Please, not just personas or blueprints!

There is a persistent trend in service design where methods alone have become king as a way to legitimise the field and a practical way to ‘be a service designer’. Attempts to clarify, structure and advocate the benefit of service design has led to a sweeping phenomenon of ‘glossing over’ the contextual knowledge grounded in action and the messy realities of practice. Service design suffers from the same issue beset to most description of design methods as something that can be separated from the practicing designer, exported and become ‘commodified’ for repeatability.

However, this critique has to be put carefully so as not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As a young, nascent field, service design over the last ten years needed a step-by-step, ‘how to’ guide. Such introductory experiences through service design Jams or downloadable toolkits play a vital role for those who are entering this field. Many educators, students and novices in service design have immensely benefited from artefacts like IDEO cards in teaching the basics ropes. Such products’ accessibility has great value on many levels, including its seductive materiality (as objects) and simplicity in instruction. Other books are highly effective as training manuals that come with a promise of mastery in methods.

However, mastery in methods does not necessarily equate to proficiency in designing services, or indeed, practicing as a human-centred designer. We need to revisit the emphasis that promotes methods as if it can be as easily replicable and readily portable into any manner of contexts. Methods and techniques cannot be reduced down to a formula. Skilled practice ‘is not just the application of mechanical force to the exterior of objects, but entails qualities of care, judgment, dexterity … whatever practitioners do to things is grounded in an attentive, perceptual involvement with them … they watch and feel as they work’ (Ingold, 2000, p. 353). Similarly, designers progress from a novice to an expert through their embeddedness in the context and their fusion with their enacted tools or methods.

When co-designing is framed as a generic methodological umbrella for involving others in designing services, it can carry with it the same emphasis of detachment and replicability. The craft of designing services isn’t about better mastery of methods or use of ‘tools’, but brought by a gradual attunement of action and perception through an ‘active engagement with the constituents of his or her surroundings’ (Ingold 2000, p. 5).Co-designing makes a different organisational and socio-material practice (Eriksen 2012, p. 24), shifting away from the focus on methods and pre-designed proposals to an awareness of ‘participating materials and formatting co-designing in the situation and network where people and materials meet, align and make each other act’. The addition of those two little letters ‘co’ in co-designing is a philosophical and epistemological shift, signalling an openness to embrace the influence, interventions, disruptions, tensions and uncertainties brought to bear by other things and people. It requires the designer to step into the ‘in-between’ space that is dynamic, emergent and relational. It necessitates the designer to entangle itself into this space whilst being ‘crafted’ by it, as well as ‘crafting’ it.

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[Edited excerpt from a journal article published in 2013 by Yoko Akama and Alison Prendiville: Akama, Y., & Prendiville, A. (2013). A phenomenology of co-designing services: the craft of embodying, enacting and entangling design. Paper presented at the 10th European Academy of Design Conference: Crafting the Future, Gothenburg, Sweden.