Frontstage/Backstage

Every service has a frontstage and a backstage. The frontstage is where supply meets demand, and outcomes and experiences materialize from performances and affordances. Demand and supply emerge from the backstage where artifacts, events, capabilities and resources store the potential on the two sides, in terms of customer needs, and provider abilities. The line of interaction separates frontstage from backstage. Motivations in the backstage drive expectations on the frontstage, where promises come to play.

In a restaurant, the front-desk, lobbies, lounges, dining areas, and the diners themselves, form the frontstage. Back-offices, kitchens, pantries, freezers, loading docks, janitor closets, and back-offices form the provider’s side of the backstage. Diners, their reasons to eat out, including meetings and occasions, priorities, preferences and constraints, form the backstage that influences the design of the frontstage. Which is why fast-food restaurants look different from sushi bars and steakhouses.

Check-in counters, kiosks, security checkpoints, boarding gates, ramps, and the aircraft cabin itself, together form the frontstage to the backstage of the reservation systems, databases, baggage handling systems, and all those areas with restricted access, including the cockpit and galleys. Frontstages may be entirely virtual as in the case of digital services, with users interacting with software through software interfaces.

The backstage from where needs originate and project themselves onto the frontstage in the form of the actual demand for services. The frontstage is the co-projection of these two backstages. It’s dynamic, ephemeral and transient. It does not exist until both backstages are simultaneously projecting, even when everything is in the physical realm. The concurrent co-projection is what makes services fundamentally different from goods. It’s commonly referred to as co-creation of value. That’s the first step forward in our thinking.

There are sides frontstages, one for performance and one for affordance. There are two backstages. One from where the customer projects needs onto the frontstage, and the other from where the service provider projects the ability to fulfill that need. It’s a dual projection. The two backstages are simultaneously projecting two beams, much like the RGB beams in older projectors together produced a single image in full color. It’s in this dual frontstage that capacity engages with demand, and where outcomes and experience materialize. This means the design of a service should account for both aspects for services to not only not fail, but also to reach new levels of excellence by design. When and where the frontstages emerge depends on how the backstages interact.

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Projections

Frontstages are ephemeral

Frontstages are ephemeral projections of two backstages, that persist long enough for the outcomes and experience to materialize, from performance and affordance. A hotel room is a stage that the reservation system sets up based on a script known as the hotel reservation with guest preferences. The room and the view, whose value is both spatial, at particular a particular address, and temporal, the time slot defined by the stay, is set-up and torn-down (not literally) before and after the reservation. But room itself is merely a furnished space with expensive plumbing, linen without a guest staying.

Much like an air corridor is empty air, before and after an aircraft has flown through the imaginary tunnel. The flight plan sets the stage, instead of the hotel reservation. Of course, the backstages may persist and may be permanently in place, and not moving. Or, it might be moving very fast through that very tunnel through controlled airspace. The aircraft itself is a frontstage. Some airlines such as Lufthansa, Etihad, and the Emirates are offering the most elaborate of stages, with comfort and convenience in the air that could only otherwise be found on the ground.

Backstages may be fixed or moving

How temporary or transient, or permanent or persistent the backstages are, depends on the type of service. Also, if the two backstages are fixed, or moving with respect to each other. The backstage of a car broken down on a highway is the route the driver is taking, which places the frontstage for repair on somewhere along the route on a street or a highway, or the sand dunes of some place that is beautiful in winter. The backstage of the repair service, may be the cabin where the mechanic keeps forms, manuals, radios, and a spare pair of boots. The frontstage is the entire tool-kit and towing truck.

In the amazing and incredible world of technology, the possibilities are more limitless. A relatively new kind of backstage is called the cloud. It’s out there somewhere often in huge nondescript buildings, with significant levels of obscurity, security, electricity and cooling. These digital platforms have the ability to project frontstages practically anywhere you want, and are willing to accept. The only service you need, is a data connection through cable or antenna. That makes the Amazon Snowball services even more interesting.

AWS Snowball is a service that accelerates transferring large amounts of data into and out of AWS using physical storage appliances, bypassing the Internet. Each AWS Snowball appliance type can transport data at faster-than internet speeds. This transport is done by shipping the data in the appliances through a regional carrier. The appliances are rugged shipping containers, complete with E Ink shipping labels” (Amazon AWS website)

With advancements in technologies, frontstages and backstages give and get shape from mobile devices and platforms, as in the case of Uber, Spotify, Facebook, and iCloud. ING Bank, Phillips, Boeing and Airbus are leveraging mobile and cloud to dramatically upgrade the performance and affordances their services can deliver in financial services, healthcare and transportation. That means they can promise not better experiences, but also entirely new kinds of outcomes.

Filed under: advancement

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TL;DR I can audit the design of a service to prevent or predict systemic failure, using a proprietary method called 16F I make intractable problems, tractable by reframing them. I then design solutions that won't create problems elsewhere, now or in the future. The solutions are in the form of services. I focus on system-level structures that give meaning and purpose to the design of lower-level constructs such as processes, interfaces, and interactions. I've spent the last 10 years obsessed with the questions: What are services? Why do they fail? Why do they exist? I'm now writing a book. Design is my dogma. Curiosity is my doctrine. Industrial engineering is my discipline. @mxiqbal

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