back stage activities are carried out by people, and others carried out by automated processes or applications, the back stage mindset tends to treat people as abstract actors.

So instead of modeling the preferences and interactions of people, back stage designers identify and analyze information requirements, information flows and dependencies, and feedback loops. They use concepts and techniques from information architecture, document engineering, data and process modeling, industrial engineering, and software development. Their typical artifacts include use cases, process models, class diagrams, XML schemas, queuing and simulation models, and working software.

It isn’t a question of choosing between these two perspectives. Service designers need to care about both. The OZOCar and Heathrow posts from a few weeks ago demonstrate the peril of neglecting the system components.

[via Second Verse]


  1. Thanks for reading the paper and I’m sorry I didn’t see your post sooner! I think what sometimes gets lost in the Service Design discussion is that a service system is not simply divided into Front-Stage and Back-Stage interactions, where the Back-Stage is only IT systems. The Back-Stage can be made up of a series of person-to-person, person-to-computer, and computer-to-computer interactions. Realizing this, you can break a service system down into many smaller services for which you have to design. It all depends on the granularity to which you want to pay attention.

    I’ll be sure to read the other two posts you’ve linked to here.

    Lindsay




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