O Service Why Art Thou?

Because people own things.
Some things they own, some others they don’t.
Some people own things other people won’t.
Thus the economy of sharing,
The melodramatic pairing, of
Supply and demand.

Their need to have and their need to be,
Makes things have affinity and attraction,
For things that bring action and traction,
Performance in spades, affordances in degrees.
Or, why their human-machine overlords,
Sign service agreements of all sorts.

How performance and affordance will actualize,
For outcome and experience to materialize.
And the design will seek to minimize,
Tedious transactions that jeopardize,
Costs and risks that compromise,
Value each side will realize.

So when users and agents they do engage,
Touchpoint, channel, platform or stage,
There won’t be painful protraction,
In their dialog and interaction,
Save some minor infraction,
Utmost satisfaction.

For profit’s sake or public good,
It should be clear, well-understood,
But lest there be any doubt,
What services are really about:
When they’re well-designed, the
Welfare and well-being of humankind.

Services are equations

Customers and service providers are equated in terms of the outcomes and experiences. Each sides puts in time, money and effort. Feelings and emotions perhaps. Tangibles and intangibles. Experiences are part of what each side puts in. Outcomes are what they get.

Customers receive a payoff usually in terms of the results and benefits of whatever job the service gets done, such as the transferring funds, the issuing of a permit, the daily supplying of electricity, or placing in orbit of a communications satellite. Service providers receive a payment, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind.

It is quite obvious users go through the experience primarily defined by dialog and interaction they have with the staff, facilities, and infrastructure that are part of the service. Agents, acting on behalf of the service enterprise, have a corresponding experience.

The design of dialog and interaction aims to minimize the cost of engagement and fulfillment. In services, experience is a transaction cost. Improving the experience results in the lowering of transaction costs.


Even the simplest of services is a closed-loop system. What goes around, comes arounf. The demand side of the equation balances out with the supply side. We learned how to balance equations, in physics, chemistry and math. The same is with services.

Analogical reasoning as applied to services 

The base value system is a simple technique I’ve developed to be able to strip away all the words describing a service and get to the essence of it in verb-noun pairs. Apart from forcing a certain level of clarity, base values are also the basis for applying analogical reasoning to services as part of a method called This is Like That or TILT. It’s like tilting your head while looking at a service with a bit of curiousty and letting the realization appear like a rainbow.

Now, as I review the draft of my book, to identity parts I need to cut out, because there is too much material, I’m wondering if should leave in TILT or keep it out for some other time in future. Below are screenshots of some of the sections as displayed on the Ulysses app I’m using for writing and editing.


Small disturbances

The need to deliver superior sets of outcomes and experiences is constant over the lifecycle of a service offering. Services need to get a job done better than not just competitors but also customers because their ability to do-it-yourself (DIY) is always an option. Indeed, new solutions in the market create competition when they make DIY more attractive and reduce the need for a service. This makes the design of a service never good enough and never complete, because the components of demand may yet require change. Customer needs change for manufactured goods as well, but manufacturers have time to adjust.

Services are products of concurrently projected supply and demand, therefore changes on either side have an immediate effect. The synchronous nature of services makes them riskier to produce than an equivalently complex product from manufacturing. In every design there is residual risk that materializes as costs, often in unexpected ways. Service providers must either absorb these costs, or pass them on to customers. Passing on costs simply introduces the risk of competition from other services or DIY.

Therefore, the design of a service is subject to constant change. However, change can be a destabilizing force, with unintended consequences adding new risk. The methods of service design should be such that they introduce change and innovation that the service more attractive to both sides, and at the same time reduce costs and risks and keep them stable below a threshold. What’s the smallest amount of change we can introduce for greatest amount of impact in terms of outcomes and experiences, at the lowest possible cost and risk? What aspect or element of design can we change so that other elements can be the same?

Some of the best designs are beautiful variants and innovative more in terms of the new effect they produce, rather than radical change. Across the Boeing 737 family of aircraft, we can see decades of design in incremental changes leading to the 737MAX. Strategists use the idea of adjacent possible to identify opportunities for growth through expansion into new market spaces. Design is the ultimate expression of strategy, therefore it the means to transfer knowledge, skills and experience to a space.

It requires creativity and imagination to systematically introduce change to design without also introducing systemic or structural risk. We need to consider change from multiple perspectives. We need to generate and explore many options from a few critical parameters. We need to see how a change in element of the system might affect another with “if this then that”. We need to see differences in similarities, and similarities in differences. “This is like that”. We need to see early more clearly.

All the effort put through multidisciplinary methods, tools and techniques, can still lead to the “relatively complicated scripts” that fail, if enough of the detail is either superficial or superfluous. That should not be the case. Design can be simple, flexible, and strong if our thinking is sophisticated. We could learn from in biology. The design of a service should be more adaptive and open to change, so we can make it more hardy and resistant to failure, by grafting elements of design from other services.

Being able to visualize design in terms of a few key parameters also helps establish cause-and-effect relationships between design elements and failures. Introduced in the 1960s, as part of the quality movement, the Ishikawa diagram made it possible to map defects in any manufactured product to six major categories. We should be able to do the same for services, with the eight design perspectives across four categories of failure. Mazda Motors used an Ishikawa diagram to focus on the few aspects of design that produce the effect of “horse and rider as one” for its very successful Miata. We should be able to do the same with services.

To make the design of a service less prone to failure, it needs to be more flexible and strong and therefore more adaptive and open to change, and therefore simpler and more sophisticated.

Some good advice from Ira Glass for beginners

Some good advice from Ira Glass for beginners, I’d say in any field.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Ira Jeffrey Glass is an American public radio personality and the host and producer of the radio and television show This American Life. [Wikipedia]

Services are …

Below is a list of sentences that are excerpts from a manuscript. None of them are formal definitions per se, but you can see an opinion forming, that might be formalized as a new way of thinking, with the basic tenets being: services are products of a particular kind that materialize from performances and affordances, in situ and at-the-time. Those products are in the form of outcomes packaged within experiences.

  1. Services are agreements between people on arrangements between things; about outcomes and experiences that fulfill a particular need, through performances and affordances.
  2. Services are essentially contracts that promise outcomes and experiences through performances and affordances.
  3. Services sets of promises (credit here to Jeff Sussna for being the first to put it in so many words).
  4. Services are not only social arrangements between things, but are themselves things that may be ephemeral or transient. They become to be and they either persist or perish.
  5. Services are essentially contracts between two or more parties, for things to go well.
  6. Services make possible pathways, connections, and transactions that are otherwise impossible.
  7. Services exists so people and their things have greater flexibility, freedom, and choice to pursue happiness and health in their own curious ways, and be undeterred when confronted with new challenges and opportunities.
  8. Services are agreements between people for arrangements between things. At the heart of services are things acting towards the welfare and wellbeing of other things, through the twin principles of sharing and caring.
  9. Services are products of performance and affordance.
  10. Services are systems because several parts work together to produce an effect that’s different from what each part can produce on its own.
  11. Services are like bridges connecting prospect and potential on two sides. They’re subject to dynamic loading as demand and supply flow across in situ and at the time. The height and span depend vary across sectors of the economy. The terrain is defined by strategic industry factors, or costs and risks peculiar to a sector, including competition, regulation, technology, and trends, as customer needs grow and change over time.
  12. Services (on the other hand) are products of concurrently projected supply and demand.
  13. Services are things doing the things for other things.
  14. Services are complex adaptive systems, which means demand and supply adapt to each other over time, becoming more and more tolerant and aware, and thereby improving the experience on both sides.
  15. Services are dynamic by nature.

Which of these are resonate more?

Thinking in Services (book abstract)

Below is the abstract of the book I am writing. This is to be included in the publishers catalog. What do you think? I’d be grateful for your feedback.
Thinking in Services: New Eyes, New Perspectives

Perhaps, as customers, or as service providers, we don’t understand services as much as we think we do, for us to truly evaluate, appreciate, or criticize their designs.

Thinking in services is habitual. Services are such integral parts of the daily of individuals and organizations that a day without paying for or providing them is inconceivable. They come in so many different “shapes and sizes”, we have difficulty defining them. Many are so intangible, always and everywhere, we don’t even realize they’re there until they fail.

Too small to notice, or too big to fail, with the universe of services expanding faster than ever before, so does the problem space. New kinds of services or new modes of failure expose us to the moral hazard of unexpected costs and risks that are unacceptable. That’s why, as customers or service providers, we care about design.

The problem is, by their very nature, even simple services are dynamic and complex in the way supply meets demand to fulfill a promise. Therefore, when services fail to meet expectations because their design is simplistic or superficial, we’re even more disappointed, after having acquired a false sense of confidence.

In his book “Designing Design”, Kenya Hara suggests “To understand something is not to be able to define it or describe it. Instead, taking something that we think we already know and making it unknown thrills us afresh with its reality and deepens our understanding of it.”

This book is about having new eyes and new perspectives for exploring the universe of services, grasping their realities, and deepening our understanding of them; what services really are, what they could be, and why they even exist. Narrowing down on the true nature of services, broadens the possibilities for design.

As per Hans-Georg Gadamer, nothing exists except through language. That’s especially true of design, being critical for communication, coordination, and collaboration, across functions and disciplines, for the faithful execution of policy or strategy.

With simple drawings, symbols, and a few extraordinary words, this book introduces the basis of a design language for services. Anyone can learn this language, with a little bit of curiosity, imagination, and quiet time. You do not need a degree in economics, biology, or computer science.