Why I love service design and why you might too

Why I love service design and why you might too Image
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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!


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