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.


Decision making in the digital age

Recently, I was invited to a creative morning session run by Jonathan Ford, a cofounder of Pearlfisher (global design agency). He shared some very interesting stories of his  life experience. During the Q&A, I asked him a question on career transformation. “What are the hardest decisions you made in your career? What are the things that helped you through that?”. He paused for a few seconds then said, ‘the difficult decision comes from a clear head’. People who work in extreme difficult environments, like soldiers and doctors, are always making hard decisions. Having a clear head is a key element of knowing and getting what you need to do.
I suppose, in this new age, more and more people are facing more and more choices in life, comparing to their parents, the generation that have often worked in one company for their entire life. The knowledge economy and digital technology have massively empowered individuals to access more information with more opportunities and more dynamic ways of living. Therefore one finds that one’s life becomes less linear and less predicable than generations before. Of course, the historical turbulence such as wars and revolutions changed many people’s lives dramatically in the 20th century and hardly anyone could have predicted their lives then. In many parts of the world, the impact of such events are still palpable today. However, the power structures of culture and society have changed in one way or another., This, in a way, democratises the powers, eg, from governments and militaries to big R&D organisations (NASA) as well as many smaller organisations and individuals.  Further, it is more and more common that start-ups lead the innovation at the frontier while big R&D departments find hard to keep up with the pace of disruption. Individuals are accessing knowledge and skills easily via multiple platforms and their talents are highly valued as a core competitive force in terms of human capital. It isn’t the blocks of impossibility that is used to be, when there was only one or few ways of living a life and having a job. It is full of possibilities with the ability of knowing where the information is and making choices between routes of opportunities. The sense of smart navigation and the strength of making the right choices are becoming key components of knowledge economy, human capital and everyday life, in the 21th century. The timetable of your life is yours and not controlled by institutions anymore.
All these remind me of a dilemma presented in the film of the Shawshank Redemption. The prisoner finally have a chance of living a free life but he realised that the freedom of choices is even harder to cope with but rather missed his linear life in prison of following orders. Maybe we are all facing this dilemma in someway.  But tell you what, I am really enjoying it! 

The booming of Superheroes and the digital

Over 5 years ago Marvel Entertainment, famous for its superhero comics, was in the shadow of bankruptcy.Disney bought it in 2009 for $4.3 billion. Over 5 years of development and licensing, the Marvel films have become the most profitable business in the film industry and films of superheroes are constantly the blockbusters on the screens  even with two versions of Spiderman on the screen at the same time!

The technology advancement of digital pictures and animated scenes is certainly one of the key drivers that cannot be ignored. This year, the winner of several awards, The Gravity, demonstrates the ability of digital power in which the shots of the space were entirely animated in the studio. The films of superheroes too are never real – thanks to the current digital technologies. As video games are the best showcase and test platform for digital and graphic power. The superheroes are certainly a good way to show the capability of film studios.

However, the film is always more than the quality of picture. Often it is the story that attracts people to cinemas. The first time global popularity of comics in 30s was in the background of World War II, such as Captain America. They were good examples of certain culture at the time where people were hoping for peace during the war. Nowadays, the background is simply different. But the principle still applies. There is a financial crisis in the West, while huge economic development, in the East. Many businesses are facing uncertainty and disruption of innovation, and the tech industries are almost affecting every other industry globally. The stories of entrepreneurship have been widespread and even ‘worshipped’ in many parts of the world. Individually, we have never been able to access such powerful computerisation before. The smart phones, the crowd-funding platforms and digital market places, all enable us to be more capable on our own.  

I was wondering if those big names, such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, are the superheroes of our era. They have tremendous power to change the entire industries and have great impact on people’s lives, but at the same time they had been nobody when they were young. The story of those entrepreneurism was simply the dream of young developers, the creative teenagers (i.e. Apple developer conference tickets were completely sold out in 2 mins in 2009). The idea of creating your own web/app and becoming the next Zuckerberg attracts so many people to those self-developing short courses, talks and networking events. On the other hand, we all become the superhero of ourselves to some degrees. The smart phones enable us ‘split’ our minds and body in different social spaces and time. Work does not mean office, talking to someone does not mean siting with someone. Google glasses, smart watches are all those examples of super power showing us what we can possibly do. 


What does it mean to you and business? I guess the entrepreneurship is the point to start. And then, don’t forget to enjoy those latest superhero films, and be a superhero yourself.


Exploiting chaos: an invitation to innovation

MAIM 2014 Degree show

Like many things in life, the journey of MA Innovation Management course is a string of chaotic events happened in my last two years. ‘What is MAIM’ is always an unsettling puzzle without a single ‘right’ answer. When I stepped into the course, I thought this course would give us THE ultimate innovation manual so that we could just follow the steps and succeed. Fortunately, I was wrong and MAIM is not like many other old school education that just teach the things that are easy to teach rather than things needed to learn. In MAIM, there are no text books of innovation but reading lists ranging from design, sociology, management, philosophy and so on. There are no examinations but endless projects figuring things out and proposing solutions for organisational issues, such as uncertainty, innovation cultures and many other things. There are no remembering-the-slides lectures but face to face discussions and workshops with various professional practitioners from all fields (i.e. TFL, Nokia, Whatif!, Microsoft, etc.).

Plus, there are 28 of us with 18 different nationalities. It was just chaotic.

Since the beginning, I have been trying to make sense of it all and with great difficulties explaining to many friends and family what I was doing at Central Saint Martins not as a fashion designer. However, this course is perhaps like many things in life, which can only be better understood with hindsight. Until very recently, there had been nothing to share.

Differences and Identities

At the beginning, many of us were annoyed by the fact how we could be so different in our class. Despite the appreciation of the differences in our experiences, there were problems. It was hard to communicate and synchronise when people think in different ways. It was difficult to collaborate when each believed in different approaches. There were and still are differences in cultural, educational and professional backgrounds. Many times in the early projects, we had fought on details and spent hours in meetings like many organisations do. We were hungry for efficiency and the differences were just the obstacle on its way. Two years from then, we have become the happy believers and do-ers in differences. We know, most of the time, innovation can only blossom in the diversity of perspectives and in various ways of doing things. It brings new opportunities to re-examine the problem in a different way. It builds the ability and courage to explore future and to be a disruptive force. Perhaps we are at the new era that the pursuit of efficiency can only drive the growth of organisation to a limit where the scope of effectiveness opens a new window of innovation to economies and societies.

There is another aspect of learning of difference that I hold more dearly as a person. Since it is an art&design institution, there is a vibe of being yourself. Of course, there are more people who dress more arty and standing out in my friends’ stereotype imagination. However, underneath the surface, I feel there is a strong mentality of pursing originality. To be original, it needs a very good understanding of yourself. You need to know the difference you were born and grown up with, which set you apart from your peers, parents and colleagues. The clarity of who we are and where we go is just as important as the vision and strategy of an organisation. Like many theories and practices of innovation, the self-identities build up the ability of knowing what you want and who you are but most importantly it gives the courage of saying no to abundance of choices. In the age of globalisation and new technology, we perhaps are the generation that faces more choices and options than ever. As Lynda Gratton and Richard Florida argued, the patterns of work and life are changing, and the future can be shockingly different to the past. In this new age, the sense of ‘self’ identities and believes may become more important as a core ability than many redundant knowledge in schools.

Perhaps as Charles Handy once suggested, the education in essence should give someone the self believe that enables them to take charge of their own future. Fortunately, MAIM to me is exactly one of those ideal education programmes that challenge and build my identities – the sense of direction- for my career and life.

Thinking and Doing

Recently, a discussion with an old colleague made me realised that I have changed a lot. It wasn’t the physical changes of more wrinkles and higher weight that surprised me (sometimes they do though). It was the way I think and act that is different to two years ago. Being a MAIMer for two years, I have become a believer of design. The design means a lot more than a product and a new appearance. It is the processes and ways of reframing and approaching problems. It needs the skills of being visual and analytical at the same time. It requires the ability of being a lateral thinker that navigates through non-linear patterns. I have become also a lover of prototyping. It gives meanings to failures and pleasure to risk-taking. Be lean and rapid was the motto for our projects. Actions speak louder than words. I also set myself as one of the reflectional practitioners that require reviews and reflections upon actions. I am now a fan of future. Uncertainty is not an obscure black hole any more as I understand the future is already here while it is not equally distributed. The ‘unknown-unknown’ territory exists outside the known and it demands us to push our boundaries, harder and harder. Because in essence future is where innovation comes from.

In the history of organisational structures, often the role of management didn’t required any qualification or trainings. The concept of business school was once refused by Oxbridge in late 50s. The best qualification for management at that time was generally thought to have an accountancy qualification. I guess, it may be the origin of thoughts regarding risk, uncertainty and unknown as undesirable. It may be the birth place of massive excel files means ‘true’ business. I am not sure whether we are standing at the new phase of management or not since everything is happening so fast and chaotic. I am not sure if there will be one right answer for innovation and a right definition for MA Innovation Management in a given time. But as Dr Jamie Brassett once explained, the good thing of MAIM itself is that we’ve built the capability of keeping and innovating the course and ourselves year by year.

Digital Future: Waste and design


(Image from Paulo)

Recently I have been to a event in the topic of digital futures hosted by V&A. There were several speakers from different backgrounds, such as design, creative industry and engineering. The event featured various thoughts and practices on waste and design. I was intrigued by the presentation of Paulo Goldstein, the designer who had an exhibition of “repair”. Here is the link if you are interested (want to check it out).

Paulo Goldstein

As you may see from his design, most of the objects he repaired was given a unique and new form compering to their original forms. The broken iPod was attached to a bone to get the function of a clip back. The dysfunctional chair was added a new part of strings and arms to get it stand alone. It was really amazing that the way he repaired things was not about bringing the absolute original status back but in a sense of creating something new in its form to have similar functionality.

I was thinking about the meaning of repair during the event. Nowadays, the technology companies are more likely to offer a repair and care service that includes less than minimal repair. For example, if you walk into an Apple store with a broken iPhone with an insurance, the genius bar will offer you a new iPhone instead of fixing your old one. The same example can be seen in many other cloud technology devices, such as Google Chromebook. The current idea is that the physical devices are no longer important or unique and the information and data can be transferred to new devices in a second. The power of manufacturing and technology seems to have changed the discouse of repairing. Things are much easier and cheaper to be replaced rather than repaired.

I asked him a question at the end of his presentation. ‘Was your intention of repairing is to bring back the original status of broken objects or the intention of recreating newness out of the brokens?’ He said his intentions was to bring back its original function and even more not to hide the work of repairing. It was to emphasis the repairing itself. As in his example given in the presentation, repairs to him have a sense of getting back the control over a broken system, the control over frustration and uncertainties. According to Paulo, this emotional and social sense of repairing was regarded very important in current financial crisis.

Writing & Manifestos

“Writing is hard, especially when delivering a clean and concise piece.”

This is how I feel since two random things happened together last weekend. Firstly, I was asked to write a short piece for a cultural trend agency (I will paste it here below). It is a very good exercise if you are interested at concise writing and producing your own trend reports. But as you may know, my first attempt here have a long way to get to perfection.  So welcome any critiques and advice!  Second thing happened last weekend is that my mate and I were working on a brand brief. By helping him (maybe not), I was able to focus on lots of brand manifestos I read before. Those manifestos are usually a short piece of writing: clean, concise, punchy, emotional. They are great sentences that get into your heart when you first read it and that may be remembered for ages. They may create a brand image, but most importantly they tie deeply into our culture and influence/change the way we are thinking and doing things. This impact of manifesto gains audiences’ hearts and enables consumers/passengers to become brand’s super fans. As Fried et Hansson mentioned in their book Rework “all companies have customers. Lucky companies have fans.”, when you have these groups of fan and loyal audience, they will come to you instead of buying their attention.

So Here are the luckcy companies who have fans and brand manifestos :
1. Holstee. Life Manifesto


2. Moto X. Made in US

3. Apple. Design by Apple in California


4. Apple. Think different.

Not competing with those great writers yet,  here is my first attempt to become them. One thing is for sure I should keep practicing.

The power of short online videos

1. Scope:

Clicking a video link is becoming much more effortless than switching channels on your TV. Usually, a three-minute comedic online video can easily light up your mood in a short break while a five-minutes online iPad review allows you to quickly make a buying decision based on what you see and hear. People like online videos, especially short videos that fit into our modern fragmented timetables (Mintel, 2012). Culturally, this new media form is rapidly becoming another influential medium (just next to TV and film) after the Susan Boyle and Gangnam Style global hits (Khan, 2009) (Kaufman, 2013).  So what does it mean for businesses and brands?

2. Case studies:

There are more and more businesses adopting a new strategy of online videos. TheVerge, who has overtaken Engadget as the most reliable technology news source in less than 2 years, is a new company who heavily focus on 90-second online videos on daily tech news and well-curated medium length online videos (less than 30mins) on deep technology reports (TheVerge, 2013) (Webbyawards, 2013). Other similar heavy online video presence can also be found in booming businesses like Holstee, Lego, TED (Holstee, 2013) (Lego, 2013) (TED, 2013) (Mixergy, 2013). By adopting short video as means to tell brand stories, it not only enables those businesses to communicate with their younger Internet-generation audience but also cultivates a sense of community and belongingness that turns their consumers into cultural super fans (i.e. subscriber numbers).

3. Context:

The power of short online videos lines with other cultural trends:

  • Sharing it: Well-produced short videos are easy to share and gain friends attention immediately.
  • Everything visualised: Short videos are easy to consume. People read less and less now. The popularity of Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest indicates this behavioral trend.
  • Review & Unboxing. Tech review and unboxing video are one of the most popular categories on YouTube. It features peers recommendation and a more realistic 360-degree presentation of the product. When making decisions of online shopping, especially high value item, online video can be a very important source of information.
  • Rise of Entrepreneurship: New tech Start-ups, personal stories of giant tech company founders (i.e. Facebook, Apple, Google) and popular TV program Apprentice are examples of videos celebrating the value of entrepreneurship (Griggs, 2011) (Rao, 2010) (Denham, 2013). By adopting short videos on consumer friendly websites and revealing stories behind founders/designers/creators, it can create positive feedback from consumers’ sense of achievement.

The success of online short video meets consumers’ demand of free and short entertainment on their smart mobile devices. Instead of reading small and long text on those devices, audience could enjoy much more visual and musical stories that fit better on small screens and segmented times. The format of episodes also works for brand building and allows more frequent communication by updating videos on regular basis.

4. Insights and Opportunities

  • Online communication could focus more on short video formats.
  • Frequently updating online video channels and releasing new episode can create closer links with business audiences.
  • Short video content could range from product reviews, designing process, start-up experience/journal, well-made TV ads to short commissioned independent films.
  • Short videos can apply to online shops, company websites and other online communications for most industries.
  • Good online video/stories can bring cultural advantage to brands and businesses.

As John Grant concludes in his book Brand Innovation Manifesto, a brand is not just about “image” anymore but should become “cultural innovation” that creates new lifestyles (Grant, 2006).

5. Relevant data and links to support the above.

Denham, J., 2013. Apprentice fever strikes as one in four new graduates consider entrepreneurship. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

Grant, J., 2006. Brand Innovation manifesto: how to build brands, redefine markets and defy conventions. Kindle ed. London: John Wiley & Sons.

Griggs, B., 2011. Steve Jobs biography is top-selling book in the U.S. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

Holstee, 2013. More about the design. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

Kaufman, G., 2013. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

Khan, U., 2009. Britain’s Got Talent church worker Susan Boyle becomes youtube hit. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

Lego, 2013. Youtube Lego channel. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

Mintel, 2012. Video on Demand-UK-2012. Market research. London: Mintel Mintel.

Mixergy, 2013. Holstee: Profitable By Putting A Mission Before A Product – with Michael Radparvar. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

Rao, L., 2010. Opening weekend: the social network tops box office with $23 million in ticket sales. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

TED, 2013. TED. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

TheVerge, 2013. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].

Webbyawards, 2013. Award winners. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Augustus 2013].


6. Further reading

What if work without office?


What if you don’t/can’t have office that allows you team work physically work together?

What if in the future, team members work from home/train/other countries in distance?

What solution they are having now or going to have to deal with challenge like this?

Emails? Google Docs? Drop box?

But this doesn’t mean question solved if you are hit by tons of emails from all sort of stakeholders (clients/users/partners/colleagues/suppliers/etc) and by files of all different purpose.

Which information is for who? where let stakeholders to access that information so people can work on the same page?

Imagine if there is a virtual online office that allows you and your teams to manage the processes and information elegantly. and you can just sit in your garden with iPad on.

Any suggestions?