CIID 09/10: Service Design

The last investigation of our curriculum was Service Design, with three weeks taught by Chris, co-founder of Livework, and John, from their Oslo office.

This writeup will be unusually short, at least compared to the previous ones – not because I have any less to say (!), but because I’m keen to catch up my blog with what going on in my head, and focus on my thesis (in both places). Nonetheless, some quick and possibly disjointed thoughts and reflections on the course and the project I worked on, intrust.

For many, the course was the first time they had encountered service design in a structured, focused way (although many of us had worked on what were basically service design projects for user research). In contrast, I was broadly familiar with the tools, methods, and processes we used on this course from my time at Radarstation. In some ways, of course, this felt like an advantage, a headstart. But it also added an element of ambiguity and skepticism to my experience of the course. Sometimes, things were presented as “the way things are”, and I felt “no no – that’s the LiveWork way”. Nonetheless, it was great to get a different perspective on something that I nominally already knew or had experience of: new descriptions of old processes, different ways of doing similar things, examples of tools in use in different types of projects.

The context for our project was ‘Financial Lives’, exploring the possibilities for innovations in services for the financial sector (albeit not the type of “innovations” that cause the world economy to crash!). To introduce us to the topic and the backend context, we were lucky to have two bankers from Middlefart Sparkasse introduce us to the bank’s perspective. Middlefart are a small Danish bank apparently known for having great service and being interested in some of stuff we work on at CIID – research, service design, innovation, etc – thus their interest in being involved in our project. Despite this, I remember thinking as their presentation drew to a close… if this is innovative, what are the more conservative banks like?

Still, it was made clear very early on that this was not a client/consultant relationship – we could explore areas that would be uncomfortable for a bank, we didn’t necessarily have to convince them of the potential for profit, and we could go further than a commercial client would want to – while keeping their perspectives in mind.

We were often encouraged to “go crazy”, especially by Chris – I got the feeling that maybe he’d gotten bored by the very functional projects he’d worked on as a consultant, and wanted us to do interesting things while we were in an environment where that was encouraged and possible. We tried, with varying degrees of success. As a group, we had a hard time, veering from the practical and, ultimately, boring, to the opposite extreme of discomfort and crazy. In the end, we swung back somewhere in the middle, although perhaps more towards practical than some of the other teams.

Perhaps where we did things differently was that rather than necessarily build or communicate a shining vision, we worked out a lot of the smaller kinks, creating a service that worked smoothly across different channels, media, and touchpoints. We debated (and went around in circles, and hit brick walls) the minutae of our proposed service, thinking through the different angles and the different experiences as different users went through the system, experiencing the service over time and in different ways. This was reflected in our final presentation – I got the feeling we were presenting something different. It wasn’t as exciting as some of the other projects, but I honestly don’t think it’s because it was an inherently weaker idea. But having worked out all the different elements, created prototypes of every stage, we felt that we had to show it all – and let’s face it, no matter how interesting a concept might be, when you take it down to the level of ‘you get this in the post’ and ‘then you pay with this card’, things get pretty mundane. Having done all that work, we didn’t want it to disappear – it’s hard to polish something, and then leave it in the shadows, even if showing each and every stage is detrimental to the story of the service as a whole.

Is there a fundamental tradeoff between presenting a vision, with theatre and excitement, and presenting the nitty gritty of how a service works? for an experience to be smooth, many small pieces have to come together and feel invisible. But in a presentation, you can’t show the invisible – you have to highlight it. There’s a strange tension between showing something shiny and wonderful – while glossing over more or less obvious difficulties in implementing it – or showing off how thoroughly thought through a service might be. Which is not to say they can’t be combined, or that one is better than the other, just that they serve different purposes.

The service design course was taught by Chris Downs – cofounder of livework – and John Holager, from the Oslo office, in March 2010. At the end of the course, they were also joined by Lavrans Løvlie for the presentations, crits, and discussions.

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