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A Sunday exploring servicescapes

In our service design class we’re reading about all facets of service and the elements surrounding services. This week I read through Mary Jo Bitner’s article on Servicescapes, titled “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees”. A servicescape is a concept developed by to emphasize the impact of the physical environment in which a service process takes place. In reading through her framework I developed a lot of my own questions surrounding the concept.

One of these was how individuals react to places. Generally, it’s stated through studies in environmental psychology, that there are two forms of behavior: approach and avoidance.  Approach behaviors were defined as positive, i.e. wanting to stay longer, explore, work or affiliate in a particular place. Avoidance is the opposite of approach i.e. the desire to not want to stay, work, explore or affiliate with a place.

pov3_image_01-02-01

The image above shows the two possible reactions: approach or avoidance.

Being a consumer myself, I understood these two general statements but felt that it was a little too black and white when it comes down to the intent and need of a consumer. To say you can either fall into one or the other seems very limiting to real life situations and needs.

Bitner states “To enhance the individual approach you must encourage the appropriate social interactions, between employee and customer.” But isn’t it even more than that?

So I looked at this in a real scenario, to try to understand if it is actually just that simple. And if it is,  is it enough to plan and build a foundation of a successful servicescape around? Even though those needs may be optimal for one, the other may not see it as so. I decided to conduct some research of my own.

I went to a very popular fast-fashion store (fashion that moves from catwalk to consumer quickly in order to capture current fashion trends-often very cheaply) over the weekend on a peek time for business. I normally don’t shop at a store like this especially when it’s so busy, but I was curious to observe and research with new insight from our servicescape reading.

What did I learn?

I had an avoidance experience.

I immediately tuned into the environmental factors upon entering, frankly it was hard not to. The music was loud and repetitive, there wasn’t much room for walking around each area of clothing or accessories, and there were so many products piled on top of each other upon entering it was overwhelming where to begin. I tuned into my emotions, how did I feel? I got anxious (one of the feelings of a negative or avoidance-type experience).

I kept observing the environment and organization-monotone beige walls and floors, unclear signage, and if I had a question I wasn’t sure who was an actual employee or just another customer.  The check out line was so long it was winding throughout the entire front of the store. I watched people abandon their items midway through the line. Piles of random clothes and products were collecting on tables and surfaces near the registers- signs of defeat.

I was continually comparing this particular experience to all the good experiences I’d had in the past.  I was actually defining problems that were extremely obvious to me over and over… and I was constantly thinking, “It could be better.”

After leaving the store, I took some time to reflect on my experience. Was it just me who saw so many things that went wrong? I again compared to other shopping experiences, that left entirely better impressions on me upon my first experience. I then realized was that avoidances are actually completely dependent on other experiences to measure the  “percent of quality” in a service.

Bitner is missing a piece.

She is missing the personal experiences that each customer brings to the service before even entering. They have notes to compare to, and therefore rate services and compare them according to the good and bad services they experience in the past.

pov3_image_01-03-02-02

The image above shows the two possible reactions now with the customer’s past experience weighing into account the overall feelings of the servicescape leaves them with upon comparison. 

 

 

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Co-creation and Service Blueprints

The experience a person has with a product or service has always been important, but as the five star customer experience has increasingly become the norm, a “good experience” just doesn’t cut it anymore. “Exceptional” and “terrible” are memorable, leaving “good” to fall by the wayside.

In order to deliver such a memorable interaction, the consolidation of all touch points of a service must be established. But how do you do this in a way that is innovative in providing value to your customer and your organization?

This is something that Mary Jo Bitner explores in her paper “Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation.” Bitner explains that there is an immense lack of innovation in the designing of services as compared to the constant innovation of tangible, stand alone products.

All businesses are services at some level, and more attention needs to be paid to the designing and crafting of the service in order for a business to differentiate itself from the competition. Bitner offers up one method for such innovation: Service Blueprinting.

“…service blueprinting can facilitate the detailed refinement of a single step in the customer process as well as the creation of a comprehensive, visual overview of an entire service process.”

You can think of service blueprinting as a participatory design exercise where the stakeholders (executives, employees and customers) get together and analyze the current state of a service and collaboratively design the ideal state. Together, they visually model all the components of the service process. With all perspectives accounted for, service blueprinting can be a powerful tool for insight and innovation.

As a cross sectional view of the entire system, it forces people to stand up, look around and reframe their understanding of the effect they are having on each other as well as the system as a whole.

I can see how this is a powerful participatory design tool. It’s a form of problem modeling by dynamically reframing the problem through multiple perspectives. While the final blueprint is important in laying out the vision for the service, the co-creation makes it so any changes made to the existing service are more willingly adopted.

Bitner explains that once designed, the blueprint acts as a constant collaboration tool that can be referenced and iterated on as the service evolves and the company grows. This left me wanting to know more. How can it be properly iterated upon without collaboration and feedback? The blueprints form a vision for the company– Once implemented, how is the vision carried on through new employees?

I imagine there needs to be a continuous co-creation process.

I question the power of the form of the blueprints following the co-creation and implementation. I’m not sure if delivered as is, they would resonate with new employees who did not help create them. It would seem that if you have total buy-in from employees who were a part of the creative process, then your best bet of getting new adoption is by example. This provides an opportunity to transfer the value of the blueprint to another form of delivery.

The blueprint could take the form of a series of learning experiences. Possibly, on-boarding for new employees could involve being a customer for a day as well as working in adjacent departments. This would encourage a shared perspective and possibly continue the co-creation process.

The power of service blueprinting lies in the collaborative experience that allows for a shared understanding and visualization of current breakdowns and opportunities for change. It works because those who will be most affected are fully involved in the process. I’m curious how this method could be applied to larger constructs such as education and city planning.

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Focusing on real customers

In our Service Design class at AC4D, we’ve been reading a paper co-authored by Mary Jo Bitner, Edward M. Carson Chair of Service Marketing at Arizona State University. In “ Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation,” Bitner introduces the idea of service blueprinting as a tool to help the design of services, one that takes into account the ideas of time, space, and other considerations particularly relevant to delivery of services. A service blueprint, she explains, is a graphic model that shows the processes of a service over time, including both the customer and organizational components. Bitner emphasizes throughout the text that the customer’s perspective is of primary importance in the creation of service blueprints, so that the redesigned or newly created service will also be customer-centric. However, in some of the cases that she presents as evidence for the efficacy of service blueprinting, I see a varying degree of customer involvement. I agree with Bitner that customer input is of utmost importance, and I think some of the case studies she shares actually show the tepid results insufficient customer involvement can create.

Bitner says that “all relevant parties”—employees, managers, executives—and “in many cases customers or clients,” should be involved in the making of a service blueprint to get everyone’s perspective, buy-in, and to formulate clearly defined roles and expectations. In terms of customer involvement, I don’t think that goes far enough. The customer perspective—from the actual customer, not from what employees/companies think that the customer does, thinks, or feels—is necessary to model the actual difficulties, unmet expectations, and also the successful interactions a company is providing in its service. In some of Bitner’s examples, it seems like the “customer-focus” is coming from executives’ or employees’ ideas about customers, and not from the customers themselves. While a service blueprint without the customer perspective may still have some value in terms of getting employees and managers “on the same page” with their service by creating a reference-able visual of roles, opportunities for change, or innovation, the blueprints need actual customer input to have a greater chance at success.

For example, Bitner provides a high-level service blueprint of a one-night stay in a hotel. Her model shows a customer’s actions like this:

pov4_image1

The article leads me to believe she included this blueprint as a hypothetical, but even so, I have a hard time believing that the customer journey is really so tidy. She says, “the goal is to capture the entire customer service experience from the customer’s point of view in the blueprint.” Later, in her instructions on how to make a service blueprint, she tells readers to “map the service as it happens most of the time.” The diagram below represents a high-level process for service blueprinting as laid out in the article:

pov4_image2

I think that for companies that are not already closely observing how customers actually interact with their services, it would be greatly surprising to see how far actual customer experiences deviate from the norm that managers and executives construct in their minds. The difference is easy to understand. How difficult it must be for managers and executives—who are preoccupied with running the service and all the pieces that are hidden to customers—to come to that fresh perspective that a customer would have. Placing the customer into the blueprinting process would look more like this:

pov4_image3

Bitner provides several examples of companies that have used service blueprints in their re-design and innovation efforts. Some cases are explained in more detail than others. I think part of that level of detail is due to the level of actual customer involvement and resulting actual improvements in the service. In particular, the contrast between Yellow Transportation and Aramark is notable. Yellow went from “worst to first” within 10 years on Fortune Magazine’s “Least Admired” and “Most-Admired” companies lists. Bitner chalks the victory up to several initiatives including the design of new services, service improvement, and “driving customer-focused change.” These initiatives were supported by service blueprinting. In new service innovation, the blueprinting process started with an “‘ideal guaranteed express service’ from the customer’s point of view.” It’s not clear that actual customers gave this input (although they may have), and because it was ‘ideal’ it must not have mapped current experience. In terms of service improvement, Yellow took “input from business customers and it’s employees (including 20,000 teamster truck drivers).” From this they realized the importance of “driver touch points” in which teamster drivers were the face of the company. For a blueprint that is supposed to hold the customer’s perspective as paramount, there’s a lot of emphasis on employee input. It’s probably not coincidental that the redesign also put the drivers front and center. All this may have been a real improvement for customers, but I wonder how much richer design solutions could have been that really took customer perceptions into account.

Compare the story of Yellow with that of Aramark Parks and Resorts. Their Lake Powell Resorts in Arizona faced serious business declines. To address the issue, the Marketing Director created a service blueprint from the customer perspective. Again, it doesn’t seem like the company used actual first-person customer input, but she went out in the field to take photos and video to see through their eyes. She found really particular details about how customers had to create grocery lists, carry heavy bags down a big hill, and anchor an unwieldy houseboat, among others. That level of detail makes me think she came to the research with an open mind and observed real customers. The resulting redesigns gained the company 50% fewer complaints, increase of repeat business by 12%, and increased customer satisfaction. Compare those results to Yellow’s. Yellow got better ratings in a magazine, “impressive financial results,” “awards,” and “continued growth.” Those are important successes, but are they as meaningful as customers complaining less and coming back for more? The differences in these cases may be a result of the way their stories are told, but I also think the closer a company gets to actual customer usage of a service, the better the redesign will be.

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Invisible servicescapes, tangible effects

Mary Jo Bitner, Edward M. Carson Chair in Service Marketing at Arizona State University, published a paper in 1992 called, “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees. We’re reading this text in our Service Design class to get a perspective on the physical aspects of service design. By “servicescapes,” Bitner is referring to manmade, built environments in which services take place, and she’s interested in their effect on the people involved in the service rendered—both the employee and the customer. Bitner states that, “The relative level of involvement of customers and employees determines whose needs should be consulted in the design of the environment.” I’m not so sure, though. I think that in complex services the needs of the ultimate user—the customer—should be considered even in physical environments they will never encounter.

Where are these places customers never see? Not all services are the same, and it follows that the accompanying servicescapes would be different as well. Bitner creates a framework that separates services by the type of servicescape they operate in. Categories of service are self-service, interpersonal service, and remote service, and these categories create a spectrum of the type of people affected by their servicescapes. Bitner shows that the physical environment of self-service businesses affect customers, while the servicescape of interpersonal services affect both customers and employees, and the environment of remote services, such as a “telephone company” affect only employees. The framework looks like this (I’ve highlighted remote services in gray to focus on this section):

IDSE202_pov3_servicescape

Is it true though, that the physical environment of a service workspace only affects the people directly engaged in the space? I looked particularly at Bitner’s example of the telephone company as a servicescape that affects employees-only. In 1992, when this article was written, telephone companies were mostly concerned with telephones. People mostly had landlines. Cell phones were starting to take off. In the 2000s, cell phones became computers, with data plans and increased complexity. In researching the progression of telephones, I looked at the AT&T site for history of the company. It describes the change for AT&T as “evolving from a long distance company to an integrated voice and data communications company, as an ever increasing percentage of the traffic on its network was data, and to a lesser extent, video, rather than voice.” The websites goes on to say they then launched an Internet service. Not only is the product more complex, but the company becomes more complex as well. There are multiple offerings, and multiple expertises needed to run those offerings. The site goes on to explain that in 2000, “AT&T had three rapidly evolving networks—data, broadband and wireless, and four separate businesses—cable, wireless, business, and consumer.” That array of offerings seems vastly more complicated than what the company started with.

I never worked for a telephone company and can’t speak at all to AT&T’s practices, but one outcome I have seen in instances where businesses face increased complexity is siloed work practices. When there are departments within a business, each has their own goals to meet, and sometimes those goals are in conflict. It’s a small step from grouping employees into departments to physically changing the workspace to make departments more “productive.” Desks get grouped together, war rooms emerge, floors are re-arranged. None of that is necessarily wrong, but it may have unintended consequences. The resulting touchpoints (again, thinking about “telephone companies”) that a customer faces, such as physical stores and a website, etc., may end up the unintended victims of disjointedness within the company. For example, on a “telephone company” website, if different departments are running different portions of the site, or using different advertising agencies to help create the look and content, it’s difficult without extreme, overarching organization to make the site cohesive and simple for the customer. Customers may even come to a point where they need to log in multiple times to navigate between services represented on the website.

Bitner groups servicescape effects loosely into two categories: organizational goals and marketing goals. Organizational goals, such as productivity, motivation, or employee satisfaction, may be the outcome of changing the physical workspace with employee needs in mind. Marketing goals, such as customer satisfaction and attraction, are affected by the impact of servicescapes on customers. But in terms of organizational goals, how can you define employee “productivity” without taking the customer into account? Outside of a monopoly where customers can’t leave, what is “productivity” if it doesn’t involve customer happiness with the service?

With increased complexity of service offerings, it’s difficult to think of a servicescape that just affects the employee. Bitner’s framework for the effect of servicescapes on employees and customers involved in remote services might be updated to look like the diagram below. Note the conflicting goals of employees and the breakdown a customer faces because of it. Depending on the number of departments and conflicting interests, conflicts like this could multiply accordingly.

IDSE202_pov3_complexservice

A feedback loop from the customer, which affects the business practices of a remote company (including the physical servicescape in which the service is conducted) can mitigate the breakdowns that result from complexity. The diagram below represents what that might look like. In conclusion, even in servicescapes the customer will never encounter, user-centered design—with the broadest definition of “users” who are not even physically present—plays an important role in meeting both organizational and marketing objectives.

IDSE202_pov3_usercentered_servicescape

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Servicescapes + Mental Models

I thought our latest reading in Service Design: “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees”, by Mary Jo Bitner, was an interesting investigation into the role of the physical space in the service constellation. I use “constellation”, because the servicescape only a facet of a much larger picture.

As defined by Bitner, a servicescape is the built environment of where a service takes place.

In order to illustrate how a company considers the design of a built environment to either better motivate employees, attract customers, or both, Bitner identifies three types of servicescapes:

PositionDiagram03-01

With this model the servicescape acts as a facilitator by either supporting or hindering “the ability of customers and employees to carry out their respective activities.”

Bitner acknowledges that it’s more complicated than delineating service into three typologies. After all, you are dealing with humans. With this in mind, she attempts to create a framework for understanding the emotional, cognitive and physiological responses people have with a space and how one could take this into consideration when developing a built environment in which to deliver a service.

For me, the main takeaway of this exploration was that perception of a service is highly based on a person’s mental model of the world– their interaction (or lack thereof) with a service is a result of such. In designing a service and considering such touch points as the physical space, where the service is crafted and experienced at the point of interaction, there is an opportunity here to shift someone’s mental model. Thus, a servicescape has a reach much further than the four walls of the built environment.

PositionDiagram03-02

I think the physical space has an opportunity to play an integral role in the experience of a service, but it can never replace the capacity of human to human interaction to shape an individual’s perception of a brand.

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The Multi-Disciplinary Grey Area

In “Interaction Design and Service Design: Expanding a Comparison of Design Disciplines”, Stefan Holmlid is trying to make sense of the ever-evolving design world by mapping the differences and overlaps of design disciplines. Specifically, he explores service design’s relationship with interaction design and industrial design.

First, let me first make one thing clear – when he talks about interaction design, he is specifically talking about interaction design with the digital material, IxD. Industrial design as the design of goods, and service design as “…a human-centered approach to […] systematically applying design methodology and principles to the design of services.”

His separation of interaction design and IxD is not very clear, as he only hints at the relationship of interaction design as a design oder that both IxD and service design sit within:

PositionDiagram02-1

In order to make sense of this evolution and better define the problems each discipline can solve, he illustrates where the merging of disciplines is taking place and where the separation is retained by pushing the characteristics of the disciplines through two different frameworks. The first is a design order and the other is a comparative framework.

The comparative framework he uses is an interesting approach, but leaves much to be desired: Highly, Somewhat, Not Significantly

Heres a quick example of how he uses this framework:
“>Service design production is highly physical, highly virtual, and highly ongoing
>Industrial design production is highly physical, not significantly virtual […], and not significantly ongoing
>Interaction design production is not significantly physical, highly virtual […], and somewhat ongoing”

He is attempting to make sense of how design disciplines are beginning to merge, but the manner in which he attempts to compare them is just as murky as the changes themselves.

The results of this analysis reorganize his first definition of how the disciplines relate and it looks more like this:

PositionDiagram02-2

He comes to the conclusion that service design cannot operate independently, but rather “depends on specialist competence from interaction as well as industrial design.” It’s very clear that he is attempting to keep the boundaries rigid around each discipline–but why?

Why must we so rigidly define the design discipline? Are we uncomfortable with its fluidity? It seems as though the more we rigidly define disciplines, the more we are attempting to separate them– when it’s becoming more and more apparent that silos are a failing construct. Do we separate for the sake of ego, for understanding, for the sake of ‘knowing what to do next’?

I would like to know what this means in context of interaction design. So I brought it back in the next diagram to better understand how it all fits together. I think each boundary is permeable. This is the beautiful part of the design world. It’s in constant flux because it is all about attempting to make sense of the world around us–which is in constant flux. If and when the definition is solidly defined, it will only be temporary.

PositionDiagram02-3

More and more each design discipline is being described as a “multidisciplinary field” – it seems as though this evolution and declaration of disciplines merging, becoming more concerned with the end user, and how things connect to provide possibilities to delight, we are more and more mirroring the ecosystem that we design for in the first place. The more human-centered we become, the more important it is to use storytelling instead of processes in order to make sense of a situation and explore possibilities for innovation rather than incremental improvement.

As designers, we are trying to make sense of a world that we are having a hand in changing. Once again, thinking about each design discipline as it’s own entity seems so suffocating and ancient. I think the separation comes in as a way of describing actions and thought processes. What a designer “should” think about is only expanding because it’s becoming increasingly more obvious and crucial to think systemically– accounting for all aspects of delivering a thing.

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Service with a Smile: The Role of Emotion in Service Design

In our Service Design class this week, we’re reading a paper on interaction design and service design by Stefan Holmlid, a researcher and educator at Linkoping University. The article was written to establish common ground and differentiation between disciplines to “create supportive structures” between them. Borrowing from a framework developed by Edeholt and Lowgren, Holmlid explores the design process, materials, and deliverables of each discipline. The framework originally compared Ixd (the digital component of Interaction Design) with industrial design. Holmlid adds service design as a comparator because he sees use in establishing boundaries between service design and Ixd. He believes that the boundaries between the two have become more fluid with the integration of digital touchpoints in service design.

To better understand this structure, I created a map of the author’s framework for comparing disciplines:

pov2_framework1_LG

The map represents a high-level view of the the framework for comparison without delving into the particular distinctions of each discipline. The structure is fairly suitable for comparing industrial design and IxD, as it was originally intended. But, I don’t think it’s a complete-enough frame for service design. I did not come away from the reading with a much better sense of what service design is, and I think it’s because emotion is one of the defining pieces that makes up service design.

When one experiences a service, the thing one remembers most is feeling. But remembering emotion is different than feeling in the moment, and also different from emotion in anticipation of the experience. Because it is such an integral piece of service design, and because emotion does play a part in IxD and industrial design that is overlooked by the original framework, I have modified the map here:

pov2_frame2_LG

In adding the component of emotion, we can recognize that emotion is an integrated part of design, as much as process, material, and deliverables. This modifies the framework so that it can be used to measure the boundaries of service design as much as industrial design and IxD. Additionally, the new framework can take into account that industrial design and IxD also have an emotional component that follows a past-present-future arc, though arguably less so than service design. Lastly, I believe that process, material, deliverable, and emotion are all interconnected, not just as items within a framework, and have indicated one path by which they are connected, as signified by arrows. As new disciplines and areas of exploration in design arise, other comparative dimensions may need to be added within the structure.

 

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Convergence & Alternate Reality Games

The first reading this quarter of AC4D’s Service Design course comes from Adam Richardson, a director at the global innovation firm Frog Design, from a chapter focused on Convergence from his book “Innovation X: Why a Company’s Toughest Problems are Its Greatest Advantage.”  We were tasked with synthesizing this reading by passing the concepts through a framework of our choosing.  The framework I’ll be using below is that of the Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

As I read this chapter on convergence, the content continually reminding me of the format of Alternate Reality Games.  ARGs are games that blur the lines between reality and fiction by employing multimedia touchpoints (posters, phone calls, graffiti, videos, puzzles, actors, forums) to guide players through a narrative that takes place in the real world.  The movie “The Game” with Michael Douglass, for example, centers around an ARG, there is a recent documentary called “The Institute” about an ARG called “The Jejune Institute” that took place in San Francisco from 2008 to 2011, and this style of game has also been employed by various groups & businesses as a marketing tool: “I Love Bees” (Xbox/Halo), “Year Zero” (Nine Inch Nails) & “Last Call Poker” (Neversoft).

The implementation of various products, and the orchestration of touchpoints, fits well with Richardson’s definition of convergence as “Integration of multiple products (hardware, software, services) and customer touchpoints to provide functionality, benefits, and a customer experience that would be impossible in a stand-alone product.” Because the boundaries of the ARG ecosystem are intentionally blurry, and because they employ such a diverse range of products & touchpoints to achieve their goal, I thought it would be interesting to see how Richardson’s ideas apply to an atypical and extreme example of convergence and see if there might be areas where his framework is too constrained.

As I went through his reading, his tactic of using a Customer Journey Map to analyze customer touchpoints stood out to me as overly simplified and unrelated to the ARG ecosystem.  For the customer journey map he gives the structure of:

Engage>Buy>Use>Share>Complete

Engage = When the customer first becomes aware of a need and seeks a solution
Buy = the purchase process itself
Use = the Out of Box experience; beginner v. expert use; modification and customization; routine based usage
Share = customers become evangelists, complainers, or indifferent.
Complete = Repeat customers; disposal; recycling

For starters, engagement in an ARG is not as straight forward as our author makes it seem.  Most of the time a customer engages with the ARG out of sheer curiosity, with no real need, and no real problem in need of a solution.  In this case, the engagement process is much more nebulous and blurry than “customer has need & seeks out solution.”

Also, in ARG’s purchases are most often made after or during use.  The idea “buying” always occurring prior to “use” is inaccurate in this case and in many other cases as well.  We’re seeing this more often in digital applications, where customers first engage and use products for free, and then end up purchasing add-ons to enhance their experience.  In those cases, “Buying” occurring prior to “use” is simply inaccurate.

Beyond the misordering of “Buy” & “Use”, he also over-simplifies and misorders the sharing concept.  In ARG’s the sharing is often based on curiosity, “What is this?” or “Have you seen this weird thing?” which in most cases seems to occur prior to the user having formed a definitive opinion about the experience.  This type of sharing doesn’t seem to fit under evangelists, complainers or middle-of-the-roaders as he suggests.

Finally, since the customer facing boundaries of ARG’s tend to be intentionally blurry in order to enhance the customer experience of fiction and real-life appearing to overlap, the idea of completion takes on a whole new definition (and may not end at all).  Within many ARG’s the stories within the real world continue on after the game has “completed” in the form of fan generated narratives supported by structures put in place by the creators.  In this case, the “repeat customer; disposal; recycle” concepts do not seem to fit.  Additionally, we see this with many digital applications now where products are continually updated and improved without a discernible end to the product’s life-cycle, and without a need to focus on repeat customers, disposal or recycling.

While much of the reading remains relevant to the extreme & atypical format of an Alternate Reality Game, it’s interesting to see the places where it is not relevant.  Moreover, the places where it was not relevant to ARGs also gave birth to insights surrounding ways in which Mr. Richardson’s framework was not relevant to other emerging trends in the digital marketplace.  From this I see both the danger of developing a methodology based on traditional business models and the value of considering “edge cases” for evaluating methodologies.

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User-centered sustainability

In our second quarter, we have begun to study Service Design. Our readings began with a chapter on “Convergence,” from Innovation X by Adam Richardson. One point raised in class was that some of Richardson’s arguments are from a business-oriented perspective, rather than a user-centered one. There are good reasons to present arguments from a business perspective, but to create truly useable and successful design ideas, a user-centered perspective is often highly desirable. In light of this observation, I examined Richardson’s argument about sustainability as a convergence challenge and opportunity.

To take one step back, Richardson defines “Convergence” as the “integration of multiple products (hardware, software, and services), and customer touchpoints to provide functionality, benefits, and a customer experience that would be impossible in a stand-alone product.” He argues that sustainability is a particular challenge and opportunity for convergence.  The term “sustainability” can be applied to many things, but at first mention Richardson specifies environmental sustainability. My mental model of environmental sustainability is of an eco-oriented practice that ensures natural resources for the future. Richardson states that, “sustainability is increasingly a competitive differentiator, as well as becoming necessary for regulatory compliance.” He also says that sustainability can spur new business models (eg. as customers move from ownership of products to shared products). He shares an example where HP was able to reduce packaging, resulting in lowered transportation costs, among other gains.

So it seems that sustainability, as he means it, is comprised of (1) competitive differentiation, (2) compliance, (3) cost efficiency, (4) opportunity for new business, and also (5) an environment/resource benefit. Richardson’s use of the word simultaneously makes the term more specific (applying it to concrete practices) and less specific (removing it from the nature and resources). It seems that “sustainability,” a fashionable term, is more a provocation for new business ideas than a goal in itself. If that ends up creating mores environmentally sustainable solutions, that’s wonderful, but is it the best method?

Here is sustainability as I thought of it previous to the reading:

sustainability

Here is what I think “sustainability” is made up of according to the text:

business_sustainability

Again, these terms seem to come from a business-oriented perspective. If “sustainability” for Richardson is a business imperative that can drive a product to success, would a user-centered one-to-one corollary to his model create better solutions?

This is one idea of what that might look like:

user_sustainability

How would this change resulting design ideas? It’s very hard to say without going through the process, but at least it would begin by addressing the things users themselves care about. If the point of convergence is to create “higher quality and more comprehensive experiences customers are seeking,” beginning with customers is a good way to start.

 

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Exploring Convergence

In chapter 4 of Innovation X, Richardson explains the concept of convergence and how it relates to identifying problem spaces and opportunities for innovation within new and existing products and companies. He defines convergence as “…the integration of multiple products and customer touch points to provide functionality, benefits, and a customer experience that would be impossible in a stand-alone product.”

Convergence is an avenue to systemically addressing the increasing quality expectations of consumers, seamless experiences, and the need for market differentiation. Such a holistic approach just makes sense. It increases the responsibility of companies to understand how and what they produce fits into a larger whole – if not for the sake of market differentiation but for the sake of creating sustainable, conscious products.

The goal of convergence is to have the ecosystem and the touch points work smoothly together. This happens when each is informing the other, thus the ecosystem and the exploration of the touch points must be constantly fluid and flexible. Understanding the customer experience and identifying the problem and opportunity spaces lays the framework for building a functional ecosystem that is flexible and can adapt over time.

In order to make sense of how Richardson describes convergenceI, I’ve illustrated the convergence journey through my interpretation of it being a systemic, human centered approach to design.

PositionDiagram01-3-02

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