An Interview with Simone Cicero
Along with other partners, Simone Cicero launched the Platform Design Toolkit. Bringing together service design, business model innovation, lean startup and customer development, the Toolkit helps designers and businesspeople alike to identify and harness the power of platforms.
Me: For those readers that aren't familiar with the concept of platform design and the "Platform Design Toolkit", can you give a short introduction to the work you've been doing and what it's about?
Simone Cicero: I created the Platform Design Canvas in 2013, as a derivative of the Business Model Canvas. The canvas evolved into a toolkit since then, in a conversation with the design, innovation and business strategy communities. Feedback has been collected in several masterclasses, exchanges and workshops.
Technically speaking the toolkit is a methodology, based on a set of canvases that provide an aid to teams and individuals that want to design for an ecosystem. The set of canvasses comes with a user guide (we’re aiming to release a more comprehensive manual), a regular publication on Medium, and a newsletter aimed at sharing our way to apply this thinking. In terms of inspirations, I would say that Platform Design is a child of service design, business model innovation, lean startup and customer development.
The main objective of the platform design toolkit - which has become clearer after few years of using it and researching it - is probably that it helps us move from the ‘industrial perspective’ of customer-centred design into the ‘post industrial perspective’. We believe this post industrial perspective must be ecosystem-centred or – much better – relationship-centred.
We always say that is about moving from organising production, to organising interaction. It’s a way for companies to think without boundaries, beyond the traditional limitations of employees and resources. Everyone can now work for you (with you) if you craft the right set of incentives.
We believe that individuals and individual entities (small organizations, teams) play an ever greater role in the networked economy. Therefore, a key part of a platform strategy is enabling them to exchange value, in marketplace-like structures, through transactions and interactions. Another key aspect, we believe, is supporting these independent entities within the ecosystem in honing new capabilities, finding new opportunities and improving their performances. Therefore we speak of dual engines in platform strategies: a ‘transactions engine’ and a ‘learning engine’.
We also believe that - to really tap the power of networks - we need to design relationship centric systems. We believe that customer centricity has been inspiring systems that kept us in isolation, and that this needs to end, for many reasons. Firstly, in isolation we can’t learn completely. We see platform organisations as powerful engines of learning. It’s true that one component of learning is competitive (developing a better reputation than others, through better performance) other layers of learning can only happen in a relationship, and in the context of a system. Furthermore, we think that all the systems we create today (systems, not products) will need to provide participants the possibility to evolve. Evolution is a “liminal” process, in which one goes through several stages. To really evolve through stages, one needs to confront and learn from masters and peers: this is what we call ‘collaborative learning’.
Agency can’t be obtained in isolation. We’re entering an age of awareness: we need to figure out that we’re all interconnected. We think that deliberately designing for ecosystems — or interconnectedness — will generate this better result and improve awareness. That’s what platforms are all about.
Like probably most design- or tech-oriented events, there hasn't been a service design conference in which Uber and Airbnb haven't been named. I'm sure these two classic examples of platform business models come up again and again your work. What are some less-known, platform-based services that you think we should learn more about?
Airbnb and Uber can definitely be seen through the platform lens; they are outstanding examples. They are also very different and similar at the same time. If you look at the differences, you’ll see that Airbnb is much more relationship-centric than Uber. More importantly, they’re just two manifestations of larger trends: potential that grows at the edges of systems.
When it only takes a computer or a smartphone to give you the potential to access complex coordination systems and to relate with others, everything changes. Take the case of OpenDesk (www.opendesk.cc), a very different example. You can play a role in the furniture manufacturing industry if you have a CNC laser cutter, giving you what you need to craft the brand’s amazing furniture. Whether it’s hospitality, mobility or furniture manufacturing, it doesn’t really change. Tim O’Reilly once said that this is “the franchise of one”.
In any case, we’re probably not going to see many other poster children of this kind of platform economy. Trends tell us that large parts of the digitally-powered economy are now consolidating - large infrastructural ecosystems are eating up as much as possible. I personally believe that – on top of them – we’re going to see more and smaller ‘platform organisations’ - entities that organise their niches, based on strong relationships and high value services.
As an example, we’re now building the organisation behind the Platform Design Toolkit as a platform. We’re creating ways for our adopters to connect and create meaningful innovations through value exchanges. Every company should try to design itself as a platform. Individuals could also think of themselves as platforms: facilitating relationships between others in our personal ecosystem (connecting), and supporting other’s learning, through our own activities. That’s more or less what I’ve found myself doing in the past years. The more value you help create, the more will return to you, whether you’re a person, a small organisation or a large conglomerate transforming an entire industry. It’s a way of looking at things; platform are not technologies, websites or apps, but strategies and narratives that mobilise.
Service designers still mostly rely on tools such as customer journeys and service blueprints, which are really only suitable for visualising traditional service interactions, with a single service provider (e.g. a company), and a single service consumer (e.g. a customer). But Doblin's Larry Keeley, among others, are telling service designers that the business success stories of tomorrow will all be platforms. Do we service designers need to re-train and re-equip ourselves to design those services? And if so, how?
I think there’s obviously a continuity between Design Thinking and Platform Design. It’s true that — for example — customer journeys might feel a bit outdated and linear sometimes. That’s why we created our ‘Platform Experience Canvas’. We needed something a bit more in line with network thinking. Customer journeys on the other hand are still excellent tools that can easily be adapted to be used to design the journey of a producer of value, whether it’s an investor, employee, developer or any other kind of user. This is to say that we’re in a continuum with the tradition of design.
We are essentially consolidating the existing knowledge about and around ecosystems and platforms, creating a community of practice. I hope the Service Design Network can be a stakeholder in this process and ecosystem.
I think service designers may enjoy exploring our work a little bit and then pick everything they consider beneficial to their work and hack it together. I’d invite them to read “Navigating: Platform Design Toolkit” and “All You Need to Know about Platform Design, in a handy recap”, available on the Platform Design Toolkit website (platformdesigntoolkit.com).
This article also appears in Vol. 9, No. 3 of Touchpoint, a journal published three times per year by the Service Design Network, and providing in-depth coverage of all aspects of the service design discipline.