The 10 Principles for Designing People-Centred Workplace Experiences

As the world of work continues to shift and change, we need to design workplace experiences that reflect the new world order. With the Covid pandemic altering how, when, and where people now wish to work, companies who want to attract and retain the best talent must reassess their workplaces to create a people-centred experience.

The workforce and the workplace are changing

The rise of remote working has changed the workplace, literally and figuratively. These days workplaces must offer value to the people who either work in or visit them. In turn, these workplaces create value for the organisation itself. Workplaces are simultaneously value propositions that attract employees and customers and value-creating systems that add to the bottom line.

A workforce is not a fixed or static entity. It is a continually changing system of energies, talents, expectations, and life stories, and these all create value for an organisation. A workplace is not just a building and its facilities: it is more than the sum of its parts. A workplace is a system of cultural values, human interactions, and interdependent services loosely bound by physical premises.

The boundaries between the workforce and workplace and work and home are becoming increasingly porous as our daily experiences of work with everything else in our lives blend.

How does the workplace create value?

Value-creating propositions are made tangible not just through the physical architecture of a workplace and how it is laid out, but also through what happens in the building. A workplace is valuable for what it enables, the thinking it unlocks, the culture it inspires and supports: in other words, the experiences it creates.

How do you unlock value from your workplace with people-centred service design?

Firstly, you need to design your workplace value proposition. Once you have this, you can create a space that facilitates this proposition and the company culture, along with the services, personal development opportunities, and valuable experiences for the people within.

The 10 principles for designing people-centred workplace experiences

  1. Design a cultural destination for your company
    A workplace can express an organisation’s culture and values, which has become even more relevant as teams work remotely, with many viewing the office as their least productive workplace.
  2. View employees as guests whose stays you wish to extend
    Buildings are not just about the facilities available: it’s more about the experience. So, design a premium hospitality experience for your employees and visitors. Create a service culture for your frontline and back-office teams and set a clear vision for service, behaviours, employee services standards, and ‘signature’ service moments.
  3. Embody the positives in the lives and cultures of the people you employ
    It is essential for the culture and values of a company to be reflected in day-to-day workplace practices. For the same reasons, creating opportunities and experiences that reflect the lives and cultures of the people you employ can be just as necessary.
  4. Design workspaces as mixed-use ‘playgrounds’
    Less and less work happens at fixed workstations. Collaboration requires more than just meeting rooms with whiteboards. Home working has shown how small, ad-hoc conversations can be just as productive as large formal meetings and workshops, if not more so. People should be able to find a place to match their preferred modes of working.
  5. Provide social spaces and opportunities to connect, not just desks
    Design for your hybrid working policy and recognise that, for some, the workplace is no longer the most productive place to work. The office is more relevant as a social space to make meaningful connections and maintain personal working relationships and friendships.
  6. Create an architecture the company and its people can experiment within
    It may feel counter-intuitive, but ‘under designing’ a workplace will help ensure spaces are put together elegantly as new needs emerge. Focus on providing the people, skills, and a kit of parts (experimentation resources and support) that permit this.
  7. Design for the life stages of your workforce
    People need and expect different things from a workplace as they progress through their working life. People socialise and prioritise their time differently, so ensure this is reflected in your workplace experience.
  8. Use technologies that offer seamless, invisible interactions with the building and its services
    By focusing on software and services rather than tech hardware, tech-enabled services and experiences can be personalised and evolve. A workplace-services platform can be designed for resident and third-party services to operate within a premises.
  9. Design excellent eating and well-being services and experiences
    People eat and manage their time and well-being in many ways. The design of eating and well-being services and experiences should respond to this diversity and reflect people’s lives outside work.
  10. Design aspirational spaces and experiences that people feel privileged to be a part of
    Everyone sees work in their own individual way. While not everyone loves their job, we are all flattered and made to feel special when invited into high-quality, exciting, and exclusive settings. Such spaces encourage us to feel valued and supported, inspiring us to give more.

Here at Engine, we believe in the power of the service design process. Well-designed, people-centred workplace experiences are necessary for a positive employee experience and the future growth of forward-thinking companies. Designing around these 10 principles will help you get your workspaces right.

We would love to share our expertise with you, so why not get in touch? We can help you create a people-centred workplace experience that will make a difference.

Why I love service design and why you might too

We discover why Joe Heapy, co-founder and managing partner of Engine Service Design, still finds service design so exciting – and why it might also be the career for you.

Most industries these days understand the impact that good service design can have. The value of well-designed services over poorly-designed ones is something we can all appreciate. So, what is so interesting about service design, and what makes it such a great career choice?

What is service design?

Bridging the worlds of business and design, service design makes services more accessible, useful, and easy to use. This gives customers a better experience and ultimately leads to greater profitability. Joe describes it as:

“Techno geekery… a way of thinking about stuff, it’s creative and analytical and geeky at the same time. It’s not just about drawing up customer journey maps”.

Services and design have evolved over the years

With the rapid growth of consumerism in the period following the Second World War came an increased demand for product innovation. The role of design suddenly became more than just decorative or an afterthought: it became an increasingly important way to sell more goods. Leading on from goods themselves, in the 1980s marketers began to see services and experiences as commercial assets that could be designed.

“When I started working as Service Designer it was still very difficult to explain what we were trying to do and the value we could bring by applying design ‘thinking and doing’ to services and business. Design was still very much the ‘thing you did at the end’ to make things look nice”

As websites became an integral part of business it created demand for web design. Many businesses found that product and price parity meant customer experience was the new competitive battleground. Consumer expectations were changing at the same time and so website and digital products became essential and designable commercial assets. Service design became a practical way for businesses to create value.

Service design is for and by curious people

“Engine began with the broadest of goals, to see where we could go with design, the toolkit and mindset. Service design is a great career for curious people, those that like to take things apart to find out how they work (me as a boy)”

First and foremost, service design is people-centred.

“People first, tech second. Tech as the enabler”.

That said, it is incredible to think about what the newest technologies can enable. New web technologies let systems talk to each other, and smartphones provide an interface between people, software, and the physical world, and data and machine learning manifest seemingly magical interactions with technology.

“I love the process of understanding a new technology or software solution and then trying to make connections between the features of one solution and another. What if that could talk to that? What if we could take that solution and apply the same idea here?”

People working at the frontline of a service are the experts service designers love to speak to: retail workers, contact centre workers, teachers, nurses, prison officers, social workers and those managing these teams. And data scientists. Service designers weave together the needs of humans and the capabilities of technology to design the best service possible.

Big pictures and tiny details

The big picture can influence the tiniest detail of the solution

Responding to environmental concerns, many independent coffee shops no longer provide paper cups for takeaway coffee: you either drink in or buy or use your reusable cup. This must be carefully managed as it affects the customer experience. Indeed, some customers will be politely turned away.

In the same way, when economies shift and regulations change, financial services companies modify their rates and rules. This impacts how financial services are bought. The small changes to websites and telephone conversations need to be made carefully and designed with reference to the customer experience.

The tiniest detail of the solution impacts the big picture

Small details relating to user experiences can impact the effectiveness of a service and, in turn, some larger social outcomes. Things like the placement of buttons on a webpage, the design of an online form, or the ability of a frontline worker to understand and communicate effectively with a service user can have a huge impact.

For example, the design of an interface or conversation may lead to someone taking medical insurance (or not) or qualifying for medical screening (or not).

“Service design is a hybrid practice… an assembly of the shiniest bits of the user-centred design method, strategic marketing, brand development, new product development, business analysis, social science research methods, software development, product management, people development, change management, visual and information design, and story theory, as well as many other trinkets.”

This makes the practices accessible outside of design, and it can respond to tangible challenges within businesses. The service-design community is getting much better at communicating to businesses the value of well-designed services over poorly designed ones.

Service design is not your average desk job

“Service design puts designers into interesting places doing useful things.”

Engine Service Design has been behind the scenes in airports and other large infrastructure projects, in retail, hospitality, and health settings, a prison, and a cathedral. Even a project looking into public toilets as a service. Engine has looked at energy-as-a-service, data-as-a-service and pricing-as-a-service as large organisations apply service-design methods to their internal capabilities and processes.

“We’ve been able to apply our skills and expertise and those qualities of curiosity and big picture, small detail to so many different design contexts and challenges. And with increasing relevance to strategy as well as to the experience for service users.”

In 2004 Engine was invited to join a new programme at the UK Design Council to promote the role of design in the public sector and formally experiment by attaching art-school-trained designers to the design of public services.

“When we began, service design wasn’t a thing, and there was no invitation to design-school-trained people like us. The fun and interesting work we wanted to do was exclusive to those with vocational, professional, or technical training, not a liberal arts one.”

Today, many public services and government organisations in the UK and elsewhere employ people as service designers. This makes being a service-design designer even more exciting. It’s now a transferable skill.

So, if you think you have an interest in, and the skills for, a career in service design, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch and join our team!


Discover more about Connected service design – The art of a fully-connected service.


Connected service design – The art of a fully-connected service

There is a disconnect between how companies focus on and measure individual touchpoints in the customer journey and the way customers themselves experience and react to this journey. And at a time when the customer experience (CX) has become well established as the competitive battleground for many businesses, ignoring this could be fatal.

The disconnect between the company and the customer

Most organisations will design (or redesign) specific elements they have identified as needing improvement, such as their online checkout process. They might test and retest a lead-generation marketing campaign to finetune it before it goes fully live. The customer, however, sees each process as a part of a whole. They see their end goal and everything else as just another step towards what it will take to achieve their desired aim.

Customers expect a frictionless journey, with each interaction seamlessly moving them forwards. So, companies focusing on individual elements while failing to take total customer experience into account can seriously harm their efforts to increase customer satisfaction and revenue.

The customer journey is a holistic experience

Customers take various paths through an organisation’s service, using different touchpoints at different times. They do not want obstacles along this path. Without taking a step back to view your customers’ interactions with your business as a whole, it becomes more and more difficult to meet expectations.

This is particularly true when you add brand marketing, which promotes and makes promises about your business you need to keep. It doesn’t matter how great your e-commerce site is if your frontline team is unhelpful, or your fulfilment partners don’t understand what you are trying to achieve. Any disparity between the promises and the experience will negatively impact customers’ perceptions of your brand.

The challenge is in developing the capabilities that enable you to create and operate a fully-connected-service experience. Read on!

What is a fully-connected-service experience?

A fully-connected-service experience should mean that:

  • Every part of the service experience is a great expression of your brand.
  • The service will still provide the best possible experience even when things don’t go to plan.

A fully-connected service experience:

  • Needs every touchpoint in every channel, including those delivered by service partners, to be optimised to deliver your customer value proposition
  • Should allow customers to complete their tasks and achieve their goals, or quickly reach a way to do so, however they interact with your business. (This doesn’t mean that every touchpoint needs to be equipped to serve any purpose, however).
  • Should be enabled by integrated IT systems and shared data (within the relevant parameters)

Great interactions are key. Your customers should not have to make the effort to compensate for your disjointed systems.


The benefits of achieving and operating a fully-connected service

  1. Increased sales
    These days consumers expect to buy immediately. If an item in your physical store is not in stock, it should be possible to order it to collect or be delivered in a few simple steps. Otherwise, your customers will go elsewhere.
  1. Reduced development costs
    The more the touchpoints are consistent, the easier a system is to develop and maintain. There is also less for colleagues and customers to understand, learn, or relearn. For example, a restaurant business has an integrated management platform providing a single menu and ordering process across customer, kiosk, and colleague devices linked to the kitchen and inventory management.
  1. Fewer drop-outs and customer support tasks
    If a customer books an appointment, it shouldn’t surprise the frontline staff when they turn up. Equally, customers do not expect to have to log in at multiple points across the same business. Customers get fed up, give up, and go elsewhere.
  1. Better data to drive improvements
    Businesses tend to measure performance at the individual touchpoint or interaction level, which is generally operational and commercial, rather than experiential. By looking at a fully-connected service organised around your customers, you can more easily adopt a holistic measurement approach and make more meaningful improvements.


What are the main challenges experienced when creating a fully-connected service?

  • Too much focus on selling a product and not enough on the product itself.
  • There’s no senior manager, such as a Customer Experience Officer, responsible for its creation.
  • Siloed IT teams with digital teams focusing on individual business unit requirements with no time or remit to look at the customer experience holistically or strategically.
  • No cross-functional view of the experience or roadmap so employees tend to work on individual components with no concept of the whole picture.
  • Lack of services led by or designed for the wider business ecosystem of the service.
  • Budgets are allocated by individual business units or channels, making initiating work on a joined-up experience difficult.
  • No properly defined or explained fully-connected-service concept, making it difficult for teams to gather the enthusiasm to work on it properly.


Here at Engine Service Design, we understand the challenges and will work with you to help design and implement fully-connected services to serve your customers better, grow engagement and drive new business. We are ready to help you reimagine the future and unlock new value. Please Get in Touch if you need a trusted partner with whom to discuss your challenges: one of our service design experts will be delighted to help.

Discover why Joe Heapy, co-founder and managing partner of Engine Service Design, still finds service design so exciting – and why it might also be the career for you.


What is Service Design and why?

Service design is a creative and collaborative practice that determines precisely how an existing service should be improved or how a new technology or product should be delivered as a service, commercially and at scale.

Services are the formalised means by which people exchange things of value with one another, with businesses and other organisations. In other words, to live in our modern societies is to be a consumer and producer of services. There’s no getting away from them.

Design is the formalised activity of improving something in the world or giving form to new technology for the very first time, making it useful and usable. More fundamentally, the activity of designing has the potential to create new value, value for customers, businesses and society.

Service Design marries these two crucial human endeavours into a practice that today is driving economic growth, social innovation and policy-making around the world.

What is Service Design?

A creative and collaborative practise that determines precisely how an existing service should be improved or how a new technology or product should be delivered as a service, commercially and at scale.

Where did service design come from?

The idea that mass-produced services can be designed through a formal engineering-like approach was described in the 1980s. Art-school educated design with a big ‘D’ made the jump to the world of mass-produced services at the end of the 1990s, fueled mostly by the emergence of the ‘world wide web’. In the twenty or so years since, Service Design has evolved from a niche practice within strategic marketing, IT and interaction design into a mainstream product development and management practice in many global, customer-driven businesses.

The brilliance of service design is rooted in its essential eclecticism and fuzzy, interdisciplinary boundaries.
Like the Magpie in European folklore, Service Design has stolen all the best and shiniest bits from several professional domains and woven them into a hybrid practice.

Engine’s practise, like others, is an assembly of the shiniest bits of the user-centred design method, strategic marketing, brand development, new product development, business analysis, social science research methods, software development, product management, people development, change management, visual and information design and story theory, as well as many other trinkets.

The masterstroke is that as a hybrid practise, service design is accessible to all and as such powerful and well-suited to the kinds of creative, empathetic, optimistic and collaborative work that must take place at pace in response to urgent business and social challenges. Such challenges require all the available experts. Diverse perspectives are vital, as are the abilities firstly to listen, to empathise, understand and to connect the best of the best insights and ideas to give form to new solutions.

What is a service blueprint?

It’s essential to be able to represent the workings of a service and people’s experiences of it on a page. Easier said than done, given that a service is not a ‘thing’, it unfolds over time and is co-produced by its users. There are several ways to represent on a page an approximation to a service. The one most loved by service designers, and their clients is the service blueprint.

Service blueprints were presented in an article in Harvard Business Review in 1984 by the businesswomen and now philanthropist, Lynn Shostack. Shostack’s father was a mechanical engineer, and Lynn went to art school (perhaps, the perfect ingredients for a service designer) before eventually becoming a marketing consultant.

A service blueprint isn’t just a beautiful spreadsheet or flow diagram (nor should it be). It captures the idea that providing a service involves several parts of an organisation working together (or not). The ways the organisation does this results in an excellent or poor experience for customers, and those delivering the service. For some businesses, seeing their service for the first time in this way leads them to reorganise teams and realign priorities — powerful stuff.

There’s a challenge for leaders in complex organisations where many teams are working to do the right things for customers. Because the service blueprint represents the service, it represents the organisation too. It sets out the territory for action — a giant, organisation-wide to-do list on one page with each team able to see the role they play.

Service blueprints become vital management documents, delignating roles, defining blocks of work and their priority.

Service designing the front and backstage

Central to the way service blueprints represent a service is their depiction of what’s happening behind the scenes when customers use a service. Service blueprints are to service designers what musical scores are to musicians — the technical drawing for a performance and an emotional experience for those on the receiving end. (Take a look at forms of dance notation.)

‘Total design’ and ITIL (geekery)

In 1991 the engineer, Bill Hollins, wrote the book, ‘Total design: managing the design process in the service sector’. In the book, Bill describes the difference between a product-centred design process and a service-orientated one. He describes services and service businesses as having multiple components and sub-systems that need to be designed as one to work well — and that doing so requires its own, clearly understood design process. Bill remains close to our hearts at Engine as he tutored two of Engine’s Directors, and we continue to define service design in one sense as ‘total design’.

The service design process is suited to the design of systems of people and technology working together to produce excellent outcomes. Technology is central to all services but is only a means to end. Well-designed services weave technology together with physical places, objects and people into a harmonious system to create value.

That the roots of service design extend in one direction into engineering isn’t a surprise. The mass-production of services requires engineering solutions as well as amazing sensory and aesthetic choices. The idea that services are engineered was made geekishly real by the creation (again in the 1980s) of ITIL (the Information Technology Infrastructure Library).

ITIL, developed for the UK government, helped standardise IT management practices, the practices underpinning the design and performance of government services. ITIL defines services as the product or organisations and has four ‘Ps’, People, Products, Partners, Processes. These ‘Ps’ remain to remind us what services are and what service designers ought to be able to apply design methods to.

What’s the difference between UX, CX, DX and Service Design?

User experience (UX) is a person’s direct experience of a digital or physical product, at the moment they are using it. The customer experience (CX) is a person’s experience of a service, business and brand, which might include their use of many products.

Yes, customer experience is an experience of a business, not just a product or touchpoint. Interestingly though, customers don’t need to be directly interacting with the service — in the moment — to be experiencing it. For example, a customer might be waiting for something to be delivered or installed in their home. Some elements of the customer’s experience are intangible, yet you can still design them.

So, UX design (UXD) is the design of how a person experiences a product, usually a digital one, directly in the moment. Customer experience design (CXD) is the design of how a customer experiences a service and business, overtime and even when they are not directly interacting with it.

Use DX to describe something more holistic than UX and encompassing customers’ experiences of the digital touchpoints of a service.

Service design (SD) encompasses all of the above and much more.

Why spend money on service design projects?

The goal of service designing is to make existing services easy to use, more accessible and more beneficial, more profitable to operate and in the case of public services, produce better outcomes for people and society. These seem straightforward enough. However, when making the case to invest in service design projects, the benefits need to be clear and quantifiable.

For most businesses, the reasons to commission a service design project — internally or externally — are the same as the reasons to invest money in any initiative that improves business performance by driving sales, improving margin, avoiding or reducing costs, or making costs more predictable.

Beneath the headliners, there are other great reasons to commission service design projects, particularly when businesses want to operate differently, automate processes, use data creatively, improve the experience for their employees, step-up to lead the business eco-system in which they operate — or to challenge their industry model.

So, what next for Service Design?

Up until the end of the last century, people associated ‘design’ with giving form to material things — manufactured goods and graphical objects. Then these objects became full of electronics their users could control, and the internet happened.

Today, designers are designing services — systems of things that create value for customers and businesses. Service Design evolved as a meta-discipline. It encompasses most other design disciplines and so much more. As such, it provides a way to bridge the worlds of design and business. Design leaked-out of design studios and art schools and into corporations. Design thinking and doing is out there in the world.

Being design-led is now an approach to management. In the maturest of design-led businesses, design teams are already dissolving into their organisations. The new challenge is how to get more trained designers on management boards, while building-in design capability across organisations.

Necessity is the mother of invention

We’ve seen some great examples of organisations that have responded well to changing markets and have been able to pivot or extend existing capabilities to either temporarily or permanently go after new opportunities. For some businesses the adjustments required have been small and they can carry on trading (even prospering) or hunker down until business-as-usual resumes.

For others the impact of necessary responses to Covid-19 are more profound. If you work within one of these businesses, you’ve either spotted an opportunity to innovate or the search is definitely on. For those that need to innovate new products or services to survive, the challenge is to quickly get enough clarity for the vision, consensus around the ambition and confidence in the roadmap to market.

Success lies in following a creative and collaborative process that engages colleagues and customers to imagine, design, evaluate, prototype and deploy new solutions. A balance needs to be struck between moving at a more experimental and faster pace to seize the moment and demonstrating enough rigour and evidence to reassure decision-makers.

Some problems you may be trying to solve for your business:

  • We’d like to see all of this as an opportunity to innovate our products, but we’re forced into focusing on immediate issues and responding on the ground.
  • We have a commercial need or have spotted an opportunity to bring a new service to market and we want to ensure it’s designed well, and the experience is great.
  • We need to engage and involve our customers and suppliers quickly and creatively to get their input and get this moving.
  • We need to show value to partners in our ecosystem as we don’t have the capabilities to do this all on our own.
  • We need a vision and to prototype, pilot and test with speed, to convince senior leaders that the opportunity we’ve spotted is worth pursuing.
  • We’re going to create a start-up alongside our core business, but this approach is new to us, we don’t have the skills or tools in our team.
  • We have stock, assets and resources but our conventional route to market is shut down and we may have to rethink our sales channels.
  • Whilst we need a quick fix to ensure survival, new offerings must feel reliable, robust and relevant to our brand.

Let’s help you get a plan to:

Identify, design and evaluate a new commercial opportunity quickly to inform the decision to go ahead.

What this will deliver:

  1. New revenue from new products and services to bolster and infill lost revenue from existing ones.
  2. An accelerated time to market to realise benefits quickly. Through a structured, creative and collaborative approach a business and value proposition can be implemented so new revenue can come on stream as soon as possible.
  3. An innovation pathway with a defined CAPEX allocation. A project can be established with defined CAPEX allocation that can be assessed commercially without impacting the core operation and current revenue effort.
  4. New and retained customers for whom you’ve delivered new value propositions, products and services.

How Engine can help:

  • We’re great at engaging teams in creative and collaborative sprints to reveal fresh ideas inspired by stand-out examples from within and beyond your sector.
  • We’ll help you take a commercial opportunity that you’ve spotted and created compelling propositions, services and experiences.
  • We can look creatively at your business’s capabilities, fixed assets and resources to imagine new lines of business and innovative service models.
  • We’ll help you envision a more pandemic-proof version of your business and services and convince others it’s the future.
  • We can work with you to sell in the vision and value case to stakeholders, decision-makers and delivery teams, from the boardroom to the frontline.
  • We’ll work with internal experts to ensure solutions are grounded in operational realities and business capabilities, so getting to market faster and intact.
  • We’ve delivered projects just like this with leading brands in automotive, manufacturing, financial services and consumer tech, amongst others.

Designing for multiple possible scenarios

As we phase in and out of lockdowns and transition to a more pandemic-proof society and economy, these coming months will see governments and businesses experiment with new guidance and operating procedures.

In such volatile trading conditions, organisations need to design for multiple possible scenarios to minimise disruption for customers and colleagues when operating environments change.

For any complex business operating at scale, making improvements to services and the experience for customers is a continual effort. Right now, this effort is compounded by uncertainty. It’s not clear just how fluctuating Covid cases will shape government guidance or how differently consumers will behave.

Businesses need to prepare responses to several potential operating environments, changes of tack and phases of unlocking or relocking.

Some problems you may be trying to solve for your business:

  • How do we design for the best possible service and experience at a time when government guidance and commercial objectives remain in flux?
  • Given we’re faced with a number of possible operating environments and unpredictable competitive plays, how do we run ahead to imagine and prepare more than one response for our customers?
  • How do we make the phased stages of unlocking and relocking our services feel more coherent for customers and colleagues?
  • How do we work together across functions to develop a clear picture of how different operating models and procedures should play out for customers?
  • How do we need to organise ourselves to deliver a Covid-proofing CX programme going forwards, if this situation remains for longer that we’d hoped?
  • How do we ensure what we’re doing remains customer-driven?

Let’s help you get a plan to:

To design for several possible scenarios and phases of unlocking or relocking so the right customer experience plan can be implemented quickly, saving time and reducing impact on sales.

What this will deliver:

  • The ability to get ahead and respond quickly with the right target design and delivery plan to minimise disruption for customers and to revenue.
  • Imagining and visualising the service and experience for several likely operating environments will equip your business to respond quickly when the situation changes, allowing for more considered procurement and reducing the interruption to revenue.
  • A solution for customers that’s be designed carefully and not reactively avoids the hit to customer satisfaction and preference scores.
  • A cross-functional team able to implement one or several plans coherently, will save time and resources.

How Engine can help:

  • We’re creative, which means we run ahead and explore possibilities presented by one or more probable futures.
  • We’re great at getting to grips quickly with industry and operating models and designing solutions for customers that can also be implemented.
  • We’re great at grounding customer and business requirements in concrete designs for services and customer experiences.
  • We visualise and prototype new services and experiences quickly so that businesses can evaluate and cost them before making the decision to build them and committing resources.
  • We’ve delivered projects just like this with leading brands in travel and transport, retail and B2B service delivery, amongst others.

Five design principles for a changed world

As we feel our way through the Covid crisis, how can service design help organisations address what’s needed for a new reality?


Service design defines how behaviours, digital experiences, environments, and processes work together for positive customer experiences. As a discipline, it’s well-equipped to help as organisations grapple with a brand-new set of needs and circumstances. A key service design tool is a set of design principles – ideas which, if reflected throughout a service, will make it great for customers.

Organisations are shifting from frozen, to fire-fighting, to redesigning and rebuilding. By harnessing design principles fit for these unfamiliar times, organisations can restart services in the right way for their customers, employees, and operations. Every organisation will want to find its own best way to bring these principles to life, both in the short and longer term.

Enable home-centric lives

When restrictions are lifted, how often will we want or need to visit an office, shop, doctor, museum, or classroom? Increasingly, people’s homes are their worlds. What level of change is needed to reflect this? What’s the mix of online and physical experiences?

From doctors to beauty consultants to music teachers, knowledge-based services are moving online. Dixons Carphone is planning to give customers remote access to its sales staff, removing the need to visit stores for advice. Twitter’s recent announcement that colleagues can home work “forever” is an example of the permanent nature of many recent changes.

Some organisations will need a greater pivot to replace yesterday’s offer with something more relevant to a home-based, low-travel future. We see restaurants becoming stores, and stores becoming delivery and collection points. Hotels redefining themselves to serve local communities (e.g. as office space, self-isolating restaurants, or take-away/delivery food providers) are widening their value in a world with less travel. Airline AirAsia is now making home deliveries of its in-flight food. Such activities keep brands alive, provide income, and can be gradually feathered-out (or not) as original offers pick up.

Demonstrate safety

For physical experiences that do survive into the future, what will customer and employee safety look and feel like? While sectors like food retail have been able to blaze the trail throughout lockdown, other industries are searching for their best ways to supply safety and confidence. The answers aren’t always clear; EasyJet and Ryanair disagree vehemently about whether or not to fly with empty middle seats.

Initiatives being experimented with include UV light-shining cleaner robots at Pittsburgh airport, and full-body disinfection booths at Hong Kong airport. While care is needed to find the balance between reassurance and drawing attention to risks, safety credentials will be a clear point of differentiation. The airline and hospitality sectors are busy bestowing brand names on their safety and cleanliness initiatives, such as Air Canada’s CleanCare+ and Hilton’s CleanStay.

Plans for the other key safety factor – social distance – have been shared by organisations including Avanti West Coast train line. They’re asking all passengers to pre-book tickets so that trains can run 75% empty. Some organisations have turned to robots, who are conducting remote patient triage at a Boston hospital to protect health workers. Wearable social distancing devices are already being used in the construction and auto industries, including by Ford. “Covid-safe” restaurants are experimenting with environments, tools, and processes to help give people a safe night out. An attractive example of this – but one that demonstrates the challenges involved – is Mediamatic ETEN in Amsterdam, where each dining party enjoys its own private greenhouse overlooking the canal.

Help people thrive with less
In a future where people have less to spend, some services will have to become more affordable. Others will cease to be relevant. Organisations will need to reevaluate what they do and think creatively to adapt or redefine themselves for our new situation.

Already we’ve seen a surge in direct-to-customer sales, allowing businesses to keep end prices down while remaining profitable. Businesses from small farms to Unilever are increasingly looking to deal directly with customers.

The need will grow for smooth and constructive approaches to finance-related events such as downgrading, cancelling, or difficulties paying. Many financial institutions have already responded with relaxed terms.

Perversely, the troubled times may cause the return of a ‘jet set’ economy. Long-democratised institutions may morph into a new set of ‘premium physical’ experiences. Dining out, air travel, and live events will be reimagined as up-market experiences if the measures needed for safety drive up prices.

Empathise and join in
We now need comfort, help, hope and a sense of purpose. Organisations that step up practically or emotionally to recognise what we’re going through are most likely to win our hearts.

The response has been impressive. Production lines have been rebuilt to create masks, respirators, and sanitiser. Supermarkets allocate exclusive shopping times for health workers and vulnerable people. Cine Colombia shows movies on a mobile screen for the locked-down to view from their Bogota balconies. On the even more whimsical side, Brewdog is offering to “buy everyone a beer when all of this is over.”

People’s drive to be useful in this crisis has brought about new levels of ‘niceness’ in the UK. We look for brands that behave the way we feel. Those which help, and help us help. While cynicism may be tempting in relation to some corporate social responsibility initiatives, the need for help is genuine and unprecedented. Website sorts companies into “zeros and heroes” according to their “good and bad deeds.” It has had over three million page views since launch in late March.

Resurrect ease
Perhaps the most ubiquitous design principle, ‘Make it easy’, has been rightfully pushed aside by other priorities in the past few months. But the need for services to work well is greater now than ever, as they switch back on to a changed world. The organisations people love to deal with are most likely to thrive.

The challenge is to keep new requirements and measures from feeling like barriers. Multiple apps show realtime store queue times, and OpenTable is helping stores offer reserved shopping times. Salesforce has even launched a tool for helping some of its 50,000 employees book lift/elevator time slots.

Our new reality brings additional opportunities to cater to customers’ preferences. Some may opt to invest effort in a deeper, more involved experience, while others prefer a cut-down, streamlined experience. UK supermarket Morrison’s now offers 10 different pre-curated food boxes for delivery, to make “stocking up the cupboard easier.”

Key to most of the principles discussed above, is digital (re)transformation. Organisations that haven’t yet embraced ‘digital’ as an integral part of their customer experience need to take this opportunity to catch up.

As they get back on their feet, there’s a lot for organisations to consider. Creatively applying the right people-centred design principles will help them shape the best mix of behaviours, digital experiences, environments, and processes for our changed world.

Service design sprints online

With so many of us working from different locations right now, firing-up people and projects can feel daunting.

That’s why, for the time being, we’ve moved service design online. We’re already delivering projects 100% online and have had great feedback. We’ve put our favourite design tools and inspiration resources into visual online workshops. We can help you help your teams keep working.

Restart with impact

  • We’ll help you take a fresh look at your end-to-end customer journey and assess the implications of Covid-19 for your customers.
  • We’ll help you design what’s needed to reopen for business, so your customers feel welcomed and safe as they return.
  • We’ll help you set out an action plan to restart your service as customers and colleagues return.

We’ll advise and work with you on a restart plan so each area of your operation, marketing and commercial teams are aligned and able to move quickly.

Find out if the Restart design sprint is for you.

Reconfigure together

  • We’ll help you look again at your customers to understand the ways their needs and expectations have changed, and develop creative and practical responses for your business.
  • We’ll help you design-in new procedures and processes to ensure customers and frontline colleagues continue to have a positive experience.
  • We’ll help you develop an action plan to support you to reconfigure your service.

We’ll lead with your team to develop a blueprint for your service outlining what’s needed to reconfigure your service through phases of unlocking towards a new normal.

Find out if the Reconfigure design sprint is for you.

Reimagine at speed

  • We’ll help you take a commercial opportunity you’ve already spotted to create a compelling service and experience.
  • We’ll help you look creatively at your business’s capabilities, fixed assets and resources to imagine new lines of business and innovative service models.
  • We’ll help you envision a more pandemic-proof version of your business and services, and convince others it’s the future.

We’ll provide you with a vision for your service, describing and visualising the spirit and building blocks of the transformation you’re setting out to create.

Find out if the Reimagine design sprint is for you.


Your customers have changed

So, what now? What needs to happen next to get revenue flowing again and your teams mobilised and creating value? What’s the plan?

Even though businesses were forced to react, leaders at every level still need to be focused on outcomes, to engage and excite others with their ideas and a renewed ‘big picture’. It remains true that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. We didn’t choose to be where we are, but the times demand creativity and bring with them an opportunity to rethink. Teams need to be refocussed on value. Your business is most likely to succeed even thrive if you take the time to understand how all of this has changed your customers.

Although every business is different, all are affected. When we speak to our clients, it feels like they’re wrestling with three interwoven challenges:

How do we restart our service with impact?

Many businesses have been unable to operate while others have but with short term, protective measures in place. Now the urgency has become the economy, effort shifts to restarting services, rekindling relationships and moving from emergency measures into and through phases of unlocking. With time, reactive measures can be designed-in to a more seamless experience.

How do we reconfigure in response to the new rules of business and the changing needs of our customers?

Accessibly, personalisation, friendliness and hyper-convenience have been the driving forces behind service and customer experience design. What now? Reconfigure services, so customers and frontline colleagues are safe and feel safe. New processes and mandated procedures need to be thoughtfully designed-in to customer journeys, and new expectations set. There’s a balance to be struck between visible safety and triggers of anxiety while maintaining an experience that’s positive overall. If service reliability remains impacted, this will need to be managed with customers too.

Reimagine a better, more resilient and ‘pandemic proof’ version of our business.

One response to tough times is to strive to build something even better than what came before. Is there a rethink or a pivot here? Is there a way to help people prosper by looking differently at what you have? Businesses in sectors that have been upended are now beginning to reimagine their service and operating model to accommodate a new commercial reality. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to imagine a more sustainable, resilient, ‘pandemic proof’ business.

The central truth is that subtly or dramatically, your customers have changed. Personal and practical responses to the realities of Covid-19 are shaping how all of us use services, what we need and expect. Social distancing, other measures and people’s responses to them have already changed the rules of business and in turn, have important implications for service design and customer experience.

Business tools

We’ve developed a set of practical tools to help you work through your businesses needs and priorities – be those of today or tomorrow. We’ll guide you through dynamic and collaborative sessions supported by our creative team to develop ways you can actively respond to challenges and create new opportunities.

Read more

Reconfigure your service together

Your customers have changed. The rules have changed. Now your service needs to change. How are you going to remobilise your teams to redesign and reconfigure your service?

Do you recognise any of these challenges?

  • How do I refocus my team and others around a reconfigured target customer experience?
  • We’ve invested in people and technology so we can provide excellent service and experience for our customers. How do we avoid undoing all this good work as we reconfigure our commercial and operating models?
  • Do we need to redesign systems and processes? If so, how do we do so in a way that continues to deliver an exceptional experience?
  • If we invest in new channels to minimise contact between people, how do we design an experience that feels right for customers?
  • We have to work with our partners differently. How can we lead within our business ecosystem so that we all benefit?
  • How do we assess projects and programmes that were in play or in the plan before lock-down to ensure we don’t lose the value they were set-up to create?
  • Given we’re faced with several possible operating environments and unpredictable competitive plays, how do we run ahead to evaluate what each means to our customers?
  • How do we create a ‘pandemic proof’ vision for our services so that we can push new objectives and requirements into the projects and programmes we’re taking forward?

Why you need to act

  • Your trading environment has changed, and new operational requirements and constraints have become necessary. You can’t deliver the same service in the same way.
  • You need to restore and regrow revenue.
  • You need to reduce costs but avoid taking a negative hit from customers and your crucial frontline.
  • Your delivery and supply chain partners are affected too. Minimise the impact of their challenges on your business by adopting the role of ecosystem leader to ensure you all prosper.

    Business tools

    We’ve developed a set of practical tools to help you work through your businesses needs and priorities – be those of today or tomorrow. We’ll guide you through dynamic and collaborative sessions supported by our creative team to develop ways you can actively respond to challenges and create new opportunities.

    Read more