Friday, 20 February 2009

we are curious

This morning I had an interesting chat with Florence Andrews, co-founder of We Are Curious, at the Lighthouse Cafe in the gray rainy Glasgow. We Are Curious might be the only British Service Design cosultancy not located in London. (please let me know if you know of any other examples outside London!) Florence simply said, we don’t want to leave Glasgow to do service design, so we decide to start a business here. The company is established in 2005 with the support of NESTA and so far have developed a rich portfolio of design projects from education to healthcare areas.


Florence describes their work as not strictly service design, they take on many different types of work, but the key is to involve as many people as possible in the design process, especially users. In order to understand user’s needs and the social environment from which these needs emergies, often service designer need to develop a certain level of the regional knowledge that is close to the user’s day-to-day living condition. We Are Curious is very proud of the empathy towards the client organisation and the service user in their practice, especially towards the people in the Glasgow region. This makes me think of the locationlization of service systems. One of the charactieristics of service is the highly customization of cutomer offerings. That understanding of people, their love and sorrows, their dreams and fears, is perhaps the most important transferable knowledge of service designer in their various practicies.


The idea I got today is that maybe we shall encourage our young designers to try and start their service design practices wherever they are living and to seed the idea of ‘serivce thinking’ into whatever projects they are involved no matter where they will be working.

If Service Design, as Buchanan suggests, is about justice. Then justice is needed everywhere, isn’t it?. 

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Silent Design

I spent las night reading this little photocopy of an article from Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas, after weeks of waiting for it to come via the Inter Library Loan from British Library... It is a report on the pilot study they did in London Business School in 1987 on how the enterprise organize itself to make best ue of design, and they proposed a very important concept in that article: Silent Design.

"[...] a great deal of design activity goes on in organizations which is not called design. It is carried out by individuals who are not called designers and who would not consider themselves to be designers. We have called this 'silent design'."

Silent Design is a key concept in my research of service design, as it describes exactly what happens during/after stakehoder's encounter with the design team.

The shame is that I only got this report on the Pilot study in the first year of their three-year project... wonder anyone knows what happened afterwards? It would be very interesting to have a look at the final results and conclusion they got for the whole project. Have anyone got any other publications from Gorb and Dumas on Silent Design around 1990s? Also I guess this report on Design Studies is out of print now as well... I have a scaned PDF copy and not sure if it is legal to spread it online... If you are looking for this report for research and learning purpose, please give me a shout here and I will email you :)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Richard Buchanan on the 'Four Boundaries of Service Design'

< image from Jeff Howard's Design for Service >

Richard Buchanan's closing keynote speech on the Emergence 2007, very insightful.

Just couple of notes and quotes I put down here while listening... would like to hear what you think :)

Buchanan point out Four Boundaries of Service Design as:
1. information visulisation - build conversations following the visual presentation among community that lead to actions;
2. artefact and service - shift the foucs towards the context and consequences of using artefacts;
3. the different between a system designer and a service designer - system design? organisation design? service design? environmental design?
4. service design and management - is good service design good management?

so this is the bit that makes me interested... Buchanan askes what's things that designers do that managers don't do? He talks about the the lost wholeness of organisation operation in management studies... so are we designers getting it back to the service development? Also designer use visualisation to stimulate meaningful communication. Embodyment of the intagibles, designers re-connect the managers to the day-to-day human interactions on the working grounds.

Buchanan then moved on to ask the big question: what is the definition of Service Design? and then he claims that he was not troubled by it, so the anxiety to define it lost its point. He suggests us to be careful about feeling the need to categorising design, but spend time to find out the core quality of design, not the metaphores. As designer, we talk about techniques, talk about methods, what we don't talk about is the strategies that sets above the techniques and the methods. Methods always contains a conceptual framework, often come from another context. Well, the strategy is the art of using methods - how we involve methods and people in our practice.

Value is central in service design, according to Buchanan. One of the central features is about making people more active in their communities, to become agents of change, to be given the power to act. Designer needs to be very self-critical on how much power we retain. It is about justice.

"We can only act well if we have the right information and know how to use it wisely."

"Service design is adding another bit of understanding to this evolving practice of design thinking."

A ture design thinker.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

small things make big changes

Last Friday, I had an interesting discussion about the gaps between strategic planning and the implement process and organisational learning. Somehow the conversation lead to the two dimensions in system implementation: a technical dimension and a social dimension. The technical implementation is often top-down, for example a new admin policy being introduced to the organisation internally. While the social system works bottom-up in terms of organisational culture, attitude change, learning motivation among the individuals. Marty Neumeier talks about how brand only exist in the minds of people, while I believe it is a turth to many other things. So in any system that involves human interactions, including service system of course, you only get one chance to have ++ situation. And in most cases, we naturally land in +-, or even worse --. If we say the technical problem can be solved by introducing new structure, new media, new technology, new strategic statement; then, in order to solve the social problems, we may need to look upon smaller changes - the 'tipping points'.

Interestingly, in another meeting last week, a very talented MDes student Lauren Currie, or kown as Redjotter in cyberspace, talked about her experience in working on a emploibility work she did in Amsterdam with DesignThinkers. She said it is often small changes you need to make to get the system work. For exampel employing a female driver for the shuffle bus, so that women can go to work without religious concerns from their husbands. Small change, big differences.

So is it possible that in Service Design, there are two processes going on in every project simultaneously? You have a tecnical top-down process with structures such as 'blue-print' and a bottom-up process with conversations among all the individuals who are involved in the design process, directly or indirectly. Wonder if anyone has any similar thoughts? it would be interesting to hear what kind of reflections you guys get from practice :-)

and...oh yes, I am still halfway through the Tipping Point , far behind all my hard-working students here ;-)

Monday, 9 February 2009

Nordic Conference on Service Design

A new Service Design conference coming up in Oslo, called Service Desin 09, organised by Norwegian Design Council.
This conference has couple of themes around research, education and management perspectives along with the business showcase. The themes includes:

  • boundaries, foundation and constituent parts of the emerging discipline of service design

  • history and trajectories of service design

  • critical views

  • methods, tools and processes

  • case studies

  • relation to design thinking, design leadership and design management

  • education and research perspectives

Abstract deadline is 20th April... am thinking of putting in a paper on reflection/conclusion of the empirical data on Service Design Managmemt - should be interesting!

If anyone is going or submitting paper as well, please give me a shout! Especially the lovely guys from the PhD corner in Amsterdam, we shall meet up again!!!!

Look forward to meeting you :)

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Open Innovation as Service Design Approach

Remembering me trying to figure out what Open Innovation can do for Service Designers weeks back?
Now I find the answer from STBY ;-)

relationship mapping

(image quoted from

Find this facinating tool on Engine's website about how they find out the people and their relationships in a service system.

"Services are created and consumed through systems of relationships between people, things and processes. In order to innovate within these systems, it is important to understand the network of relationships between the people and organisations that make a service work - or that fail to make a service work. "
It seems to be really powerful tool when it comes to identify 'silent designer' in the system or 'key people' who has power over the service situations. Wonder if the designers from Engine Group are able to have face-to-face encounter with these 'key people' in their map in the practice? Ha-ha, one more questions for my interview list :)

Your Design Brief on Ballons!

We did a workshop with MDes students on Monday to create a design brief for their master's project with ballons - yeah, you hear me right, ballons!

The students were asked to fill their ballons with the answers of 15 questions to create a design brief. They are expected to consider the financial and project management aspects of their master project, as well as how it relates to the stakeholder analysis, material experiment, marketing research and research question.

You will be able to find some photos from this workshop on my flickr
Also, couple of the students has already refelected on the experience from their own perspectives:

(let me know if I missed yours!)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Tell me about...

the people you work with... live with... share enthusiasm with !!!

beautiful information

(image quoted from

You know my passion towards wonderfully crafted information designs!
Just came across this breath-taking beautiful piece by , Visualizing information flow in science
no need to say anything, the image tells you a thousand words!
Enjoy :)

Monday, 2 February 2009

Brand Driven Innovation & Service Design

Thanks to Ralf. I find this very interesting blog of Erik Rocam, Brand Driven Innovation and Erik has a post about some first insights of Service Design, comparing to 'traditional design' and multidisciplinary design management (that's a new word to me!) He offers some very interesting observations/interpretations as a outsider, especially as a brand specialist:

"It is clear that what connects the touch points in this model is the evolving relationship between organisation and end user. This relationship, on a fundamental level, is the brand. The specific consumer journey represents the execution of the brand for that specific product/service/consumer. This puts the brand in a place where it connects the touch points, and forms the white space between the words, whether it concerns a product or a service experience."

I always find it facinating how different people can relate Service Design to what they have been doing for a long time. This diversity, which is brought into Service Design by people from different backgrounds, has already stimulated dicussions and cooperations for new types of design practices to be carried out at new level with large or small organisations in this constantly changing world we are all living.

It is exciting, isn't it?