Social Engineering and Service Design in Maputo


Here is a link to a photo album on facebook about this project

Evangelican service designers talk like they have invented something new. I really do not care if people think they have invented the wheel again if it works and they are happy. But military planners, society builders, philosophers and architects (sometimes all in one and the same person) have been planning services and social solutions for as long as society has existed. There have been techniques, rules, solutions and problems that we had to learn about while studying architecture. Some successful and unfortunately many bad cases of social problem solving that has resulted in more disaster than was foreseen. My upbringing in architecture and design happened in one such historical moment when we attacked Modernism as the dogma of our forefathers and decided to address context again and named it Post-Modernism.

All this is fine and why do I divulge into my past? Because I am interested in service design as a way of contextualizing design problem solving. To move design away from the formalistic laboratory of the design (school)  studio to the ethnographical contextualization of design problems. In that light, service design (can also call it social design) is architectural design, communication design, interaction design etc. The visual communication design students in ENAV here in Maputo have been given the task by Soley to create a tool that will explain to the Maputo citizens how the public transport system works. This has to be explained somewhat further.

Most of public transport here in Maputo is run by very entrepreneurial young men in small vans named Chappas. These are predominately second hand (actually 8th hand) Toyota HiAce vans that would not pass a control test on other continents. The cars, made for maximum 8-9 people transport up to 25 people at the time, each passenger paying a 5 meticas (ca 0,15 dollars) per trip. Since this public service is a private enterprise they race each other to pick up the most number of passengers (trying to overtake each other), and the routes they take are really only known to the driver who most often has installed a super, super active sound system with huge base boxes and the Marabenta Drum and Base runs to cover the noice of the falling apart car. There is also a semi-public driven bus service that is slow and unreliable and needs not be explained here.

Since we came to Maputo I have gone through the experience to take the chappas, sometimes for specific transport and also to gain experience of this public service. There is no way to understand how the system works, one just has to jump aboard, read the name-sticker on the car and hope it passes close to where one is going. Of course not speaking the local language yet does not help. We have also realized that flat maps that we Western people are used to are not common and many friends have difficulty in using them, relying rather on landmarks and mental mapping systems that are more linked to visual and experiencial memory rather than to a Cartesian grid system.

beck_map1The students are to come with proposals that serve the local public and visitors to the city so that it is possible to understand clearly and use the transport system effectively. There are of course many famous such system in the world, maybe the best known the London Underground Map designed by Harry Beck, actually an engineering draftsman, and the Paris Metro profile including the stations designed by Hector Guimard.

The task for the students I have seen as fourfold primarily.

a) to simplify the everyday (efficiency)

b) to create a collective profile for the whole service and unifying element for the city

c) to divulge information clear and fast

d) to make the mundane more ejoyable

Friday May 15th was the first presentation by the students of the research group work. The research is more complicated than in the normal Western design school since the information is not available through Google, but the students had to do more ethnographical work on their own every day, relating directly in themselves to the current problems and issues that could be addressed. The discussion during the presentations was actually much more about social engineering than graphic design. That was very stimulating and the teachers made some very good comments to the students about such issues. I saw a realization that graphic designers can be fundamental in social engineering and political motivation. This is good for young design students and for the school environment that is mostly arts and crafts orientated and not with proper design entrepreneurial perspective.

So, is the project a service design project? Dealing with logistics and processes? Using people as prototypes for checking social engineering? In my opinion it is although the project is just a simple graphic design school project. It is a project that is fundamental to society here in Africa, while much of graphic design understanding is more geared towards advertizing campaigns and posters for commercial enterprises. More news later when the project unfolds, but we are discussing now how to continue over the next weeks. All suggestions thankfully received.



Satu Miettinen (link)

Hi Dori,

totally agree with this, world was already invented…



Uma V Chandru

Dori- your inclusive and contextual concept of “service” design that includes the ethnographic makes sense-but I curious to understand how you and the others view- public/service/social and also “cultural design” – are they all inter-disciplinary and interchangeable terms?

On another note pertaining to your blog- In Bangalore too, we have had privately owned (private entrepreneurs addressing the lack of adequate public transport) vehicles called tempos driven by young men with a helper who hangs at the edge of the open door and pushes passengers in and out and collects the money -Like our public transport bus drivers, these tempos also cause accidents. The latter also stop suddenly to drop and pick up people and don’t stop in the right places, Both drive like crazy and the latter play loud music/videos too- they usually connect the rural/peri-urban with the urban – Given our massive population-The tempos as well as the govt buses transport more numbers than they are meant for.

Reading flat maps is also something these drivers can’t do -if technology were to be introduced-they will need voice activated systems for directions (but wonder if they will hear it over the noise of the loud music/videos)-looking at maps and trying to figure them out would certainly cause more accidents.


Uma, you pinpoint the problem (or the task). Your description of the chappa service is exactly the same as here. The other guy hangs on the sliding door, and if the van is full they hang out of the window.

But about mapping. This is something that I am especially interested in. Why do we impress our flat Cartesian maps onto everything? Me, being an architect know from experience that people generally do not understand geometrical maps/plans. See for example my video of the new proposed premises of the art school in Oslo. I made it as an animation after frustration in meetings where my co-workers did not understand the drawings and kept arguing about things that are not in the pipeline. So, how do we map?
This is a long subject, but my hunch is that there might be a possibility of illustrating landmarks? Mentally map the most important places. The safety instructions in aeroplanes (that I have collected for years) do not include maps. Ikea does not supply maps for furniture, but simple illustrations of how to use and behave.
I have no idea how the information should be communicated, but am excited to see the work of the students in the coming weeks.


Adam Thorpe (link)

I think the bus project is an information design project. The project is similar to service design in that it requires the designer to understand the ‘user journey’ (in this caes litteraly) and create a design that facilitates this journey to be delivered more efficiently, safely and enjoyably. Although the task requires the designers to understand the service provided in terms of a complex system does it require them to/or give them the opportunity to change the service in terms of setting the rules that the drivers adhere (no overtaking at bus stops) to or getting them to keep to timetables, or agreeing set routes and stops etc? It will be interesting to follow what happens next with the project. Its almost as though the current service is somewhere between a bus service and an ‘open’ car sharing scheme. Are the driver-entrepreneurs involved in the project? Does the system work despite the apparent safety concerns of competitive driving and overcrowded vehicles? What do the drivers and users want more of and less of? How will the driver-entrepreneurs benefit from changes to the current system? Do they have a central representation that enables consensus to be negotiated in terms of how the overall system may be re-structured, and this restructuring applied? What are the distances travelled by the buses? Are buses the answer of could it be bikes?
Who sets the briefs for the projects – how are they scoped? Look forward to seeing/reading more.


Uma V Chandru

I am sure you have seen this description of Cultural Design at RPI’s CCD program.

Btw-Enjoyed your animation was fun and did wonder why there were no maps and floor plans

Regarding maps-they have been critiqued for being instruments of power in the hands of the State, Empire and Capital (Habermas)

John Pickles has an interesting chapter in his book -A history of spaces on Counter mapping where he briefly discusses Habermas and also Brian Harley’s view of maps and their hidden agenda. Harley was opposed to digital cartography and GIS and saw maps as “instruments of power and embedded in social systems of ethnocentricism, privilege and control.”-but perceived paper topographical maps to be more democratic and humanistic forms of geographical knowledge.

Pg. 185: Bill Bunge’s (nomad cartography or insurgent cartography)- community-based maps embedded in the local needs and struggles are interesting -for him science was a tool of progress or “critical modernism” – founder of the Detroit Geographical expedition – where radical geographers worked in ghettos etc in the inner city to support local groups, human rights, environmental and civil rights struggles. Community-based mapping brought geography to the service of the poor and powerless. – repositioned the cartographer vis a vis the poor in the maps which included abundance besides lack, super abundance next to abject poverty etc- Shifted away from urban planner type of maps-mapped children’s safety, raised questions like why were children going hungry in detroit when “overabundant” food in warehouses was rotting, etc.


Dori Gislason

Thanks for the comments. I must make clear that the group of students are really on Foundation level, since there is not higher education in art and design here. The project is written by Soley with my inputs, and it seems complex for the students while it is also very near at hand for them since it is part of their everyday. The chappa drivers are not included yet but we wonder if it is possible to invite some for review. It has been complex to discuss the map of Maputo, but this morning we turned the angle and decided to concentrate on just separate routes to go further. We did follow the path of one Chappa to find out how it is possible to represent the landmarks on that route. Soley presented a series of images, a video through our car windscreen and I drew a kind of a simple map of the route on its own. Now the students are working on separate routes and it will be interesting to see how it goes. But surely I agree that this project is an information and profiling project, not having resources to do changes to social and infrastructural issues. It is interesting to reflect that two years ago when a master student from my faculty Vanja, spent five weeks here and asked the students to address social issues that they then also selected the chappa phenomenon then concentrating on the safety issues.

Further development will be reported.


Uma V Chandru

Will be more interesting if it goes beyond an information design or simple way finding exercise to the students meandering through the marxist history via the street names as you indicated it might.

Having ridden those tempos from rural to urban areas during my doctoral fieldwork in the mid 90s, the luxury of an “enjoyable” ride is far from the mind of those who are simply happy to get into the tempo and reach their destination.

With regard to including drivers & users in the design team-would be great if possible. Not sure one can get them to follow rules & time tables unless there are some sort of incentives built in or union created for this informal sector. The aim of the drivers & owners of tempos in India is to make the maximum profit and in the fastest time. Driver/helper are given “baata”- a per diem, which is usually a fixed amount. Some may also get a percentage of day’s earnings. If not related to owner, helper & driver often take cuts from the earnings.

May 16, 2009   Posted in: DESIGN