A Belated Who’s Who of EPIC 2017 – Perspectives

Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

In October, I had the pleasure of attending EPIC 2017 – Perspectives at HEC Montreal. I’ve been a member of EPIC for the last two years and am volunteering on their Learning Advisory. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect walking into a conference of anthropologists, but what I found was a stimulating intellectual and social gathering that ranged from the technical to the Anthropocene.

DANA SHERWOOD: A brilliant artist who is exploring the  the Anthropocene through creating confectionary for animal collaborators, who, in turn, are changing how she draws and paints. Field work + Studio work + Places + Inhabitants.

DAVID JOHNSON: One of the US’s leading historians of gay culture, Johnson argued persuasively that the consumer market for muscle magazines and book clubs targeted at gay men created the conditions for the Civil Rights movement to emerge in the late 1960s.

ETHNOGRAPHIC FILMMAKERS: Three films stood out: 1. Nicholas Agafonoff’s affecting portrait of a man recuperating from a stroke who refused to tap into his long-term disability benefits. Agafonoff made a passionate argument for ethnomethodology. 2. Bad Babysitters’ documentary about twenty-somethings and their mobile phones. 3. Yuebai Liu’s amazing documentary about Italian-Chinese men.

JONATHAN BEAN and HANNA LARSEN: My favourite paper of the conference was a marketing case study of Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster brand using remote user research technology and  principles of material engagement theory and brand gestalt to study how consumers, the chef and the restaurant enact meaning through objects.

SAM LADNER: I’ve followed Ladner’s work on Twitter for several years, and I credit Ladner and her book Practical Ethnography  for introducing me to the amazing community of applied research  anthropologists who participate in EPIC. Ladner’s workship was about design research, and she emphasized thehe foundations of applied research design: 1.  Thick Description, 2. Action Objects, 3. Precise Measures. Designers and researchers alike should adopt design management principles: Creativity,  Complexity, Compromise, Choice. Systematic reduction and systhesis of data.

EPIC 2018 will be in Honolulu, HI, and the theme this year is EVIDENCE. The conference sold out in under 24 hours, so I may have to settle for the live stream this year. I’m not surprised that the conference sold out. EPIC’s ecclectic, intellectual mix delights.

 

The Design Journal Special Issue on Service Design

Reading time: 3 – 4 minutes

Daniela Sangorgi and Sabine Junginger have edited a special issue of The Design Journal on Emerging Issues in Service Design.

Taken as a whole, this special issue contributes valuable and critical perspectives to the service design community.

Through conceptual and empirical studies of particular service design initiatives, the authors explore a range of important questions that service designers worldwide are facing:

  • How can an anthropological view of service practices usefully inform conceptions of co-design and co-production? (Blomberg and Darrah, 2015)
  • How do “organizational design legacies” frame and impact the kinds of change outcomes that service design can and cannot produce? (Junginger, 2015)
  • How might service design unpack place-making to understand community? (Predville, 2015)
  • What conditions and relations impact the success of experience-based co-design in the public sector? (Donetto et. al, 2015)
  • How do “fragile relations” amongst partners in cross-organization and cross-sectoral service network impact service design initiatives? (Hyvärinen, Lee, and Mattelmäki, 2015)
  • How can local service design initiatives scale across large geographical areas (Morelli 2015)

What stood out for me as I was reading these papers was the need for service designers to address power relation amongst partners and stakeholders at the outset of any service design initiatives. I was reminded of Wenger-Trayner et. al‘s call for system convenors to carefully design early interactions amongst  networks of collaborators and to openly address power differentials. The papers that stood out most to me were Blomberg and Darrah’s exploration of what anthropology can offer service design, Junginger’s analysis of how existing organizational design practices (however tacit) shape and in some cases thwart service design initiatives, and Moretti’s case studies on how service design initiatives can scale.

Hyvärinen, Lee, and Mattelmäki’s exploration of “fragile relations” offers useful ideas for public sector partnerships with private sector organizations. What sticks with me is the idea that the bureaucracy of the public sector inhibits progress in complex service design initiatives and colours other participants perceptions of whether an initiative might succeed.

Morelli (2015) makes the point that the measure of a service design network at scale is not the number of users who engage with a platform but rather  the number of “circles” or communities it spawns. This insight is relevant in social learning circles as a way to figure out how best to measure an initiative’s impact at scale.

What this special issue reveals for me is the complexity of service design. Lauren Currie, Wim Rampen, Fabien Segelstrom and others on Twitter are absolute correct when they playfully commented recently that there is more to Service Design than workshops, touchpoints,  or digital or even design. Indeed, I am left pondering how service design is also a field at the front end of systems and organizational change that extends learning and development beyond the scope of the individual or an organization, to systems concepts like communities and regions.

If buildings can learn (cf. Stuart Brand) and organizations can learn, then how can service networks and other assemblages learn as well?

Enough philosophizing. Get you hands on the special issue and share your observations and insights.