Archive for May, 2009

Cultural probes are a staple of the user-centered design toolkit. They’re great for sparking insights and building empathy and it’s nice to see them spreading into the service design realm.

Design researcher Tuuli Mattelmäki has written what has to be the ultimate resource on the technique. Her 2006 dissertation on Design Probes [PDF 3.9MB] from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki offers nearly 200 pages of richly illustrated examples, history and theory. It presents a step-by-step overview of the method and concludes with seven academic papers on the subject. The dissertation is also available for purchase in bound format from the university book store.

A few of her older presentations on design probes are floating around. Applied Probes [PDF 996k] and Overview [PDF 4.7MB]. They’re a little easier to digest.

For more on the subject, Bill Gaver’s work at the Royal College of Art (also covered in the dissertation) is worth tracking down. See his paper on the Value of Uncertainty [PDF 1.7MB] and overview of Cultural Probes [PDF 6.4MB].

Earlier this month European academics Daniela Sangiorgi, Stefano Maffei and Nicola Morelli launched a promising new initiative focused on service design research:

While Service Design is now being acknowledged by most within the design community, the various initiatives, events and research projects that aim to define what Service Design is and does are starting to grow in number with little focus and on shaky foundations. Likewise, design practices are quickly evolving to stretch existing boundaries and to question again the reason and need for this specialization.

Representing Lancaster University in the UK, Politecnico di Milano in Italy and Aalborg University in Denmark, they argue that there needs to be a space for reflection about service design; about its theories and practices. The researchers aim to consolidate a base of knowledge, experiences and opinions on the discipline.

To begin with they’ve posted a series of interviews with design researchers. I look forward to seeing this effort grow.

The Design Management Institute is offering a two-day seminar in London this September by Oliver King, co-founder and director of Engine. Service Design: Key Methods and Strategies:

This seminar will focus on practical methods and strategies that professionals can use to deliver great service experiences. Through case studies and interactive sessions, the seminar will also show how to employ customer centric approaches to innovate services, from empathic techniques to uncover what customers want through to co-creation and creative methods to develop new service propositions. Participants will not only learn how to develop customer-facing propositions, but also understand what needs to happen behind the scenes to ensure a good service performance.

The seminar is scheduled for September 16-17, 2009. Cost is $785 for DMI members; $875 for non-members.

I had no idea that William H. Whyte’s Social Life of Small Urban Spaces was available online. The first ten minutes of the video from the Project on Public Spaces is on YouTube.

I tacked Whyte’s classic text onto my list of Books for Service Designers a few months ago. The project provides a visceral glimpse into proxemics and sociofugal/sociopetal space but it’s mostly interesting from an ethnographic perspective.

UX Brighton will be holding a public screening of the full film on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 at 7:30pm.

EconTalk host Russ Roberts talks with Michael Munger of Duke University about Munger’s 2008 trip to Chile and changes to the bus system in Santiago:

What was once a private decentralized system with differing levels of quality and price has been transformed into a system of uniform quality designed from the top down. How has the new system fared? Not particularly well according to Munger. Commuting times are up and the President of Chile has apologized to the Chilean people for the failures of the new system. Munger talks about why such changes take place and why they persist even when they seem inferior to the original system that was replaced.

The Santiago example helps highlight the distinction between user-centered service design and the top down system perspective that replaced it.

Near the end of the podcast, Munger and Roberts step back from their critique of the bus system to a more general discussion about politics, economics and incentives. I think service designers would benefit from a better understanding in this area. Getting the incentives right is a tricky balance that comes up in a lot of service design case studies.

Yesterday, service designers in Amsterdam hosted their third “reading circle” at the STBY offices. Nine members of the service design community discussed the Designing for Services reader from the University of Oxford, edited by Lucy Kimbell and Victor Seidl. Here’s a translated writeup by 31volts.

Previous reading circles addressed Adaptive Path’s Subject to Change and Dr. Valerie Frissen’s The Bearable Lightness of Being (De draagbare lichtheid van het bestaan) a book of essays on technology in daily life.

The next service design reading circle is planned for Thursday, July 9th at 7:30pm in Amsterdam. Instead of a book, they’ll be discussing a collection of weblogs along with several diagrams and visuals related to service design. For details check out Facebook or the LinkedIn group.

In the late nineties, Portland-based Ziba engaged with the brand identity group at FedEx to evaluate the design of the shipping icon’s retail stores. The Winter issue of Design Issues presents a case study about Ziba and the FedEx Project [PDF 778k] written by service designer and former CMU grad Maggie Breslin, based on her thesis essay on organizational change.

Ziba was initially brought in to review the design of the FedEx World Service Center being developed in Memphis, but over the course of the project they expanded their mandate to focus on a wider design framework called Quantum [PDF 1.6MB] that could be applied to all parts of FedEx’s operation.

This led to the “courier tools” project, focusing on a PDA, holster, printer, transmitter, cart, and bag and culminating in the redesign of the FedEx SuperTracker.

These are all touchpoints, but you won’t find the word “service design” anywhere in this case study. Ziba was retained to work on a traditional visual branding study (it’s pretty interesting reading). They expanded their efforts to include environmental design, industrial design and interaction design, but there’s still a tangible product-centric focus to the work.

This is an interesting case study for me because it demonstrates the distinction between service design and design that happens to involve a service. Service design requires a different way of thinking. As Maggie points out: “adopting new methods does not mean much if the idea guiding the process is the same as before.”

Ziba’s work is missing not only the methods, but the history and values that distinguish service design. It’s the design of service through a different lens.

The Kuopio Academy of Design at the Savonia University of Applied Sciences in Finland is hosting a service design conference of sorts on September 7-9, 2009.

The conference will be structured around keynote presentations on the 7th of September and continuing with three practical service design workshops during the 8th and the 9th of September. Keynotes will be delivered by service design professionals. We have already two confirmed keynote presenters: Professor Birgit Mager from KISD and Associate Professor Nicola Morelli from Aalbog University.

After the keynotes on day one, three workshops on service design and experience design will be facilitated by the likes of Stefan Moritz, Lauren Currie and Arne van Oosterom:

We’ll invite 15 participants to each workshop to create new service solutions and concepts. Each workshop will receive a service challenge that they will be working with. The service challenges are real cases given us by our co-operatives.

The conference appears to be free of charge. They’re enrolling 45 participants to the workshops on days two and three. Sign up by contacting minna.merivalo [at]

On the heels of the “All Known Idea Generation Methods” mini-site earlier this month, I stumbled across a design thesis by Jordan Dalladay-Simpson from the University of London exploring a wide range of Tools for Thought [PDF 224K].

Some service-centric examples include codesign and bodystorming, along with a few neologisms like (co)deation, co-prospecting and co-thinking.

Lots of good stuff here, complete with a photographic appendix [PDF 1.2MB] documenting many of the techniques.

Alice Rawsthorn profiles Copenhagen-based ReD Associates in the New York Times for an article entitled Focusing Design Solutions on Social Problems.

The article includes a nice overview of the intersection between design and social science:

You are not taught design thinking at university, and you are not taught social science in design school, so the designer and the social scientist need each other to come up with good results,” said Filip Lau, a partner of ReD. “Designers have a more holistic world view, and context has a higher priority. But I guess the most important contribution they make is in creating solutions. Designers are taught to create, and social scientists to criticize what already exists. When we need to go from ‘insight’ to ‘solution,’ designers are indispensable.

This is Rawsthorn’s third article on emerging practices in design. She previously covered live|work and Participle for the International Herald Tribune.

[via Redjotter]