Choosenick. Notes and observations on service design, as well as other interesting things/thinking. By Nick Marsh.



Archive of May 2009


Service Design Drinks 4! 19th June, 2009




It’s back! For the fourth time! Come along for London’s premier (and only) service design drinking and talking about service design drinking event!

The last event was the best yet - lots of really interesting people (about 50!) from a wide cross section of the service design community, all in one place, all drinking and talking to each other about their service design practice. It was great. Lets make this one even better...

19th June 2009
The Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell
From 7pm
RSVP via email to drinks at servicedesigning dot com
May 31st, 2009 / Trackback / Comments

Designography: Rethinking the tension between academic and industry uses of social science research tools

Jaimes Nel has posted a thoughtful piece on how to harness the perceived methodological tensions between 'traditional' social science practitioners (academic anthroplogists/sociologists etc) and the young upstarts using these techniques to inform design and innovation initiatives in the service industries.

This is creating confusion (and sometimes arguments) as traditional social science research tools, created for getting at answers and evidence get hacked and modified to suit the new needs of the design industry - principally questions and inspiration.

I know this from first hand experience. My Dad, a professsor of sociology, is always appalled at what he sees as my slap dash/good enough approach to what he calls 'social science' that I refer to as design research. I'll call a couple of home visits an 'ethnography', he thinks an ethnography is two years in the field. Of course our ends differ (him, understanding the fundamental dynamics of families, me, trying to improve the experience of airport check in - sigh), but its surprising how much our means cross over.

Anyway, in the article, Jaimes posits that a re-conceptualisation of what constitutes 'the field' might help bridge the gap, at least for design researchers working in the context of service. He imagines a new definition of the field to be the service design process, a kind of constantly iterating, temporal field in which we (designers, researchers and subjects alike) are protagonists, all participating in a simultaneous, continuous programme of researching and re-designing. Jaimes is a social scientist by training, but with a strong sympathy for design. This comes out when he pragmatically states:

Frankly, I’m quite happy to just drop the use of the word ethnography altogether, just as I’ve happily dropped the use of anthropology or sociology. These are increasingly market orientated terms and get away from the goal, which is to discern understanding of the past in the service of the future. Maybe what we are engaged in is “designography” and our completed work, our theory is the design itself.

He goes on to make a startlingly obvious point that I hadn't really considered before - 'traditional' research is in the business of finding answers, but the type of design research practiced by Jaimes and other service design researchers tends to be in the business of finding questions and options - often to fuel creative design work. (Design itself is firmly in the business of the future, or as Jack Schulze calls it 'cultural invention'.)

Inspiring stuff. Head over to his blog and let him know what you think in the comments.'
May 26th, 2009 / Trackback / Comments

Resonance from Continuum on Vimeo.


What is Design Strategy? Lovely video.
May 22nd, 2009 / Trackback

Interesting links about service design and other cool stuff you missed in the last three days if you're not on Twitter



I'm spending more and more time sharing stuff and having conversations through Twitter, and neglecting my blog in the process. If you're not on Twitter - here's some of the good stuff you missed in the last three days alone:

I discovered that Pink Service Design were interviewed about their work for Glaxo and other health care providers, that Experientia reported on Andrew Dillon's take down of user centred design, I found this really cool tech-led service innovation firm, Sagentia in Cambridge (they designed the M-Pesa service), and I highlighted Sarah Drummond's student service design project. I read an article about ubiquitous data and design research on the Plan website and one about weak signals from the future on Nicolas Nova's site. I found a Mexican service design company. I loved this 'pop up business' concept from PSFK, and Dan Lockton's visit to Engine got me thinking about the need for design for behaviour change - and The Guardian agrees. I shared this link to a great report on the connection between digital inclusion and social capital - something for all digitally minded service designers to think about. I also got excited about a new Australian service design blog and a new 'human centred' design support programme in Europe. I also shared lots of non-service design stuff, including this.

The point I'm making is that my information feed is on Twitter (which is often being fed by Google Reader) and that's where I'm sharing (and discussing) most of the good stuff.

Of course, none of this is my 'content', I'm just rehashing, filtering and prioritising the stream, much as I used to do with this blog - I'm just finding that Twitter is a much better, much more social way to share and discover cool stuff. I'll still be posting longer pieces of original content here, but the service design conversation is definitely on Twitter. See you there!
May 20th, 2009 / Trackback / Comments

Richard Buchanan on Design Thinking

Adam Richardson posts a great citation from Richard Buchanan in 1992 that feels more relevant than ever:

"Despite efforts to discover the foundations of design thinking in the fine arts, the natural sciences, or most recently, the social sciences, design eludes reduction and remains a surprisingly flexible activity. No single definition of design, or branches of professionalized practice such as industrial or graphic design, adequately covers the diversity of ideas and methods gathered together under this label.

There is no area of contemporary life where design — the plan, project, or working hypothesis which constitutes the “intention” in intentional operations — is not a significant factor in shaping human experience.

To gain some idea of how extensively design affects contemporary life, consider the four broad areas in which design is explored throughout the world by professional designers and by many others who may not regard themselves as designers:

  • Symbolic and visual communications
  • Material objects
  • Activities and organized services
  • Complex systems or environments for living, working, playing and learning

  • Reflecting on this list…it is tempting to identify and limit specific design professions within each area… But this would not be adequate, because these areas are not simply categories of objects that reflect the results of design. Properly understood and used, they are also places of invention shared by all designers, places where one discovers the dimensions of design thinking by a reconsideration of problems and solutions.

    There are so many examples of conceptual repositioning in design that it is surprising no one has recognized the systematic pattern of invention that lies behind design thinking in the twentieth century.

    Design problems are “indeterminate” and “wicked” because design has no special subject matter of its own apart from what a designer conceives it to be. The subject matter of design is potentially universal in scope, because design thinking may be applied to any area of human experience.

    [W]hat many people call “impossible” may actually only be a limitation of imagination that can be overcome by better design thinking. This is not directed toward a technological “quick fix” in hardware but toward new integrations of signs, things, actions and environments that address the concrete needs and values of human beings in diverse circumstances.


    Inspiring stuff!
    May 14th, 2009 / Trackback / Comments

Us Now from Banyak Films on Vimeo.


Watch this film if you care about the future. More here.
May 13th, 2009 / Trackback

Why is service design so heterogenous? And does it matter?

The practice of service design is seemingly pretty hard to define. Many different people have spent a long time trying to develop a working definition. (Indeed, as James pointed out to us at work this week the latest edition of Touchpoint spends a lot of time just trying to convince us/itself that service design is a real thing.)

Whilst efforts to define service design are to be applauded it always feels to me that they fall short on some aspect or another - either because they're too big and try to cram everything in, or because they're too small and personal.

At the same time, despite the differences of opinion about what service design is, more and more people are getting on with it and practicing service design. I'm starting to feel like an old hand to be honest. As a consequence of this, the implicit and explicit methods used by designers practicing service design are starting to be pretty well understood and documented.

So, if we're all busy service designing, why is it so hard to settle on a definition of what we're doing? I think, in part it's because we're asking the wrong question. Instead of asking 'what is the definition of service design?' we should be looking at ourselves and saying 'why are there so many different definitions and descriptions of service design that do work?!' In other words, why is service design so heterogenous?

I've put some thoughts below, and I'd love to get your feedback in the comments or on Twitter.

Framing the question

In his (excellent) book, From Products to Services, Laurie Young provides a useful matrix developed by Johnston and Clark that helps us to get a sense of the wide spectrum of what constitutes a service.

The matrix plots the number of buyers of the service processed by a typical unit per day against the amount of contact time, customisation and uniqueness provided per buyer/transaction. I've recreated the illustration below:



The difference between the services offered by service providers at different points on the spectrum is huge. At the top left of the diagram are completely bespoke, very low volume, very high margin professional services such as strategy consultancy and investment banking. At the bottom right are 'mass services' provided at huge scale with very tight margins and often driven by technology such as fast food restaurant services or a web service. The margins, approach to market, types of people employed and relationships with customers vary enormously between these two extremes of 'service'.

There is a natural tendency for firms at both ends of the spectrum to move towards the middle of the matrix.

As professional service firms become more experienced and meet similar problems several times the solutions become more standardised, are given names and provided as 'products' on a bigger scale. Young calls these 'professional service shops'. At this point other suppliers come in to provide the offer and eventually the approach can become commonplace and can be captured in software, trained in academies and eventually undertaken by clients themselves.

At the other end of the scale, mass service firms are always trying to differentiate their commodity offers by providing customers with better experiences, more flexibility and customisation (at scale) which allows them to increase prices without increasing costs, thus boosting margin. This is often done through leveraging data and technology.

So what?

Buried in here, I think, is the reason that service design is so heterogenous, and within that answer to the paradox of service design being hard to define, yet the practice of service design being pretty well understood.

Looking again at the matrix, where do we put the service of providing service design consultancy? It's in the top left - a professional service that is very bespoke and customised to suit the needs of clients down to the very last detail. I know this because I've pitched, won and run many service design projects, and every single one has been different, has involved large amounts of client contact and is always adjusted to suit the changing needs of the client as the project progresses.



On the other hand, looking again at the matrix, where do we put the majority of the services designed by service design consultancies? They're in the bottom right.



Most service design projects I've worked on are for large service providers looking to differentiate and improve a mass service offering. There are of course lots of exceptions to this rule. Many projects undertaken at Engine are about helping our clients improve their own internal service innovation capacity - a top left service to design a top left service!

Anyway, I'm wandering off track. The point is that the service of service design itself is a highly bespoke, high margin, capability and experience focussed offer, that is constantly being tuned to suit the needs of the client. Richard K. Lyons, head of innovation at Goldman Sachs (a very, very top left service provider), talks about service innovation in professional services being 'fluid and continuous' and largely built upon lots of small micro interactions with a client/customer that over time leads to significant and very distinct knowledge about that customer's needs, and a lot of small discreet innovations to support those needs.

I think this explains why its hard to say exactly what service design is - because as far as I'm concerned, when I'm trying to win a piece of new business, service design is simply the solution to a clients problem, and when I'm running a project and managing a client I'll do (design) whatever I think is the right thing to keep them happy! Thus, the heterogeneity we see in service design is actually just a symptom of the heterogeneity we see in people who are clients for service design, and our need to constantly tune our offer to suit their specific requirements.

Perhaps this is a very particular view of service design, one bought about by the fact that the projects we do at Engine are generally 'strategic' in nature, in that they often focus on the big picture and are generally about creating big plans (although we do design touch points and service specifications too).

There are other consultancies out there that have a more focused definition of what service design is, but that's because they have a more focussed definition of who their customers are - for example mobile service design company Fjord.

What next?

Over time, I fully expect some parts of the service design offer to become more commoditised, and move down the spectrum towards the 'professional service shop' point. Some obvious candidates include multi-channel customer experience auditing and journey mapping and the development of on brand customer service behaviours.

Nonetheless, I also expect service designers who are interested in tackling the biggest, wickedest most complex problems will continue to innovate their offerings to clients, and therefore continue to outpace our ability to actually pin down what they're doing in a simple definition. Promising fields here include transformation design (as I see it a kind of internal organisational / change management design discipline) and designing for behaviour change across all design disciplines.

In the end, I don't think we should be surprised to see a lot of heterogeneity in service design. Heterogeneity is a strength, not a weakness - it allows service design agencies (and service designers) to constantly reframe their offer, adapt quickly to the market and tackle the most interesting, most complex challenges. Pinning all of that into a simple definition seems rather silly really.

What do you think? Does this fit with your experiences of designing services? Let me know here or on Twitter!
May 9th, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking / Trackback / Comments

A Lens on Obesity, a Short Documentary from IDEO on Vimeo.


IDEO are tackling one of the most complex problems out there right now - Obesity in young people. Welcome to the conversation!
May 9th, 2009 / Trackback


Service Design Signposts for the Week

This week in the world of service design the big news was that the Service Design Network relaunched their website! Lots of new material, but the good stuff is in the printed journal Touchpoint, which isn't online. Weird.

In other news about print, Tim has written a book about design thinking called 'Change by Design'. Meanwhile, back in the UK Matthew has been thinking about what makes a pro-social council. There’s lots of practical tips, well worth a read for those working on public sector service design projects.

Elsewhere Sophia pointed to some great articles (featuring her work) on how local government’s innovation capacity is slowly improving. Meanwhile Joel found a nice video about the types of people you need to create good innovation teams.

Meanwhile Stephen was busy seducing us with principles for creating seductive services, and Jeff was interviewing Paul Robare on his health service design work in the US.

Mark (at Experientia) pointed us to a report on different types of co-creation and when and where to use them. James wrote a post on service innovation 'not to loose', rather than service innovation to win. An interesting idea, but not one that consultants can really sell. Well worth a read.

Mark (at 31volts) created some nice diagrams for a post where he explores the design of 'off-stage' business experiences. Service Untitled featured a guest post from Chip n’ John on creating 'Imaginative Services'. Finally, Bloomberg reported on an innovation programme by some of the world’s oldest professional service providers.
May 3rd, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign / Trackback / Comments
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