Development Intern: Akpene Agbo
The wonderful Akpene (a.k.a. Penny) joined the team as an intern, fresh from University of Leicester, back in February and the time has flown by! In this short blog, she gives a bit of an update of all the things she's been up to so far:
"I joined Solvers Studio on the 14th of February 2022. I was brought on as a community platform research and design intern. The role was created to help develop the Collective's community- building capacity, create new opportunities for the stakeholders involved to form partnerships, and learn how to associate, relate, and co-operate with each other. The aim of the position is to help the team explore different online prospects to facilitate the development and management of teams and communities which can be used by a variety of clients that Solvers Studio supports.
"My first week, focused on my induction into the collective - which involved reading and signing important policies and documents - and straight into my research and understanding of 'communities'. There was, and still is, a lot to learn! Thankfully I was able to connect with various associates of the company, including ones involved in a live project called the She Inspired Business Playbox, a series of workshops, presented over the span of 6-weeks, created to help women entrepreneurs in Leicester; particularly those in the BAME community. This project is a part of the Government's Community Renewal Fund, and helps members learn how to explore, design, construct and maintain various business ideas.
"The close work with this project has allowed me to practice a lot of skills, including research interviews, exploring communication tools, and even some marketing by writing copy for newsletters! It's great to work with a live project brief and being involved in real-world community building as I'm able to bring this learning into my development of the online space we're hoping to create.
"The Business Playbox community is small at the moment and it gives me the opportunity to speak to with people of varying backgrounds who shared a passion and enthusiasm to realise their dreams and full potential. Over this time, I've developed a real rapport with the women and have been able to dive deeper into my research. I've complemented this with studying several reports - both academic and non-academic - in order to discover more about community; the value of it and the processes involved in establishing true community behaviours.
"I've also taken part in networking sessions, including the She Inspired Global Network meetup, where I met different heads of the organisations in the network as well as hear from some great guest speakers, describing how they overcame many obstacles in order to start their own business. Not only are networking events like these important in helping to develop a community in this space, it also helps me develop my own local connections.
"My days as an intern see me doing research on relevant topics, conducting interviews, writing informative blogs, learning new skills, and learning how to use new software often. All the tasks I perform daily are focused on achieving the purpose and goals set when I was initially brought in as an intern, to assist in developing a comprehensive community platform. Even though my journey is far from over, I already see an improvement in my interpersonal skills as well as my technical ones. I know there is more in store for me. I anticipate more workshops, meeting more women, developing my network, and improving my technical skills. Hopefully, at the end of my internship with Solvers Studio, I will emerge a well-rounded individual capable of holding my own in the world of technology and research."
Sprints for Startups
At Pace. With Purpose. Getting Startups going.
Startups are notoriously difficult beasts to grow into places that create great products and services, provide jobs and flourish to reach their potential. Reports continually show the low survival rate of startup businesses, some claiming that as many as 80% of startups don't make it past their first 3 years of trading.
Of course, there are lots of reasons why startups don't 'make it'. A rapidly changing marketplace, or having too small a market, or running out of cash, co-founders falling out, failing to pivot, or pivoting to the wrong thing, rising costs, poor marketing, 'right-service-wrong-place', a loss of momentum, lack of investment opportunities... it's a complex picture.
Despite all these challenges the world is undergoing a startup boom, with the number of new businesses and people going freelance soaring during the recent pandemic. The crises of our times - climate, covid, social justice - are also driving the creation of purpose-driven enterprises to help tackle issues, creating an entrepreneurial response for the need to create a better future. Challenges continue to breed opportunities.
Through our work, we've always been a part of the startup scene in the UK, supporting entrepreneurs by providing coaching and mentoring, running workshops about customer journeys, giving guidance on innovation and how to stand out from the competition, as well as doing basic user research. Our passion has been to help businesses of any size to innovate and make them stand out, however much of our work with startups hasn't been tailored for them and their unique situations. So, we set out to explore how to best use our skills to develop something bespoke.
"How might we help startups move towards a workable model with tested viable products and services more quickly, or even fail more quickly?"
From our experience, we know design sprints can be a fantastic tool for developing and testing ideas quickly, and they can help businesses move towards their minimum viable product or service (MVP/MVS). They're also great for breaking that cycle of talking about what could be done, and moving it into prototyping and testing things in the real world, and working out what should be done. However, we also know that startups are often not in the position to spend up to a week focusing on one issue, nor do they typically have a team to bring together to help generate diverse ideas, and very few will have the money to bring someone in to help them go through a sprint process that will help.
With this in mind, we decided to adapt the process to make it affordable, less time consuming and suitable for micro-teams and solopreneurs; our very own Startup Sprint.
Find out more about the structure and costs of the Startup Sprint here.
From this sprint, startups will be able to move much more quickly towards launching their service or product, and with more confidence knowing that customers have been involved in its design. The exercises done during the sprint can be used time and again, too. They're invaluable tools in helping early-stage entrepreneurs make their breakthroughs and to keep focused on what they need to do.
As a result of startup sprints we've delivered, we've seen that startup entrepreneurs have been surprised at what they achieve in such a short space of time, as well as how it's given a fresh perspective on what they're doing (or, more to the point, how they're doing it). Many startups forget a crucial step in the early stages of developing their business; the need to engage with, and to listen to, their audience. The Startup Sprint is a great way to connect the business with the marketplace and to do it in a focused and constructive way.
We believe if startups do that, they'll have a much greater chance of success.
What is Service Design?
This question comes up time and again so we thought it would be useful to give a quick overview for those who haven't even heard of it before or remain unsure on what it's all about.
In truth, whenever we've been asked 'what do you do?' or 'what does service design mean?' we've given a whole range of different answer in the past, searching for the best way to explain it to the uninitiated. Making it relatable is key. We've found there are 2 approaches that are pretty successful at getting it across to other people.
1/ The 'so, what do you do?' approach
Quite often those asking us 'what is service design?' question are entrepreneurs, business managers and public sector leads who deliver services as a part of their job. We've found that by flipping the question around and asking them to explain what they do is really useful in contextualising our work. We ask them to tell us about their services, how they deliver them, and how they made the decisions to deliver it the way they do. Sometimes they may hesitate or look a little puzzled (understandably), but with a bit of coaxing they end up giving a pretty detailed response about how they interact with their customers and what tools they use. Sometimes they'll even talk about how they market their offer, their procurement processes, their CMS etc. We then point out that all of these things they're talking about is fundamentally service design; making informed decisions to deliver a quality service that's efficient, effective and driven by the aim to increase value to both the customer and the organisation.
2/ The 'product design' approach
Whilst the term 'service design' may be unfamiliar to many, if we ask people 'do you know what product design is?', the majority of people will say 'of course!' Well, service design is, in essence, the same principle. Product design teams will research, generate ideas, prototype, test, fail, prototype again, test again, fail again... (you get the idea), produce a market-ready version, implement, evaluate and reiterate, all with the intention of producing something that is of value to the business and to the user; something that is attractive and easy to use. With any luck, what they produce will be innovative, create positive impact and perhaps even disrupt the marketplace. Service design teams do exactly the same thing and for the same outcomes as those in designing for products but for, you know, services.
Whilst these analogies may not give a thoroughly detailed explanation of service design and all it entails, we find they're good starting points to help people understand what it is we do.
There are lots of definitions of what service design is; many that are long-winded, jargon-filled and completely inaccessible to those unfamiliar with it. The best definition we've found - and the one that best describes what we do - is from UK Design Council:
"Service design is all about making the service you deliver useful, usable, efficient, effective and desirable."
It's all about using design-led approaches to holistically develop new ways of delivering your service to your audience.
Regardless of the different tools you might use or what activities you might do to develop a service, the core principles stay consistent. Service design is:
There's no single rule on what service design must look like, nor on the precise actions you should undertake. However, there are 4 stages to move through as a part of the service design process, all which take us through a series of divergent and convergent steps.
These stages are not linear and will overlap, sometimes considerably. There will also be preparation that needs to be done at the beginning, and continuing evaluation and iteration following implementation. We're often dealing with complex systems and services, organisations with their own cultures and idiosyncrasies, unpicking legacy problems and addressing a marketplace with ever-increasing expectations.
Benefits of Service Design
There are lots of articles and statistics out on the web about the value of embedding design and design approaches in your organisation; much of it is anecdotal or data produced from small sample sizes, however there are some larger studies which, we feel, start to give a real reflection of how it can contribute.
McKinsey & Company developed an index featuring 12 key design actions grouped into 4 themes - analytical leadership, user experience, cross-functional talent, and continuous iteration - and how organisations leveraged these to develop a design culture and mindset.
"We tracked the design practices of 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period in multiple countries and industries. Their senior business and design leaders were interviewed or surveyed. Our team collected more than two million pieces of financial data and recorded more than 100,000 design actions." - The business value of design.
The result of this 5 year research piece showed that those with the highest 25% index score performed significantly better than the industry benchmark, and that they had "32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher TRS [Total Return to Shareholder] growth for the period as a whole."
This McKinsey study backs up an earlier research piece conducted by the Design Council which reached similar conclusions about 'design alert' businesses - those that "had observed a direct impact from the use of design on several business performance measures" - significantly outperforming others. Around 17% of the 1500 businesses, across a range of sectors and of various sizes - could be described as 'design alert'.
Two headlines from the Design Council report stood out:
Embedding a design mindset can make an organisation more resilient, sustainable and more capable of finding meaningful solutions in the future which lead to new and improved services being created.
Why a service design agency?
This isn't an easy process, nor is it straightforward. It's often messy and complex, especially if there's significant business change taking place. It takes a skilled designer to facilitate this process, and it requires a multidisciplinary approach (which is why we develop a network of associates with a whole range of skills).
The beauty of it is that many of the required skills will likely exist in your organisation already. People will already be empathising with their users, solving problems, designing solutions, enhancing benefits and implementing efficiencies all over the place. Chances are you have Service Designers in-the-making working for you, and we can help you nurture them and complement them by bringing in facilitators, researchers, technical expertise and the necessary experience to help you produce great services.