Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Designing services in science and technology-based enterprises: first event

On Monday and Tuesday, around 30 people from different contexts - all involved in researching, designing or operating services - gathered in Oxford for our first interdisciplinary project workshop in this one-year research project, funded by the AHRC and EPSRC' Designing for the 21st Century initiative. They included senior team members from science and technology-based enterprises, service design consultancies, and academics from different disciplines including strategy, innovation studies, operations management, science and technology studies, computer science and design. The project asks - and will try to answer - how members of these communities understand the designing of services in science and technology-based enterprises. It's therefore a project concerned with sense-making and sharing of understandings. With my colleagues Victor Seidel and James Tansey, I have designed the project to make use of both design research and social science research methods. In a way, the research itself is a process of designing. While we have a goal, intentions, constraints, and a process to get there, but we do know what exactly we are going to produce - what sense we will be able to make across our different domains of knowledge and practice.

In any interdisciplinary group, finding a way to communicate is a key challenge, especially in an area which has seen relatively little academic research (compared, for example, to studies of innovation in products). Our outputs include a document that will propose a vocabulary (glossary, terminology) and possible primer or guide for practitioners. But another - possibly more significant output - will be a group of people who will have been through a sense-making journey together with implications for future question-making, future research and future practice.

We've now set up a project blog so please look there for posts by project participants on both the research process and findings.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Pride, prejudice and design

Re-reading Pride and Prejudice(1813) I'm reminded of the origins of the English word design. In her book Design Management, Brigitte Borja de Mozota draws attention to its origins in the Latin designare: ‘to designate’ and ‘to draw’ and concludes "DESIGN = INTENTION + DRAWING" (Borja de Mozota, 2003, p3). In contemporary English usage, of course, we also still have the usage of the noun connected to plots, treachery or intrigue as in:

"He had designs on someone's property" (see the full listing).

But even being familiar with this I still found myself noticing Jane Austen's extensive usage of both noun and verb forms. Here, for example, is the protagonist Elizabeth's uncle discussing the intentions of Wickham towards her younger sister who has run off with the officer.

"..It appears to me so very unlikely, that any young man should form such a design against a girl, who is by no means unprotected or friendless, and who was actually staying in his colonel's family, that I am strongly inclinced to hope the best." (Odhams Press, London, no date, p267) And similarly Elizabeth's elder sister - heavily in denial - talking of her admirer Mr. Bingley, says she is "perfectly satisfied from what his manners now are, that he never had any design of engaging my affection." (p327)

This is consistent with contemporary (although uncommon) usage. But elsewhere Austen uses the verb form of design in a way that I would be surprised to hear today:

"Mrs. Bennet had designed to keep the two Netherfield gentlemen to supper; but their carriage was unluckily ordered before any of the others, and she had no opportunity of detaining them." (p326)

Reading this novel, in which designs and designing are so entangled with intrigue and seduction reminds me of the role of rhetoric in design. A design (sketch, model, prototype, or proposal) or a designer presents, proposes and seduces. Design activities plan and fashion possible outcomes but they do not always do this honestly. Designing and designs stimulate desire, and with desire comes treachery.

But pray excuse me. I will detain you no longer, dear Reader. I must go and order my carriage.

Friday, December 01, 2006

MBA Design Leadership elective 2006-7

I'm in the process of (re)designing the MBA elective I'll be teaching in the third term of this academic year ("Trinity term" in Oxford speak). Like last year, this will include a three-week project working with MA design students from the Royal College of Art, London. To discuss this I met up with Tony Dunne, professor and head of the Design Interactions department, and tutor Nina Pope, with whom I used to lead a unit (or "platform", in design school speak) in the same department. (Anyone interested in taking that MA might want to attend their open day next week - see the poster on the side.) We'll also be working again with tutor Noam Toran and MA Design Products students. I'm grateful for some feedback from some of last year's MBA students who have helped me understand their goals in taking the elective.

In terms of the formalized bodies of knowledge taught within the MBA, Design Leadership is perhaps best thought of as a boundary-spanning way of thinking that connects with the business disciplines of strategy; operations management; marketing; and innovation studies; and necessarily must also relate to finance and accounting. Last year, students taking my elective also took some of the specialist Marketing, Culture and Society electives offered by Doug Holt and colleagues, Victor Seidel's elective in Entrepreneurship and Technology Ventures; and Victor and Marc Ventresca's Technology and Innovation Strategy elective, and Charlie Leadbeater's elective in Social Entrepreneurship.

Key to my elective are these ideas: the differences between design management and design leadership; understanding non-designers' impact on design in organizations - what is known as "silent design"; and knowledge and understanding of design practices, design methods and what is often called "design thinking". These ideas are underpinned by a pedagogical approach which involves project-based learning as well as more traditional lectures and seminars, and in particular the experience of learning by working directly with designers. It also explores the need for entrepeneurs and managers to tolerate ambiguity, develop visual literacy, and learn through practice about the power of prototyping and other visualizations.

The elective is, as the name suggests, chosen by students (from among 35 offered), and the class size is limited. But luckily all 225 MBAs get to encounter some of this material on the Operations Mangement core course.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mass collaboration: Silicon Valley comes to Oxford

The school again hosted Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, an intense day of panels and discussions led by (successful, and often serial) internet entepreneurs and those involved enabling infrastructure and services such as venture capital and law.

I benefitted from hearing in-depth presentations by two speakers: first, Matt Cohler, VP of strategy and business operations at Facebook, a social networking site, and Julie Hanna Farris, co-founder and director of Scalix, an Open Source based enterprise email and calendaring application provider. Matt's talk included two key ideas where design disciplines and practices have something to offer entrepreneurs: the first being the requirement to think how to "create value for end users" rather than building a business model, rather than the other way round. The second idea he emphasized was the importance of iterating the product, and learning from user behaviour and feedback. Take a flexible and iterative approach, he advised, in contrast to what's taught in business school; very small details can make a huge difference and you have to keep iterating to find out what the details that matter are.

In her talk Julie Hanna Farris discussed the principles of Open Source software (underpinning its many variants) and how they are disrupting conventional business models. In particular she emphasized community, transparency, authenticity, word of mouth, informality, and motivation. Each of these presents problems for business people and investors used to conventional businesses. Like Cohler, Farris stressed the importance of trying things out and learning: "Fail early and often" - a phrase that design company IDEO also invokes. Her seasoned advice to entrepreneurs included making customers part of the process of building a product - and of knowing customers not just markets. I don't think I heard the word "design" in either of their talks but what design theorists and practitioners would recognise as design principles - iterative processes, human-centred frameworks, co-design with end users - were already there.

The evening panel threw up another set of insights from a panel including Facebook's Matt Cohler; Allen Morgan of venture capitalists Mayfield; Reid Hoffman, CEO and founder of Linked-In; and Chris Sacca, head of special initiatives at Google, chaired by FT journalist Jonathan Guthrie. The post-Web 2.0 future according to these speakers was seen to be: filtered by social context, more personalised, more complementary to your other ongoing activities, and more responsive to your identity. I was struck by a comment from (I think) all four speakers at different points, that they would most likely not invest in an enterprise that didn't come to them introduced by someone they knew. At first glance, this is business as usual: networks of the powerful investing in those to whom they are already connected in some way. But with the ability to design, develop, launch, run and continue to iterate digital networked products with rapid feedback from end users, internet entpreneurs can - if they succeed in instantiating a community around what they offer - perhaps join those networks. (George - if you read this - you already have done 80% of the work with Chatsum).

A question I asked about which practices, and which academic disciplines, had most insights to offer entrepreneurs and investors about end users and their behaviours generated the following suggestions: psychology, social sciences, game theory, and the need to be able to analyse and understand the vast amounts of data being generated (Chris Sacca: "We worship data."). But not, alas, design. There remains a significant gap between what designers are perceived to be able to do - or are educated to do - and what designers are asked to do - and what they can do. I wonder if Bill Moggridge's forthcoming book Designing Interactions (MIT Press) will be on Silicon Valley's reading list.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dinner chez Arne Jacobsen

After staying the night there last week, this week I had dinner at St Catherine's college - where form meets function (according to a college poster spotted on the way in) - the guest of Andrew Barry, fellow of the college and member of the Oxford Centre for the Environment. Given Oxford's history and much of the existing architecture, it was a radical decision to appoint an architect such as Arne Jacobsen for a new Oxford college. He paid a great deal of attention in the design to the forms both of the buildings and the gardens, and to details of fittings like door handles and the furniture in the senior common room (SCR) and the cutlery at high table (shown here). My hosts indulged me and let me take some pictures and even went as far as asking the steward to show me the two soup spoons - one for the left handed and one for the right handed.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chez Arne Jacobsen

One of the things about working in Oxford and living in London is that I need to stay over in Oxford every week. Sometimes I stay with friends, but often in the fellows' guest rooms of the colleges. Last night I stayed again at St Catherine's College, designed by Arne Jacobsen and now, forty years or so on, more than slightly worn. But that might not trouble him. As I lay on my patterned duvet in the room, I imagined that Jacobsen would be disappointed how the calm simplicity of his design has been encroached upon by Bed & Breakfast chic, as the images I took show. On the simple desk, the tea making service. On the chest of drawers, the telly. A blanket covering a chair. A fan, for hot days. An electric radiator, for cold ones.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Wonderground: Design Research Society conference, Lisbon

Last week I joined over 250 people attending the Design Research Society's Wonderground conference in Lisbon bringing together researchers working in diverse design disciplines including graphic and product design, architecture, interaction design and the odd engineer. The plenaries were held in the grand Society of Geography built in the mid-19th century. On display were massive statues of the major Portuguese mariners who travelled the world in the 15th century (see Vasco da Gama, to the left), and a large map showing some of their significant journeys, the trails that are so linked to colonization and globalization.

Conferences such as these can be frustrating and stimulating since they involve people at different stages of their professional careers with different levels of knowledge and understanding about their own practices and research and their wider context. So in each presentation you have to focus really hard on both what the presenter is saying and why they are saying it now; I needed a geography, and a history (which we got in a presentation from Nigel Cross), and a sociology and an economy and a politics of design research. What I found valuable about attending was access to a snapshot of design research activity within (mostly) academic contexts to help me situate my own research, within a social science institution. I also liked the vinho verde and the pasteis de nata.

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Go work for a credit reference agency"

I enjoyed reading i-Gitators in Action: Can Service Innovation (Design :-) ) Save the World?, a three-way conversation between GK van Patter (NextD Institute), Chris Downs (live|work, see links on right hand side of page) and Gill Wildman (Plot) discussing among other things the emergence of service design, and the state of design education and promotion in the UK (all references to "design" here meaning design based in liberal arts traditions rather than engineering design or computer science).

As I have remaked in other posts, there is a considerable disconnect between practitioners and academics inventing new domains of knowledge connected with services. Patching between these nodes is not as simple as citing a few references in each others' reading lists or even inviting speakers to join conferences, but rather a more disturbing encounter with the Other: with different ways of thinking about the world, and about what kinds of knowledge can be produced. I think these questions are more fundamental than trying to define which leads: design, or innovation? I regret I am not educated in philosophy but its underlying questions and theories are important and useful. For example, the word "abductive" now pops up regularly in conversations about design (and sometimes in management too: see Roger Martin's contributions to the Rotman business school magazine), although you won't find it in many texts on research methods which (in a gross simplification) focus on comparing inductive and deductive methods. As someone from a design background now situating my practices within a management school framed by social sciences, I am hoping in a modest way to make some useful knots (in the Haraway sense) but cannot do this without engaging with these Others.

Chris' advice to new design graduates was welcome. "Embrace and enjoy the complexity. Get out of college and get a job. Don’t hang around in your school’s new ‘future design blah innovation blah lab.’ Don’t prostitute your services for free to get a toe in the door at IDEO, Humantific, Plot or even live|work. Go and work for a hospital, the government or a credit reference agency. " This advice I think acknowledges the "silent design" (Gorb and Dumas' term, see citation in earlier post) that goes on, all the time, all over the world, where people who are not educated as designers, and do not think of themselves as designers, are busy designing things and re-designing them through usage, like those 70% of services in the global economy. On the one hand we have "silent design" and on the other "noisy design" (my term with this usage, as far as I know): the bigging-it-up of capital-d Designers whose claims about the importance/efficacy/value of their practices are tied up with authorship, ownership, and object-based cultures and economies. In my classes with MBA students this is a key part of my message: Be aware of your own role as designers (managers, entrepreneurs). Know why, how and when to work with design processes and practices. Not silent design, or noisy Design, but reflective, reflexive designing practices that acknowledge entanglements and tolerate difference, ambiguity and incompleteness.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Designing services in science and technology-based enterprises

Funding sucess! With my colleagues James Tansey (James Martin Institute, science and technology studies), Victor Seidel (innovation studies) and Fiona Reid (director, Oxford Science Enterprise Centre), I put together a proposal which we submitted to the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's Designing for the 21st Century initiative.
Designing services in science and technology-based enterprises involves a group of academics (mostly within social sciences), designers, and technology and science entrepreneurs from a range of disciplines working together to explore how services as designed in science and technology-based enterprises. We have recently heard that the project has been awarded funding and will spend the next 12 months undertaking the project. It involves two kinds of engagement:
- four short projects in which service designers help early stage technology and science entrepreneurs based in Oxford design their services (likely to be B2B) (one design company with each enterprise), taking place February-May 2007
- five events held over a year at SBS, which reflect on these encounters and attempt to develop a cross-disciplinary vocabulary for service design in science and technology enterprises.
Design company participants include: live|work, IDEO, and Radarstation (and one more to be confirmed). Science and technology enterprise participants are currently being approached; they are likely to include companies offering services in biotechnology and information technologies.
Confirmed academic participants include Tony Dunne (Royal College of Art, interaction design), Bill Hollins (Westminster Business School, service operations), Leonieke Zomerdijk (London Business School, service operations), Jennifer Whyte (Tanaka Business School, innovation studies). Within SBS, academic participants include Mari Sako (strategy), Steve New (operations) and Dan Neyland (James Martin Institute). Within Oxford University, participants include Andrew Barry (Oxford Centre for the Environment) and Marina Jirotka (ComLab).
The project's broad research questions ask how participants' ideas about the designing of services change during the project once they are exposed to the approaches and practices within other disciplines and contexts. Outputs will include a publication of the shared vocabulary developed in the project, as well as more traditional academic outputs such as papers for journals and conferences.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

If there are Services Sciences, where are the services arts?

Last Thursday I participated in a workshop on Services Science at London Business School, hosted by Chris Voss (LBS) with Aleda Roth (Clemson University), both working within the fields of operations management. The aim of the event was to reflect on a development led by people working at IBM, who since 2004 have been trying to articulate a need and scope for a new multidisciplinary academic discipline of Services Sciences, Management and Engineering. Voss and Roth drew on papers published by the IBM researchers. Afternoon speakers were Richard Taylor, from Hewlett Packard, and Paul Tasker, from Cambridge University's Institute for Manufacturing. Many others are also working to define an area, such as Hewlett Packard which hosted a recent event at its Centre for Systems and Services Sciences.
Two things struck me: the first concerning who is currently contributing to, and leading, conversations about the designing of services; and second, the missing art in Services Sciences.
Based on my reading of the attendees list, the majority of participants were academic researchers working with a management discipline, others with a background in engineering or computer science, and some policy makers and advisers: this was an interdisciplinary and practitioner-academic event. But there were, for example, no (obvious) participants from design backgrounds (meaning design rooted in arts traditions) other than myself - a hybrid, being a designer in a business school - demonstrating the gulf between these communities. Similarly, an International Service Design Conference held in Gateshead earlier this year included speakers almost exclusively from organizations working within the field of design grounded in arts-based education and practices, rather than systems engineering or IT (although IDEO does have an engineering design background); there were no operations managers, no innovation studies researchers, no strategy researchers, no social scientists. I was unable to attend that event but suspect the attendees came from similar backgrounds. I think this gap matters for these reasons: because it must impact on how practitioners and researchers learn from other modes of engaging with the world, knowing the world and practicing on the world; and to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
This disconnection perhaps contributes to the second thing I noticed. Aleda Roth's presentation of IBM's work included a diagram produced by one of the IBM researchers (Jim Spohrer, director of Services Research at IBM Almaden Research Center) which listed which academic disciplines Services Science drew on. That list included management, engineering and social sciences but as far as I could tell, nothing that is part of the humanities. As Roth pointed out in her analysis of the IBM work, "What's missing is the art, the soul, the artistic and creative disciplines." (This lead to a - thankfully brief - discussion by offended engineers who do not like to be thought of as not being creative.)
While I am wary of ascribing to designers and artists the term 'creative' to characterise their distinctive contributions, I am left wondering what it means if an emerging, self-described science (led by a technology company) ignores the contributions to culture, society, technology and economies from work in the humanities, whether that be literature or visual art or anything else in which poetics matter and aesthetics matter. IBM, in its quest to identify the tools needed by future services scientists, might benefit from wondering where the services arts are in its conception of services science.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Donna Haraway's indigestion

"He enriches my ignorance." This quote, from New Zealand writer Ian Wedde talking about his dog, opens one of the chapters of the next book by writer and academic Donna Haraway; this phrase, and the ways of knowing it invokes, struck me as a way to think about designing practices. Haraway visited the James Martin Institute at Saïd Business School last week and I was one of the people who joined her seminar after reading two draft chapters from the new book. The book, as I understand it, tries to rethink human/non-human relations, by presenting what Haraway refered to as "knots" such as her own practice of agility training with her dog/partner Cayenne (already rehearsed in previous work); crittercams (cameras attached to animals for entertainment or research); feral cats: and other examples where humans are entangled with other creatures and with technologies which enact difficult, messy problems.

Haraway talked in terms of "discomfort" being her way in; her work as an attempt to "make worlds by grappling with the ordinary" , enriching some of her reflections on STS (Science and Technology Studies), an approach to doing sociology whose other leading scholars include my colleague Steve Woolgar (who hosted Haraway), Bruno Latour and others. Her comments were an echo of attempts by design and art theorists to characterise the nature of (some?) practitioner work where the kinds of tensions, or knots, that Haraway describes are made manifest in the work. When Haraway said "I'm trying to remain uncomfortable for a lifetime" in relation to her teaching and research practices as a feminist scholar, I was reminded of the messy ambiguity within creative processes: the not-knowing which designers and artists seem well able to tolerate before a project is resolved in some way. Of course this same indeterminacy or necessary ambiguity has been described elsewhere: Buchanan's essay "Wicked Problems in Design Thinking", for example, (in the design studies tradition), or Jonathan Rosenhead's paper "Into the Swamp" (in operations research). I'm currently finding Lacan's model of the Real, Symbolic and the Imaginary a useful way to think about this, where the Real is that which cannot be symbolised. I understood Haraway's use of the term "indigestion" in a similar way. I am wondering if (some) design and art practices are a (the?) way to work through the ignorance, the indigestion, or the Real.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Business Week on design & business education links

Business Week has put together a list of top "D-Schools" which includes some "B-Schools" where there are direct engagements with design such as interdisciplinary projects involving both MBA and MA students. The list includes business schools from North America (such as Rotman School of Management, Toronto, and the Sloan School of Management at MIT) and Europe (only two: Saïd Business School and the new Zollverein School of Management and Design, which as its name suggests is a hybrid). The design schools listed are in Europe, North America, China, South Korea and India (such as Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design, the Royal College of Art, and Rhode Island School of Design). The accompanying article argues that companies are turning to design schools in their hunt for innovation leaders.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Experimental methodologies in art and design research

What are the effects of methodologies created by art and design researchers? Do they have the potential to challenge, and contribute to, research in other disciplines? Yesterday I was part of a one-day seminar on experimental methodologies at Wimbledon School of Art organised by, and for, PhD students in art and design to examine ways of thinking about, and doing, practice-based research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The other speakers were Paul Halliday, urban photographer and sociologist from Goldsmiths, and Malcolm Quinn, reader in critical practice at Wimbledon. Paul Halliday drew our attention to the Surrealists (and others) whose use of the playful and chance in their practice is, he argued, an important contribution to sociology. Malcolm Quinn suggested there was an opportunity for the humanities to learn from artists: from how they approach context, and from the methods they invent, especially the necessity of fabrication. I talked about some of my projects (mostly art commissions) in which I use/disrupt methods of data gathering and presentation common within social sciences. Listening to the PhD students, whether working with paint, lens-based media, performance or drawing, I was reminded of the practices and approaches that constitute art and design education (at least in the UK) but which are not so evident in my current academic context, a school of management in an ancient university. I wonder to what extent playful fabrication is possible within the social sciences - what value it might have here?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Design and complexity

Can designers learn from the emerging field of complexity science? I joined a workshop held at Saïd Business School which was one of the satellite events at the European Conference on Complex Systems (ECCS '06). The workshop was part of a wider series, organized as a cluster called Embracing Complexity in Art and Design funded through the first round of the cross-disciplinary Designing for the 21st Century initiative. Of particular value I found the presentation by Lauri Koskela of Salford University. He talked about the differences between ancient Greek terms such as analysis and synthesis and their current meanings, and the confusing attempts of competing contemporary design disciplines and "design science" to articulate theories about design. The ideas explored in Aristotle and Pappus, for example, constitute a proto-theory of design, he argued. Alec Robertson from De Montfort University described the More is More symposium held at the end of 2005 which brought together a range of perspectives. In design, he pointed out, it is considered a truism that 'less is more' but George Rzevski's workshop (at a previous event organised by the cluster) 'Complexity is Beautiful' was the starting point of an idea that challenges this: more is more. Jeff Johnson (Open University) and Eve Mitleton-Kelly (LSE) described interdisciplinary projects they are setting up that bring together social scientists and scientists working with complexity, with design and art practitioners. Like design, complexity is far from being a single discipline but it seems likely that cross-disciplinary discussions may lead to a valuable exchange. My questions would be: how do design practices respond to complex (or complicated) problems? To what extent do traditional or modern methods and skills cope with the challenges of designing complex products, services and environments?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Re-designing public services: a new public discourse

The emerging discipline of service design is becoming strikingly visible on the national agenda ... and is increasingly articulated by designers educated within art & design traditions rather than management or service delivery operations. Last week I attended a public event hosted by RED, a unit of the UK Design Council where three members of their interdisciplinary team of six presented what they do, and how and why they do it. The talk was part of a drop-in open day with a mini exhibition in the room next door. RED is led by Hilary Cottam (who won the Design Museum's Designer of the Year award last year). Its associates include the former head of IDEO's London office, Colin Burns, as well as Charlie Leadbeater, who also teaches social entrepreneurship at Said Business School.

RED is making an argument about the role of design in public services. Its focus is on helping create "a new generation of public services, designed around individuals" that are co-created with them, and that are preventative. Some of these ideas were made public in Feburary when RED published its paper on Transformation Design. Meanwhile over the summer, the influential UK think tank Demos published its paper on similar themes, entitled The Journey to the Interface co-written by Joe Heapy of service designer consultancy Engine, which makes an argument about how public service design can "connect users with reform". It seems as if a vocabulary and set of practices loosely assembled in fields such as experience design and human computer interaction design, enacted in both informal, commercial and academic domains, may now be taken up in public service contexts.

At the RED event, members of the team described their processes and methods and what they want to achieve. Jenny (no surname given) talked about RED's ambition to design for behaviour change: "As designers what we are doing is less about shaping form than shaping behaviour," she said. She went on to acknowledge that this sounded "a bit sinister" but then argued "But actually it's been used for a long time in the private sector." So these practices have the potential to (re)design not just the services, but the service users too. But the outcomes of public service designs are complex. RED sees value in making use of design methods used in Marks & Spencer, for example, to make the consuming experience "compelling and desirable" and applying them to public service contexts. In the M&S context, the use of these methods may well have a clear, measurable business objective: increasing sales, for example - and even here design practitioners may well struggle with framing the design problem, communicating with the client, and measuring the value of the design process and artefacts. How much harder it is to define and agree goals for public services or public goods. To what extent can design-led techniques make the UK more democratic? More healthy? More intelligent?

(all my transcriptions)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Process design paper at EUROMA conference

With my colleague Steve New, I presented a paper at the EUROMA (European Operations Management) conference held in June in Strathclyde. With the title "On the Anonymity and Invisibility of Process Design"we argued that within the field of Operations Management (OM), the task of process design has suffered neglect in the development of Operations Management. Although there is extensive literature on product design and to a lesser extent the design of services, the designing of processes is neglected. We examined how process design remains an essentially invisible and anonymous activity and then presented a three-point manifesto for change. First, we argued that, rather than imagining a target audience of generic Operations Managers, the field of OM should focus on the education and research needs of a newly-founded profession of Process Designers. Secondly we argued that OM needs to understand how to design, not just follow, design processes, and the difference between user involvement and ‘implementation’. Thirdly we argued that great Process Designers should be famous, like architects or product designers.

To illustrate our ideas we brought along some imagined artefacts from this world in which Process Design is a visible and recognised discipline (will be uploaded soon). These included a private view invitation to the opening of a fictional call centre; a screen grab from the Saïd Business School's website with details of a fictional MA/MBA in Process Design, taught jointly with the Royal College of Art; front covers of imaginary magazines for professional process designers; fictional TV listings showing reality TV and documentary programmes engaging with Process Design issues; and finally, a fictional award for Process Designer of the Year - the Voss Award (named - with kind permission - after Professor Chris Voss of London Business School for his years of involvement in OM and research into experience and service design). During the presentation we asked the audience to nominate potential winners for the award and we presented, on this occasion, the Voss Award 2006 to the nominators.

Links between design education and business education

This week I was supposed to be part of a group on a fact finding missing to San Francisco, Chicago and Boston, initiated by the UK Design Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Unfortunately owing to recent illness I was unable to join the trip but my Said Business School colleague Marc Ventresca, who teaches and researches in strategy and innovation, was able to go. The aim is to examine models in US education in which design and management teaching and research are integrated in different ways, as part of the process of reflecting on the findings of the UK's Cox Review on Creativity in Business, published late last year. The arranged visits include the Stanford d-school, IDEO, Apple, Chicago's Institute of Design, and on the East Coast, MIT. A report about the trip will be made public by the Design Council.

The questions I hoped to consider on the trip included: How is 'design' enacted in different teaching and research institutions? What ways of working across disciplines are used? How current is the term 'design thinking'? What emphasis is there on service design and interaction design? To what extent do these institutions and organizations make claims about leading by design, and design as strategy?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Design in business education/business in design education

I joined a workshop of academics held at the Department of Trade and Industry in London, organized by the UK Design Council, as part of an an iniative to follow up the recent Cox Review on creativity in British business which had a considerable focus on design. My interest was on the recommendations for higher education, particularly the recommendations to have stronger links between design education and management education; closer links with small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and the creation of centres of excellence.

As I understand it there are no immediate plans to set up an initiative with new public investment to support these recommendations. Rather, the discussion is among higher education institutions which are already working in this area - some of them design schools (such as the RCA with its long-standing relationship with Imperial College, London) and some of them business schools with design initiatives (my own context). For some, the emphasis is on innovation, creativity and entrepreneuship; for others the focus is on design practice and its links to and engagement with other specialists. A guest speaker in the afternoon showed one model - a teaching initiative created by Manuel Sosa, assistant professor of technology management at INSEAD recently written up by Business Week. His MBA elective in Strategies for Product and Service Development is about managing innovation from an interdisciplinary perspective and now involves 8-10 design students from Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, California) who spend a term at INSEAD and take classes with the MBAs. Later, some of the MBAs visit Pasadena for a week's field trip. Students work together to develop product and service ideas using design techniques as well as management techniques.

Monday, July 10, 2006

MBA elective weeks 8 + 9: icons, standards, quality and failure

We were joined for our final class at Oxford by a guest speaker, Mat Hunter who works at IDEO's London office, who I asked to talk about failure. A video of this presentation will be available soon. Mat's presentation provided a frank and critical account of this world-leading design consultancy with analysis and anecdotes of Mat's favourite failures. He presented a framework for understanding design created by one of their clients, Claudia Kotchka, P&G's VP for design innovation, which distinguishes between different ways that design works: no conscious design; design as styling; design as form and function; design as problem-solving; and design as framing. IDEO currently presents itself as a company grounded in design which can help clients answer the question, "What's the future for my company?" IDEO's well-known phrase 'fail often to succeed more' based on design thinking was, Mat argued, a way to achieve disruptive innovation - currently considered essential to generate growth.

There was one more class in the elective, rescheduled from an earlier date due to the illness of the guest speaker, Chris Downs, managing partner of a service design and innovation company called live|work, based in London, Newcastle and New York. Since we were not able to re-arranged a date with Chris, the class voted to go to London once more to see the graduation show at the Royal College of Art, London, with work by MA students, including Design Products and Interaction Design students whom we had worked with a few weeks earlier. Having toured the exhibition which also included work by students from other design practices, we sat in Hyde Park and discussed the themes that emerged from both the exhibition, the work presented in it, and again design and its relation to innovation and entrepreneurship. The MBAs also reflected on how they might try to bring some of the practices they had been exposed to into their future careers; and the extent to which organizations of different kinds enact design leadership, whether design as strategy, design as process or design as visual differentiation.

Friday, July 07, 2006

MBA elective week 6: users and usability

In this class we looked in more detail about ideas which are particularly part of the language and practices of those designing products and services using digital and networked technologies. Concepts such as user-centred design, usability, affordances and inclusive design are increasingly current in the practices of interaction designers, experience designers and service designers, sometimes working in collaboration with social science specialists such as sociologists, anthropologists or psychologists, or sometimes with the designer acting as researcher or data-gatherer. These ideas are increasingly critical in a context in which the visual or stylistic qualities of a designed artefact may not be sufficient to gain acceptance among users. To make some of the reading more meaningful, the class went through a role play exercise in which some of them had responsibility for re-designing a service for a city council. Some of the others acted as service users (actual or potential). The structured scearnio forced the MBAs playing the council managers and re-design team to ask themselves how to evaluate potential service improvements, how to gather data about the service and its users and the nature of different kinds of data produced by different techniques, and how to engage with users.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

MBA elective week 5 - MBA/MA collaboration

This week my 19 Oxford MBA students and I paid our second trip to the Royal College of Art in London, the final part of our collaborative project. The previous week MA and MBA students had paired up, with the aim firstly, of talking in more detail about the MA students' presentations/project proposals and considering how to take them further; and secondly, of reflecting on their different ways of working - the practices of each discipline and assumptions embedded within them. This week, each MBA student presented the work they had done towards the MA student's project. The nature of the work depended on what the project needed and what the student pair agreed. Management student contributions ranged from market research to a feasibility analysis to a production strategy.

What excited me most - having earlier encountered anxiety among some MBAs about their role in relation to the MAs (manager? consultant?) - was to what extent they engaged with the designers' concepts, however fantastical. The first year designers, most of whom had developed concepts in response to service design briefs the management students had set, had come up with ideas which in some cases challenged an entire industry and infrastructure. One of the MBAs did a feasibility study of a designer's proposal to replace economy air travel with a service involving packing travelers into crates and stacking the crates in the airplane (which came out of the brief to improve economy air travel). Another did a competition analysis and pricing strategy for a proposed sex van service (which came out of the safety for sex workers brief). The second year designers, only weeks away from their final MA show, had more developed projects for which they sometimes needed quite specific advice - how to market the product, how to develop a production strategy, how to develop a revenue model. This mix of the conceptual, the faintly ridiculous and the urgent made for a lively and thought-provoking session. My students later commented how much these MA students confounded their expectations about designers. They looked the part but could present complex, innovative ideas vividly and effectively. And what ideas...

At the end of the session, three pairs said they intended to stay and in touch and keep talking. One MBA student decided to devote his summer project to addressing the strategic and production issues of one of the MA student's products, Tomas Alonso and his STAMP cutlery (the photo shows Tomas holding his cutlery: the power of a prototype). As I had hoped when designing the elective, the encounter with the designers and design practices, in this case in a design school, made meaningful the ideas we had explored in the readings about 'design thinking'. In parallel. the questions of how the world is understood and engaged with, and the nature of the differing knowledges of each practice, became easier to talk about through the designers and management students having shared material to reference. Later on I'll reflect on how we might do things differently next year.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Unfortunately I've been unwell recently and not been able to update the blog so the summaries of my MBA elective teaching don't follow the dates of when they actually happened. I doubt many readers care but it might be relevant to future MBA students considering doing my course.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Designing services and the Grand Challenges in Services

I was one of approximately 30 participants at an event organized by my colleague Mari Sako, including academics from business schools, policymakers, and research scientists and practitioners from IT services companies such as IBM, HP and Tata Consulting Services. The event sought to stimulate and structure diverse thinking about services, which constitute over 70% of some economies, into a set of questions for research and teaching. My interest was exploring to what extent the emerging discipline of service design (inheriting and extending design methods and practices grounded in art and design education, as distinct from IT or engineering) has something to contribute to service innovation.

My presentation in one of the afternoon breakouts started with a provocative question: ‘You wouldn’t design a new product without a product designer. So why do organizations design new services without involving service designers?’ The question itself is of course problematic since it’s not clear that product designers are always involved in new product development, and if they are involved, what form their involvement might take; not is it clear what service designers do, or indeed if they form a recognisable specialization in the way that ‘product designers’ do; or if the managers, engineers, and other practitioners involved in designing new services are not service designers.

My intention was to share with participants some of the current developments within design and design management: the claims of some designers that design can ‘lead’ business or social innovation; developments such as the multidisciplinary d-school at Stanford; design-led research in public services by the Design Council’s RED unit; and the emerging practices of service design consultancies such as live|work and methods such as experience prototyping (see paper by IDEO).

I proposed a number of questions for further research:
- Who is doing the ‘silent design’ in service innovation (in the sense suggested by Gorb, P., and Dumas, A., 1987. “Silent design”. Design studies 8 (3) 150–156)?
- In what kinds of service innovation are service design methods such as experience prototyping most effective and why?
- How do service design practices ‘produce’ the service user?
- Can we talk about the aesthetics of services? How does aesthetics inform perceptions of value, performance and quality?
- What should service design education and research look like?

It was striking how asking these questions from a background in design practice and design research served to alienate some participants. The conventional conference mode of professional dialogue gave way to a degree of vehemence that was unexpected: as if the ‘designers’ wanted to own ‘design’. One academic said ‘None of this is new’ and that ‘Service design standards already exist’. One research scientist from IBM said ‘I’m insulted’.

Chris Voss of London Business School, however, was able to share current research from interviews with service design companies. David Gann of Tanaka Business School at Imperial College then described the school’s involvement with the RCA’s MA Industrial Design Engineering and his group’s research into building services such as the Design Quality Indicator.
If ‘none of this is new’, then I hope I’ll quickly be directed to answers to some of the questions I asked. However I suspect the strong feeling in the room indicates the complexity underlying service design practice and its inheritances, raising questions for both designers, design educators and researchers.

Monday, May 22, 2006

MBA elective week 4: MA/MBA collaboration

The idea of pairing MA/MBA students to work together is not original. What was surprising was the degree of engagement achieved in a face-to-face encounter that only lasted three hours, stimulated by the students' appetites to work on something tangible and learn from each other - and the potential for unusual and sustainable collaboration that might result.
Of the initial briefs created by MBA students (see previous blog post, MBA elective week 2), two were selected by tutor Noam Toran as suitable for the MA students (the others being 'too narrow a space to design in'): a service for sex workers negotiating with clients, and the redesign of economy air transport. During our afternoon at the Royal College of Art, first we saw presentations by the first year MA Design Products students in response to these briefs, ranging from witty and challenging explorations to fundamental reconceptualisations. Then it was the turn of second year students from Design Products and also the MA Interaction Design (with tutor Nina Pope), who wanted an opportunity to work with an MBA student, some of whom had designed service propositions. Students worked in pairs to discuss projects in detail and examine how to take things further, from a design practice perspective and from a management perspective. Finally, the MBA students agreed with their MA pairs a piece of homework from a relevant management discipline to take the project further.
I asked students to consider what design and management practices bring in different ways to invention and design projects; to what extent design can lead and where management disciplines and research activity serve to complement and extend the work of designers. Next week the MBA students will take their turns to present their work to the combined group.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

MBA elective week 3: what designers do well (and what they don't do well)

In our third class I used as a teaching case my onging work as lead designer on a digital media project at Rich Mix, a new cultural venture in east London. Rich Mix partially opened at the end of April, without fanfare, seeking to build up audiences and test processes as different elements of the venture open to the public. For now, you can have lunch in the cafe or go see Mission Impossible in the beautiful cinema designed by Ali Zaidi. Other parts of the organization including its bar designed by Usman Haque, the creative workspaces, BBC London's studio, the performance spaces, and the News Room - the part I'm working on - will open between now and the formal opening in November.

For the purposes of the MBA class, I presented students with a number of artefacts created since I was initially approached by Rich Mix when the leadership team started asking what it could offer its diverse audiences in the way of experiences and content delivered using networked digital media edited by guest editors. What began as an open question along the lines of 'Can we do something interesting that will draw people in and help them connect to Rich Mix and to others?' lead to a design-led process where we tried to answer this, despite not having what managers would see as a business case, or value proposition. The class considered different artefacts created during the design/innovation process to date including an early document outlining the concept; notes, sketches and photos from design workshops; and the current development plan.

At the end of the class, students working in pairs took turns to present a way forward for the Rich Mix News Room as currently conceived, one pair presenting as McKinsey-type strategy consultants; another pair as a technology consultancy such as IBM or Accenture; another as the London Mayor's office; another as the BBC; another as an innovation consultancy. Each of the presentations brought home (sometimes in a hilarious manner) the opportunities, and limitations, of operating within a particular paradigm. The design-led process, as currently enacted for the Rich Mix News Room, also has limits but it does offer a way of generating, and exploring ideas, especially given limited resources, that may lead to designing a viable, sustainable solution (in contrast to the management paradigm described Boland and Collopy in 'Managing as Designing', 2004). The question underpinning the elective, and indeed my research, is what the limits of design leadership are.

What the class discussion reinforced was the need for designers to work alongside managers/decision-makers within organizations, not in isolation. But it also suggested that design methods (such as concept modelling, experience prototyping, scenarios and so on) are powerfully able to develop and communicate ideas, without significant investment, in situations with unframed problems.

Monday, May 08, 2006

MBA elective week 2: practices, processes and methods

In our second session I introduced the project the students will undertake with MA Design Products students from the RCA. We were then joined by tutor Noam Toran, who described some of the briefs (translation for non-designers: project starting points) given to the platform (translation: teaching context in an MA) he teaches at the RCA, and showed some of the work students made in response. We then asked the MBA students to create a brief for the MA students to design a service. As anticipated, the writing of a brief lead to a set of discussions about how to engage with designers; the purpose(s) of this kind of document in these engagements; and the likely responses from designers.
Students worked in small groups and came up with five briefs which have now been sent to the RCA (where they may be modified to meet the educational goals of the college):
- Financial Liberation (about reinventing the relationship of people with their money: a service for people who do not have much money and are excluded from credit, mortgages and financial institutions)
- Invisible Friend (a service to make you feel like you have a friend, but delivered by a team of people, whom you never meet, delivered through different interfaces or service elements)
- Companion Provider (a service so you can hire a person to do friend-like things with you)
- Service, Disservice (aiming to re-invent existing, often badly designed services such as flying economy or the UK post office)
- Safety for Sex Workers (a service to support sex workers when negotiating with clients)
Several of these are clearly very high level - presenting opportunities for both sets of students to explore to what extent design practice/thinking can contribute to radical or incremental innovation. Only one brief specified that the service should make money; in their language and analysis, several demonstrated a desire to respond to social needs (rather than analysing business opportunities).
The MBA students are keen to see what artefacts the MA students will make in response to these ideas. More soon.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MBA elective starts today: design leadership v design management

Today's the first class of the elective in Design Leadership that I'm teaching to MBA students at the Saïd Business School (SBS) at Oxford University. This is the first such elective at the school, and one of relatively few round the world. The first wave of 'design management' teaching in business schools in the 1980s-90s such as at London Business School is now giving way to what might be seen as a second wave, with a focus on 'design leadership' and 'design thinking'. Examples are Stanford's d-school, and the new school of management and design at Zollverein in Germany. These programmes are building on earlier work by designers, design managers and academics which established the need for a better understanding of the interfaces between design and organisations.

Our eight-week course at the Saïd, which 19 MBAs have signed up for, aims to equip students with an understanding of the processes, methods and practices within design disciplines; expose them to the influential theories, models, frameworks of analysis for managing design activity; help them develop a vocabulary with which to communicate ideas about design and design management both with designers and with others; and enable them to develop relevant skills to use within management contexts. Part of the activity includes a joint project with MA Design Products students from the Royal College of Art, London, working with designer and tutor Noam Toran. The design of the elective draws on my experience of leading design teams including multidisciplinary groups grappling with complex problems in which no single discipline has all the answers.

The pre-class task I set the class proved very powerful. I asked the students to take photos and screenshots of two examples of good design, and two examples of bad design, at the SBS - a shared context in which the architecture, interior design, service and process design, intranet and IT services provided a rich environment for students to consider and critique. As the students presented their examples one by one, definitions of 'good' and 'bad' design emerged, which led on to a structured discussion about how designs (outcomes) are designed (process), and to what extent organizational structures and roles are equipped to facilitate good design - or to lead by design. In the second half of the class, we watched the ABC television documentary in which IDEO designers re-design the shopping trolley in five days. Extracting from this a set of design practices, the students then worked in pairs to use this process to say how they would go about re-designing some of the artefacts in the school they found were badly designed. These hands-on exercises helped students reflect on the material reality of design decisions and begin to understand the organizational issues involved in managing design practices - whether done by designers or others.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

'Meeting the Challenges of Design Leadership' conference, Amsterdam

For the details of the conference, see the Design Management Institute's website (link below), and see also Ralf Beuker's blog on his workshop there and the issues raised at

As is typical at conferences involving both practitioners and academics, the conversations were taking place at several levels. Some people were telling stories about their practices; others were refering to or defining models and building directly on an evolving and transferable body of knowledge. As a relative newcomer to this conversation with a practitioner background, I was glad to have an opportunity to hear different positions articulated and to meet some interesting, thoughtful people. As I understood it, the conference was trying to mark out different models of design leadership and their implications, within the terms of reference of the organizing body, the DMI, whose vision is to "improve organizations worldwide through the effective management of design for economic growth".

Leaving aside for the moment the ends to which design management, or indeed design leadership, might be put, I'd like to repeat some the key issues I heard raised at the event:
- The desire of designers to be taken more seriously/have their value understood/have a seat on the board; or the claim that this is already so (design as function; the strategic role of design).
- The question of how to export to other domains designers' approaches, practices, methods and tools (often characterized as 'design thinking' - potentially a kind of design leadership).
- The question of whether designers want to own 'creativity' within organizations. If managers and entrepreneurs work in reflexive, iterative, conceptual, creative ways, and make use of design thinking where relevant, does this need to be labelled 'design leadership' or could it just be 'leadership'?
- The problems created by the language of some designers, and by much of design education, which serves to keep non-designers out.
- The argument that people involved in design management (practitioners in design and client organizaions, and academics researching and teaching in this area) are mostly talking to themselves; that management and change management consultants, for example, are already adopting some of the practices of designers (but not calling it design) and may step up to the challenge of further disseminating them before designers and design educators do.

What was missing for me was the following
- Acknowledgement of emerging areas of design within organizational contexts in particular service design, interaction design and experience design. The services sector now accounts for 70% of many advanced industrial economies (UNCTAD, 2004, World Investment Report: The Shift Towards Services). But the conference emphasis was on branding, communications and product design which are, more or less, solved problems and certainly well-framed problems.
- Greater acknowledgement of non-corporate contexts for design including the public sector and the growing area of social entrepreneurship, covered for example through a detailed case study presentation, rather than mentioned only within the context of one academic paper. See for example the research work of the UK Design Council's RED unit, and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, part of the institution where I work.
- A deeper discussion about the limits to design leadership. Could design leadership create an effective response to a disaster or emergency? Could it lead to a coherent policy within Europe on handling asylum seekers? Could design leadership, rather than other kinds of leadership, lead to sustainable innovation in the involvement of citizens in democratic processes?

Clearly some of these issues challenge the DMI's vision of using design management to improve economic growth but a case could be made for their inclusion, or at least their consideration, within this framework.

Day to Day Data - two weeks later

The badges in the five tubes in the public library were all gone within two weeks: that's approximately 7,500 badges distributed unevenly and anonymously on coats, jackets, bags, and the pavements of Kennington, south London. The library staff said that lots of children had taken them and seemed apologetic about this: in their view, they weren't taking the project seriously. But a man in the library, overhearing this conversation, mentioned that all the children at his kids' school were wearing the badges and that they had raised discussion there.

On the wall opposite the now empty tubes I saw some filled in 'public forecast' cards I designed, asking people to predict the levels of badges in the tubes on a particular date, with comments. The two shown here suggest a disappointment about people's engagement with the social. "Pink is honest, grey is what we want people think," writes one person. The pink badges say "I did nothing" while the grey ones say "I helped someone". The other card says "People are to (sic) afraid to stand up for Right."

I don't yet have pictures of the levels of the tubes changing day by day as people took the badges. The curator Ellie Harrison has arranged for another set of badges to be installed, and asked for a daily photo documenting the changing levels.

Reviews: The exhibition is featured in the April 2006 issue of Art Monthly and is also mentioned on the Information Aesthetics website.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Physical Bar Charts in Day to Day Data

My project 'Physical Bar Charts' is currently installed in the Durning Library, a busy public library in south London, part of the group exhibition Day to Day Data, which opened on 10 March. It consists of five acrylic tubes mounted on the wall, each with a dispenser at the bottom. Each tube is filled initially with around 1500 button badges, of one colour, with a single printed message on. Over the course of the exhibition people can help themselves, the levels in the tubes drop and the reverse bar chart shows the varying levels of engagement of its passers-by.

Here's a picture before the general public was allowed to help themselves.

Pink "I did nothing"
Grey "I helped someone"
Green "I spoke up"
Blue "I made a stand"
Orange "I got by"

Designing at Rich Mix

Since late in 2005 I've been working with arts producer Greg Hilty to develop a strategy for a new public space within a new venue and cultural organization called Rich Mix, located on Bethnal Green Road in London's East End The approach we have been taking is to use design to frame the questions, and, we hope, eventually get to the answers, as to what the particular space we are working on is for.

The building, when it opens (in stages from April) will have three cinemas, a performance space, cafe, bar, a media lab, workspaces, a visual art gallery...and a space, currently called 'the News Room' which is currently undefined. Developing that definition is part of our brief, which is an amazing opportunity and significant challenge. Unlike the designers of the cinema or bar and so on, we have an additional challenge of invention. Our design-led approach has been enacted through a series of concept development workshops with a range of people, plus other typical design techniques such as sketching and modelling. People involved in this development process include Rich Mix staff, invited designers and community activists, and George Grinsted (web developer) and Radarstation, interaction designers who created the experience prototypes we tested with an invited audience on February 24. With the agreement of Keith Khan (Rich Mix CEO) and Nick Kilby (COO), our next step is to further iterate the concepts we have developed for another round of experience prototyping. My current working definition for the Rich Mix News Room is that it is a 4-dimensional blog (2-d screens and opportunities for interaction, made present in a physical space, changing over time).