Service as an object

In the ‘History of Objects’, an exhibition in the Science Museum, thousands of iconic objects has been carefully chosen to represent the advancement of science and engineering over the last two centuries. The volume and diversity of the collection meant that choosing a favourite among those significant objects was nigh on impossible. However, in relation to my research interest, the overall experience of this visit provoked the following reflection.

Invisible object
Compared to the common understanding of product design, service design as a discipline can hardly explain itself by reversing the words into ‘designing a service’. The intangible form of service forms ambiguity in terms of how designers create and present their work. In this exhibition, the selected artefacts are the tangible celebration of the most iconic product design of last centuries, ranging from the steam train to the cell phone. In comparison, the service behind becomes less visible or less celebrated in the exhibition. It was those real size planes, trains and machines that occupied or even dominated the space and visitor’s attention. The exhibition’s explanatory texts and visuals almost look as if they form the relatively hidden context.

Explanatory visual

New narratives
If the visit can be perceived as an experience delivered by the museum’s service, then the service often give new meanings and narratives to those artefacts. The iconic objects are translated into a new environment, as if they are ‘retired’ or ‘re-habited’ from their original context. One interesting observation in the visit comes from the school pupils during their tour. They came across an exhibited machine, one of those very first calculation machines used in scientific laboratories, and interacted with it by touch and voice. The original buttons do not perform their function that they were designed for. The original interface have been ‘reinvented’ by those pupils under this new context. As result, the service almost redefines the objects and gives new narratives to them.
These narratives seem to have a strong sense of individuality and uniqueness as well. Every single visitor, from a young pupil to a museum worker in the room, has his or her own experience of being in that space. It may vary from person to person and from time to time. Being in the exhibition is like being in a story, in which everyone seems directing their very own experience.

Pupils' interaction with the machine

Exhibition of services
Inspired by the exhibition, I wonder if equally there could be an exhibition of iconic services, ranging from hospitality in the private sector to many other public services. I ask myself the following questions.
• How might those services be presented?
• Is it through some sort of documentary, or commentary text and visuals on the operation, or interactive performance?
• What are the essences of a service, i.e. its physical/digital/cultural environment, its emotional feedback of individuals, or its operation and management?
• How might the exhibition present the diversity and intangibility of experience (i.e. perspectives of providers and receivers) in a service?

Some of the answers need to be explored in relation to narration and story telling (i.e. drama writer, performance writer, visual stories, etc). This could potentially be a fruitful direction.


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