Archive for February, 2009

In the mid 1990s, researchers at Arizona State University characterized the early stages of interest in the design of services as the “crawling out” phase (1953-79), followed by the “scurrying around” phase (1980-85) and culminating in the “walking erect” phase (1986-present).

From the perspective of the design community (at least here in the US) it feels like that final phase is still over the horizon. It’d be charitable to say that we’re “scurrying around.” The upside is that I’m seeing more and more enthusiasm for the subject so I thought I’d step back and recap some of the fundamental “what is service design” presentations I’ve rounded up over the past couple years here at Design for Service.

Also, a collection of service case studies:
Innovation in Experiential Services – London School of Business
Live|Work – UK Service Design Consultancy
Seizing the White Space – Peer Insight

Finally, Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation framework relating to the Process, Offering, Delivery, and Finance capabilities of an organization provides some valuable insight.

Eilidh Dickson uncovers a charming overview of co-design from Thinkpublic. It reminds me a bit of circa-1980’s public television programming for children. In a good way. The four-minute chalkboard animation is really more of a “what is co-design” introduction rather than a “how it happens” explanation, but it’s well done and certainly worth taking a look.

New: Service Design Books, a co-created library of recommended reading for service designers.

Earlier this week Marc Fonteijn from 31Volts put together a good list of service design blogs and other resources. His list prompted me to pull together some books off my shelf that make for valuable reading. Few of these titles are actually about service design, but each has something worthwhile to contribute.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’ve selected 15 books from my library that make sense to me and organized them roughly by my level of recommendation.

Finally, a couple books that I haven’t read yet but are on my list (among dozens and dozens, unfortunately).

Systems Thinking in the Public Sector – John Seddon
From Products to Services – Laurie Young

I’d love some help adding to the pile.

Update: Three more books; thanks Marc!

Subject to Change – Adaptive Path
10 Faces of Innovation – Tom Kelley
A Whole New Mind – Daniel Pink

And another vote for Laurie Young’s book, above, and one more to add from Nick Marsh (I’ve Americanized the link).

New Service Development – Bo Edvardsson

Henry van Dyke

“To desire and strive to be of some service to the world, to aim at doing something which shall really increase the happiness and welfare and virtue of mankind — this is a choice which is possible for all of us; and surely it is a good haven to sail for.”

American Educator & Author (1852–1933)

I’m afraid service design is futile. We’re wasting our time. Every innovation we deliver, every process we streamline, every touchpoint we craft will eventually be taken for granted. Reduced to a commodity. We’re simply delaying the inevitable.

Does a restaurant merit attention these days for having clean facilities? Not really. Thirty years ago that might have been noteworthy in some parts of the world but today it’s simply expected. Does Starbucks win any extra points for getting your order right? How about for providing those little cardboard sleeves to keep you from burning your hand? Do they receive special praise for comfortable chairs? How about wireless internet? Courteous staff?

Most of the time we only recognize service by its absence. In the 2005 book The Paradox of Excellence, David Mosby and Michael Weissman introduce this paradox through a short parable about a crisis at a fictitious trucking company called Premiere. That company defines its value through outstanding delivery performance — the best in the industry. But as they deliver better and better service, they become more and more invisible to their clients; at least until something goes wrong.

As designers, every time we improve a service we’re simply ratcheting up expectations. That isn’t sustainable.

So what’s the answer? Obviously I don’t believe that service design is a waste of time or effort. But I can’t shake the knowledge that human beings can be a bit capricious when it comes to judging our efforts in this regard.

A while back I wrote about a waiter who regularly notified his customers of mistakes, after correcting the problem, simply to get people to appreciate his service. In the Premiere parable above, the company decides to start making their excellent performance more visible to clients through regular reports. I’m not sure that’s the answer. I pretty much expect FedEx never to lose my package. In fact, I expect overnight delivery to anywhere in the world. How crazy is that? It’s taken fewer than 30 years for something magical to become a commonplace.

At what point do we hit the wall with services? Are they ever actually good enough, or is it an endless arms race against mediocrity and commoditization?

Maybe the answer itself is counterintuitive. Rather than offering reliably excellent service, what about unpredictability? What if the answer lies in random acts of kindness? The bits of business that add value to a service, but that aren’t part of its core offering. Something we can’t anticipate, something that captures our attention — randomly exceeding our expectations. A foil to the capriciousness of human perception.

Lunar’s Gretchen Anderson talks with Jennifer Bove and Ben Fullerton about service design in a 23 minute podcast [16MB] for Lunar’s icon-o-cast series.

There isn’t much new content if you’re familiar with Bove and Fullerton’s past presentations at UX Week and UC Berkeley, but the conversational venue is a much better fit for this type of “Service Design 101” discussion.

See also: slides from their iSchool presentation. Designing the Intangible: An Introduction to Service Design. [PDF 7.6MB]

If you play around with it, you can sync up these slides to their examples from the podcast. It’s like listening to Dark Side of the Moon while watching the Wizard of Oz.

Noted in San Francisco

Average Rent in San Francisco

“Average rent for a San Francisco two bedroom is more than half a service industry employee’s monthly paycheck.”

Posted on Fell Street at Market.

Savannah College of Art and Design is searching for a Professor of Service Design for their upcoming Fall 2009 BFA and MFA programs. Rumor has it that the initial undergraduate class may number as few as six students, potentially cannibalized from other majors. No word about the graduate class.

Eric Reiss goes on a bit of a rant against bad service disguised as good service over on the FatDUX blog.

Long ago, I came to the realization that anytime a business told me that something was “for my convenience” it probably wouldn’t be.

It seems to me that if you don’t have a solution, the least you can do is acknowledge the problem.

In collaboration with the Bay Area Carnegie Mellon alumni association, the folks over at Adaptive Path will be hosting a panel on service design next month on Thursday, March 19th at 6pm here in San Francisco. Participants include Shelley Evenson from the School of Design at CMU, Robert Glushko from the iSchool at Berkeley and Christi Zuber from Kaiser Permanente.

Beginning in the UK, Scandinavia, and now emerging in the U.S. are new practices for designing the services we use every day. Whether it’s healthcare, energy, tech, or even governmental, services are the way people experience, consume, and pay the output of most organizations. This diverse panel of experts will divulge the basics of new approaches to managing and improving services.

The panel will be moderated by Brandon Schauer, Experience Design Director at Adaptive Path. Tickets are $5 in advance; $10 at the door. Register at