Let’s start with an anecdote:
I spent Friday on the go on a mad one-day trip to Amsterdam and then Eindhoven and back to London. Not as mad as you’d think, it was a totally self-indulgent decision I took at the last minute and ended up meeting old friends and new ones. Just lovely to be in the Netherlands as well. One my way back I didn’t have enough time to stop in town to had to settle for the sad choices at Schipol airport. I ended up getting a pannini at Per Tutti, some dodgy italian food chain. The waitress handed me a thick plastic-cased coaster and asked if I knew what this way for? I cleary looked like I didn’t so she went on to explain that when my sandwich will be ready, this coaster will ring and blink and I can come and get it at the counter. At first I thought: wow the future we’ve been talking about is getting nearer by the day, but wasn’t entirely thrilled either. The coaster reversed the role of the waitress and got clients off their backs, this also limited the reliance of the company on good and friendly staff as the interaction with the customer was limited, even more than usual. This felt like an efficient service definitely, but also one that made you feel even more like a number.
A few days later during the course of a conversation with Janne the larger implications dawned on me. The question for service design in the future isn’t only how will services be made more ubiquitous, engage people in different ways and get people to use things, but it’s also going to be: how are we going to be designing services that still involve people altogether?
Will our idea of progress eradicate the need for people to occupy a role in the service industry because we’ve designed them out?
In countries like China and India where population is a big issue, they are turning to solutions that see the problem in an opposite way. Each service must be broken down so as to involve (and pay) as many people as possible.
Does that mean that in the future, dealing with people in services will be seen as a less-productive method of obtaining something? Surely that’s not why so many of us complain about feeling unimportant and like a number when we interact with banking services. So it’s interesting to see that approach in the food industry which perhaps points the way to future changes.