Francis and Michele on How to Sabotage an Organization: Designing for Distinction

Francis Rowland from Sigma Consulting and Michele Ide-Smith from the European Bioinformatics Institute used the recently declassified 1940 OSS manual on organizational sabotage to draw insights for service designers in the form of anti-patterns.

If you’re not familiar with the OSS manual, it included procedures for spies to disrupt an organization through inefficiency; for example: “Insist on doing everything through the proper channels. Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.” It struck a chord across the internet because people recognized dysfunctional elements of their own workplaces in many of the guidelines.

Francis and Michele realized that they could invent examples for service design that were similarly counterproductive. For example: “Prevent people from using the service as much as possible. Disorient people with confusing and contradictory signage.” This is obviously the opposite of what we strive for as service designers.

But Francis and Michelle argue that anti-patterns can be a useful tool for idea generation, drawing off examples such as Donna Spencer’s “Reverse It” or the anti-problem methodology from the 2010 Gamestorming book.

Their argument is that as service designers we often co-design with people who are unfamiliar with the design process. This is foreign to them and without structure non-designers can have a difficult time getting started. Framing problems in reverse can be easier. Imagine the worst possible solution and then simply consider the opposite approach. This is essentially the George Costanza approach to service design.

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