Ezio Manzini

The 19th June 2018, in the framework of the ServDes Conference in Milano, DESIS has organised a workshop titled “Between servitude and collaboration. A service design choice?” This workshop background and aims have already been presented in a DESIS News of the 7th May 2018.  The following notes integrates the previous ones, summarizing the discussions that took place in it.

The workshop intended to explore the potentiality of service design as political agent. That is, as an actor influencing the shape of human interactions in service-oriented socio-technical systems. And, therefore, impacting also on the balance of power between the involved actors. This topic appears particularly relevant in a moment in which new forms of servitude (the growing area of hyper-commodified services) and unprecedented collaborative services (driven by transformative social innovation) have emerged.

The workshop introduction presented the new service landscape focusing on service encounters (i.e. the moments in which service interactions take place). To do that, it proposed a Service Encounter Map built on two axes: “intensity of relationships” and “freedom of choice”.  Where: the intensity of relationships indicates the quality of the interactions, expressed in terms of personal engagement, empathy, and openness towards the others (here, the range of possibilities goes from highly formalized encounters to the highly relational ones).  On the other hand, the freedom of choice is intended as the quality of the interactions expressed in terms of freedom to choose if and how to interact and how to do it (in this case, the range of possibilities goes from encounters with no balance of power between the involved actors, towards the ones in which they share the same possibilities to decide what to do and how). The resulting map represents the service encounters field of possibilities.

The Workshop discussed the proposed map and the emerging trends in three parallel groups. Each of them, coordinated by two convenors, focused at specific issues, raising some precise questions.

Group 1. The new service landscape: how to describe the main trends that are presently changing the service landscape?

The group decided to focus on digital platforms considered as the most disruptive driver of change. In fact, they can be seen as new kinds of “infrastructure” the existence of which heavily impact on service landscape: (1) with their de-intermediating power they reshape the way in which services are delivered; (2) with their capability to deploy distributed physical and social resources, they deeply change what is to be considered the exploitable asset. The discussion focused on how these digital platforms are penetrating in different areas, considering the related risks and opportunities. More precisely, two opposed trends have been recognized: towards hyper-commodification and towards collaborative co-production. Where the first, and dominant one, generates new forms of servitude (in the framework of the gig economy). While the second one, produces a new generation of collaborative services (in the framework of transformative social innovation).

Group 2. Design and politics of the everyday: can design shape sociotechnical systems and different actors’ relationships?  

The group started its discussion considering how each service embodies a set of ideas and practices taken by some influential socio-cultural scenarios (for instance the stereotype of the American happy family of the ‘60s or the West Coast Campus of the ‘80’). This cultural dimension of course influences the nature of everyday politics that these services put in place. From here the discussion moved to the topic of services and “emotional labor”: that is the labor that requires, by who delivers it, a high degree of relational intensity. This part of the discussion focused on how this labor is, or very often is not, considered and evaluated. Finally the discussion moved on the quality of relationships in the digital space, considering in particular, when and how trust can be generated.

Group 3. Beyond user-centered design: how can design impact on both relational intensity and balance of power between the involved actors?

The group focused on the need to move beyond the user-centered design (and therefore, beyond considering user’s satisfaction as the main evaluation criterion). The idea of adopting a community-centered approach has been considered too, discussing its advantages and limits (the last ones mainly due to the difficulty to define what today is a community). Finally, introducing the notion of human-centered approach, three main values have been identified: the quality of relationships, the mutual respect between all the involved actors, and the responsibility towards the whole society and the Planet.

At the end of the workshop the three discussions have been summarized in three statement that have been conceived as “chapters” of a collaborative keynote speech that has been delivered by the 6 workshop convenors at the ServDes Conference in the assembly of the 19th June.