Furtherfield, November 12, 2013
Murakami’s novel After Dark (2007) which refers to both the mobile phone as well as the retail environment of the 7-Eleven seems a fitting place to begin a review of a new media art project that uses communication technology to explore and inhabit the space of shopping malls. Digital technologies have enabled the emergence of new forms of participatory art, design and creative practices that inhabit urban, communal and personal spaces in a variety of interesting ways. In June 2012, as part of the Midsummer Festival in Cork, Ireland, the German group Ligna, which consists of media theorists and radio artists, created a radio ballet entitled The First International of Shopping Malls. The ballet was part of a series of events called Parallel Cities that was curated by Lola Arias and Stefan Kaegi.
Ethnography Matters, September 2013
In the recent science fiction film Elysium, by South-African-Canadian director Neill Blomkamp and Matt Damon, the world has descended into a dystopia in which the poor, non-white population must live in squalor on Earth working for a factory that makes robots while the wealthy have moved to a man-made country club in the sky. A recent segregation-mapping project profiled in WIRED illustrates that extreme geographic divisions between rich and poor are not reserved for Hollywood but are actually part and parcel of our current social realties (Vanhemert, 2013). Increasingly, narratives from science fiction (as well as speculative design and design fiction) are being used as modes of imagining alternative futures in a critical and generative way (without being technodeterministic) in emerging research and design practice, and these practices have much promise for ethnographic methods. For example, for over a decade, the film Minority Report has inspired technologists and designers alike as a classic, deterministic vision of a future in which gestural interfaces and biometric technologies are commonplace.
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?”