The 16x frame is a design puzzle. Solving it is the same as designing a service. It takes input from several stakeholders, including customers, users, providers, and agents. The output is a strategic narrative that is clear, concise, and complete.

The designing of services is more important than ever. We depend more than ever on more services. Too small to notice or too big to fail, they have far reaching consequences. We have to be more prescient about the risks of systemic failures. And less innocent about why services fail despite the efforts that go into designing them.

Services fail because of gaps and conflicts in their designs.

Service designs have invisible gaps: missing elements of design that become visible only from the failures they cause. This has little to do with ‘lack of empathy’ or ‘lousy research’. A lot with the lack of fuller representations of services as systems, such as with engineering drawings, bills of materials, and digital twins, in manufacturing.

Service designs have conflicts of interests: between customers and users, and providers and agents. What’s good for one group may not be good enough for another. Good designs produce higher net values for both sides at the lowest possible price. In essence, they are ‘beautiful contracts’ that reduce conflict, reward cooperation, and reject compromise.

But even ‘good services’ aren’t good enough when customer needs change, competition becomes more compelling, or do-it-yourself more attractive.

Good designs are hard. Making changes is harder. Changes can be disruptive because the designs are live, or in operation. Changes from one side require cooperation from the other. Changes may create new gaps and conflicts, and thus new kinds of failures, invisible on maps and blueprints, and waiting to happen.

Some failures are so far removed from the changes that ultimately cause them, the ‘undo button’ is out of clicks.

Service design is too important to be left to ‘service designers’. It requires the creative intelligence of many disciplines, and an organizational memory system to support the dialog and interaction. But then, every discipline has its own way of thinking. As John Kay says, we prefer to understand and interpret things through own ‘best and most helpful’ models – ones that make us smart and efficient.

Therefore, to make the process more inclusive, we should store designs in an open format, so everyone can read or write, analyze or interpret, and criticize or correct a design. Regardless of their function or discipline, training or education, culture or background.

A story format.

It is through stories that we best absorb arguments and make sense of a complex world. We prefer to tell stories than to use analytic models, and the best and most helpful models are, at their root, narratives.

~ John Kay

Design is for implementation. Therefore, to be suitable for ‘storing designs’, our stories should be like ‘scripts’. Clear, concise, and complete. They should have multiple threads, to avoid gaps and conflicts, woven together into a single coherent narrative.

The 16x frame is a 4×4 matrix that organizes the 16 elements of design found in every service. It is a tool for developing strategic narratives. Each narrative has 16 sentences. Each sentence is a declarative statement, communicating strategy through that particular element of design. Teams implementing the strategy, interpret statements within the context of their own work.

Each narrative is woven from eight story threads: one each for the eight distinct perspectives from which to design a service. Each thread has four sentences in a who-why-how-what sequence. The threads are interwoven in a pattern that ensures every sentence of the strategic narrative, appears in two different threads. This allows teams to work independently with autonomy and power, without the usual risks.