Promoting Service Design as a Critical Lens within HCI

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HCI has a history of adding critical lenses in reaction to the kinds of things it makes. It started with a narrow focus on usability and then added a user-centered design (UCD) lens in order create tools that made people more effective at work. More recently it added a user experience (UX) lens in order to design products consumers desire. Today HCI promotes UCD and UX as core to what we do and who we are. Interestingly, work in both HCI research and practice involves new things that conflict with this identity and with the product-centric focus of UCD and UX. First, traditional brick and mortar services increasingly ask HCI teams to make customer-facing interfaces. This along with the rapid growth in Software as a Service means today’s HCI teams make more services than products. Second, work on social computing and on designing for social change frequently ask HCI teams to make systems that strongly influence or even radically change users’ behaviors in ways that have nothing to do with meeting their needs or desires. This work is often at odds with the core tenants of UCD and UX and with the idea that HCI plays the role of user advocate.

I suggest that HCI needs to evolve by adding service design as critical new lens. Service design offers several benefits. It employs a design process meant to results in a service. In addition, this process helps design teams envision systemic solutions that meet the needs of many stakeholders linked together in complex relationships, providing a better fit to the challenges found in social computing and in design for social innovation. In this talk I discuss how HCI has historically evolved to meet the changing needs. I then discuss service design as a distinct design practice. Finally, I detail how service design helps address challenges in designing services, social computing systems, and systems intended to drive social change.


John Zimmerman is an interaction designer and researcher with a joint appointment as an Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon’s HCI Institute and School of Design. His research has four main themes: (i) how to drive innovation of public services using social computing (ii) how changing system behavior can influence users’ perceptions of value for the system; (iii) research through design in HCI; and (iv) interaction with intelligent systems. Prior to joining Carnegie Mellon, John worked at Philips Research, investigating future interactive TV products and services.