Cameron and Terry on Service Design in Transition at CMU

Cameron Tonkinwise and Terry Irwin from Carnegie Mellon spoke about their ongoing efforts to redesign the curriculum in the School of Design across several design tracks and areas of focus.

They summarized these efforts in a 32-page monograph called Transition Design 2015 [PDF 635k]. I haven’t had time to dig into the details but it immediately called to mind the RED group’s influential 2006 paper on Transformation Design in the UK as well as Pine and Gilmore’s framework about transformations representing the final stage of the evolution from commodities, goods, services and experiences.

Terry framed service design as a key component of designing for transitions and the long-term future. Carnegie Mellon has always set itself apart in its approach to interaction design which goes beyond interactions with things to interactions between people, the built and designed world and the natural environment.

The shift in Carnegie Mellon’s curriculum represents an evolution with service and social innovation take center stage along with a new emphasis on transition design concerned with system level change and an awareness of place.

Cameron’s half of the presentation was more aspirational and caused the only moment I witnessed during the entire conference of spontaneous applause from the audience.

He pointed out that transitions are at the heart of service design. As service designers, we’re designing roles for people and transitioning them into new relationships with co-workers, organizations and customers. This focus on the employees of the service in addition to the customers is a key distinction between service design and CX or UX design.

He also cautioned that as a community we may not have the right organizational forms for transition design. Stand alone consultancies are often too small to efface long-term change. Teams within management consultancies typically deliver commoditized plans and aren’t built around longer-term engagements. Teams within corporations are often too insular to reach beyond their local mandate.

Finally, he presented quite a bit of new service design literature, including a paper by my former advisor. I’ll work on digging up the references and adding them to my service design archive.


  1. Jeff- did you find those literature references you mentioned in the last paragraph here? Are they mixed in with your Service Design Archive?

  2. Jeff

    Hi Andrea, yes, I added four new papers to the archive from that talk:

    Relational Services; Transformative Services and Transformation Design; Service Research Priorities in a Rapidly Changing Context; and Promoting Service Design as a Core Practice in Interaction Design (by Jodi Forlizzi from CMU).

    The archive is ordered by most recently added by default, so they should be at the top of the page.




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