Archive for May, 2008

The New York Times dining section has an interesting article today on “flavor tripping.” It’s a fantastically pure example of experience design. There’s apparently a West African berry called miracle fruit that alters the body’s sense of taste; making everything taste sweet. People in New York City are paying to attend parties centered around this altered perception — drinking vinegar and tabasco sauce and munching on radishes and lemons — simply for the experience.

I was immediately reminded of the Olafur Eliasson exhibit I attended a few months ago. His Room for One Colour piece was designed to alter visual perception. I remember thinking that taste was the only sense his exhibit didn’t attempt to manipulate. Flavor tripping would be a perfect complement.

It’s worth taking a moment to note why this is such a pure example of experience design:

  • Experience is intrinsic to the event; the party is centered around the act of savoring.
  • It’s impossible to benefit from “flavor tripping” second-hand. You have to experience it for yourself.
  • There’s a clearly articulated beginning, middle and end (the effect lasts about two hours).
  • People are paying admission simply to take part.
  • It’s an indelibly memorable event.


Nick Marsh points to a report on The Service Revolution [PDF 488K] from Deloitte. It’s written more as a wakeup call to business than a guide to the particulars of service innovation — they’re a business consultancy, after all — but they do mention the importance of a collaborative process with customers and adequate IT systems to support service operations.

They also demonstrate the impact of service excellence on profitability and encourage businesses to stop thinking of service and support as cost centers and instead embrace them as profitable growth businesses.

[via Choosenick]

Service Innovation Design: Dongseo University Korea
October 20-22, 2008

Call for Papers:

The term “service” does not merely indicate working for the benefit of others in the spirit of self-sacrifice. It is in fact a concept that describes shouldering the burden of time or effort for someone else, and is a valid economic action.

The service industry occupies a large share of the real gross domestic product (GDP) of developed nations such as the United States, EU and Japan (an impressive 70%, according to the last year’s World Bank statistics (World Development Indicators). When such a high percentage is involved, any improvement in the productivity and quality of service would impact directly on national prosperity. In a bid to improve service productivity, which compares poorly to that of manufacturing, Service Science, a new area of study that examines service itself, is being advocated. Its disciplines are found in the realm of IT, business schools, and management studies, and design is not part of the equation. However, one cannot improve the productivity and quality of service without drawing on design or its science. The situation calls for an input from the power of design to create a service that satisfies needs that even the user was not clearly aware of, along with the design of physical components of that service. If we are to enjoy national prosperity, we must pursue service innovation design that builds on the foundation of service science research and makes it a reality.

The International “Service Innovation Design Conference” will be held for researchers and designers who have a strong interest in this field in order to accelerate their activities through the exchange of information and the discussion of the framework and process of service innovation design. It is expected that the conference would bring a huge benefit for all participants.

The Conference Chair and Organizing Committee members warmly invite you to submit your paper. Any field relating to Service Innovation Design will be favorable for the conference.

Chair of Conference: Kazuo Sugiyama Vice President, International Association of Societies of Design Research Dongseo University

Sponsors: Design and Brand Policy Division, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy Korea Institution of Design and Promotion(KIDP)

Paper submission schedule

Summary submission: June 25
Notice of acceptance: July 10
Full paper submission: August 31

Summary: Maximum 700 words
Full Paper: Maximum A4 10 Pages

Details from: Secretary Sung Pil Lee (Dongseo University)
Telephone: 82.51.320.1846 / 82.11.9104.0963
E-mail: Sungplee [at]

[via Design Research Mailing List]

From the New York Times:

For the first time, American corporations are acknowledging “customer service as something worth paying for rather than just red ink,” said [Jon] Anton, who looks at call centers worldwide and, using a number of criteria, compares how well they work. “If you can satisfy customers and keep them buying, it’s as important as marketing.”

This echoes Mark Jones’ presentation at Emergence last year where he described efforts to reframe customer service at Blue Cross/Blue Shield by training the reps to focus less on average handle time and instead use that opportunity to engage customers in a broader conversation about their healthcare.

The folks over at the Institute of Design run a blog called The New Idiom. They’ve posted a nice overview of service design. Service blueprints, commoditization, experience and the obligatory Starbucks example.

Over on the Work Play Experience blog, Adam Lawrence makes a great observation about sequence in service delivery. He recounts an example from his commute. The train attendant walks down the aisle offering coffee to the passengers, but they generally ignore him until it’s too late:

But if you watch the rows behind him, you will see a dramatic effect. About five seconds after he passes, people smell the java. They look up with bright caffeine-addict expressions, their hands groping in a tight back pocket for change. They lean out of their seats, ready to order and… the guy is gone.

One day he happened to turn around because he had forgotten something and unexpectedly sold his entire batch of coffee within three rows. People were ready to buy.

What Lawrence extrapolates from this is that the passengers needed to be primed by the smell of the coffee before they engaged. Something similar happens on airplanes. The flight attendants wheel the food and beverage cart from the back of the plane all the way to the front (or sometimes vice versa) before they start serving. That way passengers have a chance to notice the cart and mentally prepare for a purchase before the attendants come back around to them.

The analogy I draw is from music. A grace note is a short, separate note that occurs immediately before a longer run of notes. If a musician were to simply launch into an extended passage, the listener might be apt to miss the effect of the first few notes and struggle to catch up. The grace note engages attention and makes the sequence more impressive. I often use the visual equivalent of this principle in interface design to delineate animations; it works exactly the same way.

In popular usage, a grace note has come to mean something of relatively little significance. But as Lawrence’s example demonstrates, they can make or break a service.

Here’s an interesting example of the honor system applied to payment. Customers add up how much they owe themselves and drop their money into a fare box:

The thought was, someone can pour his own coffee, grab his own bagel, cut it himself, throw the money in, and walk out. We don’t touch 60 per cent of the transaction.”

Many more examples in the comments of this thread.

[via Boing Boing]

Jason Weisberger reports on an unfortunate attempt at service recovery. Weisberger bought a $5000 camera through Amazon and was disappointed at how the camera was shipped. He complained to the camera store directly and they blew him off. So he gave them negative feedback:

Rude on the phone. Really, Really, poorly packaged. I think they could have used enough bubble wrap or packing materials when sending a $5k camera. It was shifting around in the box. Would not buy from again.

At that point, the people at Cameta Camera realized they had a problem. They should have picked up on that a good deal sooner but once they finally took action their approach to service recovery came off looking like a bribe. They offered him $75 (the cost of shipping) on the condition that he retract his feedback.

From a service recovery perspective, they could have offered him the refund when he initially called and smoothed out the problem. It was an outcome error (poor packaging) that could reasonably have been balanced with a financial response. But after they compounded the problem with dispassionate customer service they created a process error, not an outcome error. And financial compensation is never adequate for a process error.

They probably deserve to be publicly pilloried at this point, but if they had responded to Weisberger’s feedback with a sincere apology, they might have been able to contain the damage by avoiding a rant on his blog and the subsequent exposure.

[via Boing Boing]

I noticed the other day that I hadn’t received a postcard for Emergence 2008. I didn’t read too much into it, but today I see that they’ve canceled the conference this year.

It’s too bad; they had two solid conferences under their belt and an opportunity to build on that success. A one year break doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that this is a student-run conference and students are only at CMU for two years, a break like this causes a gap in institutional memory. By 2009, the students who helped with Emergence 2007 will be gone and the new students will have to start from scratch.

Pixar’s Brad Bird shares a nice example of sociopetal design in an interview with McKinsey Quarterly.

Steve Jobs basically designed this building. In the center, he created this big atrium area, which seems initially like a waste of space. The reason he did it was that everybody goes off and works in their individual areas. People who work on software code are here, people who animate are there, and people who do designs are over there. Steve put the mailboxes, the meetings rooms, the cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the center — which initially drove us crazy — so that you run into everybody during the course of a day. [Jobs] realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.