Over the last few years I’ve had a few people tell me what Service Design (with capitals) is and service design (without capitals) is. Oh, what they ain’t. Service Design as a process — a methodology, a set of tools — versus service design as a thing you do, the designing of services. Hey, throw in some What is a service designer’s role?. You may have seen or heard these too, in blog posts, books, tweets on Twitter, maybe even conference talks or training courses.
Around all of this spills all sorts of discussion about technicalities and nuance. Some is super constructive, helps us think about how we approach our designing, give us fresh ideas. Other talk drifts us away from the focus of the doing of design work, the making better services and experiences, make better the service and experience we are there to work on.
“Service” and “experience”. Designers like to discuss, sometime argue the difference between the two words. They’re both words I hear friends and family use when describing their interactions with an organisation or business that they need something from. If people are moved to talk about a service or experience it’s usually because it’s positive or negative.
“The service was surprisingly fast at that restaurant. It was so busy but the staff were lovely, they were at our table not too fast, gave us enough time looking over the menu and the food Didn’t take long to arrive.”
“I had to wait around in a cold room for half an hour while I waited for the tyre to be changed. It wasn’t the best experience.”
The alright usually doesn’t garner comment, the adequate, the nondescript, an it did the job at best. It’s not bad though.
The usage of service or experience might not fit with your laser-focused definitions where you are clear about the difference, the distinction — but to be honest I’m not bothered. Both words are good for me because that’s how those people.
I gave up being arsed about job titles a long time ago. I am usually known as a designer. I have some decent skills. I’ll use those skills to help give some shape to this thing I am working, to make this thing and make it at least decent, hopefully as good as it can be. I might learn new skills along the way, I might improve my skills.
Over the last ten years I have spent a lot of that time helping shape services and experiences. I prefer using a lot of service design methods because I believe they can be the most methods for creating good services and experiences for the users of those services and experiences. Services and experiences that are implicitly driven to be better for their users. That’s it. Does that make me a service designer? Is it my skills, my methods — or is it the work to be done?
What is the situation? Start by understanding what do people need and then exploring how could they achieve that goal in relation to our organisation or business. How will they, how can they, how do they interact with our organisation or business’s people, places and process? When? Where? What are the journeys we design for them? As we design what is the impact of the decisions we make, on the users of the service, on the provisions we need to provide the service? Do we help people through their journey? Do we hinder people on their journey? Do the decisions create barriers or exclude people who could, who should be using the service? How we test? We test with the people who need the service. We learn from them. Problems and possible solutions with problems with possible solutions with problems…
That’s just designing, end of. By getting in, getting on and round round round we go… Doing.
I’ve never been — at least as much as I remember — an I did this all by myself kind of designer: I have strongly believed it’s a team that creates, evolves, maintains an experience or service. (This even comes to bite me in the arse in interviews where I lapse into we over I.) Service design methods just tend to lean towards working together. But I am always in teams, where we work together, even if it’s a team of two.
I get asked a lot What is it a service designer does? and Is this what a service designer does?. Any designer will bring different skills, thought processes, experiences to lean on, biases, openness or closeness, abilities and disabilities. A well designed service serves the needs of the people using it. I sometimes feel slightly uncomfortable with the designer in service designer. As service is designed by the many deliberated understandings, actions and efforts of many people, who continually revisit what is being done in a working service, finding out from the people who use it. The design of a service is down to many not one. As a service designer it is as much the coaching and coaxing, the listening, the connecting. I focus on the outcomes of collaboration, shared understanding and knowledge, and a consistently (but not uniform) usable service. (Are you more the designer of the process of the collaborative designing of the service?)
As a designer you’re also the barometer of knowing what is good enough and how to address what isn’t good enough. If I use some of the methods I know that are aligned with service design then that’s because… they’re methods for designing in that situation, methods I believe have better outcomes for the designing in that situation, and usually that is working on services. I don’t go in every time and do exactly the same thing, use the same tools, use the same method, garner the same output.
There are times I wonder about the perception of a role. User experience designer. Interaction designer. Experience designer. Service designer. These are job titles, also definitions. People are brought in with these titles and their preconceptions, their expectancies. Service Design feels a practice more accepted into a greater number of workplaces over the last decade but is whose understanding can still be blurred. I might not be bothered about the title of the role I am there for, but at times that inconsistency makes me feel itchy. What are the activities you are there to do for that role?
Service design is more about culture than one person’s role and needs understanding and support beyond a service designer’s own efforts. In that sense what service design is understood as is important. Sometimes you don’t have the culture onside, sometimes you cannot change the culture. Joining a team and having to justify your role and place in the team every day is draining.
Most times I don’t wonder if it matters. Just push on designing the service, doing the best you can do, talking people through what you are thinking to do, taking people along as you do it. Worry less about methods, just get on doing. Remember: You’re a designer, it’s designing. No-one can put you down for doing that, however you end up doing that in the circumstances.