Service design is about deep customer research, inclusion, prototyping, testing, and iteration. These are skills that almost everyone needs in almost every job. Everyone needs to think about the customer/user when creating something. Even a construction worker when building a part of a house should be able to think about how it will be used. Asking themselves ‘does this make sense?’ and flag things that maybe don’t. I use this as an example as I have just moved into a brand-new apartment and wonder what went into some of the decisions made that make no logical sense when it comes to actually using some things.
In my opinion, everyone should learn these skills. These skills and tools are fairly industry and profession agnostic.
How did we get here?
Manufacturing was the basis of the economy for almost 300 years- since the industrial revolution. Underpinned by a vast knowledge gap between the producer and the consumer. The customer did not have access to quality comparisons, technical information of products, understand the process of creation/manufacturing, etc. There was a severe imbalance of knowledge that the producers and sellers could hide behind and take advantage of customers.
But post-1950 you see a slow shift in how business is done. The shift from the power being in making things and selling them to being able to selling them in vast quantities to new markets. More products came onto the market and there was more choice – the seeds of needing differentiation were being planted. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, there was the drive of mass production and cheap prices as well as a still existing substantial knowledge gap between producer and consumer.
The 1980s saw the beginning of a huge shift in how economies work. It was the time when technology began to play a bigger role in the economy – making goods more accessible to more people. This movement began to enable many new ways of working and how we consumed. Needing to differentiate the plethora of products, co2mpanies began to focus on the customer and differentiating through services. The 90s and beyond embraced ever-evolving technology – the internet, email, etc…this created access to information and the knowledge gap began to shrink rapidly.
And so, heading into the 2000s, there is really a new way of organising the economy- a profound shift from value being exchanged from the producer to the buyer (with the value being in the product itself) to value-in-use. The value is in what you can do with the product rather than the product itself. A computer or a smartphone are only valuable if it has useful software on it and if you know how to use it.
Services are E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E.
So, services in the 2020s are EVERYWHERE. The value is now in what you can do with the products that we buy. Our products are now, in general, much more complex and much more a result of an ecosystem creating them than one manufacturer in one place. Your electricity is a service. Public transport isn’t only a vehicle, it is about where it can take you and how you access the information about where it can take you. Grocery stores are a service…in fact they are many services. Services really are everywhere. And understanding this is vital to being included in the discussion and the design of what comes next.
It matters who is included
Because services are everywhere, it matters who is included in creating them. Whose perspective are they taking into consideration when they design something (whether it is a product or a service)? It matters if one or more group of people are left out. It can be a life or death matter in fact. In car crashes, because the body of ‘Reference Man’ (based on white men aged 25-30 and 70kg in the 1970s) is used, it is a fact that “although men are more likely to crash, women involved in collisions are nearly 50% more likely to be seriously hurt.”
A similar situation is known in mobile phone sizes (they are referenced on male hands, speech recognition uses mostly men’s voices, etc) and for people of colour, face recognition technology can have a hard time recognising those with darker skin tones which leads to a higher ‘false match rate’ when identifying criminals at a much higher rate. Even for everyday things, it can make opening your phone harder.
This list goes on. So, it really matters who is involved in creating services and technology that the services rely on.
It matters who leads
Just as it matters who is included, it matters who leads. Leaders set the goals and targets in many cases and those matter to the work that teams do. How they see the value in co-creation and how they set KPIs matters. As one form of the saying goes “we measure what we value”. And it becomes more difficult when what we value cannot be measured in traditional terms. Can we measure the joy our service brings to someone? Maybe if you can dilute that into a happiness score or a return user score. But is it really measuring joy? How about inclusion? Can we measure that? We can measure who was there. We can even dig down and measure how often different people spoke if we really want to. But can we really measure inclusion with the tools we now use? Not really. Maybe this is more about how we value things or who has designed the tools that we have at our disposal.
A good leader will value things that cannot be measured in traditional tools and maybe they will build new tools. So, it definitely matters what leaders know and how they use it.
Our future depends on it
Futures studies teaches that the future has the potential to unfold in many different ways. The depiction of this is shown in strange sounding “Cone of Possibilities” or “Futures Cone”. We all know that decisions and plans that we make today will determine the future that comes. But is there a way to design the future that comes more purposefully? Sure, there is.
With the Futures Cone there are multiple potential futures. All with different probabilities depending on the decisions that are made from individuals, communities, and whole societies in time. From the Futures Cone in the image, you will see that there are many options. It is also noted that these are shifting and flexible. Here we are shown futures that range from the preposterous to the preferable with many ‘P’ stops inbetween. And how we get to our preferable requires us to specifically design it. Through backcasting and designing the changes we want to see, we can plan the steps needed to take to get to that preferred future state. We all need to be a part of this process otherwise we will be left only with someone else’s preferred state. Someone who has the skills, knowledge, and determination to forge a future that suits them. You can be absolutely certain that Zuckerberg, Bezos, and Musk are all involved deeply in designing the future they want to see. It is time that the rest of us started insisting on purposefully designing a future that includes us and those around us also.
Pamela Spokes works as a Service Designer in Metropolia’s RDI team. Originally from Canada, Pamela has years of experience in university admin focusing on international recruitment, marketing, and the international student/staff experience. With a Bachelor’s from Canada, a Master’s degree from Sweden, an MBA in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea, and her AmO from Haaga-Helia, she is interested in purposefully designed experiences that are centred around the user. Don’t be surprised if she knocks on your door to talk about learning co-creation methods through intensive learning experiences.