Archive for January, 2009

Matt Cottam and Maia Garau are facilitating a one-day workshop at the O’Reilly ETech Conference on March 9th in San Jose, California called Holistic Service Prototyping: Sketching Hardware and Software.

This one-day tutorial will cover key concepts and methods through a combination of lectures, demos, and hands-on activities. Though there are countless types of services from air transport to farmer’s markets to medical care, it will focus on services that can benefit from the integration of web, mobile and embedded digital technologies.

We will introduce key tools and techniques for prototyping physical computing interfaces and will develop functional sketch prototypes using Flash and RFID.

Sounds like it follows the theme of their service design course at the Rhode Island School of Design last Fall.


In the book The View from the Road, authors Donald Appleyard, Kevin Lynch and John Myer explore the experience of highway travel and the design of highways as an art. The graphic design of the book is exquisite. It’s a large format work, filled with dozens of image sequences analyzing existing highways along with visualizations interpreting the sensation of motion.

The View from the Road

What caught my eye was the way the authors communicate these “zoomscapes” (a term coined by Mitchell Schwarzer). The image sequences throughout the book are presented vertically and designed to be read from bottom to top (there’s a small arrow to indicate the direction). Although this is a bit counter-intuitive, I think it better corresponds to the way we read landscapes in real life; from foreground to background.

The authors experimented with film as a method for capturing these highway sequences. There are technical problems to filming from an automobile (the book was published in 1964) but even with advances in technology, their objection to film is largely based on human perception:

Movies may be taken of existing highway sequences, either at normal speed or at exagerated speeds, to convey in brief the essentials of the major visual effects. We have made a number of such films, which are quite useful in conveying the sense of motion. There are technical problems for the camera to prevent vibration, but the most serious difficulty is the inherent difference between the camera and the human eye.

The eye has a very small angle of acute vision, coupled with a very broad angle of hazy vision. It perceives the details of objects by searching the visual field in a quick irregular motion, while sensing the spatial relationships of the whole field partly by means of blurred, peripheal sight. The camera, on the other hand, is a staring eye of uniformly acute vision over an angle of moderate size.

In one way, it records too much, if we want to simulate the workings of a human eye; in another way, it records too little by reducing peripheal vision. Furthermore, its center of attention does not leap from object to object as does the eye. There are also other differences, such as the absence of binocular vision and a fixed rather than a variable depth of focus; but these seem to be less important here.

The net effect of these differences is that a movie, taken while looking ahead along a road from a moving platform, looks “flat” to us, and seems to be taken either from a tunnel or with blinders on. Its attention appears to be fixed with insane intensity. It can have a hypnotic effect and will exagggerate such features as road curvature, traffic, or the visual “growth” of objects at the roadside. It will neglect many other elements, such as the sense of total space, or the appearance of more distant objects in the landscape which are not directly ahead.

Fortunately, they devised an accessible graphic technique for communicating the sequences, otherwise I’d probably have to track down a 16mm projector.

I’ve reproduced three of the image sequences below:

The sequences are presented from bottom to top. Click the start button to automatically scroll the sequences (or you can do this manually, starting from the bottom). This approximates the feeling of scanning the sequences in the book, although the printed versions are easier to digest.

As an alternative to video, I think this visualization technique could be useful for communicating certain aspects of service encounters, particularly approaches and departures.

The other day, a friend of mine from grad school was pondering the distinction between product design and service design now that many products are part of a service. Examples like the iPod/iTunes/ITMS start to blur the line.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I realize that things aren’t as blurry as I initially thought. There are still tons of products that aren’t designed to be part of a service in any way. From kitchen appliances to digital electronics there are plenty of dumb boxes in my apartment. In fact, I only own a handful of products that are connected to a service.

That’s not to say that the products in my home couldn’t be integrated into a service. If I started taking photos professionally with my Nikon D70, it’d suddenly be part of a service. But until then it’s just a beautiful example of product design. Almost any product can be incorporated into a service. Think of automobiles. Instead of buying a Crown Vic from the dealer I can rent one from Enterprise, hire one from Yellow Cab or ride in the back of one courtesy of the highway patrol. But that doesn’t mean the people at Ford are service designers.

Even if an interaction designer were to create a touchpoint specifically for a service, something like the digital kiosks for Jet Blue, that wouldn’t necessarily make it service design. Service design isn’t in the touchpoint. It’s in the interconnections between touchpoints and in the behaviors that connect people. Service design lives in the system, not the artifact.

Unless you’re looking at the larger context, you’re doing something other than service design.

Peter Fossick, professor of industrial design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, is leading an effort to establish an MFA program in Service Design for Fall 2009. They’re also recruiting faculty. Here’s an overview of the program [PDF 116K].

The proposed MFA in Product and Service Design will be the first of its kind in the USA […] SCAD has the opportunity to set precedent through an engaging curriculum, in an inspiring environment, lead by the Department of Industrial Design but engaging with a range of disciplines across SCAD’s schools.
New language, tools, techniques and methodologies will be reviewed and developed to form a range of approaches and knowledge assets that will inform and shape the emergent discipline of Service Design.

They propose 25 hours of service design coursework to complement a lineup of art, industrial design, interaction design and design management instruction.

Rotman School of Management’s Winter issue deals with wicked problems. Lots of good articles, but the one by IDEO’s Fred Dust and Ilya Prokopoff caught my eye. Designing Systems at Scale [PDF 7.9MB] looks at principles of service design and transformation design. The authors discuss five methods for directing behavioral change on a large scale.

For a while now I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using sequential art to communicate service encounters. I’ve designed simple storyboards that marry word and image, but the crew at thinkpublic have gone a step further and put together a fantastic proof-of-concept in the form of a three page comic [PDF 8MB] showing an entire service encounter at Argos.

I only have a few quibbles with thinkpublic’s approach.

The first is philosophical. If you’re showing a service encounter and aiming to demonstrate how Argos provide a service for their customers then you’ve got to show a bit of the backstage process. I know this is basically a customer journey map focused on the customer’s perspective, but it would have been nice to include a panel or two showing how Argos process the orders.

The second critique has to do with craft. I routinely use photographs (both original and stock) as a starting point for my storyboards, but I never use them raw. For one thing, it’s difficult to capture retail photos that look good without proper lighting and without dressing the location. The images in thinkpublic’s comic are descriptive, but lackluster. The other problem with photographs is that they capture too much detail. It’s hard to focus the visual storytelling with such a uniform degree of detail throughout the image. Photographs also communicate a degree of finish that isn’t always appropriate, particularly if you’re only trying to communicate a potential service.

Instead, I’ve been experimenting with ways to use photographs as starting points for lower-fidelity sketches, filtered through Photoshop. Professional illustrators frown on this technique because photographic compositions tend to be more stilted than hand-drawn artwork but I’ve found that this technique at least helps screen out visual clutter and makes the images seem more cohesive. Compared to photographs, the result is also more in keeping with the visual style of comic art.

I thought I’d try applying this technique to the thinkpublic comic to demonstrate the difference. Here’s my revised artwork, based on their original photographs.


Two of the best books for learning the tropes of sequential art are Understanding Comics and Making Comics, both by Scott McCloud. For putting together the panels and adding the lettering, I’d recommend Comic Life. It comes pre-installed on most Macs, so you probably have it already.

One day I’d like to commission original artwork for a service design comic, but this will do in a pinch.

To summarize: no.

Alice Rawsthorn, design critic at the International Herald Tribune, pens a short overview of a Live|Work project: Creating Social Solutions for MS Patients:

Not so long ago the public sector officials would have scoffed at the suggestion that designers could do more than fuss over glossy brochures, but that’s changing. There is now a growing realization that many public services are no longer fit for purpose and a willingness to experiment with new approaches when reinventing them — including service design.

This is the second case study on the design of services to come out of the IHT in the past three months (last fall Rawsthorn wrote a profile on Participle). The Tribune has mentioned service design in a positive light in five articles since last summer.

Someone at Engine needs to put Ms Rawsthorn on speed dial.

[via Redjotter]

Cultural Theory

They say that a good theory gives you something to think about while a great theory gives you something to think with. Cultural Theory definitely falls into the latter realm.

Nick Marsh has compiled some fascinating articles on the subject as a tool to help frame public service design.

Kano Model

Today I came across a reference to the Kano Model on the Customer Experience Matters blog. Professor Noriaki Kano classified customer preferences into five categories:

1. Attractive (unexpected value)
2. One-Dimensional (the more, the better)
3. Must-Be (need to have these)
4. Indifferent (no impact)
5. Reverse (negative impact)

I hadn’t encountered the Kano Model before, but the concepts are familiar. For example, I would think of Must-Be attributes as “hygienic.” Luckily, there’s a little translation table on the Wikipedia entry for just these relationships.

[via CX Matters]