Avatars of a Service

Mike Kuniavsky recently talked at ETech 2009 about the connections between ubicomp and service design [PDF 881K]. He’s coined a nice phrase: avatars of a service. These “avatars” are the physical objects and tools that embody a service, but are worthless without the networks they’re attached to.

My general sense is that these are the kinds of things most interaction designers have in mind when they talk about service design. Things like Kindle or Nabaztag that act as a shell; a golem endowed with life by a service.

I don’t particularly care about these digital manifestations of services. They’re interesting enough from a personal point-of-view (after all, I tinker with Nabaztag) but these network-enabled artifacts aren’t rhetorically helpful as defining examples of service design. Instead, they muddy the waters.

Besides, interaction design is doing a fine job with that end of the spectrum. I’m more interested in the areas that interaction designers seem to discount. The human-to-human, human-to-environment and human-to-system interactions that characterize “services in the world.” There are massive opportunities here that few designers are even aware of yet.

Service design is at a fragile point in its development here in the US, and it would be absolutely tragic if it were co-opted into the digital realm. That unfortunately describes the fate of both interaction design and user experience design.

I suppose what repels me is the thought of interaction designers blindly swiping a sexy new name for the status quo.

Please, leave service design alone.

[via Timo]


  1. Bravo, Jeff! This post dovetails nicely with your past discussion about service design not being the touchpoint; if service design is tethered too tightly to the digital realm its full power to create change will never be realized.

    Just came across the blog recently and am loving it. Thanks.




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