Service design and systemic thinking

A transcript from her talk at the colloquium on metadesign on 28th June 2007

By Daniela Sangiorgi

I tried to read some material that you send to Rachel to get a better understanding, and when I read the agenda I was thinking of how we can educate metadesigners, and talking about urban planning but I am not an expert on urban planning so I said “ Ok, I will talk –of course- of what I know”.
Actually, I just moved to the UK. I have been working in the Politecnico di Milano with Ezio Manzini and other professors and my specialization is in Service Design. I made a PhD on this topic and I have been working mostly on design research on different topics but mostly my specialization is in Service Design.
Now I work with Rachel Cooper and she is creating this new team of research which is called “Imaginational Lancaster” which is within the University of Lancaster and the vision is to create interdisciplinary projects for creating, imag2ining the future, future places, future systems…
The idea is that design thinking supports and creates the possibility, the platform to create interdisciplinary research and projects.
What I could see as a kind of frequent word in this document that I read about metadesign was ‘complexity’ and actually this is quite a used word when we describe the contemporary world. So, what about design and complexity?
I will show a few slides to explain how design should change, what is important now in the design practice that we are dealing with in a more complex society.

Should design, I don’t know if I am talking about education, educate new designers or metadesigners? but surely there should be more awareness of what are the main issues of the contemporary world. So, it means that design should embrace and interpret this contemporary issue, which it means sustainability but also be able to understand social trends, contemporary social trends and potentialities of technology. So innovation lies in the encounter among these different phenomenons and potentialities. We know that design is dealing with a complex world, this means that you cannot really isolate the problem from the big picture, and this is an image that represents one of the possible topics which are really representing how design is now really something dealing with complexity, like transportation and mobility issues. We deal with an environmental cause, social cause, there are potentially new technological trends, new social trends, that change the ways in which people move and perceive their mobility, and so on.
You cannot just find one solution, one way to deal with this complexity. So, design should be able to recognise and visualize these interdependencies within this complexity, and to foster collaborative innovation processes. So, not just to work as an isolated profession, but more and more working in collaborative processes, and surely the interdisciplinarity is one of the main things that should be supporting the design process of the future.
Designing in a complex world for different levels and possible solutions… we were seeing this morning the presentation of Jo Williams, and in front of this problem of sustainability concerning the augmentation of people living alone, they must provide different solutions… does not mean that one of them was the right one, but we were talking about a product where we were providing different possible directions or solutions. So this means, that in order to face this complexity, it is important to look at different potentialities, and not just to think in terms of single product. This means widenning the perspective of the design practice. The other thing that I see is that design today is more and more about designing or actually designing intangibles, or any way, dealing with intangibles: behaviour, identity, motivations. There is this sentence coming from this discussed paper from the great group of Design Council that solutions to today´s most intractable issues depend a lot on the choices that people make in their daily lives. This means that design can’t just provide the solution, but can try to create the conditions for some kinds of behaviour to emerge. Design is dealing more and more with intangibles.
The other thing is that if complexity grows, there are two things that I see that should grow as well: on one side is collaborative practices. On the other side is the participation; but this means that on one side the designer loses control on the design process. So the more the user is involved in interpreting, designing and developing the solutions, the less designers control this.
On the other hand, design should be able to have a systemic thought in order to face, to deal with, complexity and also be able to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams.
So, why talking about service design in this context and why service design could be an input within the reflection on Metadesign (or what I understood about Metadesign)?
So, surely because it deals with solutions and not with products; because it helps and supports the systemic thought within a design process. Because (design) is more and more becoming experimental and should support collaborative practices, in particularly if we consider services which are used with a more active role. Because services can be considered as a platform for action and socialization, and so designing platforms can be something really specific and stable. So you design a service like a bank or you can design something more open in which users create their own interpretation.

So, one thing is that service design is in terms of solutions and asks for a holistic approach because you can´t design a service without considering the overall picture, because a service is made of organization, technology, behaviours, even interactions… and it is a complex system which should be designed in a holistic way.
I was presenting the idea that designing should be (dealt with) at a larger scale, integrative thinking and service design is already pushing design in this direction. I was talking about the intangible - services are made of both tangible and intangible elements, and service design is dealing with both elements; with physical things which the user interacts with, so it is a physical environment, products, information… but then, there is the organizational model, there is the human interaction dimension which is something that is challenging the way design is facing and working with the traditional tools, to deal with human behaviour and human interactions.

The other thing is that services are made of encounters. When we were talking about service design, you are designing interactions, you are designing each moment when the user interacts with the service. You are designing a user experience.
It is not said that the interaction is one to one. Many services have many-to-many interactions, so the service is actually becoming more complex. So, how design can deal with this?
You are designing a social system... what are you designing? So, this surely challenges the approach and the tools that design should have to deal with and the competences.

The other thing is that when you design a service, you should have a systemic thought and a wider perspective because you can deal with the human-interaction level, the interface level, but also at a wider level, because you are talking about people living in a specific kind of cultural context, or organizational , or companies… so whichever one you do, it is going to influence the overall content. This kind of view is changing the way the designer is working.

As we are talking about encounters, it is also important that service design is able to understand the different perspectives of people participating within the service, but also in some cases, it is also because many people participate, with the design of the service. This means that often, there is the need of a participative approach, in order to reduce potential conflicts to come up towards… so this idea (aims) to include various actors´ perspectives in the design process.
And also because you can create something and bring changes within an organization, but then you always have to know that there are bottom-up adaptation processes which you can´t control. So you can design something, but gradually, this is going to change with time, because people find their own way. So, this means again, leaving it open or giving space for people to participate and to deal with this new context that you are providing.

So, services are more and more about shaping behaviours, besides form. As I was saying, there are some services where you really decide and define what should happen, they are kind of scripted services. But there can be also services which are more open.
But design, actually what service design is, are the conditions that facilitate and enable certain behaviours, so you can have instrumental or social conditions, you can have physical, environmetal tools, but also rules and roles than define how the service would work.
So at this level, maybe, it could be something similar to metadesign… to define the conditions, the instrumental and social conditions, that could support some behaviours to happen, even if you need some, of course, involvement and participatiry approach.

The other thing is that how, when you think about co-design or participative design, can you really anticipate what you are designing? It is not a prototype, a physical prototype like a product, you are designing social conditions, behaviours, which is something difficult to experiment with. This is something that I think I would like to explore at Lancaster because there is a lot of practice based research, which is the experimentation, of technology in particular, with creating, (they call it living labs) situations where you can experiment possible future scenarios in a concrete and real way, with technologies or art based kind of experimentation, instalations and so on… this could also be a possible bridge with design practice to experiment with the future in a real way.

So, we were talking about creating new conditions for new living styles, or creating new life styles… Service design has to deal with designing the platform for new behaviours, or at least, it is evolving in this direction… but this means, on one side… Is the designer ready to accept, to deal with less control, have less control on the design process and also on the design output? And what are the design competences and tools that we envisage for this new design approach?