Ziba Design and the FedEx Project

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.

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