XXVII.2 March - April 2020
Page: 20
Digital Citation

Service design and blind mice

Jung-Joo Lee

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If design's buzzword of the early 2000s was UX, one of its buzzwords of the latest decade must be service design. Service design is gaining greater traction in HCI with the rise of the Internet of Things, cloud computing, social computing, and so on, which requires a systemic perspective beyond a person-to-technology interaction. The earnest appearance of service design in HCI is very recent, though. As a piece of evidence, over the past three years, there has been only one article in Interactions that takes service design as its main storyline [1].

HCI and interaction design are inherently interdisciplinary, and since their birth they have continuously adopted and been introduced with other disciplines. The intersections and adoptions across disciplines, however, have not always been clear and smooth. Those journeys have involved relentless debates, questioning and defending, probing and rerouting, with most arguments centered around "prove how this is relevant to HCI." This is the case for service design too.

While we see increasing attempts at highlighting the inevitable intersections between service design and HCI, as well as the potential benefits of these intersections (e.g., [2]), there is as much doubt and resistance too. The doubt and resistance might come from a closed, narrow perspective of "this is how HCI should be" or misinterpretations of the new discipline from various encounters that may exhibit a skewed picture.

Having interacted with various communities from design and HCI, I have encountered different understandings of what service design is and how it might or might not be relevant to them. Service design is an applied discipline, after all; it should be natural that different communities perceive and apply it according to their own legacy and needs. However, my worry is that service design may be misinterpreted with half-open eyes that take a partial understanding as if it were the whole, just like when blind mice talk about big elephants [3]. With the blind mice perspective, we may critically miss exciting opportunities that service design could bring to HCI. Let me uncover a few blind mice stories in my experience.

In 2018, Virpi Roto, Tuuli Mattelmäki, John Zimmerman, Effie Law, and I conducted a workshop on boundaries and overlaps between UX and service design [4]. One of the prevailing understandings we gained about the two fields was that service design is a new name for, or an expanded version of, UX design. UX design deals with the contents and interfaces of digital services, and as technologies are expanding from a single product to an ecosystem, this becomes a new design object for UX design. In another encounter, I found that service design and UX design were considered to be the same, especially given Don Norman's definition that UX encompasses all aspects of the end user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products. These understandings of service design are not necessarily false, but they are critically limited. They miss the essential scope and vision of service design, which embraces multiple stakeholders around technologies beyond end users and positions technologies as enablers for new types of innovation, both technical and economic.

With the blind mice perspective, we may miss exciting opportunities.

One's understanding of service design is largely determined by how one perceives the term service. In relation to design, two views can be identified: "an object to design" and "a logic to base thinking on." In the former notion, service is defined as an intangible artifact differentiated from a tangible product, with its nature being intangible, inseparable, heterogeneous, and perishable [5]. And service design is the approach to deal with this new design object. In my observations, many design and HCI projects take this notion of service. The term product-service system also reflects this perspective, where there is a clear distinction between a product and a service.

In the latter conception, on the other hand, service is not another artifact to design, but rather a way of thinking. This can be best explained with the shift from "goods-dominant logic" to "service-dominant logic" [6]. Service-dominant logic reshapes production and consumption models, where customers and service providers come with their own resources, collaborate on a platform, and co-create values for all the parties involved. This new logic opens a door to totally new platforms, business models, and relationships between customers and companies, some of which we are already familiar with, such as shared economy platforms like Airbnb and Uber, and subscription models to software or applications. Whereas the word service as a design object is a countable noun (e.g., a bank service, healthcare services), here service is a non-countable noun, because it is a logic, a way of thinking. With this notion of service, service design goes beyond the designing of digital services or intangible contents around products and enables new types of innovation where technology and business models interplay.


This holistic view to service may lead to another question, which is related to my other blind-mouse story: If service design is about business models, how is it relevant to HCI? I have also encountered more than a few people who regard service design as a synonym for business design and conclude that business is not of concern to HCI. I am addressing this not to say that HCI should consider business models. Rather, I want to bring attention to the potential of service logic to address the increasing demand for UX design work that is based on a holistic understanding of how digital platforms work with companies' business models. In fact, we already see many examples, such as how those at Google and Amazon, or new business models at traditional retail businesses like Starbucks, shape the work of UX design (e.g., [2]). The interplay between service logic and technologies will become more important with new economic and technological paradigms, such as the data, shared, and gig economies. And service design will be a useful tool for HCI to tackle those new challenges. At the same time, new topics in HCI, such as sustainability, values, and worth, can contribute ethical considerations around new business platforms, for example, the problems currently faced by Airbnb and Uber.

Crossing boundaries has been one of the continuous agenda items in HCI communities, but we have also faced the tall walls of the HCI castle closing the door too early. These observations urge me to raise a magic wand and speak out my heartfelt wish: Abracadabra! Let us be more patient, open-minded, and inquisitive before drawing a premature conclusion and saying, "This is not relevant to us." Here, I illustrated the motivation of my wish through the case of service design, but this wish may expand to any new discipline at the boundaries of HCI. Disciplinary programs need open-minded and relentless trials to co-craft what each program, and shared ones, are and will be about.

back to top  References

1. Dolejšová, M. and Lišková, T. StreetSauce: Nurturing speculation in service design Interactions 24, 5 (2017), 34–39.

2. Zimmermanm J. and Forlizzi, J. Service design. In The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. Interaction Design Foundation, 2019.

3. Young, E. Seven Blind Mice. Puffin Books, 2002.

4. Roto, V., Lee, J.J., Mattelmäki, T., and Zimmerman, J. Experience design meets service design: Method clash or marriage? Proc. of CHI EA '18 Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2018.

5. Lovelock, C. and Gummesson, E. Whither services marketing? In search of a new paradigm and fresh perspectives. Journal of Service Research 7, 1 (2004), 20—41.

6. Vargo, S.L. and Lusch, R.F. Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing. Journal of Marketing 68, 1 (2004), 1—17.

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Jung-Joo Lee is an assistant professor and deputy head of research in the Division of Industrial Design, National University of Singapore, and a director of Service Design Lab Singapore. Her research investigates roles of design in organizational transformation and public-sector innovation, in combination with digital technologies and data.

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2020 ACM, Inc.

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