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



Archive of July 2011


Service design is Dead. The New Product is Alive.

So, I changed my job title a few months ago. I dropped the ’service’ bit. I’m now just Sidekick’s Design Director. I’m now MASSIVELY EXCITED about a new thing – designing products.

But not your old products. No, I’m excited about designing a new type of evolving, networked product that requires a multi-disciplinary team just to keep it alive, let alone make it awesome. I’m calling this the New Product. Let me explain.

Service design is dead


Ok, it’s not that I think service design is dead, its just that its pretty much used up its interest for me, and I think for Sidekick. There’s two reasons for this I think. One interesting, the other less so.

First, the uninteresting bit. The problem with service design is not the practice as such, but more the way its practised. I’ve basically become a bit bored with the way in which the service design community is constantly trying to legitimise and define the central-vital-most-important-ultimate-more-strategic-than-whatever-you-do role of design in innovating and managing services. I’ve been guilty of doing this a bit in the past. Sorry about that.

Its quite an isolating view, and not very helpful for actually making change happen, and creating new cool stuff.

Second, the interesting bit. The flipside to this is that I’ve become really interested in the actual role of design in bringing new stuff to market, and creating useful things that people want (in particular digital services that solve social problems, which is what we do at Sidekick). Really importantly, I’m getting a good sense of how design fits in the mix with other disciplines in doing this, in particular technical skills, marketing skills and financial skills.

Probably this is just me getting older and more experienced, but I think its also a bit that I’m reaping the rewards of moving away from strategic consulting, and towards making and inventing new things.

As part of this shift I’ve come to the conclusion that organising the invention and making process around products is a really good way to get focused on creating good work – and ironically can help solve strategic questions along the way. Let me explain.

The New Product is alive


Everywhere I look, but basically on the web, the people I am inspired by are talking about products – product incubation, product design, product management. But this is a New type of Product, born and growing up on the web. When people talk about the New Product they’re generally describing businesses that provide a mix of content, service and experience. But the way they make that tangible is by focusing on product.

The UKs most important online property, the BBC, recently reorganised its entire online strategy around the idea of products. Writing about the change, Eric Huggers, the digital boss, says:

“The product management role [is] ‘a multi-disciplined person who operates at the intersection of technology, design and editorial and is able to bring all of these elements together’ to deliver products whose lifecycle is managed. We’ll no longer build websites which are published and which sit unattended and slowly degrade; products will be managed.”

Jack Dorsey, probably my biggest crush on the internet, and wearer of great suits, head of product for Twitter and Square (and CEO to boot) says (in an awesome video) “So, my point here is, this company is not going to be known by one person or by five people or by multiple people. It’s going to be known by the product that we put out… Support and feedback is what our customers are telling us. Product is what we are telling our customers.”

Finally, Denis Crowley, founder of Foursquare, says “I’ve always looked up to the people who went from being unemployed to doing interesting things with product.” Doing things with product. I love the active sense of this sentence. Doing things. Sounds like designing and making to me!

The New Product design is the new rave


When big, established and admired properties like the BBC, and small, ambitious, and equally admired startups like Square are talking about the same thing, its worth listening. Essentially, these businesses are using the idea of ‘product’ as a way to coordinate their digital service development activities across engineering, design, marketing and even organisational management.

The interesting thing here is that the role that sits at the heart of all of this, the product manager/designer, really sounds a lot like the stuff I’m interested in, some of which I was calling service design. In this world good product managers/designers focus relentlessly on user experiences, have a clear vision for where they want that experience to evolve to, they get that from close liaison with customers and users, they are able to translate this into briefs for technical, marketing and interface design teams – and they can wrap all of it up and sell it in to management.

Above all, they know where their product begins and ends – at the point of use. They are the ‘bring it all together’ people, but in a real, hands-on way. Because what they bring it all together into is a real, live product you can experience and use right now, just by connecting to the web. Right now. Go to bbc.co.uk, foursquare.com and squareup.com

At Sidekick we’re embracing the new product design and management wholeheartedly. And since we’ve done that (and ditched service design!), our business has really taken off. All our current projects (bar one small research piece) have the idea of creating a ‘product’ at their heart. And once we’ve created product, we’re starting to get really good at managing it. Watch this space for big news on Buddy, our most developed product. We’ll be launching a client product in September, and there’s lots more to come over the next six months.

We’re doing a lot more at Sidekick – not least we’re really starting to nail a lot of the process stuff behind the business aspects of social innovation (but that’s another post/book) – but the thing I am getting most excited about is our products. They are the place where it all comes together. The place where you can touch, use and experience everything we’re learning about how design, technology and business can change the way social innovation happens.

All we have to do now is ship. Which we will, because we have to.
July 1st, 2011 / Tags: design, servicedesign, designthinking, innovation, productdesign / Trackback / Comments

Two moments that are really important in creative careers

Cross posted from the Sidekick blog.

The other day I had one of those a-ha moments where you realise something really obvious, but quite profound.

I was chatting with my friend Steve, and we were talking about people and moments in our professional and academic lives that had left a big impact on us. When we stopped to think about patterns, there were basically two categories of moments with people that had stuck with us:

1. When someone you admire gives you something to aim for that’s at the very edge of the path you are thinking about going down


This category is about seeing a vision of your future self in someone else. Its definitely not envy, because the moments that matter are when you see that they have done general stuff, or achieved approximate things that you would like to achieve – if you really want to. I’ve had a few of these moments.

One that really sticks in mind is when Richard Eisermann sat me down during my internship at the Design Council and told me about his career in design – he’d worked as a lighting designer for Sottsass, been design director at Whirlpool, headed up a practice at IDEO and was now ‘head of design and innovation’ for the UK Design Council. He told me all about his story, and I basically thought – that’s what I want.

That’s not to say that I want to be Richard, or that I wanted his exact career. Years later Steve actually went to work with him at his new company Prospect (but is now leaving to go and work at Ziba). Its more that I saw the kind of stuff, the types of projects, that you can get involved with as a multi-disciplinary designer if you work hard. And I thought, I’ll have some of that please. So, thanks Richard for giving me a vision.

The second category of important moments is the exact opposite. Instead of it being about wanting something external, its all about internal validation.

2. When someone you admire totally, unconditionally believes in you.


This category is all about giving you complete confidence in yourself, right now. Where as the first category gives you confidence that other people can achieve great things, and you could do the same, in the future, this is just all about being sure that what you are doing right now is great, so you should keep doing it.

An example I had of this was at college, I was doing a project that was going nowhere fast. For some reason I’d ended up trying to do some metal casting or something, and I was feeling pretty crap about the whole thing, to the point of thinking I’d be better of doing a normal degree.

Anyway, one of my tutors, Mike Waller, who wasn’t even that much my friend, saw that I was pretty depressed and he said to me “Nick, don’t worry about this project. There’ll be lots more. After this degree course, some people will go different ways. But I know that you will be a successful designer. So stop worrying.” Or at least, he said something like that. Whatever it was, I remember holding on to what he said, or the sentiment, for the rest of my degree course. I know you will be a success. So, thanks Mike for giving me a rock of confidence. I bet you never knew how much that meant to me.

The point of this post isn’t meant to be really deep – its pretty simple. Basically, I think I’m saying that good leadership in creative fields is about two things. Giving people great big goals to aim for, and giving them complete confidence that they are going to get there. The two moments above have stuck with me for ages, much more so than other ‘normal’ highlights like wining competitions, or seeing my designs being used by loads of people.

However, if you think this is a useful insight around leadership, I’m sorry but I think its going to disappoint. The problem is that I’m not sure that either of these kind of moments can really be planned, because they only work when both people are in just the right place emotionally, and you don’t realise that they are important moments till ages afterwards. Which means I doubt I can engineer ways for people I work with to have them – but I can try to help them find the people who they will have them with at some point. And I can say thanks to the people that have done it for me. So that’s what I’m going to do.
July 1st, 2011 / Tags: design, thinking / Trackback / Comments