Saffer new book

Saffer on Service Design and how it just vaporises when you touch it!


Dissolving Service Design

I’m starting a revision of my book Designing for Interaction. It’s about three years old now, and lots of things, including my own perspective on interaction design, have changed in the four years since I started writing it. (Just as one example, touchscreens and interactive gestures weren’t really mentioned in the earlier at all.)

One of the most radical changes to the new edition (and there are several), is the dissolution of the service design chapter. When I wrote the book, “service design” and designing services was something that was fairly new (in the US anyway). I called it “the next frontier of interaction design” or some such hyperbole.

Three years on, and the distinction between products and services in the world of iPhones, Kindles, Google Docs, Facebook, and Twitter seems arbitrary at best, and confusing at worst. And that isn’t to even get into things like ubicomp or robots, where the distinction is even more blurry. So for the second edition, I’ve decided to dissolve the service design chapter and just place the topics and tools that were once ghettoed there throughout the book. I’m not sure that, from this point out, at least for interaction designers, the distinction between products and services is a meaningful one.

I simply cannot think of a service that interaction designers would be involved in that doesn’t have some sort of product, and typically a technology product, at its center. The product might be anything from a physical object to a website to an interactive environment, but there is something there to be designed. Secondly, I can only think of very few products that interaction designers (and really, almost any designer) are designing any more that are not part of some kind of service. Bruce Sterling in Shaping Things uses the example of a bottle of wine: there’s the bottle itself, the vineyard’s website, the printed label, the metadata that goes to online winesellers, etc., etc. And that’s for a bottle of wine, much less a device that has to live in our increasingly complex ecosystem of gadgets, environment, and internet.

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