Can you do some service design in this project? We have some money left in this project; can we do some service design? We have money allocated for service design, but we forgot to do it. Can we do it now? These are just a few misconceptions of service design in the higher education context. Service design is a way of thinking as well as a process that will span the whole project.
Service design is a process and mindset
Service design does not start a project with an outcome in mind. This is why it can be difficult to use it properly and effectively in a funded project.
Service design is a way of working and a specific mindset:
- grounded in qualitative research
- co-creating with the end-users and other stakeholders
- being comfortable with not knowing the outcome
- willingness to be wrong
- embracing failure as learning
- understanding that there are no quick fixes
- testing early and iteration
When should service design be considered?
When a project plan gets started, it is important to consider whether service design is the method that you can or want to use. Service design is as much about how you plan the process as it is how you execute the plan once funded.
Service design is a process that needs to be baked in from the very first days of the planning process. Determining how you will engage with the stakeholders and end users and what role that they play in the process will determine if you are using service design in an impactful way or if it is just service design theatre.
What is service design theatre?
This term service design theatre should not be confused with using theatre in service design. Especially in prototyping, there is a place for acting out your service in a way that you convey the experience or expected experience of your user to test your ideas. This is not the theatre we are talking about.
We are talking about theatre in the sense of the idiom ‘going through the motions’. This is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to do something without making much effort to do it well”.
Going through the motions service design theatre is about ticking boxes on a checklist, using the term because it is trendy, and trying to push things through that are not actually focused on the user and their experience. This kind of theatre helps nobody, wastes money and time, and eventually gives service design a bad reputation.
When is it too late to consider service design
If the project has been designed and submitted, that is a pretty good clue that it is too late to consider using service design. Unless, of course, you are willing and able (per the funding rules and regulations) to re-consider the basis of the project and have the funding for an experienced service designer.
If the project has already started and plan has been made, then it is definitely too late to consider using service design. As mentioned earlier, service design, in addition to a mindset, is also a defined process. With the process consisting of phases of
- problem definition
With this in mind, trying to retrofit a project with service design tools and methods is all but impossible to do in a meaningful way. And just adding it to the end, is just plain theatre.
Conflicts in funding and using service design
One of the foundations of service design is that we do not know the outcomes of the process before they reveal themselves in the research phase. To start with an outcome means that you are inherently not using the service design process. The fuzzy front-end concept in service design is all about not knowing and trusting in the process that will lead you to an answer.
When it comes to funding applications in higher education, or even in projects in the private sector, the most used process is to start with an outcome and then move backwards to create a project plan. This is because the project funders don’t fund problems, they fund solutions. But there is a reason that the saying “Love the Problem, Not the Solution” is at the heart of the work that service designers do. It is because the fundamental understanding of the problem and co-creating with the people who have the problem, will lead to an appropriate solution. But a solution before the research is done is only guessing.
This conflict easily leads to Service Design Theatre.
Service design needs to be embedded
Just like in an organisation, the aim should always be to embed service design into the project. This means that when an opportunity for funding comes along, the underlying foundation of the planning phase needs to use a service design approach from the very first days. To do this, seek out a service designer in your organisation or someone who is very familiar with the methodology, to participate from the early stages of planning. They can provide a perspective on the process and financial needs of using service design in your project.
This need for embeddedness is why it would be important for all kinds of people in an organisation to learn about service design. Most people are in the “business” of designing services in some form, whether this is
- IT department
- student admission
- innovation services.
Everyone is creating something that someone else will need to use to accomplish some task. These are all services.
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.