Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A year in designing for service: 2009

A Google search for “service design” is one way of indexing what is a growing field of practice and scholarly enquiry. On the basis of a search today (December 16, 2009), the term is resonant enough to have a long-ish entry in wikipedia (although it “provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject”). What comes next are links to two consultancies: Engine (based in London) and live|work (ditto). Practice leads theory, then. But although they are leading the field, they are extremely small – 20 people at the former, 13 people at the latter, according to their websites today.

This was a year in which service design began to move away from being the province of designers educated and practicing in the art school tradition to an activity in which designers have something important to contribute, but which is not necessarily owned by Design.

Conferences brought together practitioners leading and developing the field with researchers from universities involved in studying and teaching service design, management and marketing. These included the Service Design Network Conference in Madeira and the first Nordic Conference on Service Design and Service Innovation in Oslo. The line-up of speakers suggested a shift from the emphasis on designerly service design seen at earlier conferences such as the Emergence conferences hosted by Carnegie Mellon University (2006; 2007) and at Northumbria (2006), drawing in those interested in service design from outside design fields. However these conferences were still dominated by those of us from design school backgrounds (as far as I can tell from attending one, and reading the public material of the other). In contrast, the Frontiers of Service Conference in Hawaii included “service design” on its list of topics but the only person I know who went was a researcher rooted in academic HCI.

At the beginning of the year, anecdotal accounts of consultancies laying off staff suggested a despondency matching the world we found ourselves in characterised by financial and ecological crisis. But by the end of the year, I was hearing reports of new clients, new projects or at least things ticking over. New consultancies formed too – like Snook, whose public stance is evidence of a refreshing modesty and optimism among the design community.

New books explicitly mentioning service design and introducing it to a wider field included Tom Lockwood’s edited book republishing articles from the Design Management Journal by livework, IDEO and others. Satu Miettinen and Mikko Koivisto brought together many others to suggest how organizations can go about Designing Services with Innovative Methods. The #service design twitter community of designers involved in service design became a busy and valuable resource.

Roberta Tassi published her research undertaken for her graduation thesis as a fairly comprehensive list of service design tools. Daniela Sangiorgi from Lancaster and others founded a web resource called Service Design Research, a very readable way of getting a handle on different research perspectives. This aims to build an understanding and foster a dialogue on where ideas and concepts of Service Design have come from, how these evolved over the last two decades as well as report and review current research and service design practices.

The year ahead will no doubt create opportunities to build on these developments as what is still a diverse field continues to create ways of legitimising and authorising practice (eg professional qualifications), defining the boundaries of the field and drawing in other kinds of service practitioners and researchers. I hope that people involved in the field will continue to ask important questions, which should include

- Politics. How are service designers going to position themselves in relation to questions of power? As with Participatory Design, one way of understanding the introduction of new technologies sees them as increasing managerial control over service employees and indeed customers. When are designers going to become more reflective and critical of the politics involved in designing for service?
- Scope. Do service designers really want to focus mostly on the design of services (public or private) or scale up to policy issues? From the international arena - the United Nations, World Bank and so on – to national and regional services, a whole collection of serious problems face policy-makers, elected representatives and citizens. Whether called service or transformation design, or something else, in what ways can practitioners seize opportunities to move beyond the legacy of industrial design and articulate a vision of designing for service that moves beyond designing services (industrial outputs defined as what products are not, cf Vargo and Lusch 2004) to designing for service?
- Knowledge. What kinds of knowledge do service designers and managers need in order to design better services for and with others? What are the strengths and limits of the design-school approach to designing for service? What published and developing knowledge bases should those involved in designing services draw on? When will service designers start paying serious attention to established fields with literatures on which they can draw including Participatory Design, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, anthrodesign, services marketing, service operations, science and technology studies and feminism?

In next year’s Google search I hope to see some surprises. A service design consultancy with 100 people! The UN taking forward the work of the UNIDR (Derek Miller and Lisa Rudnick who spoke in London and Oxford in November) introducing service design and planning for field engagements in 50 countries! Oxford, Harvard, the Royal College of Art and MIT introducing new multidisciplinary service design and innovation masters courses! The new UK Conversative-Lib Dem government creating a Design Unit in the Cabinet Office to provide hands-on consultancy for government departments aiming to increase efficiency and innovate based on designing for service rooted in end user experiences and practices! Ten new books! Large consultancies such as Accenture and McKinsey training consultants in designerly methods and approaches! Oliver King or Joe Heapy or Lavrans Lovlie or Chris Downs or Ben Reason as keynote speaker at Frontiers of Service! Check back in a year and we’ll see.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The IDEA2010 competition also added service design to its list of categories for the first time.

The IDEA® (International Design Excellence Awards) program is the premier international competition honoring design excellence in products, ecodesign, interaction design, packaging, strategy, research and concepts. Entries are invited from designers, students and companies worldwide.

Winning entries receive coverage in hundreds of print and broadcast media networks around the world. IDSA has been honoring design excellence via the IDEA Awards since 1980. IDEA was formerly known as the Industrial Design Excellence Awards. The name changed in 2007 to emphasize the international reach and influence of the competition.

Full details of the award program can be viewed at

Entries are being accepted until Jan 25. Feb 8 with a late fee.