Service Design Reading Circle


Our first meeting on 28 January was a promising start to hopefully a long series of meetings to discuss publications related to service design. STBY has proposed this reading circle to the Service Design Network Netherlands to support reflection and knowledge sharing in this relative new field of work. We hope this will lead to a lively exchange of ideas and experiences between the early pioneers.

For this first meeting we all read and discussed the book ‘De draagbare lichtheid van het bestaan‘ (The bearable lightness of being) by Valerie Frissen and Jos de Mul (editors). This book focuses on understanding the effects that the wide adoption of ICT in our daily lives has had on society. Each chapter describes and analyses a contemporary phenomenon (such as local wireless networks, ambient intelligence, rfid, social networking, multi-tasking and co-creation) and juxtaposes it in a historic context. This helps to look at these phenomena from a perspective that goes beyond obvious superficial observations. For instance, the chapter on mobile phone communication in public spaces places the ‘useless conversations’ in trains, that seem to annoy so many people, in the context of the historic social ritual of gift giving. In this light the timeless value of the symbolic exhange of attention and courtesy becomes clear. The mobile phone is a new mode for this, and it changes the circumstances and behaviour during the exchange. Getting to grips with this tends annoy people for a while, especially as hearing only one side of an exchange instinctively urges people to listen more closely and try to fill in the blanks. The same ‘useless conversation’ between two people in the same coach tends to be socially accepted and would be much easier to ignore.

Most of the authors in the book are academic researchers working in the field of anthropology, history, philosophy, media and communications. Overall the book gives a good overview of the type of studies that are currently in progress in this area at the Dutch universities and other research institutes. Some of the chapters (Frissen on professional amateurs, and De Mul on multi-tasking) definitely struck a cord among us and made us eager to read more about the subject. Other chapters (Van den Akker on boredom, and Steen on co-creation) seemed interesting to us, but lacked in balance between hard core academic prose and sweeping journalistic statements. This made them a bit difficult to digest and discuss. A more (and maybe even too) easy read were the chapters (Van Lieshout on rfid, Van de Berg on ambient intelligence, and Verhaegh on wireless networks) that mostly gave a description of how a specific technology works, and the chapters (Slot on scenarions, Van den Akker on bureaucratic adoption) that focused on explaining a specific method or theoretical framework for analysis.

On the whole we found that reading and discussing the book gave us a framework for better understanding the broad social and cultural context wherein ICT is used by people in their daily lives. This may not immediately offer tools and methods to be used in the practice of service design, but it definitely helps seeing the anticipated use of the services we (help) develop in a broader historic and contemporary context.

The second meeting of the service design reading circle is planned for Wednesday 25 March (at the offices of STBY in Amsterdam). We will discuss the book ‘Subject to change‘ by Peter Merholz et al. You are welcome to join us. If you are interested in to come, send me an email (geke @ You can also join our Facebook group and/or LinkedIn group.