PhotoSketch: Internet Image Montage from Tao Chen on Vimeo.

Photosketch: Internet Image Montage provides a simple way to make image composites by doodling a picture, adding labels and then letting the engine scour the Internet for suitable photos. Once it has found the most appropriate matches, it composites them together.

I can see lots of awful e-cards and Powerpoint presentations coming out of this, but it would be very useful for putting together prototype sketches for installations and services and it is a pretty remarkable bit of technology.

(Via Richard Banks)

How much is good service worth? £25m for Amazon UK.


(Photo credit: xrrr on Flickr)

Amazon’s entire offering really boils down to two things.

The first is to facilitate a person in a warehouse somewhere picking a book off a shelf and sending it to you. Every other part of the service and online experience is essentially about making that happen ideally as swiftly, effortlessly and enjoyably as possible.

The second is to recommend books to you that you are either considering buying or didn’t even know existed. That part is what all the collaborative filtering (people who bought this also bought that), reviews and rating mechanisms are for. Usually the second point leads to the first – you make a purchase and they send it to you.

Key to this entire service experience is time. It’s quick to find things, quick to find alternatives and quick to get the book once you buy it. If you want to take longer to meander through a bookstore that is one of the (few) advantages bricks and mortar bookstores have. Time is important there too, but in the opposite way, hence the preponderance of cafés in bookstores or café/bookstores. If you feel hustled and harried by the staff to make a purchase and get out, that’s poor service.

If it takes ages for something to arrive from Amazon a large part of the point of Amazon is lost. By ages, I mean more than about a week. That’s the Amazon equivalent of going into a physical bookstore and asking for a book only to hear the response, “We don’t have it in stock, but we can order it for you – it will be here in about four to six weeks”. (Incidentally, does any bookstore worker not think at that moment, “They’re thinking right now”?). Delivery time for Amazon makes almost the entire difference – it’s one of the key advantages along with the enormous inventory that is the pay off to the disadvantage of not being able to browse the physical books.

Amazon is a classic case of a service that is deeply susceptible to the level of service its partners can provide. The Royal Mail, once the envy of the world’s postal services, has gone from bad to worse over the past couple of decades and today the Guardian reports that they have just lost a £25m contract with Amazon because of the current strike. They already lost a smaller £8m contract in the last strikes.

So much is fairly obvious albeit sad. What was particularly interesting from a service design perspective is that the Home Delivery Network (a private, rival service to the Royal Mail) have said, “We are seeing a number of our customers preparing to start marketing their deliveries as free of Royal Mail risk”. When your service is so bad that avoiding using it becomes a selling point for another service or product, you know you have big problems.

Teaching Service Design at Lucerne School of Art and Design

Regular readers of Playpen may have notice things have been somewhat quiet around here recently. There are two reasons for this. One is that Twitter has made an unexpected impact on my blogging. I was quite surprised by this, because it is somewhat of a symbiotic relationship, especially as my tweets are over there in the sidebar. I am yet to make a judgement about whether it is a positive thing that I can comment on something in 140 characters or whether it shows an ever diminishing level of caring about putting together a coherent piece of writing. I’m sure this has affected others out there – has twittering bled your blog dry?


The other, rather more exciting reason, is that I started a new post as a Research Fellow/Lecturer (professor with a small p to you folks in the USA) in Service Design at the Lucerne School of Art and Design, part of the Hochschule Luzern in Switzerland. As the title suggests, it is a mix of research and teaching. I am predominantly teaching on the Masters of Product Design and Management, but dip into a couple of BA courses too.

So, expect the posts here to tend a bit more towards services, but I have long seen interaction/experience design with the broader lens that service design affords, so I don’t imagine the content will radically change. Diving headlong into the bureaucracy that working in a public education institution, in another country (especially Switzerland) entails is in itself a pretty good opportunity to experience the complexity of service offerings both good and bad.