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An emerging paradigm

29th May 2009

Full Professor
Design and Innovation for Sustainability, Politecnico di Milano
Milano, Italy

1. In your view, how is your research/work related to Service Design?

I started to deal with service design more than 15 years ago. The main driver of this interest, at that time, was my research on design for sustainability. In particular, the hypothesis was that the shift form products to services could result in (more) sustainable ways of producing and consuming.

Today, after many years of experiences, we are far less naïve and we know that the shift towards services is not, per se, a guarantee of moving in the “right direction”. Never the less, it remains, and now it has been proved, that service design is, or could be, a powerful tool to promote sustainable changes.

In parallel with these experiences on the crossroad between services and sustainability, I collaborate to promote the research on Service Design in my Department and, in particular, in its Doctorate. This long story has a main line of research on the same Service Design nature, that started with the Elena Pacenti’s thesis (more than 10 years ago) and continued with the Daniela Sangiorgi’s and Carla Cipolla’s ones. Other important contributions came form several other researchers crossing service design with other topics (as Nicola Morelli and Simona Maschi, at the intersection with strategic design, Beatrice Villari and Giulia Gerosa, at the one with local development, and Miaosen Gong and Joon Sang Baek, at the one with digital and mobile platforms).

2. In your view, what is the most/less interesting aspect of Service Design?

Service Design deals with “interactions”: interactions between different actors who collaborate in generating a commonly recognized value. Interactions between human beings, and between them and a variety of objects and places. For this reason, Service Design situates itself at the core of a new, emerging paradigm: a way to consider wellbeing and production, where interactions substitute objects (not because objects disappear, but because they take the status of “material evidences” of interaction systems).

The shift form products to services is not a new phenomenon. But in the most recent period, the diffusion of networked systems of production, consumption and social organisation makes this phenomenon even more important: in the networked systems all the links between different actors are “service relationships”. At the same time, the networked systems diffusion asks us to up-date our ideas on services, moving form the traditional one (asymmetrical interactions between service providers and service users) towards a new one (more symmetrical, networked relationships between service co-producers)..

3. Can you tell us about a Service Design research project(s) you did or read about?

In the past 10 years I have been directly or indirectly involved in several projects dealing with Service Design. Given that I work in the university they were mainly design research activities based on concrete projects (i.e. they were “action researches” on service design and sustainability). Here I will outline two recent ones that for me are particularly meaningful:

1. Enabling solution for a co-housing program. The aim of this project has been to facilitate the community building and the co-design of shared spaces and services in residential developments. The initiative, developed with a social entrepreneur, has been successful and generated a social enterprise that now is active in the co-housing promotion in the Milanese area.

2. Digital services for social innovation. The aim of this project has been to verify the potentialities of digital services in supporting creative communities and collaborative services. The project has been articulated in two parts with two main interlocutors: Telecom Italia, for mobile-based services, and Ethical Bank Foundation, for services to be hosted by a digital platform. 

4. Are there area(s) that you would like to do or see research on?

There are several lines of research that could be interesting and promising. I will outline here only three possible themes:

Relational quality. It is the quality that makes services living entities: systems where human being can interact in a lively way (as oppose to what happens in those “designed services” where everything is planned and human relationships disappear). This kind of quality is challenging because it cannot be designed. But nevertheless, the hypothesis of work of this research program is that, through a good design, the relational quality conditions of existence can be made more probable.

Collaborative quality. It is the organisational quality that makes services social entities: organisations where the involved actors collaborate in order to get a desired result and, doing so, to generate socialisation (as a kind of positive side-effect).  This service quality is important because it characterises flexible, effective, customised and economically cheaper services (offering viable solutions to present, huge social problems) and, as I wrote in a previous paragraph, because it generates the precious side-effect of strengthening the social fabric.

Social network and everyday life. Collaborative organisation, supported by digital services, can bridge the immaterial world (of the social networks) and physical one (of the everyday life problems). In this perspective, information and communication technologies are the enabling technologies for brand forms of organisation and Service design can do a lot to make it happen. And to make it happen in the best way (i.e. promoting social and environmental sustainability). 


Your suggestions for the blog:

Who would you like to invite in this conversation about Service Design Research?
Michel Bauwens, p2p foundation

What is the question do you have about Service Design?

If we agree that the contemporary society is generating a growing demand of services, in order to avoid to transform the world in a huge, unsustaianble theme park, the resulting service-oriented environments have to be endowed with a high degree of living relational and collaborative qualities. How to design these living relationships? That is: how to design for a quality that, per se, cannot be planned?

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