Service Design, The Force and Yoda


While I am down under in Melbourne later in August for UX Australia I’m going to be giving a different talk and hosting a discussion at RMIT’s DESIS Lab in the RMIT Design Hub for Service Design Melbourne.

My talks is titled May The Force Be With You – Service Design for invisible connections and has a great URL. The UX Australia talk and workshop are very much a practical guide to designing for multi-channel experiences, but May The Force Be With You – Service Design for invisible connections is much more of a philosophical look (with some examples) of how we (designers, organisations, humans) tend to spend a long time looking at things and not much time looking at the connections between the things. My argument is that the invisible connections actually form a much larger part of our experiences than the things themselves.

Yoda sums it up well in his description of The Force in The Empire Strikes Back:

“Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”

The point is, of course, that Luke is so focused on his ambitions and getting his ship out of the swamp that he’s unable to feel the Force between the ship and the land, so he can’t get the ship out of the swamp. Organisations create organisational charts and process diagrams often representing time, context, and connections with innocuous arrows and lines. The focus is on the boxes – who is responsible for what – but the connections are essential to the experiences people have with those organisations, within and without. The problem is that, like Luke with The Force, the arrows and connecting lines are so ubiquitous in diagrams that they seem invisible and are often overlooked.

If you are down that way, do come along. Here are the details:

Date: 29 August 2013 – 6:00pm

Location: Multipurpose room – level 1, RMIT Design Hub
Victoria St, corner of Swanston St
Melbourne, VIC 3001

See map: Google Maps – super duper collaborative walls

Anyone who has worked with me in the last few years will know my propensity to use a lot of Post-It notes. It’s a design cliché, I know, but true. I just find it really hard to think when I look at something in a big Word doc or, worse, Excel. My eyes glaze over and my brain switches off when I view Excel docs.

The crossover from physical to digital has always been a bit of a chore though. How to go from a wall of Post-It notes to something that can be digitally shared? The general approach is to photograph the wall and/or transcribe it all into some kind of template. I know there are sticky-note apps out there, but I haven’t really gotten into them. I still feel the need for a wall too. I know others use a projector for this, so that could be an option in the future. My dream process would be:

  1. Put a load of Post-It notes on the wall.
  2. Take a photo.
  3. Have some software automagically recognise the notes and layout and text and put it into a digitally manipulatable form.

If anyone does know of anything that already does this, please let me know! (Post-It not scribbles seem too crinkly for Evernote’s OCR, just in case you’re wondering).

On the digital side, this post from Lauren Currie about hooked my interest. It’s basically a shareable whiteboard/moodboard/anythingboard. Okay, so there are few tools that already do similar things, but this is particularly easy to use and it hooks into other services well.

I thought I would have a go at seeing how easily I could crank out a simple service design blueprint with some images. In about 5-10 minutes I got this (which should be embedded, if not, try this link). It’s not going to win any design awards, but it was really quick. The nicest thing was being able to Google for images within the app and just pull them into the board. For quick storyboard mock-ups of concepts, this would be ideal. You can also turn them into presentation, Prezi style, without the annoying Flash crap.

Soon I’ll never have to leave my office at all and I can let the cobwebs grow on my shoulders.

Tile and Internet of Things Services

I have a re-occurring conversation with my MA Design students, especially those specialising in products. It goes something like this:

Student: “I’m working on a new product/gadget/object.”

Me: “Great, but you know you’re actually building a service?”

Student: “No, no, I’m not interested in designing services. I want to design products.”

Me: “But you say your product is going to connect to a smartphone/the Internet/other objects, yes?”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “Then you’re building a service ecosystem.”

10 Months Later

Student: “Andy, can I have a chat with you about service design? I’ve realised I need to think about the website and app and service that makes my product/gadget/object actually worthwhile.”

And there it is.

Like 10,355 other people, I just pre-ordered, and thus backed, Tile “the world’s largest lost and found”. This means that they have already raised $551,492 of their $20,000 goal with 12 days left to go. In other words, they have been 2757% backed. (This is either a Good Thing for them or an impending nightmare reminiscent of the Elevation Docks delivery times. I suspect the manufacture of the Tiles is easier to ramp up than the milled aluminium and anodised casing of the Elevation Docks, though. So, fingers crossed.)

Obviously, plenty of people have been exploring nearfield communications for some time, but it’s always been a little bit clunky and a little bit too dependent on having a phone with some kind of NFC reader. There are a few interesting aspects of Tile:

  • Assuming it works as described, it is pretty much independent. It works with Bluetooth 4.0, great for most iPhones, but not so great for Android according to the FAQ, so we’re still in that phone-model-dependent mode, but my guess is that Bluetooth will have quicker take up than RFID readers in mobile devices.

  • The find-my-item and/or make-it-ring functions are what you would expect. What is smart is the crowd/cloud-sourced searching for an item if it goes missing. Other people’s smartphones with the app will discretely search for and report the location of a missing tile. I’m not sure how or if this is going to work in background app mode, nor if hundreds of tiles are going to be located at the bottom of dumpsters and rivers as a result, but it’s a smart idea. It’s also a little scary, since I’m sure folks like the NSA love the idea of us leaving even more data breadcrumbs for them to vacuum up.

  • It’s designed to be disposable. Although they say they’re send you recycling envelope when you get a new one (and they’ll automatically remind you to order), I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s not terribly sustainability conscious. On the other hand, it has enabled them to make the Tile waterproof, thinner and lighter. It also means you always get the latest versions each year.

Tile  Item List

Of course, the things themselves are relatively dumb without the app and the back-end Web infrastructure to make them smart and this is where the service design comes in. It is also why I think the last point above of them being replaced each year also makes some sense. It is not just a product-service system, but really product-as-service or maybe even service-as-product. If they came up with some kind of subscription model where you get new Tiles each year automatically (perhaps deactivating your old ones, once activated or even being able to transfer details over like restoring an iPhone), you have a complete service system.

Conversely, if the app and Web services suck, it won’t matter how great the technology of the Tiles themselves is, they will just end up as expensive key fobs.

Tile  Lifestyle  Keys

I wish Mike Farley and Nick Evans the best of luck with fulfilling this first huge batch of orders. Not least because I want my ones, but mainly because it will be interesting to see what happens when a critical mass of these kinds of things hit the market for everyday use.

Backing the Kickstarter campaign for What Doesn’t Kill You

My lovely friend Rachel Meyrick has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to make a feature documentary called, What Doesn’t Kill You. It’s about helping women who have survived domestic violence in the USA tell their stories.

She originally made a short film for, during which she discovered some disturbing facts. For example, if a mother seeking custody of her children admits she has been the victim of domestic violence, judges in America are more likely to rule against her and give custody to the abusive father or his family.

She also describes what such a process is like for those women. Just imagine:

  • You have FINALLY managed to leave your partner (after, on average 5-7 attempts)
  • You have nowhere to live
  • You and your kids are living in a shelter
  • You have no money or job or friends (most likely due to the control of your abusive partner)
  • You are either a long way from your family, or afraid of what will happen to them if you involve them.
  • You are scared for your life
  • Now get yourself to court, looking sane, without a lawyer (because you have no money) and watch as the judge hands custody of your kids to the man that has abused you for years (you are more likely to win custody if you DO NOT admit you were abused). How can this possibly be happening in America today?

Obviously my social network is relatively small, but given the attention the “speaking up” wave has garnered in the technology/Web/UX community through the bravery of women like Whitney Hess, Sarah Parmenter, Leslie Jensen-Inman and Relly Annett-Baker speaking up, I think our community has an understanding and a willingness to help Rachel get her film made.

Rachel is a great filmmaker and editor, but she is still learning the Web and social media ropes. Please re-blog or re-tweet this and see if we can get her project fully-backed. If everyone who sees the tweet or read this backed the project, it would be funded in no time.

The film has a Tumblr blog here.