Director at Livework UK,
Founder at Strategic Design Resourcing
5 February 2016
I became a service designer as an untrained service designer – I'm not a designer at all actually. I worked for a period in digital where I have been in charge of a large team of people creating content for a government website. That was one of my roles.. The concept was very important: design how we make people get to the content so they could understand it and they could act on it. Increasingly I started having bigger roles within the website, having conversations with the government department as they wanted me to write the content differently first, and then they realised they also wanted me to change the regulations behind it. I quickly found myself doing service design and I realised that the best way to approach the problem was working on some user research to work out how to better meet users’ needs - and get them to do the things we want them to do, as the government needs to get the behaviours of citizens to take actions.
I came to service design purely because I recognised that my job was all about behaviours and I realised that the best way to do that was understanding the customers: working with them and for them.
But my career started about sixteen years ago and I had very different roles: I have been Director of service design at Capita for about five years and before that I worked for agencies, I worked as a contractor consultant, for management consultancies: I had a very broad career, working with different types of clients and organizations.
Then in the last year I was contracting – getting a lot of calls and messages about service design jobs – but most of the people that were contacting me didn't really understand what they were recruiting. Prior to that, I tried to recruit a team for Capita and got a very poor experience outsourcing at the recruitment market: they didn't know what I was talking about! They didn't really understand service design - and to be honest they weren't even ready to understand it, because the whole HR recruitment module is about volume. You get a bunch of young people to contact professionals with roles –and those who do UX design recruit UX designers only – but they don't even need to know much more about it. As the service designer area is still quite young, I desired to invest in it.
I have a friend of mine who happens to run a digital and marketing recruitment business – we were at a drink one day and I mentioned this and we agreed on the opportunity and we set that up. People get better opportunity for service design jobs and we can help clients who got frustrated because they have not been able to get these talents. We've been doing this for about one year now and it is going pretty well. That's sort of my story in a nutshell.
Within the private sector the demand is fragmented. There are a couple of main areas: financial services are a big buyer at the moment – even if I'm not sure they are using it pretty well; then I think any commodified service provider – and by that I mean a service provider who cannot compete on products, like gas or electricity companies where prices are heavily regulated. They use service design to differentiate. There are quite a few people that run product businesses that want to become service businesses and retain relationships with their clients. You also have agencies – brand, marketing, digital particularly – are trying to diversify through service design because their clients are asking for it. This is all within the private sector.
Public sector is really interesting – I spent one year of my career working around local governments – and it has become pretty much about GDS – government digital services. I believe they still talk about service design and try to follow service design principles but I think they are still pretty much about creating web content whereas I believe there is a very huge opportunity in multichannel service design to redesigning the proposition of governments. For instance, someone could probably do a very good job in reimagining how to do business rates or how you transact when buying a home: several things that needs to be reinvented just from a regulator point of view. GDS are doing that but within the whole government you have departments - like ministry of justice and so on - and they all are trying to build that service design capabilities, but they are doing it without a very clear method and that probably just need to evolve.
Service design is still very young and it still covers a broad source. As a service designer you can have a lot of backgrounds. And increasingly I've seen prepared people having qualifications in service design and service innovation, like the European Institute or the service design course at RCA. But still the majority of people haven't been trained at it so you have a lot of people from a design practice - like industrial design, product design or sometimes graphic design - they know how to take a good brief in graphic design, and that is quite useful in service design.
I also find the most interesting people don't call themselves service designers and are arguably doing something very similar are those who have an engineering background in service business – because if you think about it an engineer gets the whole idea of upstream and downstream, the idea of blueprints and so on.. I believe they get it intuitively and in some ways they can do it better because they are willing to go to a level of detail most designers don't go to. I'd like to see more of them coming in, anyway.
To me it's all applying design to service businesses. That's the topline view I have. Service businesses make the large bulk economy these days and that's an important thing to focus on. Design is a discipline that has very interesting approach and whether that's “design thinking” or “design doing”, I don't really care. We were discussing about this at the RCA's LiveWork book's presentation."I think we are moving beyond service design to a point where all of it will grow up, where service design, user experience design, product design, packaging design, interior design, restaurant design.. All forms of design will need to be orchestrated within the service businesses"
My personal view on this is we called our company “Strategic Design Resourcing” because I think we are moving beyond service design to a point where all of it will grow up, where service design, user experience design, product design, packaging design, interior design, restaurant design.. All forms of design will need to be orchestrated within the service businesses and once you do it really well, do it all in one, so every form of design could best impact on the customer experience. You know, everyone is talking about Apple: they take care about every single touchpoint, whether it's in a store – you are talking to an individual who comes up to you and serves you where you are, or the packaging of products you buy. Or, if we consider Amazon, how they designed the way you return a product. They infused design from the top-down and that for me is what strategic design is about. Some people define it as tackling bigger challenges and problems – I think that's true as well – there are some wicked problems that need strategic design in the sense that they need someone who thinks strategically on a long term.
I think it's useful to have different things at different stages in the process. Generally, at Livework, everybody is a holistic service designer and everybody therefore does research, does design and creates material. Maybe once you get into the creation phase you need to bring in an interaction designer, or a UX or a product designer. At the moment we are working on an agile project, which is divided in sprints: there's an interaction designer which is contracting, helping us coding a prototype so we can put it in the field to test it - and he's working remotely. Those roles don't necessarily need to be part of the core team. It depends by which stage you are working on and what the client is asking for. Increasingly they want to see what is being built while you do the design work. I like that approach but I just think it brings in a slightly different shaped thing.
I don’t think so, a good designer could put the skills to either challenge: some part of the social design work – the canvas you are working on is longer term and probably more strategic because more intangible has lot of indirect benefits. “How can we make an impact in this quarter or in this business cycle?” in social design is “how can we reduce this problem in the next three years?” hence it’s quite similar. You often need to have a longer view with commercial work, but the way social policy works, tends to be about convincing the regulator or some philanthropic organizations to invest in a change that takes a lot longer and is more difficult. I hope social design can have a bit more of impact because I think it's great, I tried to do some myself over the years. But a lot of social design impacts only at a local level and local governments are impossible to get into in these days, because there is no money. There are specific agencies only focused on those spaces but I think it's quite a hard job.
It’s very hard to know what will happen in the future! I think we might go through a period where there's going to be a lot of bad design contaminating the service design practice.
You have different ways of working, different cultures and practises bashing up against each other: the management consultancies way of work has its own culture and a totally different view about where value comes from compared to a service design perspective which is much more user centric, iterative and generally more agile. That's going to take ages to settle – hopefully good design will prevail getting through this upcycle, avoiding trust despondencies because it has liven up to its hopes. So I'm hopeful we'll get through that and we'll get to the other side: there are good and bad aspects but at least we now have realistic expectations. My fear though is that we end up going down the road of system thinking as a method to trust to do everything and I don't think that's true at all.
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