Archive for December, 2008

The International Herald Tribune ran an article a few months ago on the Southwark Circle, a networked social program for seniors in the London borough of Southwark.

What’s the secret of a happy, healthy old age? Money? Grandchildren? Great doctors? They all help, but not as much as the two most important ingredients: a social network of at least six people who you see regularly and freedom from worrying about everyday problems like leaking taps and broken light bulbs. That’s the conclusion of Hilary Cottam, co-founder of the social design group, Participle, after a year of analyzing the lives of the elderly residents of Southwark, one of London’s poorer boroughs.

Here’s Participle’s overview of the project.


I came across this tidbit about Amtrak in an in-flight magazine over the Christmas break.

Amtrak isn’t known for watchlike precision because it owns only 30 percent of the tracks it traverses. In 2007 alone, it had to pay other railroads $92 million in track-use fees. Its trains often wait for freight trains to pass, which in the U.S. outnumber passenger trains 30 to one.

This illustrates how services are bounded by the limits of their system design.

Several of the presentations from the Service Design Network conference in Amsterdam last month just came across my radar. This is an incomplete list, but I’ll add more if they turn up.

Victor Lombardi has a new service design wiki focusing on design patterns. The examples seem to be pulled from his own experience but the idea of collecting service design patterns in a centralized location shows potential.

See also: Nico Morelli’s wiki.

Short op-ed column in the New York Times by Ann Hood on the decline of service in the airline industry.

I have experienced the decline of service along with the rest of the flying public. But I believe I have felt it more acutely because I remember the days when to fly was to soar. The airlines, and their employees, took pride in how their passengers were treated. A friend who flew for Pan Am and I have a friendly rivalry over which airline was better. Friendly, yes. But we each believe we worked for the best.

It’s amazing how much employee motivation derives from simply believing that one’s company is the best. With the airlines today it’s more like a nineteen-way tie for last place.

Poking around the site that hosts IDEO’s Human Centered Design toolkit, I came across their take on social design.

Their blog hosts a guide [4.75MB] and workbook [PDF 413K] for the Rockefeller foundation including design principles, modes of engagement (with a list of representative organizations) and a few brief case studies. I particularly like this quote:

Good communication is critical, but is not to be confused with impact. One NGO warned us, “I need a tangible outcome. Powerpoint does not help me.”

The blog also includes pointers to some interesting projects including Radhika Bhalla’s paper on Social Design.

Core77 has an interesting post comparing the Amazon Kindle and Sony eReader: Kindle Wins Despite Crappy Design:

As more and more products turn into sleek little rectangles, here’s a disturbing thought collated from several sources noting product trends: What if in the future, the importance of industrial design takes a backseat to “product ecosystems?”

Design is about more than posters and toasters; I don’t find that disturbing or worrisome in the slightest. But if someone can come along with a device that marries beautiful industrial design with a robust ecosystem, it’ll clean Amazon’s clock.

[via RISD]

Lucy Kimball’s video from the University of Oxford study Designing For Services is making the rounds on the service design blogs. It’s a 7-minute overview of a project by Live|Work for g-Nostics, a company offering personalized medicine.

I suppose it’s nice to see a day-in-the-life of a London service design consultancy, but the video focuses mostly on Live|Work’s research. That’s a critical part of the process, but when it comes to the actual design, it boils down to one sentence:

Then, they came up with design ideas for improvements to the existing service, and quick sketches of new services.

Eureka! To be fair, the actual process of design is tough to externalize and doesn’t make for very good video. I don’t want to be too harsh, because this is just a glimpse of an already abbreviated project and there’s a lot to be gained from other elements of the Designing for Services research effort (particularly the essay archive) but this presents design as a black box.

The video outlines philosophical and procedural aspects of service design research but when it comes to how service designers actually design, it would be nice to see a little more.

I wasn’t able to make it, but Nick Marsh has pulled together a nice round up of photos and blog posts regarding the recent Service Design Network conference in Amsterdam.