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Laiserin's LemmaTM—Freudian Slips Sink Loose Ships
(lemma: a short theorem used in proving a larger theorem)

Last week's Lemma misquoted the title of the David Maister classic, Managing the Professional Service Firm. With apologies to Professor Maister, I wrote "...Services Firm" instead of "...Service Firm." Mere semantics, you say? I say we in the designing professions focus too much on what WE do (deliver services) and not enough on what our CLIENTS want us to do (provide service). Worse, we misuse the available technology tools to crank out more services and less service.

Clients don't buy services or instruments of service, such as drawings, models, renderings, or animations. Nor do they really seek bills of materials, estimates and schedules, or owner's manuals. While all these processes and the resultant deliverables may be necessary accoutrements, what design clients think they are buying is products-be they buildings, roads, or cars. What counts to us as designers is all the symbology and verbiage that describe our design activities. However, what counts to clients is the experience-experience of the finished building, road, or car, as well as the experience of being cared for and cared about during the process.

Every time we consider adopting new technologies, upgrading existing technologies, or switching from one technology to another, the first question we need to ask is "how does this serve the client?" Will the technology reduce the client's risk? Minimize the client's anxiety? Make options clearer? Increase confidence that we have explored and thought through all the benefits and costs of each design intervention and material selection we propose?

Are there side effects and unintended consequences of our technology choices? Think back to the first time you showed a client quick-shaded hidden-line images of a rough preliminary design. Was she intimidated by the hard-edged precision of the drawings? Did she fear that her input to design options had been foreclosed? Will gyrating through a 3D model on-line enlighten or frighten your next client?

Today, as we explore model-based design collaboration, or as we automate the professional service aspects of our businesses (such as linking business development to accounting to projects and so on) are we confident that we are adding value through more accessible and understandable service that our clients will be willing to pay for? Or, are we falling into the death-spiral trap of subtracting value by bending our technology exclusively towards faster and cheaper delivery of services?

The "right" answer for each firm and each market depends on the specific blend of expertise, experience, and efficiency that we offer to our clients (a topic for another time). While there's no single right answer for every firm, there is one right question for every client: are you being served?

Let me know what you think.


Editor and Publisher, The LaiserinLetterTM
Analysis, Strategy and Opinion for Technology Leaders in Design Business



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