“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Interesting thought on service design … “managing cultural complexity”

It is often said that interaction design evolved out of the requirement to stem the tide of the ever increasing amount of complexity in our personal lives due to technology. Design & engineering a like had to encompass a personal/human view of the effects that inserting their creations would have on the people who would encounter them (directly or indirectly).

To do this type of work required the creation and assimilation of tools from all manner of the world of art, design & engineering. Basically, we created THE most complex hard to understand and do discipline and practice, to help others mitigate complications due to complexity (said wordily on purpose).

People today have been grappling with where does IxD end and where does service design begin. Hell if I know (or care). Just like I can’t tell you where [fit old design discipline here: Arch, ID, GD, etc.] ends and IxD begins and you shouldn’t care either. What I do know is that there is a new group of people who are creating a community–a vibrant and productive one–which isn’t even really all that new relative to our fast-paced world, that “knows” what service design is, why its important and how to do it. No self respecting IxD with half a sense of integrity could argue that they exist.

Today I was giving a lecture that I first wrote in 2005 about the “history of IxD”. It is all predicated on the sense that our discipline emerged b/c of the need of human consideration by those who were grappling with placing ever increasing complex technologies in the context of the aforementioned humans. Further, we juxtaposed this to the birth of other disciplines like interactive design/art and realized that we can’t do our jobs well without considering aesthetics and classical design disciplines are much better at that than us, so lets look to them for guidance.

Along the way though, we realized that there was much in the world outside of technology that was either already more complex than it had to be, or whose complexity existed outside the ream of technology itself, even if technology enabled that complexity to happen in the first place. Institutions like travel & hospitality, financial services, health services, even retail have become so complex that like the graphical interfaces of yore human beings are being left with the same feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Service designers had to emerge to tackle these issues using new tools and to come up with new frames (such as collaboration) in order to take that same spirit of human consideration that is so rooted in interaction design and apply it to new areas of complexity. Like metaphor was used to bridge the distance between system and mental models in technological systems, so too will new rhetorical devices and frames will be used towards bridging whatever it is that is lacking between the system and human being within services.

All this is to say that at least for myself (and maybe for you now) I now have an understanding of the context that helps me thinking about services better in comparison to my core skillsets, and allows me to engage services in a new way.

I’d be interested to hear what self-identified service designers are thinking in this regards and if this framing at all might help you speak to interaction and other designers understand what it is you do.

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  • http://davemalouf.com/ Dave Malouf

    So in promoting this blog post, I wrote an even longer post on the IxDA Discussion Board: http://www.ixda.org/node/23834

  • http://www.gravity7.com Adrian Chan


    I just wanted to throw this your way as it resonates on some level (or at some frequency) with what you write here. I was struggling with how to distinguish core UI and IxD concerns and practices with the follow on dynamics that are unique to social media. And decided, for methodological purposes, to borrow from Goffman again and use “frames.”

    And for while that concept was fine — frames of experience, contextual frames, frames within which interaction or communication occurs, etc.

    More recently I opted for primary and secondary frames, in order to better tease apart the primary user-experience and activity at the UI level; and secondary frames to capture the social dynamics produced or aided when social sites re-present user activity. In other words, secondary frames for the design concerns of social practices, activities, thematic or cultural practices, and so on.

    This might touch on your points viz service design — which is a design problem but also a social interaction design challenge. Two frames converge at the social interface — individual user actions and social dynamics and outcomes.

    Thought I’d just toss it your way.


    SxD: Primary and Secondary Frames


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