Protecting the Field

I’ve worked in a few overlapping areas in my life. They’ve all been about connecting people with experiences, one way or another. And in reality, more people do this for a job than might describe it that way.

I’ve worked in arts marketing, content creation, web development, service design and graphic design. In all those areas I’ve done pretty similar things: making stuff, testing it out, talking to people, trying again.

Throughout that time the thing that has most consistently irked me is the fervent belief that each of those areas is completely unlike any of the others.

When I worked in arts marketing I witnessed its gradual transition to “audience development”. As if, for some reason, any kind of cultural activity was too special to be seen in the vicinity of the word “marketing”.

I saw web development go through all sorts of convolutions, each one making it more complex and specialised than the previous, each one accompanied by continuous argument and niche-ism.

So, a recent article outlining the differences between Service Design and Lean (which I won’t link to because I’m not writing that sort of post) gave me an incredible sense of deja vu, as much as its appearance is inevitable.

It’s inevitable because some degree of separation is necessary, especially when a new area of work is being established. We need the labels to some extent so that things evolve, so that we can find common ground for discussion.

But there are never clear lines between one thing and another, in any field. And service design overlaps with more things than many of us might recognise. It overlaps with open innovation, marketing, ethnography, interaction design, information architecture, user experience and product design to name but a few.

Above all it most definitely overlaps with Lean, which shares a clearly articulated vision of delivering value for the customer.

The need to separate one field from another is what eventually kills it. If we have to defend what we do by entrenching ourselves even further into dogma than we miss the bigger picture.

However, if we recognise and apply the very best tools and ideas from every overlapping field and use those then we’ll start to do our jobs better and deliver some real value.

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1 comment
  1. I agree that a degree of separation is required in describing overlapping sectors, and, that appropriation of widely used terms is necessary but that this can become a distraction from the job in hand.

    There is also a lot of snobbery and fashion that affects use of language, as you noted, with the pointless move from “marketing” to “audience development” in the arts. It is easy to get bogged down in language and divided over labels…

    People can debate terminology ‘until the cows come home’. People reach common ground through shared language but only real common understanding through experience, and practice – more doing, less talking.

    The world is becoming more joined up and 21st century skills are about adaptability. As service designers, it is our job to help the customer get his/her job done, and in doing so we should continue to borrow and apply others ideas theories and practice, in pursuit of delivering value to the customer. It is our responsibility to adapt.

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