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



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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