Archive for December, 2008

December 15, 2008

Three good reports on service design

Three very interesting reports are on my desk in this moment. I’m very slow at reading them, but I think they are a must for whoever wants to work on service design, especially in the public sector.

The only one I managed to read so far is “the Journey to the Interface”, by Sophia Parker and John Heapy (Engine) (Parker and Heapy 2006). The other two are “Designing for Services – Multidisciplinary Perspectives “(Kimbell and Seidel 2008) and “Innovation by Design” edited by Emily Thomas (Thomas and Grace 2008). In fact there are many interesting reports on public services coming out almost every week and mainly from UK (Damn!!! How comes the other countries are so late in this?) Therefore I created a new page in the service design wiki on recent reports on service design.

The report by Sophia Parker and John Heapy is VERY interesting. In fact the report was written in 2006 and things seem to change very fast in UK, but probably this document was a good step towards the most recent announce of a design council program for the development of innovative public services in UK.

Initially, the reference to the journey and the interface made me think that this was yet another report on experience design. In fact the report doesn’t go very deep in the question of how to design the “mechanism” of a service, but it considers the whole strategic and political framework for the development of innovative services. The report considers the shift from fordism to mass customization and to new needs for services to be co-produced, thus it emphasizes the importance of designing the point of contact in a way that supports individual needs and local solutions.

I found the third part particularly interesting, because, for the first time, I’ve seen someone mentioning the need for measuring service performance. The authors propose to measure service performances not just in terms of traditional metrics (e.g. waiting time) but also in terms of user experience. “this form of measurement – in customer terms, not universal standards set centrally and sometimes arbitrarily based on what users might judge to be good – can be called my metrics” (p70)

Also part 4 – on the politics of service design – Considers the main assumptions in the existing public service system (about efficiency, personalisation and devolution] and analyses those assumptions in a service design perspective. By focusing on the relationship between services and people, rather than on organizational efficiency, service designers can really think of improving services on a day-to day basis. This can be done thourhg harnessing users’ participation, feedbacks and insight generation.

Another concept I found very interesting and very close to the way I see the question of innovation in public service is the investment in “in-between” spaces. Traditional public services are creating “light spots”, in which services are offered. Within those spots services are working at their best. However those light spots are also creating deep shaded areas, in which services are not very efficient or are not accessible. For example some elderly care services may work very well in an area, but may be very inefficient or may not respond very well to people needs in another areas. Childcare services may work very well for people working in standard working areas, but be inaccessible or inefficient for people with unusual working hours. Meal services for elderly people may work very well for people with relatively normal diets, but be inefficient for people with very special dietary needs. Serving those interstitial areas would be very expensive or sometimes almost impossible. Investing in “in-between” space, as far as I understand, means giving spaces for people to work out solutions in those spaces. This would be possible by making space for people to contact each other, thus promoting horizontal network and forms of collaboration institutions and the users of public services. (e.g. the patient opinion website,

In such interstitial spaces the wisdom and creativity of people emerge, harnessing this wisdom would be a big resource for innovation in services. Of course the intervention in those places requires a very delicate approach. In fact the authors pose the question of how can the government invest in those spaces without legislating for everything that takes places within them.

Kimbell, L. and V. P. Seidel (2008). Designing for Services – Multidisciplinary Perspectives: Proceedings from the Exploratory Project on Designing for Services in Science and Technology-based Enterprises. Oxford, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford: 56.

Parker, S. and J. Heapy (2006). The Journey to the Interface – How public service design can connect users to reform, Demos.

Thomas, E. and C. Grace (2008). Innovation by design in public services, Design Council – Solace Foundation inprint – The Guardian: 64.

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December 7, 2008

Service design: what’s next and what’s going on now?

We had a very interesting conference on service design a couple of weeks ago, in Amsterdam. It was not the first, but it was clear that we are still at the very early stage of the definition of service design as a discipline (from the academic perspective) and as a fully defined professional competence, from the perspective of professional design studios. I started writing this post with the intention of reflecting on what’s next, but I should probably reflect on what’s going on right now.

The evidence that we are still at the earliest phase is that everyone is trying to find a definition of service design. The research of a definition is, in my opinion, disorienting and sometimes misleading. Of course it is perfectly legitimate, and in fact I keep reading messages in mailing lists about much more “mature” disciplines (e.g. industrial design) asking questions about definition of the discipline (in some industrial design lists this question comes out every second month and triggers never-ending discussions). However the definition of the competence and area of influence of industrial design is quite well defined and solid and such questions are not changing it too much, whereas the lack of a background in service design makes the discussion about the definition a time-demanding (and consuming) activity that many practitioners and academic, me included, would like to avoid, so that more time is available to work on cases, methods and tools.

I don’t want to dismiss the discussions whether service design relates to interaction design, or experience design or industrial design, this is a very interesting discussion and in fact I think that it would be stupid to ignore the inputs and the methods those disciplines can provide to service design. However I believe the most important think to do in this moment is to “learning by doing”, thus collecting methods, tools, experiences from whatever discipline, including social studies, anthropology, economics, engineering, etc, and generate a toolbox for service design to operate on concrete cases. In other words I feel the need for an “operative paradigm” on service design. The term operative paradigm is taken from Arbnor and Bjerke (Arbnor and Bjerke 1997); I explain this term with the metaphor of the plumber’s toolbox: the plumber uses the various tools in his toolbox according to his own needs: sometimes he needs a spanner and sometimes a screwdriver. Both spanner and screwdriver are also used by electrician and other professions, but the plumber doesn’t care about who else uses those tools, he just uses them, adapting the tools to the problem he has to solve. An operative paradigm is a toolbox including methods and tools that others may have developed in other disciplines. As far as such tools can be adapted to solve a problem in service design, they are meaningful and should be used. Sometimes the way we use those tools is not exactly the same way other disciplines would use them. Ethnographers, for instance, use video observation for analyzing people, whereas service designers use it as a starting point to change the way people behave. As any other designer, service designers work with such tools as “bricoleurs”. Ethnographer would be horrified by the way we use video observations for instance. But we use them anyway, as far as they are effective and produce some result. I personally experienced several negative reviews to my funding applications to social studies research councils, when I presented my research proposals. The common answer was that what I was proposed was a project, not a scientific research! But I found that this “non-scientific” work, has given me some results and I’m trying to find a way to put them in my personal toolbox.

What’s next part 1

So, to answer the question “what’s next?” I would say that a very first task is to create this toolbox, possibly using cases (I expect professionals to contribute in this sense) and methods, provided by researchers and academic studies. We have seen some good tools for our toolbox in the conference in Amsterdam, but I think that much more tools should be added, to deal with other tasks in service design.

What’s next part 2

Another consideration about “what’s next” concerns the question of industrialization of services. What we have seen at the conference was a sort of “craftsmanship state” of service design: each case was a single one, very localized, very much related to the context and the actors participating to it. Localisation and personalization of services are in fact what makes service relevant in the age of mass customization. In fact I would argue that service would possibly bring us beyond mass customization, towards highly personalized solutions. However I also think there is a need to investigate some of the aspects coming from the tradition of industrial design. Industrial design started when someone translated the knowledge in the craftsman’s brain into drawings and codified signs (blueprints) that could transfer this knowledge to others, therefore making this knowledge reproducible. Talking about the industrialisation of service means considering how local and highly customised solutions could be translated from one context to another, from one individual to another. This is not an academic speculation, this is a practical question. Working on individual solutions would be very expensive for any business, if they could not find a way to re-use the same knowledge from something else. With industrial production companies where reusing this knowledge as embedded in products, with the result that the same product could be sold to many different people. In service design the knowledge should be embedded into service activities, procedures, journeys (the most used term in the conference). The result of the industrialisation of services is that the same knowledge, capabilities, skills, interactions, could be proposed in different contexts, although the final product would not be standardised.

The service blueprint is of course the main tool we can use for industrialising services, however the blueprint we have seen so far are just focusing on the individual experience. The mechanism that would make the underlying knowledge reproducible in other contexts or to other individual is still unclear. So this is what I hope to see more insights in the next future.



Arbnor, I. and B. Bjerke (1997). Methodology for creating businesss knowledge. Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London, Sage.


December 4, 2008

Open innovation in bank service (and some thoughts on design)

While designers are discussing about how they would design services, services are changing by themselves. This is the case of bank and financial services, which of course are not living a happy period. In 2005 a new system of social lending was funded in UK and is now developing in other countries (USA; Italy). The initiative is called Zopa. Social lending is basically a system in which some people lend money directly to other people without the mediation of a bank. The role of the service provider (Zopa) is to create mechanisms of trust and warranties that are very similar to those a bank can offer. In other worlds, it is very close to a bank, but without the bank. Zopa creates a sort of safe exchange place for lenders and borrowers. Lenders will be able to choose the interest rate they want, but Zopa offers statistical data about an average range within which the money will be refunded earlier. Furthermore the money from the lender does not go to only one person, so if there is a case of insolvency (and apparently there are not many), the lender will be protected anyway.

As Paul Artiuch noticed some time ago on the Wikinomics blog, social lending is not new, as people got along without banks for thousands of years. However for all those years social lending was very much a local phenomenon, whereas banks have grown in size and became huge multinational giants. The news is that this new service is extending social lending to a size that makes it competitive against those giants. It is a little bit of what Linux is doing against Microsoft.

Zopa replaces the heavy bureaucratic structure of banks with the logic of open systems of innovation.

Is that interesting for a designer? Yes it is. The designer (and especially a service designer, if we can define one) is now in front of a dilemma: who should a designer work for? For the bank or for the open system? And if the designer decides to go for the open system how can s/he design services in this logic?

Furthermore working in this logic needs a deeper understanding of the mechanisms and the possible development of open innovation in our social and economic systems. For this reason I found the discussion in the Kashklash blog very interesting. A repositioning of designers needs not just a new technical and methodological infrastructure, it also needs Designers to have a clear political view.

I made some considerations about designing in open some time ago, but I think there is a lot to think about in this area.

By the way, while writing this post I also discovered another interesting source of info about Peer to peer lending here. It looks like the US financial system does not like those initiatives.