A little over a week ago (September 10) I attended the Emergence 2006 conference the focus of which was Service Design. My decision to attend was a bit of a last minute decision so I wasn’t able to register in time for the Friday workshop though I caught a full day of presentations on Saturday. Going into the conference I hadn’t a clear concept of what service design is defined or how it differed from interdisciplinary design.
We all know the design community (and just about every other industry) has the tendency to invent terms to describe a set of design processes; as is the case with service design for once I gained a clear understanding of the term I found it described a subset of what we have done at MAYA for years. But I digress, there are certainly good things to come of trends within the design community as it brings awareness of these competencies within the design community to other industries. The following is a snipet from the Emergence 2006 website that I find adequate to describe service design:
In a rapidly evolving economy, individuals, organizations, and communities that offer services are faced with deepening challenges. Some of these include increasing competition for skilled labor for high value services, the need to focus on contextualized development, sustainability of the environment, and addressing the requirements of different cultures of customers and workers that exist in the global delivery of services…
Services are the intangible things consumers pay for such as medical care, your cellular service, car rental, etc. Some interesting statistics I gathered from the conference are that consumer spending on services accounts for nearly 80% of the US GDP yet the term “service design” wasn’t coined until around 2001 by live|work which claims to be the first service design specific consultancy in the world (which I guess means they claim to have been the first to apply the title “service design” to the subset of design processes).
Aspects of service design I find compelling (as is the case with experience design) is the broad spectrum from high-level concepts to the low-level bits of technology, supporting material etc. that facilitate the service process. I find the high level ideating and low-level building/architecting of a system equally satisfying. A fantastic example of work presented at the conference was that of Jennie Winhall from the RED design team. In her presentation Jennie outlined her team’s work on designing services around health, ageing, conservation, citizenship, and other emerging topics in the public [vs private] sphere. As my coworker David Holstius states “Inspiring lo-tech interventions into human behavior (e.g. conversational card deck for Type II diabetics meeting with their PCPs)”. Jennie shared how their core group of four designers created simple tools with which participants could leverage their existent relationships to effect positive behavior change as well as enrich the efficacy of the medical practitioner/patient relationship with simple communication activities and techniques. The quality of her group’s work and its presentation are stunning and well worth a look. It was also mentioned that the RED group was working to find sponsorship as its tenure at the Design Counsel is approaching its end so be sure to keep an eye on them as surly more great things are to come.
To conclude it is the multi-disciplinary and human-centered approach – observation (human science), information architecture to describe the system, the building of well-balanced tools (visual design and interaction design – creating the right tool for the task at hand), and business analytics that make service design a compelling space for innovation and an interesting area to work in. As with every project or design problem it through the effective balance of the components above that innovation and effective tools/environments are born and service design serves as an interesting opportunity to apply human-centered interdisciplinary design processes.