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?