Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What if…? …..Report on Service Design Network conference 2009

Report on Service Design Network conference 2009

The conference archive including presentations is here.

My (short) conference paper is here, and a recent longer essay: Kimbell, L (2009) 'The Turn to Service Design' in Julier, G and Moor, L, 'Design and Creativity: Policy, Management and Practice', Berg.

This is a partial and highly particular account of the Service Design Network conference, Madeira, which I attended a few weeks ago. It’s partial since I do not aim to give a full account of what the conference was trying to achieve (as I understood it), nor everything that went on, which others have been doing much better than I could. And it’s particular, because I attended and spoke at it in my current manifestation as a researcher and educator situated in a management school and involved in teaching on the MBA. My remarks below should be read as critical reflection that I hope will be of use to others, some of which I have already discussed with the organisers. I raise what I believe are important questions for an emerging community seeking not just to survive but also grow, as it thinks about how to create new institutions and ways of validating its knowledge.

While I have a background in interaction design practice and live art, now supplemented by a vast amount of reading in management fields, anthropology and design theory, I am concerned at present with the body of knowledge on which a service design profession or even discipline might rest. What do organisations, groups and societies need to know in order to design for service? How can they go about designing for service? Who should be involved in designing and why and what ethical concerns exist about co-design, participation and accountability in designing for service? What kinds of knowledge are relevant and what assumptions and world views are they based on? What happens to “service design” when “non-designers” (such as marketing consultancies and management consultancies) take on some of these practices, do them systematically and routinely and at scale, win the clients and do the projects? What are the strengths and weaknesses of a designerly approach to designing for service? The SDN conference was not a good place to go to get answers to these questions. This is not to say the event was not of value – I enjoyed hearing from Joe Heapy (Engine), Lavrans Lovlie (live|work), Ben Reason (live|work), Bas Raijmakers (STBY), Bruce Tether (Imperial College) and many others (although I didn't need to travel 1000km by air to meet them).

I will comment in detail on one talk, not in any way as a personal attack but rather as the most clear example illustrating my concerns, which apply to the event as a whole. In their presentation, Craig LaRosa and Jon Campbell from Continuum talked about employee motivation in service design. To me, a European, they came across as arrogant, an interesting counterpoint to the more modest presentations by UK/Nordic consultancies the day before. It was a very polished, enjoyable presentation – full marks for use of rhetorical devices – but I was left disappointed by the sense I got from the speakers that no one other than a Designer could produce useful knowledge in relation to the design of service. Perhaps that is the case - but I doubt it.

There were two examples from their talk where there is extant literature the speakers seemed unaware of. First, the idea that employees in service organisations play an important role in constituting a service – interesting, yes, but that’s what Bitner et al were looking at in their paper on critical incidents in the service encounter in 1990 and Solomon et al in 1985. That’s well over 20 years ago. Second, the speakers shared insights about the gap between expectations raised by service organisations in their advertising (such as United Airlines) and the actual service delivered. A great insight – and one that is captured in the 5 gaps model of service quality created by Parasuraman et al in 1985, again over 20 years ago. But there was no sense from these speakers that they felt they had any responsibility as designers to keep track of relevant literature or – even better – work out what new research was needed as part of efforts to design better services. If this view is true, and is one that is shared by other individual designers and consultancies, then the knowledge upon which a professional field of service design could rest is unlikely to develop significantly.

Some may argue that it’s not a designer’s job to go and read academic literature. However I believe that these days most designers, consultants and design educators would see research as part of design. For the practitioners spanning anthropology and design (eg the anthrodesign mailing list), research – which includes reviewing what is already published – is a very important part of their work. I am not going to suggest how individual designers or consultancies should go about their work, but I am interested in what an emerging field of professional practice thinks it is doing, how it understand its knowledge, practices and institutions in relation to those of adjacent fields and the rewards it gives to its leading figures. Earlier I asked questions about what was involved in designing for service. But in terms of a developing profession, there are also questions of what constitutes good service design practice and who is defining what ‘good’ means within the context of professional standards. One particular challenge faced by those involved in designing for service is how to understand the social - not something taught in many design schools, still hampered by a legacy of craft and objects.

On the plane home I sat with several other participants who also had to leave slightly early. I asked one of them – a leading figure – if he had learned anything from the conference. He said he had not. It seems to me that if a network such as this, however young and under-resourced, is not stretching its core community, then it may not survive.

This journey allowed us to digest and share our different experiences of the conference. I began to think about my impressions as a shortlist of if onlys which I have now translated to a list of what ifs, which serve as my benchmark for future service design conferences.

- What if the conference brought together those interested in designing for service, broadly conceived, rather than mostly service designers educated and practising professionally within Design?
- What if that definition included those from services marketing, management, innovation, information systems and adjacent fields?
- What if the people present, speakers and participants, did not assume that the social worlds which they are involved in designing for, and which their designs create, were not just givens but were things to be researched and interpreted?
- What if there was no underlying but unpsoken assumption that “design” is owned collectively by researchers, practitioners and educators rooted in design schools?
- What if the keynote speakers came from outside the core field, to help articulate the boundaries between it and other fields?
- What if members of this community actively took responsibility to extend their knowledge by reading literature from diverse fields? (see Jeff Howard’s blog as a generous example of someone digesting existing literature for others)
- What if members of this community began to think seriously about the underlying assumptions about knowledge and what constitutes “the social”?
- What if practitioners who are close to action began to identify and share where they see gaps for further research, whether through practice or academia?

Image: £20 note showing moral philosopherAdam Smith, a foundational figure in economics whose work underpins the idea of exchange value, now being challenged by scholars such as Vargo and Lusch (2004; 2008) who suggest we attend to value-in-use in order to understand the transition from a goods-dominant logic to the emerging service-dominant logic

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Report: Oxford seminar on Managing as Designing: What next?

Notes from a workshop held on Friday 30 October at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Attended by about 40 people.


It’s 40 years since Herbert Simon published The Sciences of the Artificial in which he wrote the now much-quoted phrase “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones” (1996:111). While Rittel and Webber (1973) and many others have questioned the rather top-down, technocratic view of design that Simon seemed to be arguing for, he did make a distinction between the purposes of the social sciences and of design that many scholars and practitioners are still finding useful today.

But now, 40 years later, things are quite different. There has been around four decades of research within design and engineering schools mostly into established fields such as industrial design, architecture and engineering design, generating descriptions of design activity. Alongside this, there has been research in management fields including New Product Development and innovation studies and more recently organization design. Science and technology studies have contributed a perspective on how innovations emerge that challenges the individualist accounts of some management scholars.

Simon’s insight was not really seriously taken up until Boland and Collopy’s workshop in 2002 and subsequent book titled Managing as Designing (2004), which brought several of these approaches together staging a wider conversation about the role of aesthetics and the arts more generally in organisational life. Boland and Collopy brought to management attention the idea not just that some abstract notion of design was important, but rather that design in the arts-based tradition offered something important to management practitioners and scholars – what they call a “design attitude”.

The value of designers’ practices educated in this tradition is what some people call “design thinking”. This autumn, three books are being published that have design thinking in the title, by Roger Martin, dead of the Rotman School of Business; Tom Lockwood, president of the Design Management Institute; and Tim Brown, who leads the design innovation consultancy IDEO. Alex Ostwerwalder has just published a book on the design of business models. Other new books based on academic research include Roberto Verganti’s book on design-driven innovation, and a forthcoming book by Armand Hatchuel and Benoit Weil. If you read Business Week you will have noted its latest ranking of top design schools which includes many business schools which are now teaching design in the MBA– though so far, very few teach design in the arts-tradition in the core curriculum.

To discuss these developments, we invited leading scholars within management, organization and design to share their thoughts on what is going on at the moment and what happens next.

Please note that what follows are slightly edited notes taken by hand while I was chairing the workshop. Any mistakes are mine. If you quote from this blog, please add this disclaimer.


Richard J Boland, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
What am I for?
- Valuing the existential moment
- Appreciating action (Dewey) as the basis of enquiry, all knowing and creation of knowledge comes from acting in the world.
What am I against?
- Assuming a ‘presented’ world.
- Thinking that an acceptable conclusion is that everything is socially constructed – that is the starting point.
- Design and use of representations, how people make meaning, use metaphors, perspective making and taking, distributed cognition, representing temporality.
- Visual representation did a better job of representing financial data than numbers in predicting bankruptcy (Zhao et al)
- 10 years with Gehry, design attitude, digitisation
- Systems of gestures, discourse practices and representational forms that will enhance team learning in healthcare
- Theorygarden.com – causal reasoning for children

Blanche Segrestin, Ecole des Mines
- Why do we need a new theory of design?
- Context: a shift in innovation, not just improving products and services but rather the changing identities of objects. Organisations don’t know what competences they need.
- Existing theories of design are problem solving (Simon) and systematic design (Pahl and Beitz). Existing theories of creativity focus on cognition (Torrance, Guilford). But we need to understand how to combine planning and evaluation with imagination and deviance. This is what C-K theory (Hatchuel and Weil) provides, which helps companies structure exploratory processes which generate new concepts and new knowledge.
- A brief may be clear but it is asking for something that is unknown. We need to produce knowledge for design, which involves working on unknown and partly undecidable objects.

Ken Starkey and Sue Tempest, Nottingham University Business School
- Business schools champion expertise masquerading as science, which leads to functional incompetence. In the search for technical competence (which has proved to be illusory) business schools have lost their capacity for reflexivity.
- MBA courses focus on personal advantage at the expense of public purpose, with a narrow curriculum focussed on analytics.
- The market logic has subverted the logic of professionalism (Khurana)
- “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what stories do I find myself a part?’” (McIntyre)
- Foucault offers an emphasis on power and knowledge, ethics and technologies of the self
- How do we develop a narrative imagination using the arts and humanities to think about new design spaces?
(See their forthcoming paper, “The Winter of Our Discontent: The Design Challenge for Business Schools” in Academy of Management Journal of Learning and Education 8(4))

Bruce Tether, Imperial College/Design London
- MBA students want to know what’s the takeway? What can they use on Monday morning? Design is difficult because it’s harder for them to reflect that they may have changed their way of thinking.
- How does design in a business school environment achieve legitimacy?
- Is design a fad? Can we really deliver?

Rafael Ramirez, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society/Saïd Business School
- How do changes in context change what to design and what is good design?
- How do turbulent environments change the context for business design? How do you plan when you can’t predict?
- How to create enclaves of productive possibilities, using scenarios to design value constellations to push back the turbulence?


Jennifer Whyte, University of Reading/ Design Innovation Research Centre
- Talking about both managing and designing involves talking about a large space
- Questions of micro and macro – how do you design a financial system
- A danger of romanticising design


Boland: Design truly is a practice. At Weatherhead we try to implement a more studio-based approach to MBA education. They work on a project as a design project, developing an ability to engage in a practice in a particular way and giving them an orientation that they are involved in shaping the world that other people are going to live in.

Starkey: How do we design an education system to equip people to handle things like the financial crisis?

Segrestin: How do we teach something that will be obsolete in a few years? More important is how to apprehend change.

Boland: We need to challenge business schools. They are historians of the recent past and gear students up to reproduce it. One possibility is challenging the business schools, waking them up. Another is to take design and business schools and morph into another kind of school so that organisational leaders become more broad-based.

Ramirez: The MBA is a locked-in standard. Exec ed and doctoral students are the research lab for management education.

Boland: The thing that intrigues me about design is its relentless commitment to inquiry.

Boland: I’m always surprised at the opposition set up between management and design. The world of the manager is addressing the unknown and designing collective action.

Segrestin: The models of the firm we have are 19th century models based on commercial activity. We lack a model of collective design activities that are not just commercial activities. We need to go back to look at the designing firm.

Whyte: Inquiry is central to design and to reflective management practice. …When you are creating businesses, you are creating social and material domains. But we should be wary of transplanting ideas from one to another simplistically.

Starkey: In Europe, for business schools, the student isn’t the customer, the customer is society.

Thanks to the Design Council who supported the refreshments during the event.