F**K Service…

vive le revolution

I hope that you are seeing a theme developing here on schneiderism. If not, you’re either new to the blog, or an idiot. Either way, let me quickly recap:

- Creative enterprise of all sorts face a range of new strategic risks

- Business models and business practices demand investigation and innovation

- Many have lost the priority of the relationships between innovation, strategy, and execution

- We’re our own worst enemy, and actively devalue the work we perform

- Design is about value creation, not about providing a service

Last evening I received an article from a colleague who shares my perspective on the state of creative enterprise. Basically, we’re at war. We find ourselves embroiled in the challenges of navigating the mess, risks, and threats before us and orienting organizations in the proper direction. It’s exciting. The email with the article that he sent had this as the subject… “F**K Service…” Well, that definitely got my attention, so I thought it appropriate to headline this piece. But, what did he mean by that?

He meant that creative enterprise is not a service industry. It does not exist to service its clients. It exists to create value for its clients. The mindset of a service business is to operate at the whim of the client. This not only devalues our work, it prevents a creative business from having a relationship with clients that is truly compatible with effective design. You’re too busy reacting to be creative. You’re too busy producing. It is a rock you will never be able to push to the top of the hill. As a service provider you have inverted the value proposition. You may as well be a lawyer or an accountant (note that I have nothing against lawyers or accountants, I just don’t want to be one…).

The article sent is entitled Read it. It is from a few years ago but still meaningful.. which only means that we’ve been thinking and talking about this for a long time. And doing precious little about it. The article relates specifically to architecture design professional service firms and their inability to adapt and embrace change. Really, though, it could apply to any number of creative businesses. A terrific quote:

“Those who do not like change will like irrelevance even less.”

James P. Cramer

Cramer points out that design firms, and the environment in which they operate, are changing. Some are evolving. Some are specializing. Some are dominating their markets. Some are struggling with being relevant and are in decline. His article is a call for intervention. I would like to think that it is the clarion call of revolution for creative businesses, and we know that he is most definitely not a lone voice in this call. But what are we going to do about it?


4 Responses to “F**K Service…”

  1. Says:

    When I was in Design School (which wasn’t too long ago) one the best design teachers I’ve ever had gave everyone in the class a set of 15 rules to follow for success in the industry. Most were either broad enough, or esoteric enough to be rather valuable, yet less than awe inspiring, such as “Don’t burn ANY bridges.” I remember the most obvious of the 15, as well as the one that I thought was the most shocking. It was this:

    “Design is a service. It’s a business. It’s a service business.”

    Talk about demoralizing! This was my senior year, and I am now (after a lot of hard work and money) that I’m studying to participate in a service oriented industry. I remember thinking, “Plumbing is service industry. I am not a plumber. I am much more.”

    I can respect the need to deliver on client expectations, but there is much more going on than just the “doing.” Is this word “service” just a misnomer? Or is (was) it an accurate descriptor of our industry? And if it is (was), is it limiting the way we think of ourselves and what it is we do? My answer is “Yes”.

    There are many designers that perform design services, and perform them well. I choose not to be one. I choose to perform “services” in the same way that Newton performed “services” for the throne of England, the way NASA performed “services” for the U.S. Government, the way Damien Hirst performs “services” for Saatchi. That is, in a way that I feel is important.

    This topic relates perfectly to a recent post on the Design Observer ( ) . Adrian Shaughnessy writes about the relationship of Empathy and Egotism in the design world, and the purposes of both. The discussion is growing.

  2. John Schneider Says:

    I think you are right to be shocked by that comment. It definitely does not work for me. This has a lot to do with where we exist within the value stream as it relates to the client’s business. If we are expediting tactics, we are at the end of that value stream. If we are investigating and identifying opportunity, and then delivering on a strategy to exploit that opportunity, then we are at the beginning. There are a myriad of opportunities to work with client’s in between those two, but I feel we do ourselves a disservice to not push our relationships more to the latter and less to the former.

    Thanks for the link to Design Observer.

  3. Jeff Coffey Says:

    I love the James P. Cramer quote:

    “Those who do not like change will like irrelevance even less.”

    But I don’t think there is much truth in it.

    Most of the people that I know, who manage to avoid change, would never recognize themselves as being irrelevant. Instead, they seem to either hold-on to an idealized version of the past that they feel is superior to the current/future state or, do not recognize that the world has changed in the first place.

    Change typically involves choice. But when you have a choice you may make the wrong decision. Nobody ever wants to be wrong (especially at work). Human nature.

    This is why there is exponentially more work available at the tactical end of the value stream. There really isn’t any risk for either the client, or the designer. Sad, but very true.

    I also don’t think there should be much shock if most view design as a service. After all, there are companies that have executed great design and failed miserably. And vice-versa, there are countless companies that are perfectly successful with no sense, or use, of good design. Sad, but also true.

    I prefer another line from the article:

    “There’s no point in avoiding or fearing the future.”

    If we choose to avoid the risk that change inevitably brings with it we may have success, financial or otherwise. But it is unlikely we will ever accomplish anything truly great. By accepting change, at least we have a chance…

  4. Says:

    [...] commodity, design, service industry, service profession I recently came across a blog (schneiderism) where a post discussed the idea of architecture being a service industry.  Technically [...]

Leave a Reply