The Gap in Service Design Education
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.