Archive for April, 2010

I’ve added a couple new papers to my Service Design Research collection. Silent Design and Why Design is Difficult to Manage are a pair of papers from the London Business School by Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas. Silent design has come up in a few different service design contexts [PDF 240k] over the past year so I finally decided to check out the source:

It can be argued that a great deal of design activity goes on in organizations which is not called “design.” It is carried out by individuals who are not called “designers” and who would not consider themselves to be designers.

In framing silent design activity the authors reference the work of Herb Simon in The Sciences of the Artificial. He proposed that design is a basic human activity and that, in fact, everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.

This perspective can be a little difficult for professional designers to accept. But that also makes it a decent shibboleth for evaluating potential service designers.

At any rate, the researchers adopted a broad classification for design activity. Their definition was “a course of action for the development of an artifact or a system of artifacts.”

They carried out a one-year pilot study in the UK to explore the silent design phenomenon. They followed this up with a more detailed questionnaire, enlisting the participation of sixteen companies across the manufacturing and service sectors.

The first paper outlines their methodology and includes two tools that strike me as incredibly useful for service designers.

Their first matrix [PDF 212K] includes seven levels of design activity that organizations might adopt: from initial exploration to deep integration. It’s a way to quickly map out silent design activity across the organization.

Their second matrix [PDF 208K] is designed to map out the relationship between functional areas responsible for types of design activity. The diagonal matrix allows for any area of the business to intersect with any other area, including professional designers. The half diamond shapes can be shaded from either direction to indicate which side initiates the contact. The idea is to complete up to seven copies of the second matrix, one for each level of design activity identified in the first.

These matrices are a great way for service designers to explore the “linkware” within an organization.

The second paper follows up on the pilot study to outline four types of organizations that emerged from the research. The basic split is between product and service organizations and between organizations that employ some form of “design manager” and those that do not. These factors were the two strongest predictors for how design manifests within an organization.

Here’s a quote from “Why Design is Difficult to Manage” that describes the silent design phenomenon:

A senior engineer who had responsibility for the design department identified himself as the design manager and answered [the questionnaire] throughout the interview in that role. However, all of the other senior managers from this company who participated in the survey felt unable to answer questions on the role of the design manager because they did not consider that their company had a design manager.

This highlights the confusion that can surround design: the ‘Silent Designers’ who unknowingly participate in design tasks are scattered throughout organizations. […] As long as managers can only identify a fragment of the design process as design, the sense of diffusion and lack of definition will remain.

It’s worth noting that examples of silent design turned up in every organization involved with the study, including those with formal design departments.

The researchers encapsulated their findings in three simple maxims: First, a design policy cannot be purchased off-the-rack; it must be tailor-made. Second, do not expect a design policy to be effective if the structure does not exist to implement it. And finally, do not expect designers to understand the company if the company does not develop methods to integrate them.

This research took place over twenty years ago and I’d like to think that attitudes about design have progressed since then. The researchers mention a follow-up study scheduled for the United States but I haven’t been able to track it down.

If you come across any information about this study or silent design in general I’d appreciate a heads up.

Screenwriting is a bit of an outlier when it comes to my investigation of sketching and the performing arts. After all, a screenplay by itself isn’t a performance. But it has a lot to teach us about sketching and the structural aspects of service.

Practically all the techniques I’ve outlined in this series have focused on sketching at the level of a service encounter. Moment concepts. Localized interactions. What I love about screenwriting is that it focuses on holistic narratives. Screenwriting is one of the best avenues I’ve discovered for learning how to sketch the arc of a customer journey at the macro-level.

Beat sheets are probably the most important technique to understand when it comes to sketching the structure and cadence of a narrative. A “beat” is the smallest unit of story telling in a screenplay. It describes a particular development. Taken together, all the beats in a story form a beat sheet.

From a service design perspective, you might think of the customer journey as unfolding like the narrative in a screenplay. Each service encounter is a beat; each moment of truth is an individual step in the arc of the story.

The point of writing a beat sheet is to get a clear sense for how the story will flow. You’re not trying to sell the story to an outsider; you’re just trying to grasp the story all at once. That’s why I see beat sheets as a form of sketching. They’re not about showing, telling, explaining or convincing. Beat sheets support exploration into the structure of the narrative.

You really need to see a few examples before the technique makes sense. A website called Beat Sheet Central serves as a hub for prototypical beat sheets and step outlines from popular films. They’re mostly written after the fact as a learning exercise but it’s a good way to understand the basic approach.

Stepping back a little further we can map out the structure of an entire collection of self-contained narratives.

The image at the beginning of this post is from the short-lived television series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It’s a picture of the “show board” at a sketch comedy program modeled off of Saturday Night Live. Each week they start with a blank slate and as the skits develop the head writer uses the board as a tool to visualize the overall structure of the program.

Each index card represents a particular comedy sketch, with color codes for particular writers and structural cues for commercial breaks. It’s something that shouldn’t be too foreign to designers. Just substitute Post-it notes and you’re set.

This type of sketching persists in analog form rather than digital (even in fields outside of design) because it supports collective inquiry and exploration. Marc Rettig speaks to this in his 2004 presentation Atoms are Better than Bits [PDF 1.7MB].

To give you an idea about how this might apply to service design consider the checkout encounter at a retail store.

Traditionally cash wrap is separate from shopping. If you were mapping it, checkout would probably be one of the last index cards on the wall. It’s a terrible location. But being able to grasp the entire journey at once might inspire the team to ask, “what if we tried moving that card around?”

It’s a painless way to experiment with the structure. And who knows? It might lead to instant checkout.

Of course screenwriting isn’t only about the structural perspective. I love watching the DVD featurettes for my favorite television programs because they sometimes give a glimpse into the creative process.

For example, the second season of Deadwood on HBO shows a typical writing session with David Milch. The rest of the writers are gathered around and he’s lounging on the floor vocalizing lines of dialog. Someone is transcribing his stream of consciousness on an HDTV and it’s clearly a sketching process. As quickly as he can experiment with different versions of the performance the unseen transcriptionist is able to update the dialog onscreen. It’s amazing to see the words jump around with such fluidity.

That type of parallel note-taking is something that I’ve written about before in the context of choreography and film but this is different because the notes feed back in real time and influence the sketching. It’s a little like graphic facilitation.

The final concept I want to explore deals with sequential art. Comicboarding [PDF 352k] is a technique by Microsoft Research for co-creating narratives with children. The research team developed several variations of comic boards that presented a simple narrative with blank frames so that participants could complete the story with their own details.

The researchers tried a few different approaches. Some consisted of comics with original artwork and blank word balloons. Others began with a few frames of an existing comic before transitioning to blank pages. The most successful example used the beginning and ending of an existing comic to constrain the narrative with a series of blank frames in the middle.

I wonder whether a similar type of scaffolding approach might work for co-creation sessions within service design.

With comicboarding the idea is to give the participants something to start with in order to overcome the “tyranny of the blank page.” The comic serves as a point of departure. But there are many ways to do this. Photographs or a short film could help set the stage or even a brief skit. Urban planners sometimes begin co-creation sessions by leading a group tour of the community. Something to spark a collective appreciation of the domain.

Ultimately screenwriting is most valuable for service designers as a way to think about how to sketch the structure of an encounter at a scale beyond the individual touchpoint.

It’s widely held within the screenwriting community that good screenplays are all about structure. William Goldman explores this thesis in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade. In many ways service design follows the same pattern. Good service design isn’t really about the design of touchpoints, it’s about the relationship between touchpoints. It revolves around structure.

Screenwriting offers a compelling way to question and explore that structure while inventing new relationships.

. . .

This article is part of a series on how to sketch a service based on techniques from the performing arts.

How to Sketch a Service
Sketching in Choreography
Sketching in Music
Sketching in Film
• Sketching in Theater

In a new article over at Semantic Studios Peter Morville offers an overview of service design, information architecture and UX design. He proposes that information architecture might be the bridge that connects the two approaches.

Morville shares an example of an experience map intended to serve as a boundary object for catalyzing conversations among designers, users, and stakeholders:

If we’re to design coherent multi-channel services and experiences, we must add new visuals to our toolkit. For starters, we should complement service-centered blueprints with user-centered maps that show the full array of choices and channels that people navigate every day.

It makes a lot of sense for information architecture to be part of the conversation when it comes to service design. The Service Design Network is sponsoring the upcoming German information architecture conference in Cologne and the IA Summit hosted a workshop on the topic earlier this month.

By the way, pay attention to the stat in that workshop overview article and be sure to read the comment at the end for some concerns service designers need to address.

Here’s a nice visualization of the Starbucks customer experience [PDF 140K] from the Little Springs Design blog. They’ve mapped positive and negative sensory cues from the experience against touchpoints from the customer journey and supported it with a running commentary of the encounter.

It might be helpful to look at this type of thing through the prism of the peak-end rule. The most striking aspect of the encounter was the crowded location and the uncomfortable wooden chairs. The end was characterized by annoyance. This visualization makes it apparent by showing deviations from the baseline.

For more on incorporating emotional cues into blueprints check out Andy Polaine’s blueprint+ technique.

There’s a detailed article on service design practice from Joe Heapy at Engine that’s making the rounds:

Service Design needs to be understood in this way — as an organisational challenge. Achieving great services through existing organisations goes beyond designing great services and starts to become about helping to articulate the purpose of that organisation. The need is to address the capabilities of organisations to design and provide services that are useful at scale and in response to complex needs. For many of our clients these services are enabled by technology systems but are delivered through systems of people and things that need to be understood in their complexity.

This is an expanded version of his keynote from the service design conference in Madeira last fall. In the video, also entitled “Make Yourself Useful,” he addresses many of the same themes and highlights a few of the case studies.

There’s also his presentation from the conference [PDF 15.8MB] for a bite-size version of the article.

[via choosenick]

Today I stumbled across a new weblog called Service Design… Under Construction. I can’t find much background on the project but it appears to be written by a French blogger named Charlotte. There are about a dozen posts so far with some sprawling examples of book reviews, case studies, explorations on method and thoughts on the foundation of service design. It’s great to hear an enthusiastic new voice in this space.

The Envisioner

There are a lot of great tools in Jeanette Blomberg’s overview of Ethnographic Field Methods and Design [PDF 1.5MB] but one of my favorites is a low-tech industrial design technique for representing flows through an environment:

One such representation tool developed by the team was the Envisioner, which allowed a 3D scale model (1/4 scale and 1/2 scale to show different levels of detail) of the studied work settings to be constructed. The layout of particular offices and equipment and other artifacts used were depicted with foam core pieces which had magnetic bases that sat on a magnetic grid and could be easily moved and rearranged. A sheet of acetate sat on top of a Plexiglass roof so designers could make annotations, draw connections between objects, people, technologies and explore design ideas.

The Envisioner supported looking beyond the design of a particular technology by making the relationship between work, people and technology the focus of the representation.

There are a couple photos on page 15 of the PDF (page 150-151 of Participatory Design: Principles and Practice if you’re following along in Google Books).

That last bit about making relationships the focus should be a required attribute for any good service design tool.