Archive for September, 2009

When I began exploring the concept of co-design earlier this year the methods surrounding Participatory Design seemed like a natural place to start.

The book Participatory Design: Principles and Practice edited by Douglas Schuler and Aki Namioka in 1993 provides an excellent overview of the history and values surrounding this approach, specifically questions of democracy, power and control at the workplace. The articles that stand out for me include:

  • Joan Greenbaum: Participatory Design in the US
  • Pelle Ehn: Scandinavian Design: Participation and Skill
  • Jeanette Blomberg: Ethnographic Field Methods
  • Bodker, Gronbaek and Kyng: Cooperative Design

Later that same year, ACM published a special issue on Participatory Design (Volume 36, Number 4, 1993). It’s a gold mine of specific techniques related to participatory practice. The University of Queensland has posted an entire archive of that issue online in PDF format.

Michael Muller, Daniel Wildman and Ellen White’s introduction: Taxonomy of PD Practices [PDF 3.4MB] serves as a fantastic index of the techniques described in the ACM issue and referenced in the Participatory Design book.

As I’ve read more about the history of PD it seems to be focused almost exclusively on the development of digital computing systems. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising given the time period; in some ways it seems more akin to HCI than service design. But while the techniques don’t always seem to be a match for the problems service designers encounter many of the principles still seem to resonate.

For example: the proximity to the site where work is performed helps influence whether design ideas are general or specific. When you’re onsite it’s easier to focus on particular problems in the immediate environment. On the other hand if you’re gathered in a conference room miles away it promotes a higher-level analysis. Sometimes it’s helpful to zoom in and out in this way.

Another purely political observation is that while it’s important for a participatory process to have the full support of management, and for that support to be understood (and believed) by employees, the presence of those with the power to hire or fire can have a chilling effect on the frank assessment of shortcomings in a particular system. This is a theme echoed in many of the other approaches I’ve studied as well.

It’s been 16 years since these resources were published and I’m sure the practice has continued to evolve. Last year Indiana University hosted a conference on participatory design and it would be interesting to learn more about the state of the art. Unfortunately I haven’t had much success in digging up papers from the proceedings. Any leads?

If service designers look beyond the customer experience to also focus on the back-stage system, does that mean that service design is boring? Nico Morelli encountered this odd objection on his recent trip to Finland. To rephrase, the business professor who offered this criticism regarded a massive and challenging expansion of the scope of inquiry as potentially boring for service designers. That doesn’t make much sense to me.

The underlying point is that service designers need to be cautious about becoming overly focused on the customer experience, to the exclusion of system details. Morelli sees this as the 21st century equivalent of the designer as “decorator.” Instead, service design should be concerned with balancing the needs of both the customer and the business. Finding a symbiotic relationship between front-stage and back-stage.

This points to another aspect of service design education that needs attention. Many projects focus a great deal on the customer experience side of the equation but are a little hand-wavy about system design. Or you find programs that focus on the system but ignore the experience. We need to find a balance.

Service Design Thinks

Congrats to Nick, Jaimes, Lauren, and everyone who participated in the first Service Design Thinks last week in London. It looks like nearly 50 people attended the presentations by Alice Casey, Jo Harrington, Joel Bailey, and Karl Humphreys.

Here’s an overview of the event:

  • Service Design Thinks Initial Round-up
  • Reflections on Service Design Thinks
  • Photos from Flickr
  • Video from the presentations is also forthcoming. I’ll post an update when new content is available.

    In 2007 Liz Sanders published an evolving map of design that provided an overview of two distinct mindsets. The designer as expert: where users are seen as subjects, and the participatory mindset: where users are seen as partners and active co-creators. The diagram also illustrated the gulf between design-led and research-led approaches.

    What’s helpful is the acknowledgment that user-centered design and participatory design aren’t necessarily the same thing. There’s a bit of overlap but they hale from separate camps. Here’s some detail on the distinctions [PDF 268k]

    Service design seems to fall somewhere in between these clusters. Pulling from many different areas of user-centered and participatory design as well as from generative design research and from cultural probes.

    The one-week-old service design program at the Savannah College of Art and Design has cleverly managed to find its way into the pages of Fast Company. In a brief interview called Architect of Experience: Conversation With a Service Designer (conducted by the president of SCAD) professor Peter Fossick does quite a bit to put service design on the radar.

    Everything is moving toward service design. Design is becoming more intangible, less about product and more about the experience of the product. Look at Vélib’, the bicycle rental program in Paris. The technology is ancient — it’s a bicycle, after all — but the program is so brilliant thanks to the service architecture. I’m not saying we’ll stop inventing new products. I’m just saying that designing the experience of the product is becoming just as fundamental as the product itself.

    More of this please. Carnegie Mellon? ID? Berkeley? Northwestern? RISD? SVA? NYU? I’m looking at you.