Thursday, 15 January 2009

Three questions to the Service Design world

I proposed three questions as the conclusion of a conference paper to D2B2 in Beijing, and the paper is now going through the reviewing process (fingers crossed for me~). Well, I am not going to bore you with the literature review blah in the paper. In this post I only put forward the three questions to the Service Design world - mainly from a management perspective - and my thoughts for you to comment, advise and criticise. Happy reading :)

Question 1: How do we change our understanding of the design process in Service Innovation?

Traditionally, design processes were modelled on practices that create tangible objects such as a building, a product or an advert. Different theoretical models highlight slight variations in the stages, but the final outcome is always a synthesised plan that goes straight into production. The uniqueness of service design is that the design outcome is a living system that evolves over time as a result of rich human involvement. The distributed pattern of Service Innovation suggests that the result of the design process is open to future changes. The design outcome is not a solution to a certain problem, but a starting point for stimulating more innovations in the service system. This ties service design process closely towards concepts such as Open Innovation and knowledge diffusion science (see E. Rogers).

Question 2: What are the designer’s new roles while working with multiple stakeholders?

For service designers, working with multiple stakeholders acting as silent designers brings difficulties and opportunities to the development of new types of design practice. The service design practitioners in the field nowadays are mostly from a production design, interactive media design or a marketing related background. Therefore, for them to work in a service organisation, service designers are often facing questions such as: where are the hidden silent designers in a service system? What kind of specialized knowledge do they have that can be beneficial to designers? What kind of tools and methods can design provide to unlock stakeholders’ creativity? How do designers work beyond boundaries for collaboration?

Current service design practitioners use visuals and prototypes to interpret different stakeholders’ languages into a vision that everyone can use to relate themselves to the design process. However, they should be aware that a service system will have to be able to self-recover and self-improve after the designers step away. Therefore, service designers, rather than simply the creators of a system, have multiple roles. They are the explorers in discovering customer experiences and also the communicators of its complexity. They are the negotiators of value and the mediators that bring different stakeholders together. Most importantly, as members of a profession with a long history of employing creative methods, service designers become the ideal people to unlock the power for innovation within the organisation at all levels. Working with multiple stakeholders, they have the responsibility to turn the silent designers into active designers. This role of facilitator in organisation environments requires not only visual communication skills but also some basic understanding of ‘empowerment’ – a concept often found in power discourse, social psychology and even philosophy (see M. Foucault, Mary Parker Follett ).

Question 3: How would design’s value be recognised and accepted by other disciplines in Service Knowledge?

With a general recognition of the economic and social value of service, many other disciplines are also conducting new research and concepts in service related issues. At the same time, the awareness of building a multi-disciplinary service community has increased within service science, management and engineering (SSME). At the 2007 AMA Frontiers in Service Research conference, Epworth et al. used the metaphor of a ‘big tent’ that brings service science, management, engineering and art together with a central ‘tent pole’ of the service customer (see Fisk and Grove, in press).

Service designers, with special values to bring to this process of knowledge sharing, should be encouraged to get involved in multi-disciplinary research and practices. At the same time, design education should take the responsibility of introducing service knowledge to a future generation of designers. ‘T-Shaped’ design graduates with skills in design expertise and with a business vision in mind will be capable to work collaboratively with other people in multi-disciplinary teams to share the value of creativity.