Service Design at UC Berkeley

When I compiled my overview of US service design education last month I realized that one of the only service design programs west of the Mississippi river was right in my own backyard. Professor Robert Gushko from the UC Berkeley School of Information recently invited me over to their campus to take a closer look at what they’ve been up to.

As seems appropriate for the iSchool, their view of service design focuses on “information intensive” systems. They explore how information supports services. Another phrase that came up was “ruthlessly practical.” What does it take for a system to work in the world? What’s the information choreography?

The final projects from Information System and Service Design [PDF 12k] last semester explored messy problems involving a web-based textbook system, a smart bookstore, a student registration system for UC Berkeley and an energy management system for an apartment complex in Albany.

Two of the current students in the program, Jonathan Breitbart and Luke Rhee were kind enough to share their team presentations from the course.

Smart Bookstore [PDF 1MB]
Courseland [PDF 584K]

It’s become pretty clear that there are almost as many different ways to approach service design education as there are service design programs. UC Berkeley’s program stakes out their territory near the service science end of the spectrum.

Many of the concepts, techniques, and curricula for service design originate in and emphasize person-to-person services. However, they do not fit well when person-to-person services are replaced or complemented by self-service, and hardly fit at all for automated information-intensive services.

The School of Information’s program definitely addresses this concern. They focus on the systems that support services. An understanding of these practical aspects is something more design students could benefit from.

UC Berkeley Professor Robert Glushko will be participating in a panel on service design later this month at Adaptive Path called Seeing Tomorrow’s Services.


  1. Wow, yep this is great to find in the SF/Bay Area backyard, totally agree! Interesting perspective on service design, deeply focused on the information system aspect, which would benefit many vendors/companies in this area I think, particularly the notions of information topographies and choreography. Would wake up lots of folks in the IT sector to this new way of thinking!

    However, in glancing through the sample student presentations, I was saddened to see such poor visual execution of the concepts, imho undermining their well-analyzed, dutifully interpreted wicked problem solutions. Looking at SI’s course list I was further surprised to see there’s none on just basic communication design, like basic Tufte principles or UI basics to help strengthen their ideas…to be truly in the spirit of “ruthless practicality”.

    At the end of the day a client/CEO will see a real form of the concept (indeed the students labeled their concepts “Final System Screenshots”!) and make decisions based upon that. (as well as form an opinion as to the value of hiring service designers in the future)… I fear that service designers unskilled in such visual fundamentals are frankly doing themselves a dis-service (ironically) when the presentation of their ideas doesn’t match the initial level of deep analysis. Great ideas simply need to be presented and communicated well to have influence over decision-makers, a lesson service design students must learn asap before entering the world.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s