Service Design Thinking, I haz problemz with you

Lately, I have been reading up a lot of stuff on the design thinking movement, style of work and community. All this seems to be a big pool of old and new ideas combined, in order to find the perfect product for the customer. The most important books are “This is Service Design Thinking” and “Change by Design”; the first to be written by a group of industry experts, the later written by Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO – A big international design company). Let me be clear: I love most of the ideas in Service Design Thinking: Multilateral thinking, cross-functional teams up to “transdisciplinary” work, agile fitting in quite well and a lot of solutions to problems I encounter in daily work.

The Problem

However I have observed a issue that heavily disturbs me and that I never sawit discussed in the service design community meetups where I showed up: Ethics.

Two examples to make my point clear:

“Change by Design”

The Book describes a project for the american TSA in order to optimize the (post 9/11?) changes to processes on airports. People, aware of the changes in procedure at american airports, warn regularly about the very open attacks on civil liberties that were introduced with these new procedures. (Damage to health from untested scanners and sexual harassment of kids being 2 of them). Another one was a project for the “Bank of America” in order to create a new product for people to make personal bank accounts more modern. Personally, I would never work for any of these customers:

  • TSA: Airport Security ever was (and maybe ever will be) security theater at best. Just Google the stuff and maybe don’t read state sponsored research on that subject. After you did this Google “Project Censored TSA” and be amazed on how the USA has privatized sovereign efforts to TSA and this company is used, in a very similar way military contractors by Companies like Xi, to outsource and undermine basic freedoms of citizens.
  • Bank Of America: Just Google “Bank of America Scandal YEAR”. Dear IDEO’s you could have known this before. Where is the research on your customers?

Yes, “Change by Design” has a part on more philanthropic projects in later chapters of the Book, but it’s to late there. I think this is covering up for the more dark aspects of the earlier jobs. Yes, it helps clearing the conscience of the companies and people working there but it is to late by then. You can not make up with a philanthropic project for the damage done in another project.

“This is Service Design Thinking”

In the Chapter “Operations Management – The Quest for Efficiency” the Author Kate Blackmon uses McDonalds as a good example of the combination of elements from “Taylorism” (work analysis and job specification) and “Fordism” (standardization of the inputs and outputs). This was where I went OMGWTFNERDRAGE. Yes, McDonalds might be a heavily optimized workplace, but ask a Burger-flipper of your choice how much he loves that job, a animal rights group of your choice about the conditions the animals live in which land on your dish (ask chicken if you got a good stomach), ask people who know about healthy food ingredients on McDonalds meals and I could go on. I should be thanking for this Example, there is no better explanation for the bad Side-effects if you apply the thinking of Taylor and Ford without additional ethical safeguard. I don’t oppose standardization and job specification at all, but I must insist that you, dear reader, think about a moment what happens when these principles are used without any consideration for the human being part of the whole process. I mjst be addin that we seem to live in th “Post Fordist” age, and hereby the reference to Taylor and Ford seems to be a bit outdated. It’s not the 80ies anymore.

Why so angry?

The lack of critical thinking towards the own behavior was very evident to me when I visited some “Service Design Thinking” events in 2012 and this impression hasn’t got any better through the two books I had read. There is so much communication about sustainability et al. on these events that I feel like listening to the person leading the department for “Corporate Social Responsibility” of a Blue Chip company – I simply feel lied to.

  • Someone explaining me why he created this new Headphone and I am thinking: Why the F**K would the world really need a new headphone? Aren’t there a Quadrillion models out there?
  • Someone explaining the “Design Challenge” they had at the University, about to create a future sustainable car .. DAFUQ … NO car is the car of the future, with a simple equitation the damn challenge can be solved, if like 80% of the world would have access to own cars the world would be sucked dry of raw materials relatively fast. Let alone whatever kind of fuel is needed. Have fun inventing the “Flux Compensator” first.
  • Designing the “Hair Dryer of the Future” – RAGE … The hair dryer of the future will be a refurbished one with remade electronics, because in 50 or 100 years it will be very hard to get the resources for what we are producing today.

As long as we use Methods that potent like “Service Design Thinking” with Ethics that seem to be void of the learnings of the “Enlightenment” and “Post-Industralization” Phases brought, I fear the danger coming from it. The chance of leaps in product development is is there, that is a result of the amazing way to work, but as long as this movement seems to be avoiding basic Ethics it’s a loaded gun on a child-yard. The lack of critical thinking and the fueling of a pure desire based economy with new products is diminishing the Method of “Service Design Thinking” to a simple Tool to add to blind consumption at best and not to a thing that “Changes the World” like the Design Thinking Community tries to imply whenever it can.