Power of PSS through laser-cut food

STBY is part of the Dutch national innovation programme for the creative industries called CRISP. The PSS 101 project in this programme focusses on how Prodcut Service Systems are created in networks and aims to learn more about how these networks actually work. As STBY knows from experience, such networks are often needed because one organisation alone cannot provide the entire service. In our work with ZuidZorg, also a member of PSS 101, we have often seen this, but also in the work for the national dutch railways, with ProRail and NS together.

Yet networked collaborations are not an easy environment to innovate in. The crucial thing about Product Service Systems is that they are holistic: when you create one you have to think about about everything at the same time from several perspectives because there are several stakeholders involved. That is of course difficult. All the more reason to explore the creation of PSS with some creative and smart minds and hands. As part of the CRISP programme, STBY co-organised a workshop with Design Academy Eindhoven, Waag Society (both also members of CRISP) and Keio University SFC from Japan, to get a very different view and approach from what we normally do.

Both Keio SFC and Waag run a Fablab, a digital fabrication lab, where laser cutters and CNC milling machines compete with hacked knitting machines and many other personal digital fabrication tools to get your attention as a designer and maker. That is a treasure trove for service designers obviously, who all too often limit themselves to sticky notes when it comes to prototyping. So a group of 25 designers from the CRISP programme jumped to the opportunity to explore new ways of thinking about PSS in a fablab setting.

Daijiro Mizuno of Keio SFC, and co-organiser of Fab9, the ninth yearly global fablab event this August in Tokyo, kicked off by bringing some inspiration from Japan. He provided a PSS framework and the Power of Mum food project as an example. Both are inspired by the Power of Ten film by Ray and Charles Eames, which shows that everything is connected, from the level of the atom to the level of the Milky Way.

Based on work from Hiroya Tanaka and Dominick Chen, Daijiro Mizuno developed a slightly more modest framework with only four levels, that can serve very well to explore the holistic nature of PSS, we found in the workshop. From (1) the personal, to (2) the social or communal, to (3) the national and finally (4) the global, a single PSS exists on all these levels at the same time often.

Take the example of obesity and unhealthy food for children in Japan, one of the topics of the Power of Mum project. Healthy school lunches touch on all four levels at the same time: personal (food you like and dislike), social (both kids and mothers compare and discuss what is in their lunch boxes), national (bento box food modelled after comic characters is a very Japanese culture) and global (food is sourced from everywhere and obesity is a global problem).

The four level model was used to explore our thinking about PSS for a day, and it proved to be very fruitful. First four different groups each explored one level of PSS, then we rearranged groups to bring the four levels together. And the exploring was to be done with food as material and the fablab machines as tools. If the four levels were already a bit of a thing to get into, the food as material was certain to throw you off a course you had just found. This was exactly what we were aiming for together, to explore PSS in new ways by taking new perspectives. By avoiding sticky notes for at least a day, for example. A proven method that also Einstein celebrated when he said “Logic takes you from A to B, imagination can take you anywhere.” As designers, we should not get stuck in a rut.

Luckily we had some concrete things to hang on to. The four levels obviously, but also different ways of looking at these levels through for instance this diagramme Daijiro Mizuno presented:

Each of the levels in the circular PSS model can be virtual or physical, or both at the same time, and the same for social and/or technical. When it comes to food, online recipes can for instance be seen as open source design on a global level.
Another concrete thing to hang on to was the shopping every group had to do on and around Nieuwmarkt in the centre of the Chinese quarter in Amsterdam where (fresh) food from all over the world is at hand. But what food is good to use in a fablab? What can be lasercut? What can be used in a CNC milling machine? Can a laser cutter focus on a pepper? This was even new terrain for Alex Schaub, Amsterdam fablab director and fablab veteran. The laser cutter certainly cannot focus on a soft cheese we would soon find out: it burnt straight through. We were on manual focus from then onwards…

Laser cutting banana leaves was much easier and we succesfully engraved a big white carrot on the CNC machine and filled the grooves with beef powder that was left over from the wonderful Lucas Engel made lunch to make them stand out. The playing with food was fun, but most of it was actually later eaten too, as people took everything edible home with them afterwards.

In this workshop, the food and diagrammes brought us to new thoughts about our work in CRISP. The PSS presented, all made from food, ranged from the practical to the hilarious, from new ways to package leftovers and eat them the next day with your colleagues at work, to info graphics made of laser cut food.

But those Product Service Systems were not the important result from this exploration. The thinking we did about PSS, through working with completely new materials and tools, was most beneficial. From this experience the circular diagramme stood out as something that could be used more often. Indeed it has been in discussions and thinking in several of the CRISP projects I am involved in. Some tweaking starts to happen in these discussions already too, shifting the ‘national’ level to more a ‘cultural’ level for instance. National borders may be relevant to some services such as public transport and healthcare, but less so to others such as the food we eat or how we work, which are more driven by culture.

That diagramme may stay with us for a while. It has the capability to serve us beyond thoughts about food. Arigato sai-mas Daijiro-san!