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.

Call for papers: Art of Management conference, Turkey, 2010

Track at Art of Management Conference, Turkey, 2010: ARTFUL ORGANIZATION DESIGN

Daved Barry & Stefan Meisiek, School of Economics and Management (FEUNL), Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Lucy Kimbell, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

This track focuses on ‘artful’ organization design, reflecting recent revisionist trends in organizational practices and the organization studies literature. In particular, there has been a significant rise in approaches that reflect more of an arts-based sensibility rather than the scientific/engineering mindset that has characterized organization design efforts since the late 1800’s. Representative works of this revisionist perspective include Boland and Collopy’s “Managing as Designing,” Mintzberg and Liedka’s “Strategy as Design,” Martin’s “Design Thinking,” and IDEO’s articles/videos on service and culture design, all of which focus on design-as-process. These approaches to organization design seek a meeting between art and science, and craft and technology in design practice. Importantly, they stress going beyond a sole focus on instrumentalism in design—great designs should not only deliver utilitarian outcomes but should also create delightful and meaningful ones. Thus, an organizational appraisal system designed from this new approach should not only result in useful appraisals, but should also be a pleasure to use and enrich the work life with a sense of possibility.

In this track, we push the arts-based approaches to the forefront. To do so, we will depart from the regular presentational track format and host a design studio where we work on live organizational issues.

Specifically, we will provide designers, artists, and organization scholars interested in our track with basic information about Garajistanbul (, an Istanbul-based performing arts organization. This organization and its presented issues will be our ‘design site’; the design brief appears below. Designers, artists, and organization scholars selected from those who apply to our track will be invited to develop either 1) an artful design exercise to take place during the conference; or 2) a design sketch or proposal engaging with organization’s issues, and to submit this to us. In place of the usual paper submission, this will be used to select participants to take part in the track. The form of the submission will be open and might include whatever activities submitters are familiar with or would like to experiment with (e.g., visual methods, role play, modeling methods, narrative techniques, philosophical inquiry, etc.).

At the Art of Management conference, then, our track participants will briefly introduce their artful design exercises or solutions, and then we will continue to work on, discuss, and explore possibilities in the design studio. We imagine a multistage process in which participants create designs for Garajistanbul, discuss them in plenary, receive feedback, and go into another design phase. There might be 3 or 4 phases in all, in which we aim to understand the participants’ design assumptions and methods in a hands-on way and to amplify these methods via feedback. Stakeholders from Garajistanbul will be invited to take part—either as ongoing commentators, or as a ‘review panel’ on the last day.

The resulting designs will be documented and may provide the basis for a special issue in Aesthesis, or a ‘thin book’ on artistic approaches to organizational design. Apart from a desire to discover and share new design approaches, a key aim of the track is to begin to build a network in which people interested in artful approaches to organizational design can meet one another, both at this Art of Man conference and also in the following years.

Design Brief:

The design site for our track at the Art of Management conference is Garajistanbul ( In their own words, Garajistanbul “is an international, non-profit, contemporary performing arts organization that owns a venue in Istanbul, Beyoglu; makes productions and publishes a magazine called "gist". Garajistanbulpro and 10+ are the two production units. Garajistanbul tours regularly abroad, especially Europe.”

Your task as a potential conference participant is to design either an exercise or sketch initial design proposition that could help Garajistanbul redesign its services and activities, organization design, corporate identity and culture, and/or strategy. If you develop a design exercise, it should be doable within the conference period. Members of Garajistanbul will share further materials online (organizational charts, rules and routines for organizing, photos of the site and people, etc) prior to the conference in September, which will allow you to prepare your sketch or exercise. They will also join us at the conference site, and, if time permits, we will visit the premises and see what they are doing.

Abstracts for papers should be approximately 500 words, but we will accept any form of media submission you feel appropriate. Your abstract should be sent to the stream conveners (dbarry AT; smeisiek AT; lucy.kimbell AT and copied to Jane Malabar at by 1st February 2010.

We look forward to your imaginings.
Daved, Stefan, and Lucy