Luke Kelly

Luke is busy writing his PhD thesis at Birkbeck University in London looking at ‘Narrative Convergence between Literature and Video Games’. When not totally immersed in his writings, Luke joins us on various project work. Luke was the research assistant in STBY’s London office and a core member of our research team from 2010 till 2012.

Luke originally came to STBY as an intern in the Amsterdam office. For his internship project, he helped produce a magazine that detailed the company’s work and philosophy. Joining the London office full-time in May 2010, Luke helped Geke and Bas produce the ‘Tools’ chapter for ‘This is Service Design Thinking’, a comprehensive introduction to the field published in 2010.

Luke holds a BA in Political Studies from the University of Leeds, an MA in Politics and the Mass Media from the University of Liverpool, and both of his arms above his head whenever frightened or alarmed. Prior to working at STBY, he served as the press and research officer for a UK politician, and spent a year in China lecturing in International Relations at Xian-Jiaotong Liverpool University.

Using Open Data for Design Research

I attended a workshop at the Open Data Institute in Shoreditch, an organisation with the important mission “to connect, equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with data.” My day-long workshop focused on finding and preparing data and got me thinking about how we as design researchers can take advantage of all the data sets publicly available to us across sectors, from healthcare to product design. 

Venn diagram with overlap between big, personal and open data

Before diving in to how to make sense of a data set and communicate this to others, we began by looking at the important differences between big data, open data and personal data – and where they overlap. Important to note here is that not all “big data” is ‘open’. Here, open means “anyone can freely access, modify, share and use for any purpose…” (   

Infographic of types of data

Two methods: story-first and data-first

When you use data as a source, there are two main methods. One is story first, where data is used to enhance, fact check, or dig deeper on the story. The other is data first – while looking at a data set, something seems surprising, interesting, or worth investigating further for patterns or anomalies. For example, a data set from Illinois in the US back in 2012 showed that 89% of those arrested for jaywalking (illegally crossing the street) are black. Upon further investigation into why this may be the case, reporters went to these neighbourhoods and saw that many streets didn’t have sidewalks or indicated crosswalks – people were essentially being forced to jaywalk, and then were getting arrested. Officers were then going specifically to these locations, knowing that they could find people jaywalking to arrest them. Often, as in this case, a data set on its own doesn’t tell the whole story.

As design researchers, we start with exploring the experiences and perspectives of individuals, often in relatively small numbers. From this (often) qualitative data, we draw insights to feed future design work. In our research and analysis, can we also be drawing on these large quantitative data sets to feed our insights? Would they add something valuable to the picture? 

In our future projects, it will be interesting to see how we can use ‘open data’ to broaden our skills (and our insights) as researchers. It’s also an exciting time to be asking these kinds of questions, as more emphasis, legally and otherwise, is being placed on organisations and governments to make their data easily accessible to all. Take for example, the European data portal, or the World Bank’s data catalog. These are just three online databases with a huge amount of data for us to filter through and add to our own research and insights. Trial and experimentation will show the value of open data for design research.

Design for Europe: Powering Social Innovation

The Design for Europe conference is the main way the European Commission implements its Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation. STBY participated in a session on social innovation, with a presentation about the Refugee Challenge at the What Design Can Do Conference.

The focus of the Refugee Challenge was to see if the period between arriving in a host country and waiting for approval to stay can be improved. STBY’s role was to make sure the design brief would trigger and empower applicants to come up with relevant, realistic and creative ideas for solutions.

A recent survey among all 600 applicants revealed that half of them are still working on further developing their ideas. They are highly committed. The challenge clearly tapped into  a strong urge for designers to be engaged in solving wicked social issues.

The Design for Europe’s website contains a video with an impression of the conference, and a very rich collection of resources on business, public sector and policy innovation.

Celebration and contemplation at the Design & Emotion Conference

This year’s Design & Emotion conference at Amsterdam’s Pakhuis de Zwijger was a great opportunity to pause for “Celebration & Contemplation” – this year’s theme. Speakers included renowned Dutch designers Maarten Baas and Christien Meindertsma. The Design & Emotion Society asks how we as designers and design researchers can explore and integrate the emotional experiences of design through products, services or interactions with new technologies. The conference opened up on a playful and thought-provoking note. We all wrote a research question we’d like explore through the conference events on a balloon. The stage became a sea of purple balloons and design research questions (such as: Sustainability versus design versus emotion?)  

Technology-supported emotion measurement

We presented STBY’s Auto-Cam project at a breakout session on ‘User Research Tools’, in which we shared our work and learned about other projects exploring new approaches to user research and its tools. My interest in this topic led me to attend my favourite event of the conference, a short workshop called “Technology-supported emotion measurement”, led by Katja Thoring, Frederik Bellermann, Roland Mueller, Petra Badke-Schaub, and Pieter Desmet. These designers, researchers and scholars are working at the forefront of this emerging space, looking at how new technologies can be used for new forms of design research.

beamer screen with diagram of emotion framework

We first had a look at the landscape of technologies available for ‘emotion measurement’ – some technologies I am familiar with (such as the Autographer wearable camera, or the GoPro), and some I found out about for the first time – like the Emotiv EEG headset, a wireless headset which can measure facial expression and map this to various emotions (e.g. excitement, nervousness, jealousy, etc.). However, ‘emotion measurement’ is in itself a complex topic to research. Just what is meant by ‘emotion’ to begin with? And is this something we can somehow objectively measure? Pieter Desmet walked us through just some of the ‘types’ of emotion we can measure – from behavioural (e.g. bodily or facial expression) to verbal self-reports, to visual self-reports. ‘Emotion’ itself can be seen in a broader framework of mood, affect and emotion which makes for a complex area to navigate and research.

In only a short time, they gave us a great overview and introduction to the topic at hand.  We split into groups and were each given this handy deck of cards, ‘New Technologies for New Design Research’, which included a card for each technology we could explore and think about in terms of its potential application. How might we as design researchers use aerial drones as a research tool? We were asked to as a group consider a research question we have and come up with a plan to use some of these new technologies to explore it.

cards with research tool names and explanations

My group asked the question “How do professional athletes experience sports massage?” (One of us was a designer at a performance wear company, who was very interested in the topic). It turned out to be a rich question to explore in this context, thinking about the different technologies we could use. We came up with a research approach that included having athletes wear an Emotive EEG headset before, during and after a massage, to measure their brain activity and emotion throughout the experience. We also posited using an aerial drone, to visually capture the experience of a sports massage on the massage table (as long as the aerial drone is quiet enough to not disturb them!). We would then interview the athletes to hear from them directly on their massage experience, and discuss with them together changes or improvements they would like to see.

Even though it was a fictional and relatively quick exercise in designing a research approach, it was a hands-on way to think about how we can use and make the most of these technologies as design researchers. Are we far off from using aerial drones and wireless EEG headsets in our design research? This workshop brought us face to face with newer technologies that will continue to become more widespread, in design research and beyond.   

Designing for a world where age does not matter

How can we develop products and services for a world in which age does not matter? Intergenerational design was a buzz phrase at the recent Age Does Not Matter festival in London, and it is a promising approach to the challenges posed by an ageing society. But is it enough?

Age Does Not Matter poster for festival

I had an interesting conversation with my mother recently. She is currently in her mid-sixties and thriving, juggling her role as a successful business manager, zumba classes, gin & tonics with friends and the numerous other activities that put my social calendar to shame. Put simply, she likes to think of herself as more youthful than most youths, and rightly so.

She has recently decided to work remotely for a few days of the week, to, you know, spice things up. I got really excited when she told me this, and immediately mapped all of the trendiest co-working spaces near her house. When I showed her the short-list, I was surprised by her reaction. “I can’t work at those types of places,” she told me bluntly, “I am too old for them.”

Youth, middle aged, elderly, and some millennials and baby-boomers in between

These are the boxes that define us as we progress through life. At closer inspection, they have formed detrimental stereotypes and deeply entrenched schisms upon which we have built many modern institutions, from transportation and healthcare to housing, work and leisure. As citizens live longer and healthier lives, these divides prove outdated and are a hindrance to inclusive and sustainable societies.

How can we go about reversing such deeply entrenched stereotypes and start designing more inclusively? Intergenerational design has been touted as a promising solution, but just as form follows function, function must, in turn, follow values. The way that our current systems function- whether it is the healthcare, insurance, housing or transport systems- are all influenced by societal norms and values. Currently, the major issue is that we (anglo-saxon folk, for all of you cultural relativists squirming) do not sufficiently value the elderly and their contribution to society. Inadequate functions and forms naturally follow suit.

Form Follows Function Follows Values

Back to my mother and co-working spaces. If I were starting-up a business, reaping the benefits of a business network that many coworking spaces offer, or simply just needing to chat about women in the workplace, my mother is just the person I’d like around. I would value her presence, and that of those like her, in a coworking space. At the same time, I’d hope that she would find value in the stimulating environment and the fulfillment of playing a mentor role. This, in turn, would influence the function and form of the entire coworking experience. The same principle can be extended to housing, healthcare, transport and technology.

We need to emphasise the value of intergenerationality to inspire radically different system functions and forms. Events like the Age Does Not Matter festival really bring these issues to light. I hope conversations like the ones that took place lead to the much needed changes in norms and values, so that we can move toward designing more inclusive forms of intergenerational products and services.

Food for Thought: the Future of Food and Dining Out

The STBY London team had the fortunate opportunity of attending Nesta’s Futurefest 2016. The packed schedule was overwhelming and we left in a state of dizzied inspiration. A few things emerged from the fog of weekend memory, the most noteworthy of which was a debate on the future of dining out. This is a thought on where we are now and where we might be heading in light of this thought-provoking discussion.

Poster for Futurefest with picture of frying pan and steak

On food designers, futurologists and the rising polymaths of the culinary world  

The panel alone is worthy of mention in its own right. The session was chaired by Food Futurologist, Dr. Morgaine Gaye, whose work centres around the future of food/beauty/smell from both a cultural, evolutionary and societal perspective. She was joined by Marije Vogelzang, a Dutch “eating designer”. In contrast to the work of “food designers”, Marije’s focus is around the verb ‘to eat’ and the preparation, etiquette, history and culture around eating. Alongside Marije was Martin Morales, the award winning Peruvian self-taught chef (think Andina, Ceviche), cookbook author, restaurateur, arts producer and the epitome of a Renaissance man. The panel was made complete by the outspoken Oliver Peyton, Irish restaurateur and judge on the BBC television series Great British Menu. Their unorthodox titles are indicative of where the field is heading. As people in most parts of the developed world have come to take eating out for granted, the future of dining out is moving beyond just good food and to the curation of holistic eating experiences. Those at the forefront of the field must be cognizant of how service, ambience, smell, music, lighting, architecture, technology and ritual interact with food to create a seamless dining experience.

Signals from the future, both bleak and hopeful

At the same time however, technology is enabling more efficient forms of food delivery and people are lapping it up. Convenience and comfort might mean the decline of dining out, or the two trends could intertwine, blurring the lines between restaurant, cooking, dining, and delivery. “BYO ingredients” was an interesting concept raised. Regardless of where things do end up going, the field is no doubt being shaken up, for better or worse, by the latest food crazes (e.g. veganism, gluten-free, paleo), new eating rituals and routines (e.g. “al-desko”, communal dining), disruptive business models (e.g. pop-up dining, food trucks, delivery), and the wider forces of globalisation and technological innovation. Let’s just hope sustainability continues to creep to central concern in both the supply and demand of food in the future.



Moving Targets and Visual Design Research: STBY at the 9th Service Design Global Conference

The 9th Service Design Global Conference entitled ‘Business as Unusual’ will take place in Amsterdam on 27 – 28 October 2016 and will include a presentation and masterclass from STBY, co-organizer of the conference. In her presentation ‘Moving Targets‘, Geke van Dijk will be sharing principles of agile collaboration with interdisciplinary teams in large organisations, derived from several years collaboration on projects with Google. She’ll focus on approaches that enable research to create deep insights upon which to ground decisions, while keeping up with the speed and dynamism of agile development of new service propositions in these kinds of large organisations.

Sam Miller and Astrid Lubsen will conduct a master class on visual design research, a topic about which STBY recently published the book Viewfinders. Participants in Untapped visual media in service design and design research will learn hands-on how to use photography and film for empathic research. First, they become acquainted with the key aspects of the rich film language and visual storytelling toolkit created by documentary filmmakers and photographers through more than a century of work. Then they will explore the newest technology, such as wearable cameras, 360-degree camera’s, drones and even cameras which use brainwaves as input. Together, these are creating exciting new ways of researching people’s daily lives.

Service design at the movies

Main character Beer in series Computer Says No

Services are like oxygen. Everyone uses them every day, but we don’t take much notice unless they are exceptional or go wrong. Though often not the main plot, service design plays a role in many highly entertaining productions. And they can also teach us lessons about what makes services fail or succeed.

Unfriendly computers

Bad services are a notorious source of hilarity in comedies. They revolve mostly around rigid systems that don’t adapt to their clients’ needs. The resulting frustration is all too recognizable. Little Britain’s famous Computer Says No series is a great example. Carol Beer, bank worker and hospital receptionist, is the personification of unhelpful services. Whenever consulted with even the most reasonable request, she lazily types something, then by default replies that: “The computer said no”. Carol teaches us that even though a service might be designed acceptably, it requires flexibility, social intelligence and motivation to be successfully executed.

But sir, you said you wanted it gift wrapped

The same goes for services that are designed with the best of intentions: if you don’t tune into what your customers need, you can still miss the mark completely. In this scene from Love Actually, a man tries to buy his mistress a necklace in a department store. His wife is just around the corner and he is clearly in a hurry. “Look, could we be quite quick”, he insists twice. The shop attendant, though insisting it will be “ready in the flashiest of flashes”, does not pick up on any of the end-user’s cues. He goes on to take his time with three different wrappings, flowers, cinnamon and even holly.

Dystopian services in space

The Pixar film WALL-E presents us with a science-fiction service that speaks to our moral compass. The future earth is covered in heaps of garbage left over from decades of mass-consumerism. Mega-corporation Buy ‘n’ Large has evacuated the population and moved them to fully-automated luxury space cruisers. The plan is for humanity to reside in space until it can return to a clean earth.

Animation characters - very fat people in chairs in film Wall-E

In this scene, you can see how citizens lived on the spaceships. Buy ‘n’ Large designed them with the knowledge they thought they had about humanity, trying to sell their products and services in the most comfortable and accommodating way. This results in a dystopian picture. People are all morbidly obese, leaning back on flying armchairs all day. They constantly focus on their screens, even if the person with whom they are video chatting is right next to them.

The movie raises concerns about services that are completely tailored to the desires of the end user, but overshoot their goal and actually put the users in danger. We can recognise this concern in our present reality as well, though luckily they are addressed with creative design solutions. In Germany, for example, there are some new special traffic lights in places that are visible to people looking down at their smartphones.

Once your eyes have been opened to it, you will not be able to stop seeing service design, good and bad alike, even in fictional scenarios. Enjoy the show!

Citizen participation as a catalyst for change

Sometimes, service providers and end-users are one and the same. In a city that is bankrupt, has a lot of vacant space in decay, very limited local fresh food, and massive unemployment rates, limited government initiatives are just not enough. Proactive citizens take matters into their own hands. Here’s what happened in Detroit.

In the last decades, Detroit has seen a large deindustrialization and depopulation, resulting in a barren city landscape. One of the ways the government combatted this was by starting the Farm A Lot program. Originating in the mid-seventies and ending in 2002, the Farm A Lot program offered free seeds and tilling assistance to residents with the goal of cleaning up the city and helping struggling Detroiters help themselves.

With Farm A Lot, the government supported citizens of Detroit to use and maintain the vacant lots and produce fresh food for a relatively low cost. This food could be sold in the neighborhoods in which it was produced, creating new job opportunities. But at the start of the twenty-first century the Farm A Lot program received 2000 requests annually, while only able to accommodate around 400. The program subsequently ended.

The home-grown hype

In the last few years, with the rise in popularity of local produce, many more citizens and newcomers have started non-profits to provide solutions to the problems of unemployment, decay of the city and the lack of fresh, local food in Detroit through community run farms.

Fresh food production was increased by organizations training beginners as well as experienced gardeners, creating lots of job opportunities for residents. Many attempts are made to enable citizens to manage their own businesses through produce vending platforms like Grown in Detroit.

One of the driving forces of these positive changes is Ashley Atkinson, co-director of Keep Growing Detroit. She has witnessed the progress of the city’s farming movement. In Model Media, she says:

“2004 was the first full-functioning year. We had 80 gardens in the network at that time… Today [2015] we support a network of about 1,400 gardens and farms, and there are nearly 20,000 Detroiters engaged in some capacity at those farms. […] The Garden Resource Program‘s membership is still climbing.”

Though the decline of Detroit has been a terrible one, it is heartening to see how the citizens have embraced the “Farm A Lot mentality” in the face of adversity. Neighbourhoods are exceeding expectations by creating training programs and platforms to sell produce. Citizens have recognised the value of farming and are actively developing ways to combine their efforts, using it to help the community. As the end-users in the scenario, they understand the services city inhabitants need and are actively trying to create them.

Photos from a Secret City

A favourite photographer of mine, Martin Parr, recently spent two years as photographer in residence for the City of London Corporation, which is the municipal governing body of the City of London. It’s an area of London that many consider the historic centre of the city, where much of the UK’s financial industry is situated.

An exhibition of Parr’s photographs during this residency named Unseen City was recently held at Guildhall Art Gallery, which houses the official art collection of the City of London. As a design researcher particularly interested in using photography and film, I found myself at the exhibit thinking about what it might mean to view these photographs in the context of design research. I’ve often found Parr’s work to go beyond mere ‘snapshots’ – his images often, if not always, function as social and cultural commentary. With images like Imperial War Museum (Parr, 2015) which form part of a larger series on the ‘selfie stick phenomenon’ – his work speaks directly to our contemporary relationship with technology and our personal devices, which we as design researchers are often out to research and communicate with others. As design researchers, we can learn from his ability to comment on and analyse social phenomena through images so effectively.

In Unseen City, Parr has the task of revealing the secretive behind-the-scenes world of the processions and events that take place in the City of London. The task itself might be paradoxical, as many photos mainly illustrate just how opaque the intricacies remain for outsiders. The sheer number, variety and elaborateness of the regalia we see on display indicates the plethora of roles, costumes, rituals and rules they contain. At the same time, he seems to almost be poking fun at it all, emphasising the perhaps ‘ordinariness’ of the people behind all the pomp. This is evidence in photos of the preparations for the Lord Mayor’s show, which is the annual public event of the Corporation. There’s something rather detached about some of these, like for example an almost clinical profile view of the Lord Mayor in full regalia. An image of boots with no one in them pokes fun at the significance we may give to these ornate costumes while making us do a double take, challenging our expectation to see someone in them.

His photographs almost remind me of our own fieldwork, in the sense that they aim to create a narrative – it’s a series telling a story about what happens. It’s hard to imagine the individual photographs would convey as much outside of this series. Visual design research and the work of photographers like Parr have more in common than one might first think. 

You can find more information about the exhibit here.

Presentation of MindLab service design event

Geke van Dijk was invited to present at MindLab’s popular morning event on service design.  She described and illustrated the necessity of addressing the full user experience when creating public as well as private services. The user journey plays a central role as a method to understand how users interact with services, providing useful insights when adjusting services. You can watch the full presentation here.

Transforming Teams from Good to Great

Everyone knows from experience that some groups or teams do better than others. So what is it that sets these successful teams apart?

Increasing productivity of employees is something that every company is interested in. Modern companies know that to achieve this, a well-designed work environment is paramount. Though neither cost nor effort are spared, it turns out to be a challenging nut to crack. While tackling this challenge, it’s helpful to think of service design as an internal possibility. In this case, directors and managers can be seen as the service providers and employees as the end users.

As Margaret Heffernan explains in her TED Talk Forget the pecking order at work, we are used to competing and using money to motivate people. And too often, we still rely on the “brilliant” ideas of a handful of people (often men). But what really seems to motivate us, says Heffernan, is other people.

To excel at our jobs, more than being smart, we need to get to know the people we work with. To begin with, teams whose members are invested in one another are more empathetic and give equal time to each of their members. This means that no voice is ever dominating and no one is silently along for the ride. But what is absolutely essential to their success is their social connectedness to one another.

So how do we design environments that stimulate people to get to know each other?

We take our time. We build trust and openness, the stuff we really need to be productive. Margaret Heffernan gives the example of Fika, the Swedish tradition that, more than just having coffee, means to have a collective, restorative moment in the office. A simple rule that bans coffee cups from desks stimulates people to hang around the coffee machine and talk to each other.

As we can’t all live in Sweden, blessed with national traditions to do the job for us, we have to employ creative measures to improve our company culture. Luckily, there’s no shortage of inspiration out there. Take Warby Parker for example, a company that sells prescription eyeglasses online. To ensure their staff gets to know one another, they send random employees out to lunch together. Or Twitter, found in numerous lists of best places to work. Surveys indicate that employees—despite having hip perks like unlimited vacation and free yoga—are most happy with their amazingly friendly and talented colleagues. Fun, regular team events such as rooftop meetings make them feel like they have a second family at work.

Productivity is not created by a few strong individuals, but by a team of equals who make use of all their different qualities. Successful and highly productive companies are designing environments in which people can create their best work and do their most inspired thinking together. By doing this, they not only provide a valuable service to their employees, but also give the company momentum and make it more productive and durable.

Empowering everyone transforms teams and ideas from good to great.

Image: Collaboration by mcgarrybowen london