This past year has been a big one for our studio. We started started Studio Wé initially wanting to be a different type of design consultancy. Acting more as the ‘team behind the team’ to help progressive internal teams within organizations, embed not only service design but completely new collaborative ways it working.
Since July 2017 we had the fortunate opportunity to work on a series of collaborations within the public service. Projects ranged from a two week intensive service design bootcamps to six month long design coaching engagements helping internal teams use service design in order to deliver on complex projects. This experience has been extremely rewarding and has given us massive learnings that we are hoping to bring back to the wider service design community.
We wanted to take the opportunity of this blog post to discuss a few personal insights we have developed throughout this process as a studio. The list is somewhat of a read but we it believe will be useful for government organizations looking to start and/or continue their journey with service design.
#1. Plan for training ‘off ramps’.
There is a tendency to have training and assume all the knowledge people will learn in the training will teach them how ‘to do’ service design. However much of the learnings from service design comes from continuous, hands on practice. In our experience the teams that benefit the most from training are those that try to understand how they will embed the knowledge they learnt. Service design differs greatly from more standardized practices like agile development, where there is no standard way of doing service design. While we may follow a service design playbook, how you choose to apply the playbook will often depend greatly on your own context. What’s important is you find a way to practice service design, which brings us to insight number 2…
#2. Decide the scope…
What is the scope of your service design intervention? Is it just to support the design of a digital service, or is it to influence a program or a policy? The difficulty people face with service design is that you often work with no tangible boundaries. Understanding up front what the scale of the project is, will help focus your direction during the research phase.
#3. Successful service design in government works well when its a sandwich
I our experience the most successful service design efforts have bottom up effort and top down support. Bottom up effort reveals and connects to the real needs on the ground and delivers better services. Top down direction supports those efforts and without that support practitioners can become disenfranchised with the whole process. So while initial service design efforts can start at a grassroots level, the focus should be to get stakeholder buy-in as quickly as possible. Understanding that the priorities of your organization will change so processes that work now might not work in the future.
#4. Investing in user research is fundamental
User research and synthesis is the most important part of service design and the one that organizations often have the least capability for. The quality of every service design project I’ve been a part of is directly related to the research efforts that went into it. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as just picking up a method card and going out to interview users. There is a craft here and where we tended to spend most of efforts in terms of coaching and workflow design .
#5. Understand where does service design fits in your team
It was our experience people in teams already doing bits and pieces of service design but call it something different. We shouldn’t reinvent the wheel but instead build bridges so everyone works together. It’s important to understand who already has experience in certain bits and pieces of the practice that form service design and connect them to current practices. This adds weight to service design and establishes as a shared language.
#6. Don’t just spread awareness, invite participation
A common rallying of service design is the need to spread awareness. However we have always been somewhat uncomfortable with this phrase because it often results in us pushing service design onto others. Instead find ways to invite participation and feedback, try to uncover people’s opinions and critiques on service design. Sometimes that’s not going to be in a big plenary session after you spent an hour telling everyone how great service design is. That might require one on one conversations, taking people aside and asking for honest feedback. But you need to try uncover all the possible conflicts and uncomfortable positions service design might place people in.
#7. When working on a service design project make sure you go beyond the ‘thing’ —
As service designer we don’t design for ‘things’ (aka touchpoints) but for journeys under which those things form a part of. However in practice people who are new to service design get their minds stuck on ‘the thing’, and have a hard time stretching out to the wider journey that ‘the thing’ forms a part of. Looking at the journey not only allows you to understand the wider context but creates a way to bring multiple stakeholders around the table.
#8. The change service design can bring is scary.
Don’t worry no one is an expert at this and if they tell you they are, run the other way as something is missing. Even the experts are always in a state of flux as service design changes and adapts in every new environment and no two environments are the same. It’s the exciting to be part of the field but this also means that while some of us might have more experience than others, none of us are experts in the exact context we are working in.
#9. Go beyond just tools and design your workflows
On any project we work on try we to focus on developing new workflows and introducing digital tools. We have used a mix of collaborative tools such as google sheets, slides, dovetail and real-time board to organize, store, synthesis research and design efforts. This allows for readability and reducing organizational costs. Designing workflows have allowed us to work with teams with varied design experience and have them gain focus in their project. It’s also allowed us to add traceability to our process being able to track a design change on a website all the way back to the original quote that inspired it. This reduces organizational costs and enables the continuous improvement of the service based on already completed research.
#10. Building a strong cross functional internal team that has a central person centered project manager.
Build a strong cross functional internal team that has a central and personable project manager. I have yet to see a successful service design project, and by success I mean a well researched, designed and executed project, happen without this central figure. They keep everyone aligned, on schedule, and are able to move mountains to make projects happen. A well organized and autonomous team is key to doing service design well but if the project manager isn’t a part of the project, it decreases your chances of success.
#11. Viewing Service design as a shared activity
This insight might be a more controversial but I don’t believe service design can be encapsulated into a singular figure but rather is a shared activity that builds bridges between different organizational stakeholders to create better organizations, experiences, and outcomes. A service designer forms the role of the change agent, the person that acts as a challenger, enabler and stewarder of the service design process, but as a practice it is always a shared experience.
#12. Considering the process of starting with service design like a prototype
The first project you do will be full of mistakes as are you work it out. Account for that and continuously incorporate lessons learned as part of the process to start to operationalize the practice. Visualize your process put it on the walls, involve and bring in external stakeholders through open forums, that can be summarized and communicated via different channels. Keeping people in the loop is vital for change.
#13. This is always going to be difficult to do without help…
There are so many place you can learn from such as, books and getting help to support internal teams is important. In order scale service design and support continuous improvement as this time there is no getting around the need to hire service designers and user researchers. This is the way gds in gov.uk and Lloyd’s Bank have scaled this internal impact. In Ontario this will always be more organic, which offers the advantage of creating a team and processes more adapted to the needs of the various ministries and departments.
#14. Don’t forget to Celebrate.
This work is hard and frustrating! You take two steps back to take a step forward but doing it and succeeding means we need to find rituals of celebration. Many times the non designer is having to confront themes that designers often take years to explore, and are forced to absorb in very short time.
Studio Wé is a service design studio based out of Montreal and New York, focused on helping internal teams design how they work, in order to support collaboration and organizational change. Our participatory approach builds upon service & instructional design, developing integrated tools, workflows and trainings to help internal teams innovate.