Archive for June, 2008

Demos and Price Waterhouse Coopers have a report out on public sector codesign efforts in the UK, USA, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. Making the Most of Collaboration: An International Survey of Public Service Co-design. [PDF 1.1MB]

Key observations:

Public services and governments around the world face pressures from a more demanding public, increasing social complexity and diversity, and overstretched resources.

Co-design is an international movement, happening across the globe with enthusiastic support from public service practitioners. Well over 90 per cent of our survey respondents claimed to have played some role in a project that involved the users of a public service in its design or development.

It is clear that co-design is maturing from principle to practicality, and in doing so reaping some of the very real benefits that its proponents have long promised. However, the potential of co-design can too easily lead to one’s asking simply, ‘How can we do more of it?’ In fact, the questions that we ought to be asking are more complex: ‘What kind of co-design works, and where?’ and ‘How is that co-design best implemented within its specific context?’

We have yet to see a consistent emergence of organisational cultures that support increases in collaborative service design. A commitment to the principles of collaborative processes can grate against existing methods of top-down service design. It is these cross-level and cross-perspective tensions that co-design practitioners are working towards resolving.

The territorial influence over the development of collaborative design is strongly evident, shaping the successes and failures across sectors. The results underline the need to understand the territorial narratives that have shaped professional roles, policy processes and resource allocations. This has implications for the scaling of co-design practices in line with increasingly global case studies and literature.

[via Experientia]

Exploring Agency

A couple years ago I wrote a post on my obligatory weblog exploring the concept of agency in interaction design by looking at the phenomenon from a service design point-of-view. It seems a little more apt over here on Design for Service:

From 2006. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of agency in interaction design. It’s an issue that comes up every time people start talking about the future of computing. The Apple Knowledge Navigator from the late-eighties is a pretty good example of the digital butler concept. It’s a long-standing goal, but it’s never really taken off. Is this a problem of technology? Even if we could throw maximum computing cycles at the problem, would people really want a computer with that kind of autonomy?

To get at that question, I’ve been thinking about the assignment of agency in real life. Some things are trivial. For example, most people have no qualms about asking a total stranger to push the button for their floor on an elevator. And we also don’t mind taking on that chore when asked. It’s an effortless assignment of agency with little obvious risk.

A little way up the scale is the idea of a minor asking someone else to buy cigarettes or beer. This is more socially nuanced. First of all, it’s illegal. There are issues of trust involved requiring both parties to take a nominal risk. The money involved and the severity of the consequence are low enough that it’s still socially viable in a way that probably doesn’t scale up to, say, buying drugs. What’s interesting here is that it’s still largely ad hoc. You might have an older brother who buys you beer, but that’s not actually his job.

Further up the scale is valet parking. I remember having a problem with handing over my keys at the parking garage in Kansas City. It’s a much bigger risk. Regardless of what kind of car you drive, it’s a pretty expensive piece of hardware to hand over to a stranger. I still never opt for valet parking unless it’s required. It’s my car and I don’t really believe they can drive it much better than I can.

Finally, there’s the concept of service qua service. Here, agency is built into the offering. Think brokerage or realtor; complex or time-consuming tasks that we’re not really qualified to do. For agency to work we require expertise on the part of the agent. We have to trust that they do it better than anyone.

As designers, we’ve got to solve the problem of instilling and communicating expertise in a convincing way for computer agents to take off. It’s a human problem of trust, but the technology isn’t nearly there yet. That doesn’t mean we abandon the concept of agency, it just means that we refocus our efforts on people, not computers. Services are all about convincing people to abdicate their agency to experts. Figuring out how to do that is what service design is all about.

The March issue of Fast Company has a feature about Alaska Airline’s efforts to redesign its check-in process at the Seattle airport. Despite the earnest “world of tomorrow” vibe in the project name, it’s a pretty good example of service design.

Ed White, [Alaska’s VP of corporate real estate] assembled a team of employees from across the company to design a better system. It visited theme parks, hospitals, and retailers to see what it could learn. It found less confusion and shorter waits at places where employees were available to direct customers…

The team began brainstorming lobby ideas. At a Seattle warehouse, it built mock-ups, using cardboard boxes for podiums, kiosks, and belts. It tested a curved design, one resembling a fishbone, and one with counters placed at 90-degree angles to each other. It built a small prototype in Anchorage to test systems with real passengers and Alaska employees.

Incidentally, Delta has been incorporating similar improvements to its check-in service in Atlanta, and Southwest has been running a little laboratory of its own in San Diego to experiment with assigned seats.

With their focus on time/motion studies, these redesigns strike me as a bit more about system design than service design, but as we saw with the Terminal 5 debacle in London earlier this year, system design is a pretty critical piece of the puzzle. I’m happy that people are looking at this as a design problem at all.

[via 37 Signals]

Nick’s post about a recent Live|Work presentation [PDF 1.4MB] of case studies prompted me to dig out a few of the links I’ve bookmarked over the past year or so.

Here’s a 2007 variation on the presentation Nick posted. Lots of the same content, but this one focuses on Service Envy [PDF 7.6MB] and the case studies are higher resolution.

Another case study. This time, from 2006, a powerpoint of their Rural Access & Mobility Project [PPT 6.4MB].

Finally, from back in 2003, a collection of slides from their Timebank project for Orange.

I should note that Nick’s link and the 2007 variation are only partially in English (Live|Work has an office in Norway). Here’s a really, really rough English translation (sans images) courtesy of Google cache and InterTran.

I stumbled across a nice overview of service design on the Max web design blog: Service designers visualize, formulate, and choreograph solutions.

The author hits all the service design bases (touchpoints, front and back stage, etc.) but what caught my attention was how he frames the discipline. This is one of the few discussions I’ve encountered that recognizes service design as a branch of interaction design, explicitly mentioning human–human interactions as well as human–artifact interactions.

I’d probably add human–system and human–environment interaction but I think he’s on the right track.

Carrie Chan is a recent graduate of the Masters program at the Carnegie Mellon School of Design. Her thesis project focused on the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I interviewed Carrie during a break in the thesis presentations at CMU on May 12th, 2008.

Read Interview

For the past four years, Carnegie Mellon has been at the forefront of service design here in the United States.

The discipline has been slowly filtering up into the thesis project level, so last month I visited the CMU campus to attend the School of Design thesis presentations and get a first hand view of some of the work. There were half a dozen projects that incorporated service elements into more traditional information design and interaction design projects and one thesis project that proved to be a fantastic example of service design.

While I was visiting, I interviewed the Masters candidates who were working on service-related theses. I’m working on transcribing the interviews, and I’ll be posting them here over the next few weeks.

I’m sure there are plenty of other service design projects emerging from universities around the world. If you’re a student or a recent graduate and you’ve worked on a project that you’d like to talk about, please get in touch at service [at] howardesign [dot] com. I’d love to showcase some emerging work.

I’ve added a new paper to my Service Design Research collection. It’s called The Four Service Marketing Myths from 2004 by Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch.

The authors challenge the prototypical characteristics that have been identified as distinguishing services from goods — intangibility, inseparability, heterogeneity, and perishability. The authors argue that these characteristics (a) do not distinguish services from goods, (b) only have meaning from a manufacturing perspective, and (c) imply inappropriate normative strategies

I found this interesting because these attributes are at the very heart of everything I’ve read on the topic. Services obviously aren’t tangible. The act of producing a service is inseparable from the act of consuming the service. No two service encounters are alike by virtue of the different individuals involved. Finally, services are perishable; they exist only in the moment of delivery.

To my surprise, Vargo and Lusch do a good job of tearing these arguments apart. They’ve changed the way I think about services. If you don’t have access to the Journal of Service Research you can probably find a copy on Google.

[via New Service Creation]