Why is Service Design so Heterogeneous?
Nick Marsh posted another nice exploration into service design over the weekend: Why is Service Design so Heterogeneous? And Does It Matter? He delves into the underlying reasons behind why it’s so hard for people to agree on a definition.
In Richard Buchanan’s 2007 keynote at Emergence he warned designers to resist attempts to define service design:
I want to ask you, throughout the conference, did you find a definition of service design? […] I didn’t find much, and I’ll tell you, I wasn’t bothered by that.
I think we’re making a big mistake if we’re anxious to define service design. I’m been troubled by efforts to define graphic design, to define industrial design, to define systems design even. I’m troubled by those efforts. I’m interested in design. A definition of design itself, that I like. But the definition of the sub-branches, to me is of less value. Precisely because of the cross-overs and the boundary ambiguities.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
The lack of agreement has been going on for quite some time. In their 2002 paper on the “service concept,” Goldstein, Johnston, Duffy and Rao addressed years of academic contention over various definitions of service design, new service development and service innovation. They reference several narrow definitions of service design from the early nineties that refer to the work of specifying an idea about a new service in drawings, flowcharts and specifications, “the concretization of service concepts…” Service innovation reflected the “idea generation” component and new service development (NSD) was conceived as the broader idea-to-launch process.
But beyond the definitions, Nick addresses the inherent variation in services that lies at the core of what service designers do. As he puts it, “the service of service design itself is a highly bespoke, high margin, capability- and experience-focused offer, that is constantly being tuned to suit the needs of the client.”
That is, the heterogeneity of service design is a symptom of the heterogeneity of services.