Rock Stars Need Not Apply
On my first day of work at Cooper I walked into the office to find a tall can of Rockstar energy drink sitting squarely in the middle of my desk. All the designers had one tucked away somewhere in their office and it wasn’t for sustenance. It was a symbol that I instinctively recoiled against. And unfortunately it seems to be growing more prevalent in the US design community.
Jesse James Garrett betrays this attitude in his interview with the magazine Johnny Holland. At the end of the conversation he casually declares that he considers everyone working at Adaptive Path to be UX rock stars, by definition.
Besides the shear lack of modesty revealed by that type of comment it’s simply antithetical to the values at the heart of service design practice.
That’s what makes his notion of the overlap between service design and UX so difficult to reconcile:
I think any distinction that you could draw between service design and user experience is purely academic. In practical terms, the overlap in the problems being solved, the methods applied to solving them, and the philosophy of practice is so huge that anything you could say was purely a service design issue or purely a user experience design issue would be an extreme edgecase. They may persist as separate areas of intellectual inquiry, but as fields of practice I think they’ll inevitably converge.
Our values help set service design apart. And it’s something we don’t talk about enough. That may be because most service designers intuitively grasp the distinction. But with the increased attention to service design in the US and the widespread skepticism (see, for example, the comments from the Interaction 10 conference, below) it’s worth defending.
There’s never been a more important time to be good at this. The world needs talented, passionate service designers but it can do without rock stars. Service designers are humble. They embrace participatory values, particularly the idea that we should be designing with people rather than designing for them. The practical upshot is an evolutionary divergence in approach to research, sketching, design and prototyping. And the development of a few techniques that are entirely bespoke.
It’s not that rock stars aren’t capable of taking part in co-design workshops. It’s that they’re reflexively hostile to the idea of shared agency in design. That disconnect in values stands in the way of convergence more than any lack of ability.
But beyond differences in method, the shear scope of the problems service designers choose to engage helps distinguish the practice because the vast majority of UX designers have no interest in working outside the digital realm where the most important service design problems exist.
Even for those lucky few who manage to move into these new domains user experience only represents a partial perspective. Service design is about more than the user. It’s just as important to consider the needs of the employees and other backstage personnel who form the core of a service.
From a practical perspective this can involve designing new organizational roles and incentives, new pathways for internal communication and new ways to socialize a holistic view of the system for management.
When fully half of service design’s mandate lies outside the scope of UX design you can hardly call it an edge case.
Finally, there are differences in history. User experience traces its roots to the artifacts surrounding product design (industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual). Whereas service design has been concerned from the beginning with the intangible. People have been writing about the design of services for well over thirty years.
That’s worth mentioning every now and then for those who think service design just fell off the turnip truck.
The most tragic comments at Interaction 10 regarding service design were not those that involved outright hostility (“when I hear the term service design I reach for my gun”). That’s to be expected in the face of perceived hype. What was heartbreaking were the people who were making an effort to understand the practice but came away empty-handed:
Two talks later and I’m still confused about why service design differs from interaction design.
Nothing new here — why the hype?
Aargh. So service design is interaction design (same process) with an explicitly holistic view of the problem space and deliverables tailored to the situation.
I’m not a fan of evangelizing to interaction designers or user experience designers but the next time the question comes up, consider mentioning a few differences in history, values, process, methods, techniques, deliverables or scope.