Designing for constant change

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As part of the Designing For... series by Elizabeth Meehan

When I was completing my PhD, part of my research was to understand how people consumed, how this changed over time, and then to apply this to the consumption of places. I investigated how people did this centuries ago, and learned that they arrived to their destinations without any sense of them. Their only option to view the new destination was through literature, which left a lot to the imagination and a whole lot to be physically discovered and explored.

At the time of completing my research, the widespread use of the internet had been well established for decades. This meant the smallest of regions in the furthest corners of the earth were now accessible and viewable, and that people consumed their destination long before they arrived. People traveled with a checklist of 'must sees' and instead of exploring, they simply ticked off the checklist. Tourism, tied up with identity, also meant that visiting these places said something about the kind of person you were.

When I look back through Facebook and twitter streams over the past year, I see endless selfies of people visiting various places. Today the selfie is some version of that experience, and the evidence is now on the digital wall as opposed to physically in the living room. This transition signals a broader change in how things are being consumed. As one small example, tourism revenue along the Great Ocean Road, Australia, has nose-dived partly because people are getting off a bus to take a selfie without spending in the area. A new tourism plan for the area has been proposed that targets experience seekers but is causing much debate over the best way forward given the current scenario and future likely developments.

Tourism like many industries will face huge transitions as consumer's needs and tastes change and diversify, as trends come and go, anything less than building services with the consumer trends in mind is not going to be a way forward. Taking a path that businesses have taken in the past without serious modifications that align to the present moment will leave too few contenders surviving or profiting. Service designers build services from the bottom up by incorporating the user into the process. They pay attention to the current needs and environment, while keeping ahead of future trends because there is a clear understanding that discerning the immediate environment today is good news for the near future only, after which a service will need to adapt to match ever changing consumer tastes and preferences.