Perspectives in (service|enterprise) design

All sorts of perspectives on service design and/or enterprise design keep spinning in my head and, I think, in many posts on the topic. Why not add one more?

This post is work-in-progress and an attempt to clean up my thinking.

Fundamental perspectives

As Tim Brown states in Change by Design and IDEO explain on their website, successful design has to satisfy the three constraints of:

  • desirability (human perspective: Do people want it? Does it make sense? Is it meaningful?)
  • feasibility (technology perspective: Can we do it?)
  • viability (commercial/ecological perspective: Can we sustain it?)

The faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology recognizes these perspectives as peopletechnology and business.

Consequently, desirability, feasibility and viability are three perspectives that we will want to consider in most of our design activities. (We’ll have to ensure that we do not consider these to be constraints too early in the process so that we do not prematurely limit our thinking.)

Levels of abstraction

Drawing upon work by Tom Graves we can identify several levels of abstraction when taking a service-oriented view of the enterprise:

  • purpose (Why are we here?)
  • context (Who is “we”? What else is around?)
  • concept (Who does what for whom? When? And, especially, why? The conceptual (or functional) level.)
  • implementation (How is this going to work? The implementation-specific level.)
  • deployment (When will this happen? Who is and which resources are involved? The operations-specific level.)

I’ve been rambling about this before. This time I’ve omitted the action-record level, i.e. the level providing an historic record of activity within the enterprise. This brings us to:


I think time is best considered to be a distinct dimension rather than an aspect of other dimension. It can be useful to consider the past, present and future when discussing desirability, feasibility and viability. Similarly, different time perspectives can play meaningful roles when discussing the different levels of abstraction introduced above. In particular, the action-record level is just a past slice of the deployment level. An action plan constitutes a future slice of the same level.

In the context of service design, we’ll often want to consider five different time periods: before, at the begin of, during, at the end of, and after the service encounter. This could be easily extended by considering distinct phases of becoming and ceasing to be a specific service provider’s customer (for services involving continuous or repeat services).

Over time, the enterprise changes its shape: participants leave and others join, resources disappear and others become available.

Jeff Sussna pointed out that these comments reflect a purely linear view of time that is typical of many service design efforts. I think that this is also true for many other types of design efforts including user experience and business process design. However, in many cases, the people involved have at least a latent understanding of the fact that life is not as linear as e.g. a customer journey map might suggest.

As designers we need to be more explicit about the fact that linear time-based maps are a gross simplification. We need to point out aspects such as concurrent or parallel processes (which may have varying degrees of interdependence) and other non-linear aspects of time.

More of Jeff’s tweets on the topic here, here and here.

What next?

The above is only a start, but the mess in my head feels a little more manageable already. Other dimensions can (and should) be added, the different concepts could (and should) be discussed in more detail. For example, entire books can be (and have been) written on desirability alone.


2016-02-20: Added reference to Delft University of Technology to Fundamental perspectives.
2016-02-15: Updated section on Time based on comments by Jeff Sussna.


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