Image credit: Illustrated by Brian Gough. Icons from The Noun Project.

'Service Design' is a term increasingly used in the design sector, and in the wider world of business. But what is it and who does it benefit? ID2015 spoke to Henry Poskitt, a Director of Frontend, and Randall Snare, Head of Strategy at Each&Other, to get their industry insider's take on the value of service design to business and to society.

Randall: Service design is design that takes into account loads of different systems and elements – it’s zoomed out design that looks at an entire customer experience rather than the experience of a single product.

Henry: I guess the origins can be traced to user-centred design, which was related to a product of some kind, and then that developed into user experience design, which looked more closely at the product over time, the customer’s interaction with the product over the course of its lifespan. Service design is the next stage in that progression – looking at why we have a product at all and how all the parts of an experience fit together.

Randall: There isn’t a huge amount of information out there about how to actually implement service design, because the applications are so diverse. You could be implementing anything – from making a new space to welcome people, to building a new website.

Henry: Yes, it can be difficult to quantify. True service design involves a lot of very detailed work over an extended period. There is sometimes the misconception that services are bad because people are stupid and the company didn’t hire a load of designers 20 years ago. In my experience, that isn’t the case at all. People are trapped within a bad service because the situation they’re involved in is complex and they only control tiny bits of it. Service design tends to be about really incremental and minor changes, and the results can be very hard to measure, in which case it’s hard to get funding for it. It’s much easier to get funding for the design of something like a website.

Randall: It’s become more common to hear about service design recently, and I have a theory about where this recent surge in popularity came from - I think there’s a more urgent need for it now because technology has become smarter and people are starting to talk about connected devices and the internet of things, which makes everything more complicated and creates a greater need for things to connect up well.

Henry: I agree. There’s a lot of channel hopping now. We used to think of customer experience as being like a tunnel – you start at one end and you get to the other, all staying within the same channel. Now, we change channels all the time and we’ve got multiple devices on the go at once. So if you’re an organisation offering a service, you’ve got to have a handle on a much bigger picture. All the previous, sequential approaches don’t work anymore. Things don’t happen in the same order, on the same device, within a defined timeframe. And on top of this increase in complexity, people have incredible expectations now – it used to be that they would be willing to sit down for 15 minutes to fill in a form, but now they want it to be done in 20 seconds, while they’re travelling on a bus with intermittent internet connection.

Randall: The part I love most about service design is working with people and changing the way they work. A lot of the workshops Each & Other have run in the last 6 months have really been about helping people to do things faster. There’s a real value in bringing people from various levels of an organisation together in a room and showing them how to quickly prove an idea by prototyping it and getting out into the world to test it – without doing the big presentation and making the business case upfront. Through doing that kind of work together, people start to learn how they can work differently and that first shift can lead to the more incremental changes later on throughout the organisation. It’s everyone coming together and getting on the same page about what they’re trying to do, as an organisation, and how they’re going to serve their customers in a way that helps the organisation to grow.

Henry: Yes, there’s definitely a value to service design, although Ireland is particularly slow – there are some banks here that don’t have a direct channels manager yet and that’s critical in terms of offering a coherent service.

Randall: I think people are beginning to recognise the value of it. A lot of our clients over the last years have started hiring customer experience managers and heads of digital. Organisations now recognise that they need someone with an eye on an end to end process. We have two major clients, Rabobank and Tesco, that specifically ask for service design and think about it and how it can improve their business.

Henry: Yes, we did some work for AIB on signing people up for their business banking service. They didn’t exactly know what it was they wanted us to do for them, but they knew they had a problem. In the end, we managed to completely redefine the process of sign-up by redesigning the paper form they used for it, a step that significantly reduced the number of potential failure points in the procedure.

Randall: I guess that’s one example of a thousand ways service design generate economic benefits. If you have a good service you can save a lot of money because you have less chaos and waste and people are communicating in a better way. Years ago, we worked with the RSA and they invested in making their web channel a better experience and it saved quite a lot of money because people could then print the forms they were looking for and it saved the RSA money on postage etc. It was a very simple but effective thing. Good design also engenders more customer loyalty, which has economic benefits too. The bottom line is, good design makes you money. It’s definitely worth the investment. And when you cheap out on it, you end up paying for it twice.

Henry: I’d agree. For an economy, the biggest possible application of design is in the provision of services. Our economy is quite inefficient and cost heavy and the assumption is always that when you reduce the money, you’re going to reduce the services. But we’re so far behind in the design of public services here that there are multiple ways we could work on costs. In the health service for example, the way they do appointments, or line up clinics, or do operations – all of these things are great examples of how a service could be restructured with very little change for the people running it. And then, there’s also the fact that the IDA are starting to look at design services as a commercial advantage for the country, saying the fact that we have good experience design companies will help us to attract business of the right type. The other thing is, in order to really move the economy you have to have product being made and designers are one of the first steps in that chain to create an exportable product. Companies like Facebook and Google tend to have their engineers back in the States - we need to convince them that we have all of the elements in the product development process in place here in Ireland, design being the first and increasingly important step in that process. 

We need to step up.



Words by Rachel Donnelly.