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Category Archives: Theory

Impact is Personal

When it comes down to it, there is a problem with our current culture of development. We have the best intentions to create change and drive impact but the culture of scale, numbers and metrics and immediacy get in the way of actually succeeding at this. While I agree that it’s really difficult to continue to get funding for projects that don’t have a concrete method of showing progress, or any guarantee of success, I believe that there needs to be a cultural shift of expectations. Expectations that are built around honoring the personal, local nuances of the individual communities we are trying to help.

Impact through Behavior Change

To help set the stage, I want to talk about how Jon Kolko describes experience in his article, Our Misguided Focus on Brand and User Experience A pursuit of a “total user experience” has derailed the creative pursuits of the Fortune 500.

“An experience cannot be built for someone. Fundamentally, one has an experience, and that is experience is always unique.”

It’s very personal. As designers, we can design the scaffold around the experience but the actual experience is completely out of our control. So essentially, the affect of what we put into the world is fairly unpredictable. Which can be kind of scary.

It’s important to note that even though the outcome is out of our control, this does not relinquish us from responsibility. While Kolko’s article gives a nod to large scale, his emphasis is on the importance of recognizing the role we play in shaping human behavior, from the individual and how that scales to an entire culture, organically. What we put into the world has an impact. Whether the thing is adopted or rejected, people adapt and therefore culture changes.

If we take a moment to think about how personal an experience is for an individual, and that individual is connected to a community of people who have their own personal understandings of the world, we can begin to see the intricacies that make up a culture, and even more importantly the intricacies that any kind of impact will need to consider.

Impact through Iteration

In Michael Hobbes’ article, Stop Trying to Save the World: Big ideas are destroying international development, he begins the discussion of how we handle aid development is broken. He has a couple of different examples of how we have developed this pattern of one-size fits all– Where one type of aid works in one community so let’s scale it and put it in all the communities that need aid. It’s almost like a commoditization of aid.

Nothing is one size fits all– you have to test it, test it again, then test it again. This is not sexy by mainstream standards. This is where our culture of impact is broken. There’s a viral component to sexy which breeds scale. It’s easy for the masses to wrap their head around a solution that is simple and has the story of big impact. It’s much more difficult to be counter culture and to paint the picture of how change really happens– over time, is dependent on so many factors that are complex and interconnected, and we don’t know if it’s going to work, but we sure as hell are going to try. (Which is sexy.) This is where our culture of impact needs to change.

What happens after deployment is just as important as what happens in the design thinking phase. If we connect Kolko’s article to Hobbes’, one thing becomes very clear: We must execute with intention and build in space for reflection and iteration. We should respect the bigger system that is in play here and be humbled by the absolute fact that there is no way we will get it spot on, and that we will have to take our time and work at it.

Impact through Emergence

In Annel Karnani’s paper, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage completely refutes Prahalad’s stance that by expanding economic reach to the untapped market of the poor, not only can businesses thrive, but including the poor in market strategies might help “end economic isolation”.

Karnani emphasizes that the real fortune at the bottom of the pyramid is allowing growth to come from within, that the place for outside markets is to create producers out of the poor rather than simple consumers. Allowing the space for the emergence of local change and progress. Which could be about helping meet basic, fundamental needs, or working with local governments to make change as a way of empowerment from within rather than impact from without. And yes, this would take some time, this wouldn’t be fast, and it would be local and personal.

All three to some degree or another argue that no solution can be one size fits all, we must understand that experience and therefore impact is personal, and we cannot control outcomes. Because of this, when we put something into the world, the follow up is just as important as the design phase. We must create the feedback loop.

The impact we have may not have a red bow tied around it. We need to take time to understand the real problem and not allow ourselves to get caught up in the story of scale or profit. If we acknowledge that impact is personal, we can begin to create change that scales in a way that is sustainable and truly lasting.

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Re-Prioritizing Scale to Achieve Cultural Impact in Design

In our Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship class, the first set of readings we were presented with are three viewpoints on how having the best of intentions to help can still lead to the introduction of consequences into the world that don’t leave people better off as we had hoped. With this being our fourth and final quarter as students at Austin Center for Design, understanding the influence we have on people and society as a whole is an important reality for us as designers to grasp.

Michael Hobbes, author of Stop Trying to Save the World uses the example of PlayPump International. This organization came up with the idea of PlayPumps, which are merry-go-rounds hooked up to a water pump that would “harness the energy of children to provide fresh water to sub-Saharan African villages. While the potential impact was extremely compelling to donors and the media earning PlayPumps significant financial support, an unintended consequence of the design made the pumps installed reliant on child labor.

Jon Kolko, author of Our Misguided Focus on Brand and User Experience addresses how marketing and design efforts have emphasized gaining control instead of encouraging behavioral change. The intent to build a relationship with customers is overshadowed by the draw of “gain[ing] efficiencies by producing…exactly as perscribed, in mass.” In applying this mindset to the design of user experiences, we prevent people from being able to “participate and contribute in a meaningful way.”

Finally, Aneel Karnani, author of Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage makes a case for reducing the costs of the goods sold to them or making these individuals producers of the goods themselves in order to affecting the people living in poverty in a positive way. Otherwise, he says, “The only real way to alleviate poverty is to raise the real income of the poor.”

In other words, these three authors present points of views with the metric of success along a spectrum.


Success over time begins first with Hobbes and the novelty that comes with having an idea that attracts a following. He says that it is “a narrative we’re all familiar with by now. Exciting new development idea, huge impact in one location, influx of donor dollars, quick expansion, failure.” From here, the expectation for continued success is to scale the idea up to more people in more locations as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible. In order to garner public and financial support, the viability of a socially impactful idea is met with the pressures to scale. Only then is your idea recognized for its potential to drive behavior change. “PlayPump International…seemed to have thought of everything. The whole package cost just $7,000 to install in each village and could provide water for up to 2,500 people.” They were not addressing behavior change specifically, but were evaluating the idea’s ability to scale from a quantitative perspective. For designers, Kolko addresses this by saying that “Every design decision…contributes to the behavior of the masses, and helps define the culture of our society.” If success continues to occur over time, going down this path, we would expect the output of scaling an idea and driving behavior change to achieve cultural impact. This is where the breakdown occurs. Karnani’s point made here summarizes this breakdown: “Markets of the rural poor are often geographically and culturally fragmented; this combined with weak infrastructure makes it hard to exploit scale economies.”

Should we re-prioritize the notion of scale as the determinant of success over time?

Effective social impact is attached to the perception that an idea must ultimately achieve massive scale in order for it to be determined viable as a success. In other words, the challenge is changing the perception that success is directly proportionate to one’s ability to increase the number of people an idea touches. If we can begin to understand that cultural impact is affected over time by ongoing user testing and feedback followed by iteration, the concept of scale becomes an output of driving behavioral change. As a result, success is achieved by driving cultural impact over time.


What is the value of having user input in a design solution before you determine how an idea will be scaled?

When the novelty that surrounds the potential for making a difference quickly wears off, you might be left with something no one wants to use. You have now invested time and resources into something that you thought would make things better, but actually do not work at all. Re-prioritizing where the scaling of an idea should take place over time allows designers to more effectively shape culture through their work by focusing first on and foremost on behavior change by getting things in front of users, incorporating feedback (or not) and iterating.

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Can a Solution Retain its Effectiveness when Scaled?

This week in our Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship class we looked at three different readings.  One by AC4D founder Jon Kolko called “Our Misguided Focus on Brand,” another by Michael Hobbes called “Stop Trying to Save the World” and the last reading by Aneel Karnani called “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage.”

Each of the readings this week focused primarily on the shortcomings of popular approaches to scaling businesses and international development solutions.  For most people, these shortcomings aren’t surprising.  Just because a solution works for one group of people, does not mean that it will necessarily work for everyone.  To solve problems on a large scale is difficult for this very reason and there are myriad examples of organizations attempting to solve problems in this way only to fail — and in some cases cause more harm than good.

Below is the typical “hockey-curve” of business growth.  It is a common belief that a successful business will have growth that looks similar to this.  You start with a good idea, prove your concept, and then money pours in for you rapidly grow your business in such a way that you end up “owning” your market segment.


As all of our authors point out, this is not the best way to retain effectiveness.  If we map effectiveness against the growth curve, most solutions start off very effective for a small group of people, but as time goes by and the growth frenzy starts effectiveness sharply falls off.


So what we are left with is a chasm between effectiveness and scale.  This is a problem.  In an ideal world, solutions to the world’s problems would retain effectiveness even at scale.  We see this kind of ideal state in scientific solutions, like cures for diseases; the Polio vaccine remained effective at the same time it was scaled to eradicate the disease.

I’m calling this chasm, the “Opportunity Zone” and each of our authors presents a different way to deal with it to increase impact without losing effectiveness (or creating more harm than good).


Kolko’s article “Our Misguided Focus on Brand” discusses how a focus on brand and “owning” a market segment or “owning” an experience misses the mark.  He argues that this attempt at ownership amounts to trying to control the consumer and control will never work. Each consumer (er, person) has a unique experience and attempting to provide them with a one-size-fits all experience is impossible.  Instead, our experiences should be designed to be conversational, providing a give-and-take framework that treats people as the nuanced beings they are.  I believe thinking about problems in this way does a lot to bridge the gap between effectiveness and scale — it also seems a lot easier said than done — but nobody said it was supposed to be easy.


In Hobbes article “Stop Trying to Save the World” he presents a number of examples of international development projects that failed or caused more harm than good.  As I stated earlier, he chalks this up to the reality that what amounts to a solution for one group of people does not necessarily amount to a solution for every group of people.  Instead of hurriedly scaling every solution we come across, he suggests that we continually test each roll-out of the solution– before, after and constantly — to make sure it remains effective.

Below is Hobbes’ solution graphed in terms of effectiveness and scale.  His solution while logically sound, would be inordinately expensive, would slow any hopes of large-scale impact, and does not bridge the gap between effectiveness and scale.  While he argues against quick, large-scale impact as a goal– whether we like it or not these are the projects that attract attention and funding, and so I believe it makes more sense to figure out ways to minimize negative impact, increase probability of success and not fight the appeal of scale.


Karnani, in our final reading “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage” argues against the notion presented by CK Prahalad that there is a fortune to be made for large Multinational Corporations by selling to the poor.  He provides a thorough refutation of Prahalad’s arguments, and argues instead of focusing on selling to the poor we should look at them as producers and focus on increasing the real income of people by reducing prices of goods sold to them (by giving them the option to purchase lower-quality goods that they need) and by facilitating the growth of labor intensive (low-skill) enterprises.

The problem with this solution is that by inserting methods of production into a culture, there will certainly be unintended consequences.  Moreover, in order for production as a solution to make sense monetarily, it will have to produce goods at a lower price than they can be currently be purchased and as Karnani argues himself, there are many logistical issues that keep that from being a possibility.



Thoughts? Comments? See below.

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Products in the Wild

At AC4D, our class has started the quarter with readings by Michael Hobbes, writer for the New Republic, Aneel Karnani, Professor at the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan, and our teacher, Jon Kolko. We discussed the readings as a class with a focus on “intentions.” The texts point to a variety of actors with various intentions. Hobbes illuminates problems that arise in international development when it is the intent of NGOs to scale solutions they’ve designed for particular locales. Karnani takes the “Bottom of the Pyramid” concept (and specifically, CK Prahalad, a visible proponent of BOP) to task over the intent to declare multinational corporations the optimal actors for lifting the poor out of poverty by treating them as consumers. And Kolko argues that marketers’ and designers’ intent to “own” a space or a consumer through prescriptive brand messaging and creation of a definitive experience is misguided.

Intention implies an end-goal. To get an idea from conception to scale (an endpoint recognized, if not necessarily approved of, by these three authors), the actor requires a degree of control. But how much control does a designer have on their product once it’s released into the world and other peoples’ hands? I have analyzed the readings by Hobbes, Karnani, and Kolko on two axes; the first represents to what degree a designer or creator can determine use of their products (including products, services, and systems) once they are used by others, and the second is on the authors’ belief in the benefit or harm of bringing a product to scale.


The Harm of Scale 

The subtitle of the article by Michael Hobbes reads, “Big ideas are destroying international development.” The key word here is “big.” Hobbes uses PlayPump, a water pump/children’s play-wheel created by PlayPump International (NGO), to demonstrate his view that products brought to scale without testing it in each place (village by village, in this case) do not provide benefit and often actively harm populaces who receive these solutions. PlayPump, designed in South Africa to harness the kinetic energy of children at play to draw water for villages, launched to great acclaim and support from celebrities and investors. Not long after grants were put to work, several news organizations reported on broken pumps, the small amount of water that could be harnessed by “play,” and scenes of adult women working the pumps as manual labor. Hobbes blames the tedium of his point as the reason the drive to scale continues, claiming that “no one will ever be invited to explain that in a TED talk.” Implied in his argument is the idea that a designer simply cannot control the outcome of her work when it’s being used in the world. If the idea hasn’t been tested in a particular locale, the amount of harm it may cause should outweigh the drive to scale.

A Middle Ground

Aneel Karnani, like Hobbes, takes some issue with the drive to scale. The BOP proposition claims that multi-national corporations can make money by selling products to poor consumers. Karnani takes apart some of the financials that back up the BOP assertion, claiming that the BOP market is much smaller than proponents state. He highlights some factors that make selling to the poor at scale problematic: “the poor are often geographically dispersed […] and culturally heterogeneous. This dispersion of the rural poor increases distribution and marketing costs and makes it difficult to exploit economies of scale. Weak infrastructure […] further increases the cost of doing business. Another factor leading to high costs is the small size of each transaction.” In particular, the examples of dispersion, cultural differences, and spotty infrastructure indicate that Karnani believes the creators of products do not have control over the fate of their products once they are released. Because of these obstacles, they may never even be used. He backs up his claim with numerous examples of companies who tried to sell to the poor at scale and failed, or veered into a different market than intended. Annapurna salt, for instance, found some success not in selling to the poor, as intended, but in “surprise niche markets such as college students living in hostels.” Even “selling” microcredit to the poor do not scale in Karnani’s argument, as he claims successful entrepreneurship as an outcome is limited to exceptional “heart-warming anecdotes,” but not the rule. However, the author points out a companies that successfully sold at scale, but not multi-national scale. Nirma, a detergent in India that compromises quality for affordability, was created by Karsanbhai Patel in his kitchen, and successfully took over the market formerly dominated by a product from Hindustan Lever Limited. This suggests that Karnani might support scale to a point, though not to the extent of multi-national scale.

Scale as A Method for Building Culture

Jon Kolko writes that designers can, and should, “encourage behavioral change and explicitly [shape] culture in a lasting and positive way.” The caveat here is his qualifier, “if there is a future for designers and marketers in big business.” Kolko is specifically writing about products at scale. Creating a product is “an implicit way of extending a designer’s reach,” and the product, with its implicit viewpoint, is a building block of culture. Therefore, as shapers of culture, bringing design solutions to scale is a beneficial thing. Designers then must be cognizant of what they put into the world, as culture-building in this manner is their “responsibility.” Yet, in an effort to make a case against what he sees as a traditional mind-set in marketing and user experience, Kolko points out that interaction between a person and a designed artifact is like a “conversation,” and that “people (pardon, the consumers) [need] to actually participate and contribute in a meaningful way” to the products they come into contact with. In sum, his argument about control over designs produced at scale seems to be that designers do not have all of the control, although they assume all of the responsibility for their work in the world. Unlike the other authors, Kolko does not specifically reference design ideas being brought to scale across cultures, rather than within a culture, so his viewpoint about scaling may not take into account the scope the of the other two texts.

My opinion comes back to intention. The graph indicates that for those who believe that creators of a product can tend to it even after it’s been used by others then it is beneficial to scale. For those who believe the use of a product cannot be predicted once it’s left the creator’s hands, the potential harm of scaling outweighs the good. Though I do not believe a designer has control over their product once it’s in the hands of people who use it, I do think the intention behind the product matters. PlayPumps may not have worked, but its creators put effort into making the world better, and that matters. Attempting to bring a solution that has worked for some to scale matters, even if it fails, so long as we can learn from the failure.

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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:


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:


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:


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):


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.


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.


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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:


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.


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:


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:


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.


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:


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:


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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