From finance to healthcare to media, New York’s economy is primarily driven by services. Yet our understanding of what design offers is rooted in products and places rather than how those things operate or how people use them — design has traditionally concerned itself with goods, not services. Only in the past decade or so have designers been actively reconceptualizing what it means to interact with and help shape service. According to Professor Birgit Mager, who runs the Cologne-based Service Design Network, “Service design addresses the functionality and form of services from the perspective of clients. It aims to ensure that service interfaces are useful, usable, and desirable from the client’s point of view and effective, efficient, and distinctive from the supplier’s point of view.”
In particular, services require designers to empathize with users, to understand interactions as a series of “touchpoints” and to develop a holistic understanding of the ways in which our relationships to services govern everyday life. The multiple ways this emerging field of practice relates to the rest of the design field are still in formation. So I sat down with several leading designers and researchers from universities in the US and Europe to start a conversation about what service design is, where it came from and where it is going. This interview expands on an event, “Service Design Performances” (PDF), which was held at Parsons The New School for Design in late May. The event, organized by the DESIS Lab, is the first in a series of activities around the topic of service design that are taking place in New York in the coming months.
What does theater have to do with service design? This question was addressed in a presentation, “Dramaturgy of Services,” by Roman Aebersold, a designer from Lucerne School of Art and Design in Switzerland, who has been a visitor at the Parsons this spring. The presentation was part of a workshop, “Service Design Performances,” which was organized by the DESIS Lab in late May in order to convene New York’s design community and cultivate a discussion around designing for services. As design tools and methods have become increasingly useful for problem-solving in a wide range of areas, designers are playing an important role in creating not only logos and websites but also interactions, organizations and systems.
At Parsons, the intersecting role of design for services, sustainability and social innovation mark the core of courses, external partnerships and labs, which consider the role of services at the individual, household and city level, explained Lara Penin, co-founder of the DESIS Lab. We interact with many kinds of services everyday including government and commercial services though a series of “touchpoints” in face-to-face settings as well as by phone and through websites. We are also sometimes providers of services for one another however, we sometimes fail to recognize our own roles as service providers.
Over the past decade, since the Internet’s mainstream adoption in 1995, scholars have used a plethora of spatial metaphors to describe the spaces and places of digital information. However, in the current moment, a digital information layer is rapidly expanding throughout the physical spaces of our homes, offices, cities and towns. This digital layer includes mobile and wireless technologies such as WiFi hotspots, municipal wireless networks, cellular networks, wireless sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. For example, electronic access cards are increasingly being used to allow entry to apartment buildings (especially, in luxury condominiums) and offices, sensors are being deployed to measure pollution and credit cards have been equipped with one-touch payment systems. Mobile phones are commonplace, and laptops accessing the Internet wirelessly in cafes, parks and public spaces are increasingly so. The nexus between physical and digital space is both challenging and interesting because while both shape, and are shaped by human behavior, the ways in which they regulate may be different, and, even, conflicting at times. This further complicates the ways in which we understand the Internet and related technologies and their business and policy implications. Therefore, as I will argue, a new theoretical concept is needed to better understand the interaction between physical and digital space in answer to the question: “What happens when code [software] meets place?”
He looks around to make sure no one is watching him and sets the phone down next to the boxes of cheese. The little silver telephone fits the spot strangely well. It looks as though it has always been sitting there. Having left Shirakawa’s hand, it is now part of the 7-Eleven.
–Haruki Murakami, After Dark
Murakami’s novel After Dark (2007) seems a fitting place to begin a paper on shopping for a pervasive computing workshop in Japan. In it, the author chronicles a startling series of events that occur between 11:56pm to 6:52am on a typical night in Tokyo. Murakami’s main character, a salaryman-cum-murderer, hides the evidence of his evil deed by tossing a bag of clothing belonging to a Chinese prostitute into the garbage behind a 7-Eleven before going in to buy some milk. While inside, he gets rid of the girl’s cell phone by tucking it into the cheese aisle.
What is it about these objects, in particular, packaged consumer products and technological devices, which allow them to occupy adjacent spaces so easily without being noticed? As Murakami points out, “The little silver telephone fits the spot strangely well. It looks as though it has always been sitting there.” What would these objects say to us if they could talk? This paper examines the secret lives of objects by drawing on my own relationship to shopping and, in the context of the current economic and environmental crises, offers examples of the ways in which ubiquitous and pervasive computing technologies might introduce a new conversation with products, technologies and objects.
Last month, as part of Breakout! – a collaborative team project that is part of the Architecture League’s ongoing Toward the Sentient City exhibit – a small group including NYCwireless co-founder Anthony Townsend gathered at The Triangle – a slice of pavement equipped with tables, chairs and umbrellas parked in between The Diner and the 14th Street Apple Store to experiment with iPhone applications for mobile work.
Of course, no experiment in mobile work would be complete without “jail breaking” an iPhone in order to enable tethering, the feature that allows one to use their AT&T phone service to connect to the Internet via a laptop computer.
When the cellular network nestled in the “mobile office kit” – a design intervention from the Breakout! project — proved to be too slow for downloading large files, Townsend switched to the Apple Store’s open Wi-Fi network. That’s when things got interesting. The store was blocking the file required to install tethering. (For more details, see the Breakout! session transcript).