Archive for August, 2009

School is back in session for many students this side of the Atlantic. I’ve been following the development of service design education for the past three years, interviewing students and highlighting projects; both at home and abroad. These days programs are springing up all over the world.

But as I’ve talked with students and reflected on my own background as a designer, it’s become increasingly clear that there’s something missing from service design education here in the United States. Co-design is barely on the radar.

When I was at Carnegie Mellon we learned about generative research methods for interaction design and how to work with individuals, but virtually nothing about how to facilitate groups of non-designers during a service design process. Even the basic methods we learned were a tough sell. I think it’s fair to say that the US design community is reflexively hostile to the idea of sharing creative agency with non-designers.

Student projects face an even larger obstacle. There’s simply no time or budget. When confronted with looming deadlines it’s tough to embrace the right methodology under the best of circumstances. And when design schools depend on the charity of volunteers for their research efforts it’s more than a little daunting to plan a collaborative workshop.

So student teams cut corners. Many of the projects I’ve reviewed rely on guerrilla user research. A few ad-hoc interviews; some fly-on-the-wall observations. Then the heroic designers retire to their studio with its virgin expanse of whiteboard. I’m just as guilty, but I’d like to shift my trajectory a bit.

Of course that’s easier said than done. Besides the work of Liz Sanders there’s not much of a framework for learning co-design values, methods or techniques. And maketools aren’t exactly widespread. Maybe it’s different overseas but I’m the product of a design culture that demands control. Designing for users rather than designing with them. And rejecting the notion that all people have within them the capacity for design.

I’m committed to bridging that gap. For the past six months or so I’ve been studying an array of participatory techniques from many different sources and working to distill principles that could be applied to service design. I’m looking for approaches that might not be rejected outright by US designers.

To that end, it’s important to address the “why.” What exactly is the problem with genius design? Why should designers embrace a participatory approach to working with clients? Why is co-design such a critical part of the service design ethos?

Over the next few months I’ll be sharing everything I discover on the topic. If you have advice regarding co-design values or methodology I’d appreciate the input.

About a year and a half ago I wrote about the parallels between screenwriting and service design:

Legendary film director Howard Hawks once said that to make a great movie all you need are three great scenes — and no bad scenes. It’s a pretty simple formula for success. What if we looked at service design through the same lens?

There’s a lot we can learn from the structure of screenplays, as well as the screenwriting tools people use to establish that structure. More to come on that topic shortly, but the Howard Hawks post is good background material.

There’s a three-page article on service design [PDF 1.6MB] by Damian Kernahan in the winter edition of Fast Thinking, an Australian business magazine.

To introduce his argument Kernahan leverages probably the best statistic service designers have — from a 2007 Bain study highlighting the gap between companies who think they deliver a superior service and customers who agree.

Kernahan delves into the culture and techniques surrounding service design and focuses on five topics: people, service propositions, touchpoints, systems and shared value. It’s a nice overview. There’s also a brief sidebar on Qantas airlines that deserves to be expanded into a full case study.

This seems like a great way to introduce service design to a business audience. I’d love to see something similar in Fast Company here in the states.

Service Gestures

One of the ideas I really like from Designing Services with Innovative Methods is the concept of service gestures. Mikko Koivisto writes about them in his essay:

In service all the processes and routines can be determined by the smallest details. These small details are called service gestures. Service gestures are for example when the check-in ground crew circle the departure gate on the ticket or when the toilet paper has been folded in the hotel room [p 147].

Service gestures aren’t a magic bullet; after all, you’ve got to learn the trade itself before you bother with the tricks-of-the-trade. But this idea shares a kinship with the “random acts of kindness” I wrote about a few months ago. They’re both examples that capture our attention and add value to a service.

One difference is that the service gestures Koivisto refers to are codified. Folding over the toilet paper serves a particular signaling function within the context of housekeeping. This signal is common enough that we come to expect it when we stay at a hotel and miss it when it’s absent. The gestures I’m interested in are different. They’re acts we can’t anticipate.

Here’s an example. When I was growing up I had my hair cut by the same barber from the time I was three until I left for college. It’s safe to say the service was routine. But once when I was a teenager the barber used an antique shaving cream dispenser and a straight razor to touch up my sideburns. I’d never had a straight razor shave before. It was a slow afternoon and the gesture wasn’t normally part of the service. But it made an impression and more than fifteen years later I still remember.

Each of us probably has a story to share about an otherwise tiny act that we cherish from a favorite service. What gestures have made an impression on you?

Here’s another upcoming service design title that turned up on the same site I linked to earlier. Service Design: Design for New Challenges. By Joe Heapy, co-founder and director of Engine, it focuses on their work in the service design space.

Service Design outlines Engine’s approach to innovating and designing services and that of other design and non-design organisations. The author identifies trends in the design of services and the big issues and opportunities that are shaping the services that we use.

The book seems to be scheduled for next summer. Heapy previously co-authored the Demos pamphlet Journey to the Interface, essential reading for service designers.

Any other publications on the horizon?

This namespace is getting a little crowded. There’s now Designing for Services (Lucy Kimbell’s UK project), Design for Services (the course and blog out of Madeira), the unrelated but identically titled Design for Services book and of course this weblog, Design for Service.

I was going to propose that the next group to use this formulation stake out new territory in their choice of preposition, but maybe there’s something to it.

A few years ago when my friend Dan published his first book he called it Designing for Interaction. Around the same time Bill Moggridge had a book out called Designing Interactions. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

Here’s what I wrote back then:

I’m with Dan in believing that we design for interaction, that is, we don’t actually create the interactions themselves. We provide a framework for people’s experience with their world, a way to help them create their own positive interactions. That nod toward the importance of co-creation is where the two book titles diverge.

With service design this distinction is even more relevant. It certainly had an impact when I chose this name.

Design for Services

It looks like another service design book is on the horizon. Entitled Design for Services, the 200 page publication is scheduled for next April and will be edited by Anna Meroni of Politecnico di Milano University and Daniela Sangiorgi of the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts.

This book aims to introduce service design as a discipline; providing an overview of its origins, the main theories and recent development, while connecting the academic research with the professional practice. It will do so through a collection of eighteen international professional and academic projects that represent and map out the main areas of service design research and practice.

I’m not familiar with Anna Meroni’s work, but I highlighted Daniela Sangiorgi’s writing on service design as the design of activity systems earlier this year. She’s also one of the founders of the service design research weblog.

The Limitations of Magic

Every now and then an old post of mine gets dredged up and has life pumped into it from another blog. This can bring some new readers that are further afield than usual, and with them a different perspective. Last week a couple blogs picked up a random post of mine on service commoditization from February and I learned something new. In my post I mentioned that I pretty much expect FedEx to provide overnight delivery to anywhere in the world, and that it’s too bad that such a magical service has come to be viewed as a commodity.

Well it turns out that FedEx can’t deliver a package overnight to anywhere in the world. Or perhaps they can but they won’t. I’m a bit disappointed to learn that. Apparently it takes a minimum of four days to ship a package between the United States and Finland for example. Four days!

All this time I’ve been taking for granted a service that doesn’t even exist yet. It makes me wonder what other services have been coasting along on the benefit of the doubt.

Designing Services with Innovative Methods

This weekend I took some time to savor my review copy of Designing Services with Innovative Methods, edited by Satu Miettinen and Mikko Koivisto. I’ve been browsing through the text for a few weeks now but I really wanted to go back through the pages in detail and take some notes. There are valuable insights to follow up in literally every essay.

Lots of books provide tangential insight into service design but until now it’s been tough to extract value on more than a piecemeal basis. I’m pleased to finally add a comprehensive service design title to my library.

While I’m confident recommending this book to service designers and particularly to students I don’t think it’s the best vehicle to evangelize the discipline outside the ranks of the converted. Some of it is painfully academic in tone and it takes some dedication to make it through a few of the essays. Of course it’s difficult to find fault with an academic institution producing an academic text and the book itself is incredibly welcome but we still need a more generally accessible title on the subject.

The book begins with an excellent introduction to service design by Satu Miettinen. It includes a detailed 10-page glossary that really deserves wider circulation.

The balance of the text is divided into three sections. The first expands on the overview and is comprised of five essays: “Service Design as an Emerging Field” by Birgit Mager, “Service Design in the Age of Networks and Sustainability” by Ezio Manzini, “Service Designers’ Methods” by Satu Miettinen (editor), “From Interaction to Service” by Stefan Holmlid and “Developing Service Design Education” by Katri and Jukka Ojasalo.

The next section, on service design practice, also features five essays: “Can Designers Help Deliver Better Services?” by Fran Samalionis of IDEO [PDF 7.6MB], “Frameworks for Structuring Services and Customer Experiences” by Mikko Koivisto (editor), “Designing Public Services” by Paul Thurston of ThinkPublic, “Who Do We Think We Are? by Arne van Oosterom of DesignThinkers, and “Service Design as a Tool for Innovation Leadership” by Kai Hämäläinen and Miia Lammi.

Finally, an interesting collection of case studies rounds out the book: “Service Design Pressure Cookers” by Remko Van Der Lugt, “Service Design for Social Innovation” by Miaosen Gong, “Relational Services and Conviviality” by Carla Cipolla and “Service Design in Tourism” by Marc Stickdorn.

The essays that most resonate with me include the case study regarding convivial services, the practice articles by Paul Thurston and Fran Samalionis and the essay by Stefan Holmlid on the relationship between interaction design and service design which nicely mirrors my own entry into the discipline.

It’s impossible to review this book without mentioning the sumptuous graphic design by Niina Turtola. It’s overflowing with rich color and sprinkled with illustrations and photographs on luscious paper that offset the academic tone. This is one of the most beautiful books on design I’ve ever encountered.

Published by the University of Art and Design in Helsinki in coordination with the Kuopio Academy of Design, you can order a copy through the TaiK Bookshop.

I finally had a chance to dig into an old AIGA/IDSA presentation from Hugh Dubberly that’s been making its way around Twitter for the past week or so. Ten Principles of Service Design [PDF 1.5MB] Dubberly gave a fantastic lecture on system design when I was at CMU and this presentation approaches service from the same systemic point of view.

From Shannon and Weaver to Pine and Gilmore the slides cover a lot of ground. Interaction, experience, brands — with a little math thrown in for good measure. It’s a nice overview.