Archive for March, 2009

Ben Fullerton has an article out in the March/April issue of Interactions magazine on Co-creation in Service Design [PDF 92K]. It focuses on the “Make It Work” project for the Sunderland City Council and live|work’s efforts to collaborate on the design of a program for the long-term unemployed.

Genius design may well work for something that will be built—whether software, hardware, furniture, an environment, or any other tangible form our design might take. But how well does it work when we design for less tangible experiences? If there is nothing that can be seen, touched, or used that clearly embodies the whim of the designer, how does the role of the designer change?

Formerly a designer at live|work, Ben has been active in evangelizing service design here in the States, speaking at the Berkeley iSchool and Adaptive Path, facilitating workshops and recording a podcast with Jennifer Bove.

Update: The link to the article seems to have expired so I’ve archived it as a PDF and updated the post.

A while back I created an online literature review focused on service design research. Starting with a collection of reading lists I went back about thirty years to compile articles from marketing, retail and design journals and the Harvard Business Review. Finally I cross-referenced everything by topic, case study, author and journal. For me it’s been a good way to get a handle on the evolution of service design thinking.

Trouble is, people keep writing papers. And if recent history is any guide, the trend seems to be accelerating.

I’ve added a handful of papers to my collection since it launched in 2007, but that barely scratches the surface. There were a few hidden gems that I missed in my first pass and now that I know where to look it seems like there are interesting developments springing up all over the place.

Two of the newest additions to my service design research collection are by Frances X. Frei, associate professor of business administration in the Technology and Operations Management unit at Harvard Business School in Boston.

In “Breaking the Trade-Off Between Efficiency and Service” (HBR 2006) professor Frei covers five types of variability introduced by the presence of customers as co-producers of a service and explores ways to address that variability.

“The Four Things a Service Business Must Get Right” (HBR 2008) is a more general overview of service businesses. Frei’s analysis goes beyond the service offering to examine funding mechanisms and employee and customer management. Favorite quote: “If your business requires heroism of your employees to keep customers happy, then you have bad service by design.”

Both articles are from the Harvard Business Review. It’s the source for roughly half the papers in my collection. For better or worse they’ve been writing about the importance of services for longer than just about anyone.

There are still stacks of journals waiting in the wings. I’ll try to update the collection a little more frequently from now on as I find papers that are worth adding.

Sandy Speicher, who leads the Design for Learning effort under IDEO’s transformation practice shares a list of Ten Tips For Creating a 21st–Century Classroom Experience in the February issue of Metropolis Magazine.

[via Thriving too]

Last week at the service design panel in San Francisco, Bob Glushko tossed out an interesting reference to the “seven contexts” for the design of services.

1. Person to person
2. Technology enhanced P2P
3. Self-service (people to technology)
4. Backstage intensive (invisible supply or distribution channel)
5. Multiple devices (avatars of a service)
6. Multi-channel services
7. Location-sensitive

I think this is a helpful construct for acknowledging the sprawling nature of services, but it’s not an exhaustive list.

You’ll note that the first three contexts form a continuum from people-dominant (high touch) to technology-dominant (high tech). What’s interesting is that the people/technology continuum is only one of eight spectrums identified by Laurie Young in his book From Products to Services. The others include customized vs industrialized; infrastructure-based vs added value; product-affiliated vs stand-alone; discrete (project) vs continuously rendered (annuity); self-service vs performed; membership vs anonymity; and transaction vs interaction.

Lynn Shostack started the ball rolling with her classic illustration of the continuum between tangible-dominant and intangible-dominant offerings in Breaking Free from Product Marketing. Her 1977 paper stands as an early recognition of the spectrum between products and services.

Add to intangibility a range of nine other aspects identified by Young in his book and the number of contexts extends well beyond seven. You’d need some sort of matrix.

Thanks to Jane Westfall for helping to track down the list of contexts from the talk.

Two years ago today I sat down at my keyboard and started writing Design for Service. Things were a little quiet at first (the blog had five visitors its first month) but over the past two years a chorus of voices have joined the conversation.

Today I’m making a few changes to reflect that evolving landscape. I’ve added a new blogroll to the sidebar to replace the now-defunct and more than doubled the list of consultancies exploring this aspect of design.

I’m pleased to see service design gathering momentum and eager to see where the discipline takes us from here. Thanks for coming along on the journey.

If you find yourself on the east coast this summer, Design Continuum is teaching a free half-day workshop on service design for the Business Innovation Factory in Providence, Rhode Island. Empowering Consumers by Elevating Service Experience. It’s scheduled for May 18, 2009 and open to the public.

Identifying opportunities for service moments. Creating systems that support them. Crafting meaningful experiences. Service Design is the multi-disciplinary practice of arranging the functional and emotional aspects of a customer’s journey.

Design firm Continuum returns to BIF for a half-day workshop to teach the principles of service design and how to apply them to a diverse set of situations. You’ll learn by doing through this highly-interactive and collaborative experience and gain new perspective on how to define problems and identify solutions. In the end, you’ll walk away with tools and approaches that can be applied to your own business challenges.

Continuum is a surprising player in the service design space but they really seem to have embraced it. Last year Craig LaRosa presented a similarly titled set of service design case studies at the SDN conference and the firm also sponsored a service design course at Carnegie Mellon University.

Here’s more of Craig LaRosa, principal of brand experience at Continuum, expounding on service design.

Donella Meadows’ 1999 paper Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System [PDF 96K] is a fantastic overview of methods for dealing with complex systems.

Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in “leverage points.” These are the places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes.

Meadows argues that most leverage points are actually counterintuitive. When people recognize them at all, they tend to use them backward. Her list isn’t a panacea, but it abstracts out 12 basic starting points.

Constraints, parameters and numbers; sizes of buffers; structure of material stocks and flows; lengths of delays; strength of negative feedback loops; gain around driving positive feedback loops; structure of information flows; rules of the system; power to add, change, evolve or self-organize system structure; goals of the system; mindset or paradigm of the system; power to transcend paradigms.

TxTag Starter Kit

Here’s a brief rant about the design of TxTag, an automatic toll service in Texas. It boils down to confusion about whether the number on the assigned card should match the number on the welcome letter.

On closer inspection it looks like there are actually two numbers on the welcome letter; one for each vehicle. From that point of view it seems reasonable to conclude that since the card couldn’t possibly match both of them, it might not need to match either. But if the driver had only one automobile it wouldn’t be as easy to rationalize away the difference. The Texas department of transportation could head off confusion without necessarily changing their numbering scheme by making a few information design refinements to the welcome letter.

If everything is experience, then nothing is experience.

That’s from a presentation [PDF 1.9MB] by Anna Snel at PicNic 2007. The quote pretty much sums up my feelings about the term “experience.” Technically, I suppose every moment of human consciousness is experienced in some way. From that point of view you could make the case that everything is an experience, even if only incidentally.

But from a design perspective, an experience is more focused than that. It’s something memorable. Something special. Those moments in the day-to-day flow of sensation that stand out. Moments that are emotionally resonate. Moments that matter.

The quote reminds me of an old joke from graphic design about the client who wants to make everything more prominent.

You have to be selective about doling out emphasis or the effect is lost. There’s value in addressing the day-to-day flow of incidental experiences as long as they don’t blind us to the power of designing for explicit experience.

This weekend as I browsed through Bruce Schneier’s 2003 book Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security I realized that it’s full of interesting bits about services. For instance, here’s some insight into why airports ask for a photo ID:

The photo ID requirement is presented as a security measure, but business is the real reason. Airlines didn’t resist it, even though they resisted every other security measure over the past few decades, because it solved a business problem: the reselling of nonrefundable tickets. Such tickets used to be advertised regularly in newspaper classifieds. An ad might read: “Round trip, Boston to Chicago, 11/22-11/30, female, $50.” Since the airlines didn’t check IDs and could observe gender, any female could buy the ticket and fly the route. Now that won’t work. Under the guise of helping prevent terrorism, the airlines solved a business problem of their own and passed the blame for the solution on to FAA security requirements.

I never really flew much before airlines started asking for photo IDs and I had never heard of the classified ads; I suppose it was like for the jet-setting crowd.

Schneier’s book addresses a wide range of services in the context of security analysis. His blog is another great source of information. Security is one of the key outcome components of service quality on the SERVQUAL scale (along with reliability and competence) so it makes sense for service designers to have a grasp of the fundamentals. Schneier offers a helpful framework for evaluating security measures based on an analysis of assets, threat, risk and cost.