Via Twitter, Joel Bailey points to a fantastically detailed post on the Qantas check-in process from earlier this month over at Dan Hill’s City of Sound weblog.
I’ve been reading Dan’s blog off and on since grad school and the posts are typically sprawling with content. In this case what he downplays as “quick notes” actually amounts to a richer account than most service design case studies. Through 31 photos and a series of diagrams Dan recounts his check-in at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport.
This type of post is interesting because of the gulf between what it captures and what it leaves out. Dan focuses on the touchpoints of the encounter as individual design elements, recounting the physicality of the RFID tags and the build quality of the check-in columns and then following the thread across touchpoints to the flimsy paper boarding receipt. These are the physical manifestations but like an iceberg they only hint at the larger system beneath the surface.
Apparently the new RFID check-in columns are less than reliable and this leads to a critical observation midway through the piece that the “service design aspects of systems are perhaps the most important, well beyond local interaction design issues.” I get the feeling that he’s talking about computer systems but the observation also holds true for the service itself on a systemic level. That is, the orchestration between touchpoints trumps an evaluation of any particular touchpoint.
Indeed, the individual elements don’t qualify as service design by themselves. The columns are examples of industrial design. The LCDs are examples of interface design. The boarding receipts and the new identity are examples of graphic design. They can each be critiqued as design solutions, as Dan has in his post. But the service only exists in their coordination.
Dan moves on to discuss the environmental aspects of the service later in the post. Here he focuses on the spatial organization and its expression over time. The flow between touchpoints and the integration of other human beings within the encounter is harder to capture with photographs. The diagrams help with this but I’m not sure we have the graphic language to really communicate this type of flow at a visceral level.
The final photos in Dan’s sequence focus on interactions with touchpoints rather than on the touchpoints themselves and taken as a whole this approach starts to shade more toward the service design end of the spectrum.
But the gulf I wrote about at the beginning of this post involves the parts of the service that aren’t possible to photograph. There’s an amazing amount of detail in Dan’s post. It’s difficult to imagine collecting 24 photographs of anything in an airport these days but no matter what type of camera you use or how much detail it captures a customer journey misses what goes on beyond the line of visibility. I think this starts to get at what Dick Buchanan meant last year when he observed that it’s impossible for human beings to experience a system.
Dan’s post isn’t meant to be an exemplar of service design. It’s filed under experience design and interaction design and he’s focusing mainly on the physicality of the interactions. But there’s power in that approach. As an exemplar for communicating the customer journey it’s worth considering the tangibility of this sort of treatment as an alternative to more traditional customer journey maps and blueprints.