Service Design, sinister iPads, kettles and bremsstrahlung

Did you know that, for about 10% of the world’s population the iPad has a design flaw? If you have spotted it, you’re probably sinister – that is left-handed (‘sinister’ is from the Latin for ‘left hand’ – as, of course, ‘dextrous’ is from the Latin for right hand). If you use Apple’s cover and prop your iPad on the desk, the button is on the wrong side for left-handers. Shouldn’t Apple have catered for the needs of 700 million left-handers?

The answer, even for me, a left-hander, isn’t obviously ‘yes’. It would be an expensive variation and, because it is so much of a right-handed world, most left-handers are used to finding things awkward to use and just get on with it without even thinking about it. Getting it right mattered enough for me to buy a left-handed trumpet – the design of brass instruments also discriminates against us.

My thoughts turn to design again because I’m looking forward to teaching the ITIL V3 2011 service design course soon. Design is important in so many areas, and it’s easy to spot whether a design is good or bad – but a lot less easy to do design well. Particularly when the difference can be a subtle as which side the hinge goes!

At the itSMF conferences in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in 2010, I gave a presentation on service design, pointing out how painfully slow the evolution of the kettle has been. As usually happens, each stage didn’t involve a proper re-think of the requirements, but, rather, took the existing design and made a technology-driven adjustment – often leading to a poor solution. For example, metal is a good material to use for a kettle if you’re hanging it over a fire and want the heat to travel into the water – but a terrible material if you’ve got an electric element inside because the heat will travel, wastefully, out from the water to the metal. I have a glass electric kettle to avoid this – and that also allows me to see the water boiling, not something I’d have thought was that important, but I enjoy watching it, sometimes, particularly as the kettle also has functionally useless, but attractive blue LEDs that remind me of the exciting time when I looked into a nuclear reactor and saw the beautiful bremsstrahlung (‘breaking rays’) glowing as the neutrons were slowed down by the water.

One of the most useful observations of ITIL in, terms of understanding design requirements, is, I think, the observation that value is produced by the combination of utility and warranty and that utility is not just a matter of supplying a particular feature, but also of removing constraints from the user. My glass kettle, with it’s blue rays, prevents me from being bored whilst waiting for a it to boil as well as proving to me that watched kettles do, despite the contrary maxim, boil.

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