Bad services are always created on a foundation of bad design, whether these are services in a private company, a public service, or an educational institution. Often times this bad design is based on individuals or groups using their own anecdotal experience or knowledge as the basis of creating their services. It is not a malicious desire to create services that don’t fulfill the end users needs. But it can happen often when services are created in a vacuum or only with the people who provide them.
Service designers, on the other hand, are constantly talking about and using co-creation and looking at the world from the viewpoint of the end-user for whatever service that is being created or improved. The best way to embody this user viewpoint is to gather data, both qualitative and quantitative, from the (future) users themselves using all the means at your disposal. This is how you can build better outcomes that meet the user’s needs.
This doesn’t mean that there is no place for assumptions in this kind of research. Two things need to happen to be able to use them though.
- You need to openly acknowledge that they are assumptions and everyone on the team needs to acknowledge that they are assumptions.
- The team needs to be willing and able to test these assumptions and be open to be proven wrong. This can be a big ask for experienced professionals.
While being tested, these assumptions can be employed alongside other research that you have done to plug gaps in knowledge so that you can move your work forward through prototyping and testing and back to research and iteration again. Along the way discarding what is proven to be a false flag and keeping what you are able to verify.
The wrong path
It is human nature to think that, through your long experience, you “know” what is wrong. These are what can be called informed assumptions.
There are two differences between the assumptions that we mentioned in the previous paragraph (useful or usable) and informed assumptions:
- The level of willingness to accept these as assumptions rather than verified data
- The openness to be proven wrong.
These unexamined informed assumptions (basically guessing) hinder the process and will lead you down the wrong path if not properly acknowledged and tested.
Unfortunately, many professional experts succumb to informed assumptions. There are a few standard reasons that especially middle and senior managers use to justify why they made crucial decisions purely on what they know or think they know about user needs. These are almost always a form of informed assumptions and include recognizable examples such as:
- We know who our users are
- We know what ‘they’ want from our service or product
- I know I’m right
- I know my users
- My part of this process is not broken, it’s others in the process that need to change
- and the ultimate shutdown — “This is how we do things around here”
Moving from instinct to information
How to help professionals to shift from ”I know what the problem is and how we can solve it” to ”I have a general idea what or where the problem might be but let’s test it and discover the real problem”. These are two very different mindsets.
In addition to mindset, this shift can be hindered for other reasons:
- The professional may well believe that they truly have the answer.
- They could be working to specific targets, which can often force to focus on something that will be measured, rather than the what will provide quality and value to the user.
- They may be nervous to show vulnerability — ‘I don’t know’ is a difficult sentence in an organisation that encourages a competitive leadership environment.
It’s also not easy to be agile and responsive if your next pay rise is dependent on you reaching departmental or personal targets that are set outside of knowing what you will need to be agile and responsive to. Often, these are agreed with your boss at your annual personal development review in the previous year.
Employing the entrepreneurial mindset is key
So how can we tackle the affliction of informed assumptions in experts? One important way to tackle this insidious affliction is to encourage and use an entrepreneurial mindset or entrepreneurial approach. This is vital to creating a team and work environment that is productive, responsive, and most importantly, focused on creating value.
It is through developing and utilising the tools of the Entrepreneurial Mindset or the Entrepreneurial Approach, important lifewide skills, that experts can truly begin to allow the real answers to unfold according to the research. These skills include:
- tolerance of uncertainty
- openness to learning
- seeing value in failure
- intrinsic motivation
- and confidence that what we do matters.
Luckily for the next generations, education in the 21st-century has a foundation that includes the recognition of these above skills and the entrepreneurial mindset in general. Now we need to help the organisational leadership in higher education to support the value of being open to being wrong, valuing the discovery process, and that ”failure” (in reality learning) is really part of the process of creating valuable 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.