The challenge of what cannot be designed
For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to come to terms with a major issue that I’ve experienced in designing services, the design of the human components of a service, this issue became a more tangible experience when I was confronted by it as user of some services.
To illustrate this problem, let me walk you through what happened, due to a random series of situations I ended up experiencing the costumer services of the Italian police and banking services. In the first case the experience when from awful to somewhat reassuring, having to deal first with a dismissive policeman whom no force on earth could get him to do a simple report and ending up waiting for the change of shift as to be able to talk with a nicer more helpful policeman, who in the middle of jokes help us in filing the report. In the second case, the experience was just delightful, the bank representatives, from the girl in the call center to the bank clerk, were not only helpful but were actually concerned and went beyond their duty to reassure us and give us timely information and support that turned around a stressful situation into something more manageable.
This two experiences let me wondering how could we design a service when so much of the experience depends on the people that are in contact with the users, and specially depends on them being genuinely good people, people that can show concern or interest in their user issues. How could we design the jokes that lighten the mood in a police commissariat, or the words of concern that reassure a distressed user.
Well after reflexing on it, researching on it, and specially after attending some of the lectures of the Milano Design PHD Festival, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe we don’t need to design this things, even though they could be critical to the service experience. There are two key points that made me reach this conclusion.
First, in a wonderful talk on the Service Design Conference Tenzin Shenyen offers a valuable view in what shapes us, through the story of Kurosawa Akira and Harada Sensei he illustrates how traumatic experiences and disasters can shape a worldview leading someone to become an acclaimed filmmaker or a world renowned spiritual teacher. If we have to choose the recipe for creating a filmmaker we probably wouldn’t include childhood trauma on it, even more important we wouldn’t know how much this experiences shaped those men, because as he later states, “the causes and conditions for anything to happen in the world are incredible complex and have many layers.”
So now it’s out of the question to think that we can define the actions and reactions of the people in our service, he even states that designing things cannot be done just in terms of conscious activities. So what can we design in this experience? This brings me to the second point, in Virginia Tassinari talk at the Milano Design PHD Festival, she makes an argument for considering the job of the designer as a designer of enabling spaces for decision-making at the level of society. I believe that this point can be translated to the micro interactions occurring in the service delivery, we as services designers, can create enabling spaces that allows and informs the decision making of the service staff, by providing them with timely accurate information systems for example.
In conclusion, I think that our role then revolves around understanding the needs of the people involved in the service, this includes both users and service providers, and creating a space that enables and empowers them to accomplish their desired intend, fostering some common sense decision making. On a more practical note, I believe that is very useful to understand what components can or cannot be designed, as this can allow us to adjust the clients expectations and for certain it would spare us much trouble. I’m left to wonder what other components cannot be designed or represent a challenge in the design.