In short, service design is a method of purposefully designing services through a set process that emphasises co-creation with users and other stakeholders through customer research, prototyping, testing, and iteration. It is this iterative process, while putting the user(s) at the centre at each stage, that allows the service to evolve to the needs of the customer. This is a shift in not only mindset but procedure of how an organisation works. So how does an organisation begin to shift how it designs services and solves problems?
It is not the process in and of itself that makes it important, but it is the outcomes of the process that does. There are four major outcomes that will help to make a shift to service design for your organisation impactful:
- a solid solution
- business viability.
It prioritises inclusion
Determining who the stakeholders are in a service is important. Making sure that representatives of those stakeholders participate in the process is also important. If users and other stakeholders are not a part of the process, then the outcome will not be valid.
One of the main issues with other kinds of service development processes is that they prioritise ‘knowing’ over ‘following the research to find out’. This can be seen when solutions are the first thing that groups or individuals begin to explore. Often this means the loudest voice gets heard or the highest rank gets to decide. This does not give any voice to the user or to those who are less extroverted.
When you start with the solution, you usually only have the perspective of those who are delivering the service. Excluding real users, their lived experiences, and any kind of diversity from the development of concepts.
It focuses on the problem and not the solution
The mantra of almost every designer is Love the Problem, Not the Solution. As GM’s former Head of research Charles Kettering is attributed as saying: “A problem well stated is a problem half solved”. A lot of time in the service design process is used for learning about the users, their lives, and what the real problem is. It is only once the real problem is correctly identified that any solution ideation should be started. A great deal of effort by service designers is spent on holding participants back from trying to create solutions too early in the process.
By delaying the ideation and solution part of the service design process, the problem gets thoroughly explored and identified. This will either confirm previous predictions or refute them. Both are acceptable outcomes of this beginning part of the process. Many times, service deliverers will know where the problem is, but are not at all sure as to the why. Without proper research, the why is only ever a guess. It is the why that is mainly explored during the research phase using qualitative research.
Spending a lot of time on the solution without understanding the problem doesn’t really help anyone.
It leads to efficiencies
When a service design process is properly engaged, it will inevitably lead to efficiencies. This is because it should not include elements that are not necessary. Those should naturally be eliminated with proper research, prototyping, and testing. It will also not be solving the wrong problem – and therefore not solving the real problem.
When you solve the wrong problem, you create a great amount of waste. Even with the most efficient or paired back bad service, will always have waste because it does not solve the underlying problem. As Professor John Seddon says 1 ”:doing the wrong thing righter”. The goal is to have a service that helps the user to get the job done, not to make a less useful service more efficient.
It is firmly about organisational balance
Service design ”aims at designing services that are useful, usable and desirable from the user perspective, and efficient, effective and different from the provider perspective”. – Birgit Mager, Professor of Service Design and Co-Founder of the international Service Design Network.
This means that when done right, it insists that the end user and the business perspective is in balance. This means, whatever kind of organisation you have, it is vital to secure its future viability as well as desirability.
Without a balance between what customers need and what an organisation can do profitably or within budget, there is no organisational viability. It is through service design that these two sides of the same coin can be optimised.
It is a mindset shift
At its very heart, service design is a mindset. This mindset, the way in which we approach problems from the moment they are seen, is so important in the success rate of solutions. This mindset shift, moving the focus
- from solutions to problem
- from organisation to user
- from failure to learning
- and from efficiency to impact, is so fundamental that it needs to be organisation-wide.
If only a few people are shifting their mindset in the long run, this new way of working cannot solidly take hold. Resulting in developments within the organisation being uneven and disjointed. Service design needs to work holistically; using the mindset, the process, and the toolkit. This is important for organisations to design a future where they are being inclusive, their business objectives are being met, and the right problems are being solved. Everyone in the organisation has a part to play in it.
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.
- Seddon, John: Keynote speech. 12th Annual Health Conference. 2016, Dublin, Ireland (beyondcommandandcontrol.com)