Service Design 101

This article was co-written by Lauren Chapman Ruiz and Izac Ross

We all hear the words “service design” bandied about, but what exactly does it mean? Clients and designers often struggle to find a common language to define the art of coordinating services, and frequent questions arise. Often it emerges as necessary in the space of customer experience or complicated journey maps. In response, here is a brief FAQ primer to show the lay of the land in service design.

What are services?

Services are intangible economic goods—they lead to outcomes as opposed to physical things customers own. Outcomes are generated by value exchanges that occur through mediums called touchpoints. For example, when you use Zipcar, you don’t actually own the Zipcar, you buy temporary ownership. You use the car, then transfer it to someone else once it is returned. Every point in which you engage with Zipcar is a touchpoint.

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Global Service what…?

and is there any peanut butter with the jam?

No, this is not that kind of jam. Think of a music jam, but instead of feeding off each other’s instruments to come up with interesting songs, we will feed off of each other’s ideas to come up with creative service solutions.

The Global Service Jam is a 48-hour design event that brings people from all backgrounds together to learn new approaches, tools, and methods for designing services. This isn’t a watch-and-learn kind of conference, the GSJ gets participants’ hands dirty, asking “jammers” to create services, not slide decks. A theme is announced on the first night of the Jam then for the next 48 hours jammers focus on exploring, iterating, and prototyping new service design ideas. One person introduces a ryf, or rhythm, and together you get the chance to build something that you couldn’t have built by yourself.

This year, Cooper is excited to host the SF Service Jam, March 7-9.

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CascadeSF UX Night: Planning for Responsive Layouts

Recently at Cooper, we updated our website with a focus on responsive web design. Working with Cooper’s other great developer, Elisha Cook, I learned a lot in the project, though at times it seemed my head would explode trying to figure out solutions to various problems presented by responsive web design, so when I heard that CascadeSF was hosting a presentation on this very topic, I was eager to attend and see what I could learn.

CascadeSF is a collective of San Francisco-based web designers and developers who meet periodically to keep up-to-date on design trends, standards, and techniques. On July 24th, the presenter was Pauly Ting, a Lead UX Designer at Tigerspike SF, founder of Feedia, and co-founder of TwoCents. The MeetUp was hosted in the offices of the residential real estate site, Trulia, just a block away from the Cooper studio.

Digital Evolution: From Fixed to Responsive Layouts

The focus of Pauly’s presentation was on planning content for responsive layouts. Responsive layouts present new challenges for organization and delivery of content. We are accustomed to the page-based approach to organizing content, largely because that is how content has always been organized and delivered. For example, the printing press has a fixed width and height based on the page size. The Gutenberg Press revolutionized content delivery in the 15th century by organizing content as hand-set letters and graphics arranged in rigidly determined rows that could then be mass produced. It was a new paradigm, taking book production from the hands of scribes locked up in monasteries, and distributing books more widely, making education of the masses possible for the first time, which of course changed the world.

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UX Boot Camp with Marketplace Money

Old School Radio Meets the Digital Age

Take a look inside Cooper’s June, 2013 UX Boot Camp with American Public Media’s Marketplace Money radio show, where students explored the next horizon of audio programming—a paradigm shift from broadcast to conversation-based platforms.

The Challenge
Students rolled up their sleeves to help the show respond to the trend away from traditional radio by finding the right mix of alternative distribution platforms. Marketplace Money came equally ready to take a radical departure from their current format in order to create a new model that redefines the roles of host, show, and audience in the digital age. To reach this goal, students focused on designing solutions that addressed three big challenges:

  1. Engage a new, younger audience that is tech savvy, and provide easy access to content via new platforms, such as podcasts, satellite radio shows, and the Internet.
  2. Inspire audience participation and contribution. Facilitate conversations and inspire people to share their personal stories so that listeners can learn from each other.
  3. Design ways for the host to carry an influential brand or style that extends beyond the limits of the show and engage with the audience around personal finance, connecting with listeners in ways that are likeable, useful, and trustworthy, making the topic of personal finance cool, fun and approachable.

At the end of the four-day Boot Camp, student teams presented final pitches to Marketplace Money, and a panel of experienced Cooper designers offered feedback on their ideas and presentations.In the following excerpts from each day, you can test your own sensory preferences for receiving content as you see, hear and read how design ideas evolved at the Boot Camp, inspiring new relationships between people and radio.

Marketplace Money Class

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UX Boot Camp Goes to Europe

Guest post by Francesca Di Mari at Sketchin, a Swiss user experience design firm based in Lugano.

At  Sketchin we strongly believe that design can improve lives and foster social good. We first heard of Cooper’s UX Boot Camp when we visited Cooper in September, 2012, and we fell in love with their idea of using design to educate and foster social good by bridging design students with non-profits. This idea was conceived of and developed by Kendra Shimmell, the Managing Director at Cooper U, and it launched our determination to be part of a design revolution for social good.

Our first step was to create our own UX Boot Camp modeled after what we experienced at Cooper. So in May of 2013, together with Talent Garden Milano and Frontiers of Interaction, we organized the first Italian UX Boot Camp in Milan, modeled after the Cooper UX Boot Camp. Here is a look back at what we created and discovered in the process.

UX Bootcamp Milano 15

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Designing Culture: The Secret of Great Teams & Organizations

Upcoming Cooper Parlor:Designing Culture: The Secret of Great Teams & Organizations

Moderator: Teresa Brazen & Kendra Shimmell
Cost: $10
When: Thursday, July 11th from 6:30-8:30 (doors open at 6)
Where: Cooper Offices, 85 2nd St, 8th Floor, San Francisco, CA
Get your tickets here.

“We’re way off schedule. Everyone is disengaged. No one is onboard with the vision.” Sound familiar? What if you could create great products and services without all that drama? What if there was a secret sauce for stellar team dynamics?

From “Ship It Days” to involving teenagers in ideation sessions, in this Cooper Parlor we’ll talk about curious, compelling ways that people from every role in organizations are creating inspired cultures. We’ll look at how culture impacts teams and what they create together, what constitutes a “healthy” culture, and trade tips and tricks for fostering environments we all want to work in.

Participants will share their own success stories and challenges, so come prepared to be an active part of the conversation. Then, we’ll do some hands-on exercises to come up with creative new practices to take back to our organizations and teams.

If you lead a team, want to lead, work remotely, build stuff, wrangle people daily, or just want to hear about (and create!) invaluable techniques for solidifying team culture, don’t miss this Cooper Parlor!

What is the Cooper Parlor?

The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design. Save your spot now.

Related Reading

Design the Future of Radio

According to popular belief, radio is dead.

It’s not; it’s just taking a different form. Instead of families gathering around a radio to hear the nightly news, people are staying informed by listening to the “All Things Considered” podcast or following Fareed Zakaria on Twitter.

So how does a radio program make the transition from on-air to online and define their role as journalists in the digital age? And how can designers influence how radio content is generated, shared, and consumed?

In the June UX Boot Camp, through experimentation and exploration, participants will redesign how listeners interact with radio content. They’ll conduct this examination through a radio program you may have heard on your local public radio station: Marketplace Money.

American Public Media’s Marketplace Money is a weekly public radio program airing locally on KQED that looks at matters of personal finance with wit and wisdom. In this particular UX Boot Camp, students will work with American Public Media’s Marketplace Money to transform the experience of radio. They’ll come up with new tools and models for engagement that encourage multi-platform participation, crowd-sourced content, and an entirely new type of relationship between listeners and show host.

Sound like a challenge you want to solve? Save your spot now.
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Should you ditch your interface?

What if instead of designing explicit interfaces we aimed instead at eliminating them altogether? If instead of adding a screen we found ways to remove it? Wouldn’t the best user interface be the one that requires nothing of the user?

No UI, proposed here on the Journal by Cooper’s Golden Krishna, is interesting, provocative, and deeply flawed. Golden argues that no interface is best, and then explores ways strip it out. But this begins with a designer’s goal rather than the users’. First identify where users are helped or hindered by explicit interfaces: When hindered, eliminate the UI. But there’s many times when a UI really helps. When it does, make it great.

But where to start? Three questions can help you evaluate the user’s relationship with a task, product or service.

For any particular interface in the system:

  1. Does the user want or need control?
  2. Does the user get value from doing the work themselves?
  3. Does the user outperform technology?

If you can answer “no” to every one of these questions, then put in the effort to eliminate the interface. If you answer “yes” to any one of these you should focus on improving the interface so that it supports the user better. If it’s not unanimously “yes” or “no” carefully consider how design can meet the conflicting needs. Get to know your users well. Design a solution that’s as sophisticated and nuanced as their situation calls for.

Each of these questions helps you examine the relationship of the user with the technology. These are massively important considerations when advocating for the elimination of the interface; a product without some form of interface effectively doesn’t exist for the user. The UI is the embodiment of your relationship with it. No interface, no relationship. Sometimes this is exactly what you want. But people also value products because they bring something into their lives, or because they remove some obstacle from it. Every tool, game, or service gives people power, information, peace, pleasure, or possibility. Interactions with these should be awesome, helpful, supportive, effortless; and for this we often need a really great UI.

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Interaction Design for Monsters

Whew. That was close. As every year, there’s a risk that we’ll be overrun with with zombies, werewolves, vampires, sasquatch(es), and mummies before the veil that separates the world seals tight for another year. But a quick tally around the Cooper offices shows that here, at least, we all made it. Hope all our readers are yet un-undead as well. While we’re taking this breather, we’re called to reflect a bit on this year’s interaction design for monsters.

Monsters are extreme personas

One of the power of personas is that they encourage designers to be more extrospective, to stop designing for themselves. Monsters as personas push this to an extreme. It’s rare that you’ll ever be designing technology for humans who can’t perceive anything, can’t speak any modern language, live nearly eternally, shape shift, etc. But each of these outrageous constraints challenges designers to create a design that could accommodate it, and often ends up driving what’s new or special about the design.

But then again…

Some of the constraints of the monsters are human constraints writ large (or writ strangely).

  • Juan wasn’t a useful person in and of himself, but his users exercised flash mob requirements of real-time activation and coordination. Are there flash mob lessons to learn?
  • Emily was fighting a zombie infection, but real-world humans are fighting infections all the time. Is there something we can use for medical interfaces?
  • Metanipsah has no modern language and a mechanical mental model, but most of us have mobile wayfinding needs at one time or another.
  • The Vampire Capitalists behind Genotone took the long view, reminding us of burgeoning post-growth business models.

So maybe they’re great personas after all, guiding us to great design because they’re extreme, just like the canonical OXO Good Grips story, where designing for people with arthritis led the design teams to create products with universal appeal.

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Watch: What Good is a Screen?








It was a full house of design thinkers with a Silicon Valley twist. Serial Entrepreneurs. Voice-activation specialists. Tech wunderkinds. An evening of passionate discussion about the future of interfaces.

“I felt like I was back in college — the good parts of college,” Strava designer Peter Duyan told me afterwards.

Peter was crammed in this room of college-like discourse — designed for 35, now seating over 60 — because of a blog post I wrote that went unexpectedly viral.

I had proposed that “the best interface is no interface.” That we should focus on experiences and problems, not on screens. That UX is not UI. Two days after it was published, it was shared more on Twitter than anything ever written on The Cooper Journal, Core77 or Designer Observer. A week later, a Breaking Development podcast. Two weeks, a popular Branch discussion. A month, top ten on Hacker News again. All surprising, flattering, amazing. And that evening, a conversation.

In the spirit of discourse, special guest and design legend Don Norman started the evening with an entertaining retort: “They made a big mistake when they invited me.” (Watch it above, or listen to it here. And if you haven’t read his books, you should).

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