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Wir Hier: The Intelligent Service System
Sarah Rich, 11 Sep 06

choser.jpg You don't appreciate what you already have. This is the essential contradiction that sparked an innovative project two years ago at the Köln International School of Design. The project emerged from a competition at London's Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), which required students to "design a service that helps us engage, re-configure, manage and live with" a paradoxical condition of modern life. They didn't regard it as a problem, but rather as an opportunity to create a service clever enough to redesign states of mind.

The initial research dove deep. The students hit the streets of Cologne, handed out questionnaires, and conducted interviews, all assessing what in life we take for granted.

From these early findings they felt that it was worthwhile not only to attempt to help people stop taking things for granted, but more importantly, prove to them what was possible when you use what already exists in a better manner.

Sounds a little like a Worldchanging point-of-view. We are big fans of product service systems -- In fact, Alex just visited some champions of the field in London last week. The idea has spread well in Europe, setting up systems for communities to share everything from household appliances to cars, food vouchers to practical skills. It all comes down to relationships. The way we relate to the people around us, and to the tools and gadgets we use every day, shapes our perspective on what - and how much - we need.

When Wir Hier began evaluating the findings from their field research, they ascertained that a successful service system would approach "mind redesign" by offering interlinked sets of services rather than discreet programs. By grouping them, the concept would have a better chance of diffusing and taking hold across a wide cross-section of a community, and in turn drawing the community members together around the various offerings.

changingstatesofmind.jpgWir Hier already has around thirty service systems in place. The systems themselves serve as a marketing tool for the company, who brand their programs heavily, allowing the meme to spread virally as a result of the enhanced community interaction the services foster. For example, they created printed bread bags for a bakery that featured an amenity most people take for granted (like electricity) on one side, and on the other, a blurb about a newly added service. Their "Tea-4-Two" program dropped branded tea bags in community mailboxes, with a location, date and time printed on them. At the designated meeting place, neighbors would share tea and get to know one another.

The skill share program allows people to create short postings online or at a community message board that tells people what they want to learn, and what they can teach. Wir Hier even created something of an alternative currency -- a food coupon service:

The principle behind this service was allowing people the opportunity to give a donation to someone else on the assurance that it will not be spent on certain things, for example, cigarettes and alcohol.[...[
The "Food Coupon" is a small plastic coupon, designed to look like a coin. One side of the coin has the value that it is worth and the other is branded with the supermarket at which it can be redeemed. In its essence, the coupon is money with certain limitations. Rather than a completely free exchange tool, it allows the giver to have some control over what it is spent on.

This seems like an exemplary tale of using marketing for the greater social good. Much as the visual identity of the brand is an integral aspect of all of Wir Hier's services, the first and foremost goal of each is to spur community engagement, draw attention to the parts of our lives that go underappreciated, and ensure that people can access services and meet their needs.

As the final stage of this project, the creators have produced a magazine called Contradictions, which can be downloaded as a PDF in its full form. The short, well-designed magazine tells the history of the project, and includes several profiles of community users, in addition to two excellent interviews with the project's task force and the Director of the Institute for Service Design Research and Development. Really looking forward to what comes next from these guys.

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That's really cool, and very much to the point that the greenest product of all is the product that never gets made in the first place (because it's not needed to provide a desired service or experience).

Terrific post.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 12 Sep 06

I found your article very interesting. I wantaed more info, but I couldn't download the PDF file at the end. The page was just blank.

Posted by: carlton evans on 12 Sep 06

That sounds like such a great idea. We all need a little help realizing what we take for granted. Things like that can open our eyes and help us make necessary changes.

Posted by: Justin on 12 Sep 06

Hi All. I would just like to say thanks for the very kind comments about the project, and to let Carlton know that the PDF can be downloaded from the Wir Hier website -, if the link is still not working, or I can e-mail it.

Posted by: Ian Crawford (Wir Hier Team Member) on 13 Sep 06



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