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.