How do service design approaches need to improve, and what is the next step?

Arrow pointing right

For a variety of reasons (some of which I need to go into more detail about), I’ve been thinking a lot recently about user experience / service design / whatever it is that I do.

(In this post I’m going to conflate user experience and service design, and products and services. Partly for simplicity, but also because — in the words of the This is Service Design Doing book — I’m a lumper, not a splitter.)

It’s been a strange feeling. If I could summarise that feeling in one question, it would be: How do these approaches need to improve, and what is the next step?

It’s not that I’ve felt disillusioned. In fact, the past few months have deepened my understanding, involved me further, and got me incredibly excited about this field. (It’s perhaps this very fact that has led to me thinking more critically.)

At the same time, I’ve felt like something has been missing.

At certain stages in my career, I’ve struck on eureka moments that have advanced my understanding, and helped me figure out what needs to come next. I’ve been waiting for the next of those moments to come.

The following questions have flown around in my head.

How do we move beyond individuals?

As I’ve previously written about, the way user research is often framed paints us into a corner of optimising for individual experiences. But there are many cases where optimising for individuals is actually detrimental to society or communities.

Is user experience / service design unnecessarily reinventing the wheel?

Ergonomics isn’t new. Human factors isn’t new. Services aren’t new. Organisations aren’t new. Approaches to analysing and improving all those things aren’t new. Design isn’t new. And user experience is older than you might think. So why do we act like this is all new?

Can we look to the past for answers to the future?

Related to the above. Service design is thought of as a new and emerging field. As such we look for shiny new solutions. The Government Digital Service’s design principles may as well be from year zero in service design terms. But even though, for example, Dieter Rams’ ten principles for good design are 40 years old, does that make them less relevant?

Is co-design an end of itself?

Is directly involving participants the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t result in a ‘better’ design? Perhaps making participants feel involved and giving them a stake is an end of itself. Perhaps it’s even a necessary part of many services?

(I have more questions, but perhaps that’s for a future blog post…)

The relational approach — A way forward?

That eureka moment finally came for me this week when I read this article by Sarah Drummond and Peter McColl, both from Snook.

It describes “the relational approach” as a way to move service design forward.

We now need to take our learning from both the delivery state of the mid-20th century and the human-centred design approach we have used to transform services in recent years, and adopt it for communities. We call this the ‘relational approach’. It is based on the principle that humans are cooperative and collaborative and that if we can create the structures that facilitate this behaviour then we can create a better society.

This article describes how we can move beyond the individual, by “using neighbourhoods as the unit of change”.

It explains what we can and can’t take from the past, and why some new approaches are required.

It suggests the inherent importance of co-design, “on the basis that ‘nothing for us or about us should be done without us’”.

In other words, it begins to answer those questions that were flying around in my head. It’s the article I’ve been waiting to read.

I’m looking forward to reading and learning more about this approach.

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