At Your Service – Part 2

From the now defunct DESIGN 21: Social Design Network, an online community that explored the connection between design and society. It was a joint venture between UNESCO and Felissimo. I was the resident blogger.

Last weekend in Pittsburgh, at the second annual student-run service design conference called Emergence, I had the great pleasure of meeting people who make it their mission to help others help themselves.

A panoply of speakers, non-designers and designers alike, presented work on the value of seizing the tangible and intangible “service touch points” – with customers, clients, vendors, and the like. We heard representative voices from corporate quarters, creative studios, computer labs, and even classrooms. We heard points of view on “disruptive trends in design” (brilliantly relayed by Allan Chochinov, Core 77’s Editor-in-Chief/Partner), cutting-edge data visualization (through IBM’s “Many Eyes”), and the sort of design work that sets out to leverage services that provide social and ecological sustainability (from Chris Downs, live|work’s Managing Partner).

I sat on a lively panel with Chris (and Daniela Sangiorgi of Lancaster University), which was loads of fun, thanks chiefly to London-based Oliver King, co-founder and director of Engine, who facilitated the session and asked us one and all, “Can service design save the world?” He set us in motion with a series of slides (that we read in silence), and then had the playful idea of folding the audience members into the conversation by asking them to play “pass the parcel” (read: hot potato) with the microphone. When one of his rapid-fire zingers coincided with whomever was holding the mic, that someone had to chime in. Typical conference hierarchy broke down quickly; all input was welcome. And by the end of it we collectively created an itemized action list that included bullet-points to keep service designers on the right track. Things like “listen more,” “think long-term,” “question what good means,” “never assume you know,” and “be voraciously curious.”

I also spoke solo, earlier that day, about the importance of holistic thinking and the various species of service. I shared my hypothesis that service can mean a lot of different things – as needs, expectations and contexts vary – and that service depends on the conscious activation and expression of positive human traits, like responsibility, accountability, vulnerability, and our ability to be good to ourselves. Then I shared a homespun service truism – that it’s about give and take; that service is ultimately a reciprocal relationship. It depends on our capacity to put our trust in others (that they’ll support us along our service journeys) and be open and willing to be surprised by them (when they choose to go beyond the call of duty).

From a service provider’s perspective, I guess that means “be trustworthy” and be open and willing to give, and then give some more. This all, happily, comes back to our unavoidable condition of interconnectivity and our willingness to both give and receive, beyond ourselves.

Giving, especially, is transformational. I closed with a quote from Bill Clinton’s book Giving, which is about how each of us can change the world. He says, “We all have the capacity to do great things…My hope is that the people and stories in this book will lift spirits, touch hearts, and demonstrate that citizen activism and service can be a powerful agent of change in the world.”

I hope so too.


At Your Service – Part 1

From the now defunct DESIGN 21: Social Design Network, an online community that explored the connection between design and society. It was a joint venture between UNESCO and Felissimo. I was the resident blogger.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the strategic field of “service design” of late because I was recently invited to speak at Carnegie Mellon’s Emergence event in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. And so, as with anything when top of mind, it has filtered much of what I’ve been witnessing and experiencing over the past several days.

And believe me, I’ve had a motley crew of service experiences to pull from!

I’ve hailed many a taxi. (One, remarkably, had no meter and ran right out of gas on the Chicago Expressway. In a moment of impulse, I hopped out and hitchhiked my way back to safety.)

I’ve had my precious VW Beetle towed. (I dutifully paid the fees to retrieve my vintage wheels at an ominous locale named Auto Return. Although its signage declared, “We care!” it was clear to me they really didn’t. The young lady in attendance oozed disgust for her job: no joy, no eye contact, and no interest in caring whatever.)


I’ve acquired a new tattoo. (The artists sat pretty in their notorious ink-dom, confident in their skills, covered in skulls and daggers and the odd floral motif. It was their world and they ruled it nobly. “User needs” and “customer empathy” were never part of the grandmaster plan.)
I’ve lain on a massage table at a swanky boutique spa. (But the hour-long event left me more stressed than soothed. The price was high and yet the quality was poor: the masseuse’s hands felt more like chop sticks than oven mitts.)

These four stories have led me to devise four distinct typologies of “service experience” that we might seek out or stumble upon serendipitously as we skip across our day-to-days. Let me embellish:

Support: An everyday service we obtain when we’re in a pinch and need to get around town (taxi), or are in need of a helping hand with things like walking our dogs, laundering our clothes, or cleaning our homes.

Penalty: A service we have no choice but to pay for. We’ve been fined or arrested or we’ve committed a big fat no-no in some way to someone. (Or we’re “in service” to something other than ourselves, such as the military, or a religion. These aren’t penalties as much as they are selfless offerings, but they’re sticky service matters that I will not delve into at this time.)

Risk: A service we fear but crave nonetheless. We may want to endure something as a badge of honor, to enfold into our personal life story, to embellish our self-identity, or even adorn our exterior. This is where tattooing resides, along with other forms of body alteration, and all types of extreme activities, such as bungee-jumping, racecar-driving, and rollercoaster-riding.

Reward: A service we welcome when we want to experience relief from the cricks and cracks in our backs, or simply indulge in a sip of luxury.

Within each of these categories of service – Support, Penalty, Risk, Reward – there exists an array of possible outcomes thanks to unforeseeable factors, like personality, mood, weather, preparation, skill, space, time, resources and passion. But overall, services do well when they’re aligned with the truism thatcustomer satisfaction is proportionately related to customer expectation.

With taxi service, I expect to safely get to where I’m going, along the most direct route. (I’d also like the car to be clean and comfortable and infused with fresh air.) But if this isn’t the case, my nerves go on the fritz and I get a bit riled. With fines, bills, overdue fees and all other unpleasant “unavoidables”, I expect to pay and be done with it. (I’d also like the person on the other end of the line, or across the counter, to be compassionate and kind and understanding of the fact that as humans we all make mistakes… and that there’s always a perfectly good exception to every single rule.) But if the already uncomfortable situation worsens, I just want to run and hide. With “no pain, no gain” service experiences like tattooing or personal training, I expect to be in the company of tough love and a bit of badass attitude. (I’d also expect to leave with precisely what I asked and paid for.) But if the service doesn’t live up to its claim to fame (or infamy), I feel physical soreness as well as deep regret. With massage therapy, I expect to leave in peace, delightfully buzzed from the aromatic mix of earthy oils. (If not, as earlier this week, I will never go back.)

Service design is complex and can’t be narrowed down to a single mantra for a cross-section of corporations. There’s a huge difference in expectation when strutting into the lobby of a Ritz-Carlton versus through the front door of a small-town saloon! There are business needs to consider, staff needs to attend to, and individual consumer needs to discover and satisfy, as best as possible. It all comes together somewhere in a decentralized center, where top-down meets bottom-up; where tangibles meets intangibles; where give meets take; where a system of people meets personal stories; and where no sole element can be extracted from the whole.

To be continued…




Okay, let’s be real. Who doesn’t love to be called gorgeous? And to be warmly invited to a party and then gifted a sweet surprise?

Baublebar is brilliant.

They’ve cleverly branded their welcome gift a (hashtag) “swatsurprise,” where SWAT stands for Service With Accessorizing Talent, an acronym for their stylist team, always eager and ready to serve up tasty combos of jewels, chains, spikes and beads – to your personal liking.

They’ve also mastered what every great burlesque dancer knows (and builds her business on): the slow reveal; the tease; the art of seduction.

Here’s what I mean: on opening my delivery this morning, I was like a kid on Christmas morning. First, the hot pink and chartreuse, the silky black bag, snazzy striped tissue, and a “Hello, gorgeous” greeting with a gold chain gift.


Then the thoughtful “Do’s and Don’ts” for caring for my new purchase and a sticker of enthusiasm – YAY! – cheering me on, building anticipation even further (and strategically endorsing my decision to support their business). Win-win.


And finally, the full monty. My shiny, perfect Shoshanna Amulet in Opal. Which of course I had to wear immediately and honor with an impromptu photo shoot!

Continue reading…


Barrow Salon


Don’t you just love it when you have a stellar brand experience? When the service providers get it right? When you, as was my case today, leave the salon feeling like a million bucks?

I believe in sharing the love and passing on good fortune to others, so today starts something brand new: the swoon fest!

Yep. When I personally have a noteworthy service experience or come upon a brand that lights me up like a firecracker, I’m gonna write about it, dammit.

So today. A salon story…

Truth be told, I’ve been a fickle pickle with stylists and salons over the years. It’s my curiosity getting the better of me – and shiny object reflexes. Oooh, a new place downtown. Or aaah, over there, a wizard with the scissors.

I’ve hopped around like a Mexican jumping bean for the past decade in San Francisco, always in search of “the one” who’ll really get me and whip my hair into a sassy, stylin’ fringe or shag or asymmetrical bob. All this ping-ponging around has proven disastrous with my unrequited love affair with long and luxurious. My naturally curly hair (“fine” but voluminous) has instead been in a perpetual state of “growing out,” likely the result of my Aquarian impulsivity overriding my ability to play the waiting game.

But alas, I tried a new place today! Barrow.


Floral top is Ted Baker, sold out (similar also by Ted Baker); silver fringe leather necklace: Dean.

Believe it or not, SF psychic Jessica Lanyadoo (who I adore! she’s amazing) recommended I check it out.

No surprise, Eileen did a fabulous balayage (if I do say so myself – sung Jay-Z style) and Michelle delivered with the shears, and then some. (Apparently, she also cuts Zooey Deschanel’s shiny locks!)

But I’m not writing this post merely on account of a terrific cut and color: it was the Barrow salon experience as a whole.

I left feeling giddy, delighted, excited, and full of ideas. The space turned me on. The playlist was impeccable. Instead of a fashion or gossip rag, I was reading a Diana Vreeland biography. In hard cover, red linen. (The library also housed books on Patti Smith, Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood and mid-century art.)

Continue reading…


Mover and Shaker

It’s so charming to see an earnest offer in our overly sales-pitchy world. Check this out: the side panels of this repurposed truck present a straightforward question in script: “Do you need me to help you move across the city?” It’s as direct as it gets. No slogan, no logo, not even a color palette. Just an implied solution to a common need.

It caught my attention and drew me in. And then I hit the windshield display of Jesus imagery and a poster illustrating “diseases of the digestive tract.” (Too bad the sign assuring “lowest cost” gets obscured by the large intestine and book of Deuteronomy.)


Quirky? Yes. Enough to want to learn more? Sure, why not. But there’s no contact info anywhere! No phone number, no website… nada. Are we meant to knock on the truck’s windows to request moving services? Or wait around until the zealot returns? (Wakes up from a siesta?)

It had me at the handwriting. But then it left me hanging.

Seen any non-douchey calling cards lately? And if so, were they effective?