5 x 5 - The New Language of Service Design, Mauricio Manhaes

Interview with Mauricio Manhaes, Professor of Service Design at SCAD

by Thomas Brandenburg

“One of the most exciting aspects of service design is its centrality on the economic business cycle. With a little bit of poetic license and a huge amount of theoretical support, service design can be described as the ideal practice to enable organizations to drive through the economic cycle into the future.”

1. Why do you think there had not been a shared definition of service design? Do you think it is important to have one, especially for an in-house discipline?

No discipline, that I know of, have a one widely agreed upon definition. If you take ‘Management’ for instance. Everybody knows what it means, right? But, its definition can range from “the act of directing people towards accomplishing a goal,” to “the administration of an organization,” to “the performance of business operations,” to “the directing of a group of people or entities toward a goal,” and countless others. The same happens to Architecture, Medicine, Fashion, Arts, Accounting, and so forth. The definitions of these disciplines, as most of the things that heavily involve social aspects, are always polysemic or down right imprecise. People know what Accountants do not because they have a precise definition of what it is, but because they were exposed enough to that discipline to the extent that they feel comfortable with that word. And this lengthy exposition didn’t happen yet with service design.

2. What language (keywords or phrases) do you like to use to explain Service Design to an audience who is not familiar with it?

The simplest, the better. After all, it is the amount of exposure to a concept that will lead people to understand it, not the precision of its definition. People have to be presented over-and-over again to evidences to what service design is and what it can do. Usually, what I do when I have to explain service design for an audience who is not familiar with it, I present a parallel with Industrial Design. I ask the person if she or he knows what ‘design’ does to objects like cars, chairs, watches, phones. More often than not, the person responds: “Of course! Design makes them awesome, desirable, easy-to-use.” To what I add: “That’s exactly what service design does to services.” The reaction I get is of a reasonable understanding of what service design is, followed by: “Organization ‘X’ needs service design desperately! Its service is not easy-to-use at all!” At the end, the goal of all service design enthusiasts should be to expose as much audience as possible to service design and let them get acquainted with it. The social dynamics will do the rest.

“The concept that I try to avoid at all costs is “great experience.” To my understanding, service design focus on augmenting the potential to act of entities, not to provide a great experience.”

3. Service Design is often interchanged with Systems Design, User Experience or Design Thinking, do you think it is an issue?

When people are presented to comprehensive definitions of what ‘service’ is, and to what ‘design’ is, it becomes clear that an evolutionary cognitive process (i.e., design) focused on augmenting the potential to act of entities (i.e., service) will be holistic and will profit by crossing disciplines boundaries, by being systemic (but, not systematic). Actually, service design can use UX and CX approaches to better understand and improve human experience. And the same goes to the others, each one can use the other approaches to improve their works. From a service design perspective, UX and CX have a narrower focus, and that is good... and bad. Service design (SD) has a broader focus, and that is good... and bad. This is what I tried to capture by the formula: SD ⊃ UX + CX (i.e., SD contains all the elements of UX, CX and more). More on that discussion can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/user-x-customer-service-design-interesting-debate-manhaes-dr-

“At SCAD’s Service Design Program, after countless interactions with companies looking for hiring service design students, my colleagues and I started to work on a common language to enable organizations to acquire a service design mindset. The result is a set of three overarching perspectives that offers a springboard to enable conversations with and between service design professionals”

4. Are there any overused or misused terms that may be robbing Service Design of credibility?

The concept that I try to avoid at all costs is “great experience.” To my understanding, service design focus on augmenting the potential to act of entities, not to provide a great experience. The experience aspect, if the work on augmenting the potential to act was well done, will happen for each individual that experienced the proposed service. The concept of ‘great experience’ has a strong “rear mirror” aspect. After all, to define if an experience is bad, good or great it is necessary to have a traditional benchmarking for comparison. In my opinion, service design has to focus on designing new forms of augmenting the potential to act of entities. Therefore, it has to be forward looking. And it is not uncommon to have some service that, at first seemed awkward and unpleasant, but because it decisively augmented the potential to act of a person, be perceived after a while as a “great experience.” And, of course, there is all this philosophical discussion about the fact that an ‘experience’ cannot be designed. It can only be lived in a very personal and individual manner.  

5. How might you seen the language of service design being changed or evolve with people in business, especially since they traditionally don’t have a design background?

At SCAD’s Service Design Program, after countless interactions with companies looking for hiring service design students, my colleagues and I started to work on a common language to enable organizations to acquire a service design mindset. The result is a set of three overarching perspectives that offers a springboard to enable conversations with and between service design professionals. The three suggested perspectives are based on the concept of ‘understanding,’ defined as “the ability to think and act with what one knows.” These overarching perspectives (OP) are: Understanding Stakeholders Contexts (nicknamed ‘Point A’ or ‘Now’), Understanding Innovative Dynamics (nicknamed ‘Point B’ or ‘Future’), and Understanding Institutional Transitions (nicknamed ‘Bridge’). The 3OPs do not define human characteristics, practices or abilities. Rather, they provide a mindset to enable organizations to ‘think and act with what they know’, with the team they have, given the context where they have to perform in. The ultimate goal of the 3OPs is to provide a broad structure to guide the thoughts and actions of a service design effort. It also highlights the need to go beyond focusing only on designing innovative services (what we call ‘Point B’), and to devote as much resources to profoundly understand stakeholders contexts (i.e., ‘Point A’) and create a sensible and sensitive implementation process (i.e., the ‘Bridge’) to nudge stakeholders from A to B. These overarching perspectives should be reflected on all service design activities, from the initial proposal, to the project’s activities and teams, to different sets of preliminary and final deliverables.

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