Is service "managing cultural complexity"?

2 Mar 2010 - 6:45am
4 years ago
4 replies
1183 reads
Dave Malouf
2005

I know there is a lot of debate as to whether service design is not just IxD. I don't are (anymore). The reality is that even IxD is an emergent cross-disciplinary field that at earlier points in its history could be totally confused for previously existing design disciplines and engineering practices. But considering the size and breadth of this community with various affinities it is clear as Morpheus said, "We are here." That's sorta how I see Service Design (they need an abbreviation; is SD good enough? for now it will be). 

The evolution of interaction design and its many tracks of emergence is not over. What seems clear to me is that IxD has emerged because of the special requirements created towards managing the complexity that technology has caused in people's lives. Without that shift or new reality, IxD would have arguably never coalesced the way it has. (Yes, I know this could be seen as countering my previous arguments that IxD is technologically independent.)

So during my grad seminar last night I was talking about this history of emergence. One could point to industrial design as having emerged b/c of the new realities of the industrial age, but obviously ID has not stopped there. Information Architecture emerged as we know it today b/c of the properties of the "information age" and so on.

So I was thinking about this and it hit me that the emergence of service design has occurred similarly to IxD & b/c it is so similar in emergence, it looks so similar in practice. But what has SD emerged around? Well, like IxD it is really about a new level of complexity. This complexity is not limited to "services" in the exact sense which is why defining what a service is, is not so important, but rather, SD is here to manage the level of complexity that has increased within culture itself. The very means of bringing meaning, of doing economy, of communicating, of leading (doing politicking)--the heart of culture--has gotten so complex that it requires us to re-look at on a fundamental level the ways in which we engage in culture and find new ways to design them.

This shift in managing a new kind of complexity, didn't really require a whole new discipline, but like IxD, did require creation of new tools against the assimilation of appropriate tools, and required the creation of a strong and vibrant community of people thinking about these new problem areas.

One last point, like the industrial and information revolutions, which created deep cultural shifts through society and thus new practices, this new era of cultural complexity was also brought about by changes in technology itself. So the technology is often at the center of the equation, even if it is not being directly dealt with in the solutions that service designers conceive.

Thoughts? Repudiations? Appreciations? Arguments? Affirmations?

I originally wrote this on my blog: http://davemalouf.com/?p=1783
During which I only link to one resource of inspiration that I'll make you hunt for, but I'll just say thank you Peter Morville for running the "Explain IA" competition.

Comments

2 Mar 2010 - 11:47am
David Sanchez
2008

Hello David,

Interesting and stimulating point of view. From my perspective I see cultural complexity as recursive and evolutionary pattern. Lucky me, I am not the observer, but is seems to be a phenomena of intelligent life in degrees. Complexity is so subjective that from my point of view it lingers around a scalar limit of a system to process or infer upon meme conjecture, etc. This can get so confusing for the non illustrious mind, especially when it comes to abstractions and inter disciplinary epistemologies, etc.

Service designers on a capitalistic society will dream and craft as many services they can abstract from what you call complexity. All the way to infinity, if such thing exist in our human condition. There will always be equations or problems to be solve, we will always use tools or metaphoric devices. ∞

Is complexity the fuel that's sustain a system?

What appears to be "Order" in reality thrives in the appeared chaos of complexity.

How relevant is meme complexity on a scalar system as a "society"?

I think I went out on a tangent.

I dont know if you are aware about the Web Science - Web Science Trust

Cheers Mate,

David S.

2 Mar 2010 - 12:54pm
milan
2005

Dave,

it seems to me that in the current stadium, every design discipline is questioning its limits, especially the younger ones.  Service Designers ask whether services are really their limits, just like Interaction Designers strive to go beyond the digital sphere as their limit. Information Architecture looks beyond web sites, at more global structures of information in convergent/cross-media. User experience practitioners think about the experiences of services, products or whole companies. Communication and industrial designers think about interfaces and interactions, and so on.

However, broadening the scope of Design disciplines comes with the risk of loosing focus and ending up with something meaningless like "We make the world a better place". There have been many examples in Design history, such as Bauhaus and its successors, and recently developments like the Transformation Design movement in the UK, where people tried to widen the scope. The more "narrow" Design disciplines are still more established, hough all of them are dealing with issues of culture, complexity, perception and behaviour.

I think we will see more design communities emerge with partly new ideas and partly different words for the same thing, but it's hard to predict which ones are here to stay. Perhaps that's the way innovation in this field works.

Milan

3 Mar 2010 - 2:40pm
susandoran
2010

Dave Malouf said:  "the heart of culture--has gotten so complex that it requires us to re-look at on a fundamental level the ways in which we engage in culture and find new ways to design them....like the industrial and information revolutions, which created deep cultural shifts through society and thus new practices, this new era of cultural complexity was also brought about by changes in technology itself. So the technology is often at the center of the equation, even if it is not being directly dealt with in the solutions..."[my pruning & emphasis added]

_____________________

I didn't realize that "service design," which is the core of what Dave was focusing mostly (to put it very simply) about customer service. 

Not realizing that, and believing he was addressing much bigger cultural and societal issues, I wandered off on basically a treatise inspired by his statement that culture complexity has become so profound "that it requires us to re-look at on a fundamental level the ways in which we engage in culture and find new ways to design." As pertains to systems, and in particular to the American democracic system.  And whether--given this enormous cultural complexity (pushed, enabled by, and maifesting in) technology---democracy is still even practiceable in its current 18th century incarnation. Or whether it needs a radical design redux.

Reading other responses, I realized I was way in left field re: what Dave was asking for. I shared what I perceive to be the ultimate 21st century design conundrum--but maybe it's time to start a blog.

Yay for the IxDA redesign, which--among other wonderful things--features EDIT post functionality!

3 Mar 2010 - 3:01pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Actually, you are right AND they are right. I think my post was focused on speaking to the issues of the changes in design practice realities and new communities and that there have been distinct "ages" in technology that have opened up the need (or desire) for new communities of practice. There was the industrial age which formed industrial design and graphic design and now there is the information age which has started out as really information focused but due to the emerging properties of this age and the rapid disruptions and reflexive effects the technology is happening in such quick progression (relative to other periods of change) communities have been both converging and emerging in reaction to these events. 

I liked your treatise very much. Don't back down now. ;-) ... But yes, I was originally trying to address why IxD and why SD.

-- dave

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