Archive for September, 2010

I’ve been sprucing up the blogroll here at Design for Service. Over time Twitter has undercut a few of the blogs I used to follow and others have cropped up in their place. But I’ve also started looking further afield. Here are a handful of service operations blogs that are worth adding to your RSS feeds.

Some of the operations research blogs can be a little impenetrable (there are quite a few out there) but the operations management blogs seem to complement service design pretty well. They’re another facet to the same general subject.

I missed this when it was released back in March but the Open Book of Social Innovation [PDF 5.5MB] finally came across my radar while I was researching my previous post. It’s the result of a two-year collaboration between the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and The Young Foundation to develop a body of knowledge on social innovation. This report is part of a series on the topic.

The 224-page PDF describes over five hundred methods and tools for innovation being used across the world. As a grammar of social innovation there’s a lot to digest; I only got about halfway through before my brain shut down for the day.

Here’s an overview of the first section showing the contents and the number of methods (in parentheses) for each topic. Sections two and three are after the jump.

Prompts, Inspirations and Diagnoses

  • Triggers and inspirations (6)
  • Recognizing problems (27)
  • From symptom to cause (3)

Proposals and Ideas

  • Imagining solutions (10)
  • Thinking differently (5)
  • Open innovation (7)
  • Participation (11)
  • Facilitating participation (8)
  • Institutions (3)

Prototypes and Pilots

  • Prototypes, pilots and trials (10)
  • Finance for emerging ideas (14)


  • Creating a business (5)
  • Ownership and organizational form (9)
  • Governance (7)
  • Organization and management models (5)
  • Operations (4)
  • Relational capital (10)
  • Venture finance (7)
  • Sustaining innovations / public sector (4)

Scaling and Diffusion

  • Inspiration (2)
  • Diffusing demand (6)
  • Scaling and diffusion / public sector (6)
  • Commissioning and procurement (14)
  • Suppliers of innovation (7)
  • Transmitters (9)
  • Organization and scale (8)
  • Metrics to show what works (22)

Systemic Change

  • Ideas that energise systemic innovations (13)
  • Infra- and Interstructures to support new systems (5)
  • Formation of users and producers (4)
  • Strategic moves that accelerate systems change (6)
  • Regulatory and fiscal changes (9)
  • Information, accounting and statistics (3)
  • Progressive coalitions and social movements (3)
  • Systemic finance (3)

After a bit of digging I’ve been able to uncover some more about Geoff Mulgan’s critique of social design.

The most direct reference is a fantastic set of visual notes from Jonathan Hey who attended Mulgan’s talk at the DMI conference in London earlier this month.

But for the details of the argument I’m extrapolating from a working paper Mulgan wrote for the Social Innovation Exchange conference in December 2009. This is a third hand translation of a French summary of that paper (or discussion about it at the conference) so caveat emptor. But it looks like he’s indeed critiquing RED and Participle as well as Thinkpublic, IDEO, the Rockefeller Foundation, and an organization that’s new to me called EMUDE focused on sustainability.

According to the summary of Mulgan’s argument the key strengths that designers bring to social design projects include new perspective and clarity, tools for systematic thinking and catalyzing behavior as well as visualization techniques and methods for rapid prototyping. Key weaknesses include high cost, lack of investment, a tendency to reinvent the wheel, mediocre skills at implementation, lack of economic understanding or organizational perspective and lack of rigor.

The visual notes from the DMI conference confirm this by listing three strengths: insight, prototypes and imagination; as well as five weaknesses: revising research, economics, understanding [political] power, delivery, expensive.

Mulgan presented a case study from the Young Foundation called Studio Schools [PDF pg5], but there aren’t any details about projects from the agencies mentioned above so it’s still unclear where or how the weaknesses manifest, if at all. Or why these efforts have been judged a failure.

Kevin McCullagh’s piece at core77 last week on T-Shaped Designers is worth exploring. It hinges around Geoff Mulgan’s critique* of social designers at a recent DMI conference. McCullagh emphasizes the need for designers to strengthen their vertical competencies in particular domains by focusing on deeper knowledge, craft skills and methods. His article is essentially a call for increased specialization.

I don’t know if I buy his wholesale dismissal of design generalists but his critique of the T-shape reminded me of Nick Marsh’s 2007 presentation where he introduced the idea of “bridge-shaped” design teams with multiple verticals [p74]. Service design leverages the deep verticals of the client organization itself through a co-design approach.

The core77 piece sparked a nice response over at Design Dialogues by Peter Jones. He considers the Optimal Geometry of Social Design and comes to an interesting conclusion:

So allow me to suggest the geometry of a wheel to replace the T-shape. A wheel with spokes — deep rounded Ts surrounding a hub in the center. The hub is the shared concern of the situation. Each member, joined at left and right around the wheel’s edge, represents one stakeholder in a collective social system. If you remove one member, you no longer have a wheel. If you remove the hub, the center or focus, you no longer have traction.

The wheel is essentially Nick’s bridge model, but wrapped around a common hub; a common focus. I like the implications for service design teams.

Note:* I haven’t read the substance of Mulgan’s critique of social design agencies and though McCullagh doesn’t seem inclined to share any examples I can only imagine they’re talking about RED, or maybe Participle. I’d be interested in hearing from other attendees about the validity of this critique.

Update: I dug up some fantastic visual notes on the DMI conference from Jonathan Hey. Mulgan’s talk is on the first spread, upper right quadrant.

Tuomo Kuosa explores the lack of celebrity culture in service design from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. I’ve noted this cultural phenomenon in the past but his post delves into some reasons why “celebrities and stars have no place in service design.”

He quotes Reima Rönnholm who observes that good services are essentially invisible but I’d also suggest that the strong focus on collaborative teamwork and co-design tends to downplay the authorship of any single designer.

Next month the Service Design Network will be hosting a one-day conference at Microsoft’s New England Research Campus in Cambridge, Massachusett. The roster of speakers includes representatives from every service design organization in the US outside of academia. Also Oliver King from the UK.

They’ve extended early-bird registration until Friday. $410 for non-members and only $80 for students.

Here’s the lineup [jpg 948k] for October 29th.

I’m surprised to find that there’s a booming cottage industry in the design of university tours for prospective students. Eric Hoover explores the Disneyfication of campus tours in an article this month for the Washington Monthly.

For decades, most campus tours were as plain and standard as notebook paper. But recently, many colleges have turned the traditional tour into a more intimate, more elaborate event. Some colleges have full-time “visit coordinators” who preside over tours with personalized touches, quirky diversions, choreographed “signature moments,” and even souvenirs — the stuff of theme parks. Such changes have made tours more fun and engaging, and families tend to get multiple options for who to meet and what to see during their visits.

As I read though the story about former tour guide Jeff Kallay it seemed obvious that the guy was channeling Pine and Gilmore, throwing around terms like “authenticity” and “experience.” He finally mentioned The Experience Economy on the second or third page and it’s clear that he’s a disciple.

A couple things stand out about the practice of re-designing college tours and how they’re pitching it here.

First, it’s a shame that “Disney” is our cultural touchstone for the design of experiences. People are certainly familiar with the reference but it carries a lot of negative connotations. Experiences don’t necessarily have to be plastic.

But aside from that it’s important to step back and take a look at the context. Can you imagine a university hiring a design firm to craft this type of experience? Universities are way too conservative for that. They might hire an outside design firm to create a logo or a mascot. Or hire an architect to design a stadium. But never something as intangible as this.

Against all odds colleges are lining up seventy deep for consulting from TargetX, a Pennsylvania-based company, because they’re not a design firm. They focus exclusively on student-recruitment strategies. It’s the triumph of the specialist.

The only counter-example I can think of is IDEO’s work with the Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente. Both conservative organizations. But IDEO was focused less on tactical design and more on establishing internal innovation units within those cultures. That’s not what’s happening there.