We talk about service design a lot in Design Studies as, apart from anything else, it’s a good way of demonstrating how skills and knowledge from one area (say, interior design or jewellery) can be applied in a seemingly entirely different one.
This anecdote from former Nokia employee Adam Greefield gives a good overview of what service design is, although he doesn’t use the term explicitly, simply calling it “design”.
Nokia: Culture will out « Adam Greenfield’s Speedbird:
Nokia spent many years, and a great deal of money, doing research and development of a technology called NFC, or ‘near field communication.’ NFC really does have the potential to transform all kinds of everyday interactions; it’s essentially a flavor of RFID that allows signals to pass between objects that are brought within close (touch or tap) proximity with one another. It’s the gimmick underlying the phone you’ll buy next year, with which, if you live in the developed world, you’ll almost certainly conduct the lion’s share of your daily monetary transactions.
When I arrived at Nokia, the folks down the road at NRC were very proud of something they’d ginned up: an NFC-equipped, but otherwise entirely conventional, vending machine. At last!, I thought, here’s a concrete step toward the future of everyday transactions. And in what was, from my perspective, the very best kind of context: that of an interaction so banal and unremarkable that it undermined any conceivable charge of utopian handwaving. Whatever frisson of futurism you derive from the encounter quickly subsides beneath the threshold of the ordinary, which — per all my gurus, from Don Norman to Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa — is exactly as it should be.
Except that, as realized by Nokia, this is precisely what failed to happen. I experienced, in fact, neither a frisson of elegant futurism nor a blasé presentiment of everyday life at midcentury. I was given an NFC phone, and told to tap it against the item I wanted from the vending machine. This is what happened next: the vending machine teeped, and the phone teeped, and six or seven seconds later a notification popped up on its screen. It was an incoming text message, which had been sent by the vending machine at the moment I tapped my phone against it. I had to respond ‘Y’ to this text to complete the transaction. The experience was clumsy and joyless and not in any conceivable way an improvement over pumping coins into the soda machine just the way I did quarters into Defender at the age of twelve.
It’s not that the NFC-based, phone-to-object interaction didn’t work. Of course it did: it had been engineered perfectly. But what it hadn’t been was designed. Those responsible for imagining the interaction apparently wanted to protect users against the (edge case!) contingency of someone making off with their phones and running up a huge vending-machine tab. They failed to understand that, for low-value transactions like this, at least, the touch gesture is a useful proxy for consent — and that if someone’s got physical possession of my phone, I’m likely to have bigger problems than whether or not they order a few cans of Coke with it. A designer committed to the user and the quality of that user’s experience gets this in a way only the rarest engineer seems to. Designers are also, by training and predilection, inclined to design for the usual, where engineers are taught a kind of rigor that compels them to account for, and overweight, low-probability events.
Bottom line: the ‘magic’ of an NFC-based transaction, the ‘surprise and delight’ our esteemed colleagues in Marketing so often demand we wrest out of technological interactions, was foreclosed from the beginning. All of the potential lightness and elegance that would make this not merely a possible way of doing things but a better way was ruled out, by an organization committed to the virtues of engineering rather than those of design.