By Joe Heapy
We are almost totally reliant on services of all types to live our lives. In the same way that spectacles, hearing aids, trainers and a huge range of other products allow us to operate beyond the limitations of our physical selves, the services that we use allow us to substantially increase what we are able to achieve in life: in our relationships with others, in building our careers, expanding our minds, creating wealth and orchestrating and even extending our lives.
In the same way that Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline tried to capture the idea of human-machine systems that could operate in outer space , we're all wrestling with being human-service systems, 'servorgs', operating in consumer space. This idea extends beyond augmentation to hybridisation, to the point where without a mobile phone, a credit card and an internet connection we are rendered inoperable.
Not only do services provide the foreground and the substrate of modern living but they also contribute to the modern definition of social exclusion. The UK government, like others, has plans to ensure every community in the UK will gain access to super-fast broadband by 2015 (countries like South Korea are already there). Poverty of access to the internet increasingly means poverty of access to education. Those who are without access to public services, such as healthcare and public transport, or consumer services, like banking, the internet and healthy food, are considered excluded from the mainstream; vulnerable and in need of support.
However, it's not only about the technology. Services are also about people. Most of the services that people use everyday are what are called 'multichannel': the users and the providers of the service interact not only through web pages but also in stores, over the phone, in the user's home and so on. In this way services are also about human relationships - the interface and interactions between two people. Service Design is as much about the design of these interactions in their fine detail as it is about the developing the features and designing the operating model.
We interact with human beings so often through the services we use everyday that it's surprising how frequently these interactions seem to lack empathy. The cliché of the human operator robbed of empathy and autonomy by 'the system' they are required to use, remains relevant. Interactions with services are not always designed for empathy. It's as hard for the agents of the service to engage with the diversity and complexity of customers' lives as it is for customers to accept the limitations of the complex system that these agents have to work within. Yet we're all becoming more savvy, more attuned to what the design of the service can do to a conversation between two normal people. Organisations are getting better at acknowledging that they are not just processing a transaction when a customer calls or walks into a store. They are realising that value is created in each of these moments and customers are won or lost. So, it's not just what a service does, it's how a service makes people feel that counts.
At Engine, we believe that the services people use everyday define their relationships with organisations and with other people and ultimately shape quality of life. It's well worth designing them well.
 "Cyborgs and Space," in Astronautics (September 1960), by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline.