Designing For Participation: An Inquiry into the Nature of Service

Miso Kim, Carnegie Mellon University


This dissertation explores a conceptual framework for deepening our understanding of the subtle nature of service. I begin my dissertation by posing the problem that current theories of service, which have primarily been drawn from the field of business, do not fully capture the essence of service as demonstrated by practicing service designers. In particular, I show that existing theories of service design are inadequate to address the social and ethical aspects of service, such as human dignity. A philosophical survey of this topic reveals that the basis of dignity is autonomy, or the capacity of an agent to act in accordance with his/her free will rather than external pressure. However, current frameworks of service, which are often based on the logics of mass production and information control, attempt to control customers’ perceptions and actions. There is a paradox of action and passion. In order to resolve this paradox and expand existing notions of service, I propose a framework of service based on the concept of participation, defined as the collective action of parts related to the whole with varying degrees of action and passion for the purpose of achieving a shared goal. I use the intellectual art of dialectic to conduct my inquiry. Dialectic seeks to find the bigger whole of a system through division and assimilation. I first conduct a historical review of different perspectives on service: objectified labor, contracted assistance, mutual aid, and communal sharing. I argue that participation is a unifying concept that encompasses these views. I then explore a framework of service as layers of participation based on varying relationships between action and passion. The four layers of coproduction, argumentation, experience, and commitment coexist within a service. Using this framework, I examine the case study of participatory economy services and explore conceptual models as tools to condition the form of participation.