Alexander Baumgardt: the fractal future of service design?

The intersection of big data and big machines is an interaction of software and hardware. How do you design systems for this scale? You build a design system first…

Some talks defy liveblogging – Alexander Baumgardt’s talk towards the end of NEXT Service Design fell into that category. It was self-admittedly a preview of things yet to come – his work with GE will see fruition later in the year.

In essence, he was talking about using overlapping cycles of service design to not just design services, but to design the process for designing services – and for assessing them. This was service design taken to a whole new level – a trailer of things to come, if you like.

The video will be released fairly soon, and I encourage you to watch it when it becomes available. In the meantime – here are my notes. Make what you will of them.

Alexander is working with GE in their design and experience group. Not many people in the room are familiar with the phrase “industrial internet” – it’s the internet of things on a very, very, very large scale. He can’t show us much of what they’re working on – because the products are only coming at the end of the year. In cities with connected infrastructure, a lot of data is produced. They’re working on services to make sense of that data. Power plants create data – they’re creating solutions to monitor that. They’re doing the same for healthcare data. Aviation data and real-time operational data all fall into the same category.

The equation: Data and Machines = software and hardware.

Put human-centred design systems between them, and you connect the big iron and the big data. 12 months ago they started an effort within GE to create a group that could design systems that could work across industries. These systems need to take into account both the digital and the physical. Mixing digital and physical controls is a fantastic challenge. They’re looking at behaviour, style and code. That’s not just digital code, but the codification of the way people do things.

There are multiple layers of internal and external stakeholders. There is no way to create a monolithic system to do this. They have to create a program instead, that acts like fertile soil within the organisation. It brings consistent design and experience to the table of people who have never heard of these ideas – in the midwest or rural Germany. You need to bring together business, design and engineering minds. Service Design can bring these people together to create better services. Their product is the design system itself that can be used to create the service products themselves.

The Experience Cycle model is useful here – and it’s fractal, because each stage can contain the whole cycle in its own right.

You have to live with the fact that people will adapt the system you have created. Of course they will. They have things they love and won’t let go of. Who cares? There’s no real enforcement. Instead, they created a communication cycle that was purely storytelling about the value of the system. Then, there’s a digital system engagement cycle to engage with the people using the cycle. They can evaluate what’s working and not – and then broadcast that to the business.