Archive for November, 2008

November 29, 2008

Service design conference in Amsterdam: spolights and shadows

The first conference of the Service Design Network in Amsterdam is just ended. I found it very interesting, not just for the presentations, which, after all, were not memorable. But rather for the quantity and quality of contacts I had in this conference.

My general impression is that there is only one place where someone is really doing something on service design, UK. However there are many places where people THINK about service design, therefore experiment methodologies, add knowledge. It sounds like there is a huge potential to start a new kind of innovative activity, this potential is restricted by the lack of knowledge on service design on the companies and public administrations’ side, but the pressure for using this knowledge is becoming very high and sooner or later there will be an explosion of cases. The fact that there were so many companies, business associations (e.g. Confcommercio, the association of retailers in Italy) and government institutions (e.g. Erhverv og Byggestyrelse in Danmark) demonstrates that public perception of service design is increasing.

The panel on Scandinavian design, which was quite boring, anyway (I think it should have been organized differently, because the speakers had much more to say), suggested me another consideration: while in UK the professional profile of service designers is very well defined, in the other countries such profile is totally unknown. This is probably preventing business and government to think of service design as a resource, or to frame service design correctly. I’m aware, for instance, that the Danish government considers service design as a branch of the traditional Danish design, therefore assuming that traditional product designers will be able to solve the systemic complexity and the organizational issues related to the design of services.


A methodological consideration: I’ve seen many projects in this conference: all of them used the same methods and the same terminology. The metaphor of the “journey” was new to me – I always preferred to use “scenarios” instead- however I discovered that almost everyone is using it. The homogeneity of the methodology could be a good sign, it may mean that we are somehow consolidating a tradition of working in this area. However I have my own doubts about what I’ve seen. I had the impression that service designers are learning very well how to involve users and stimulate participation and coproduction. I think the exercise proposed by ThinkPublic was very significant in this sense. However I’m wondering whether the metaphor of the “journey” is good enough to describe the systemic perspective of service design. When we have a journey we usually use some tools (unless we walk to Santiago de Compostela). We may use a train or a car or we may fly. My impression is that the focus on the journey casts the spotlight on the experience (and in fact a lot of works were coming from the experience and interaction design area), but leave the backoffice in the dark. Furthermore when we travel we intersect our journey with the journey of many other people: other customers, but also people who are supporting our journey. What about the journey of the flight assistant? And what about the journey of the air traffic controller, which we never meet during the journey?


I would like to see some works that mixes the two perspectives of front and back office. It is also a matter of changing the scale of observation: a journey corresponds to the 1:200 scale in Architecture, whereas we need a 1:1 scale for certain types of interaction. I tried to work on this scale with Use Cases, but I had no chance to discuss this scale, because there were no cases in the conference discussing this.

In other words this conference was the reverse opposite  of what you read on service design on management and engineering books: whose books (see Ramaswamy, Hollins, Pugh and others) emphasise the organizational and functional aspects of product service systems; they do not organize services from the users’ point of view, but rather from the perspective of an organization. What I’ve seen in this conference is a focus on users, whereas the organization, or the mechanism that support users’ experience in a service, was possibly forgotten.  I should say, though, that this is what the conference showed and what it did not show, as in the normal activity of service designers I the functional and organisational issues of a service system are not ignored. Engine, for instance, presented an interesting case in the Kent city council, but only if you visit their website you discover that, beyond what they presented they also worked on a “service specification document“.  Perhaps showing and discussing this to the conference would have improved my (and not only mine) overall impression about the presentations in this conference.

Finally I had a fantastic idea from this workshop: I’m working on services and infrastructures for elderly people and I thought that there could be a lot of projects in this area. The one I’m most interested in is an exploration of Web 2.0 tools for ageing people. Is there anyone interested in working on this?

November 24, 2008

A cashless society?

I’m following a VERY interesting blog that develops scenarios of a cashless society or a society with alternative currencies system. The discussion in the blog called Kashklash is animated by very interesting people, such as Bruce Sterling, Joshua Klein, Nicolas Nova, Irene Cassarino. It explore the scenarios dominated by digital currencies, online communism, Bartering systems and many other hypotheses. There are also some interesting dilemmas: Bruce Sterling for instance, propose the question of how to rob a cashless bank. I was thinking of another question: what happens to tax and the whole taxation system?

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We can see the taxation system from two points of view:

1. The taxation system generates income to be spent in services of public utility, thus offering equal opportunities to access to fundamental social services, such as healthcare, transport, etc.

2. The taxation system redistributes the wellbeing created by value-creation activities.In this sense it is a way to withdraw a percentage of value created by some citizens, in order to reduce inequalities and redistribute wealth through public services and infrastructure

Currencies are a good tool to provide quantitative measurement for the second point of view: money is essential to quantify value creation and therefore to calculate the percentage of withdrawal, it may not be 100% correct, but it works reasonably. If we get rid of currencies or replace them with more uncertain or qualitative tools -such as solidarity, trust or time -the redistribution of value creation becomes much more complex. Some government have considered this. The Danish government, for instance is regulating Local Exchange Trade Systems (LETS), though I do not know how. The blog also report of a similar initiative taken by the Chinese government.

If we consider alternative currencies without considering alternative ways of redistributing added value we risk to end in a US-like individualistic system. How do we do that? Can we even think of a solution in this scenario? This, from my point of view (as a designer) is a very interesting dilemma.

November 19, 2008

Wiki page on public services

I’ve just finished updating the page on Public Services of the service design wiki. I’ve included some cases of public service design (those in which service design was a planned or explicit activity, at least) and all the main bibliographic resources I know of.system150

November 18, 2008

Service design podcasts

By chance, exploring an archive of open source audio files I found a  list of speaches from the Emergence (06 and 07) conferences on service design. Including the speach of Cris Downs, Richard Buchanan and many others. A good source of information…

November 18, 2008

On service design in the public sector

 A podcast of a presentation of Sophia Parker, from Demos, illustrates the challenges of service design in the public sector. The presentation introduces a publication “the Journey to the Interface”. In this publication a new perspective on is proposed, which tries to understand services as people do. The publication consider strategies for collaboration between professionals involved in public services, sets criteria to measure success and argues for service design as a new way of planning and organising public services.

Sophia Parker is the deputy director of Demos, and has been involved in several interesting projects on public services, working with Hilary Cottam and other members of Participle  in several project, including Southwark circle project, on ageing people.

November 16, 2008

Radiomamma, improving life quality and creating social innovation

Whoever can read Italian and has an interest in social innovation should have a look at Radiomamma: a network of people living in Milan, who are sick and tired of a tremendous situation in which they have no assistance from public services and decided to help each other in finding solutions to very simple problems for everyday.

Radiomamma is a website for parents and grandparents who exchange information about new places and infrastructures for their kids and about places where it is possible to walk with a pram with no architectural barriers (and this is quite rare in Milan). There is also the possibility of generating a network of trust, exchanging little favors, and suggest family-friendly guided tours to museums. Of course Radiomamma also have a youtube channel. In other words, the small networks of people meeting everyday in the park with their kids is not transferred on the web and becomes much more powerful.


In fact this shift also creates something new, and here is, in my opinion, the power of the initiative. By using a special label for trusted shops, the network is proposing a perspective shift for service providers: kids should no longer be seen as a problem but as an opportunity: those who are granted with the blue label of Radiomamma will be the preferred shops for parents and grandparents in the network. Of course the initiative is a good chance for families to improve the quality of their life, and even a stressing city like Milan may become a little bit easier to live in.

The shops and service providers who want to get the label can make a test on the radiomamma website, to assess their level of family friendliness.

All this, in my opinion makes Radiomamma as a good example of a promising bottom-up initiative.

November 13, 2008

Saying Hello – design for ageing


A project called “saying hello” was funded in Wigan Borough UK and developed at the university of Salford, with the aim of working in partnership with elderly people, healthcare authoroties and voluntary agencies on investigating ways in which ageing people manage potential and actual loneliness and isolation and strategies to prevent and reduce loneliness.

I found several innovative good things in this project:

  1. The project used voluntary researchers for interviewing ageing people. The nice things is that voluntary researchers were themselves in the same age range of those who have been interviewed. This made the relationship between people and researchers much tighter. It was much easier for those researchers to capture tacit knowledge from the ageing people and interpret/translate this knowledge for the researchers; furthermore the familiarity between voluntary researchers and ageing people involved in the project will increase the possibility of keeping this relationship even after the end of the research project
  2. The outcome of the project was not (or perhaps not only) a report or tables with data, but a radio-play, in which six actors played a script written by the ageing people themselves. The use of this medium was very interesting. As the researchers say in the video, ageing people are not used to reports or tables of data, but they are much more familiar with television programs or radio programs. It is much easier for them to relate to this medium.
  3. In orther to create the script for the video, people were asked to write down sentences about their life, their routines and their feeling, thus having one more opportunity to reflect about what really matters in their life and for the problems related to their loneliness and isolation.

Info about the project, including an interesting video and the radio play developed in the project can be found At the project website


November 6, 2008

Obama’s acceptance speech is a design brief (?)

A discussion on design for democracy in a list on design and transformation forced me to think about the relevance of Obama’s victory acceptance speach as something very similar to a design Brief. Peter Jones (Humantific) asked some fundamental questions that forced me to listen to the speach again and again and think about that for the whole day,

Peter asked the following questions:

What is such a transformative design brief? Let’s say before the “Obama design brief” is written, who frames the problem with Obama and how is this done?


What kind of brief creates the space for something new to show up, in an inclusive, co-creative way, making way for this leadership for participation we now are seeing?






I’m  not sure I am able to answer, but I can try:

Any good brief should start from a Problem definition. The speech somehow frames a problem definition, proposes what in design terms I would define a methodological approach and opens the discussion for a vision

Problem Definition:

“we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers”

This statement refers to deep unbalances in the economy, which reflect in social and economic inequalities. The problem is how to reduce such inequalities. In other speeches before this he talked about a redistribution of wealth across the American society. In general the problem definition concerns the generation of a more equal society and a society based on participation


Methodological approach (How should we solve the problem, what are the problem solving strategies):

“we have never been just a collection of individuals, we are the United States of America”

Refers to a perspective that refuses individualism as a value. This perspective, of course, is not calling for a new form of socialism, but remarks the essence of a nation as a community of people, with their diversities, but with a common identity.

Furthermore he reminded how this electoral campaign was based on a sort of bottom-up approach, as he was not the candidate of the highest levels of the hierarchies, but the result of a common effort of citizens to support him. Other references in the speech are to the sense of participation and responsibility of people. Besides the obvious rhetoric of this part of his speech, the speech refers to a space for co-creation, participation, based on the activation of the whole society, starting from the lowest levels.



In the last part of his speach he opens a window on the future (especially that of our kids):

“if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?”


This is not yet a vision, but a call for a shared vision of the future (he puts it as a question and use WE, not You or I as a subject).


I think this gives a good frame to us, as designers, to imagine design for democracy as a future perspective for our activities.

Design can work for democracy by transforming public institutions and administrations in order to support a process of active involvement of people in finding their own solutions, expressingtheir own opinions and participating in the construction of a community or the identity of a city or the destiny of a country.