Choosenick. Notes and observations on service design, as well as other interesting things/thinking. By Nick Marsh.



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Research in practice: Bringing behavioural change from lab to studio

I recently published an article with Dan Lockton in the fourth edition of Touchpoint, the Service Design Network Journal. This issue is focused on the relationship between service design and behaviour change. Unfortunately, they don't publish the articles online, so I can't link to any others, but here's our conversation about using Dan's 'design with intent' behaviour change lenses in service design consultancy.

Nick: Hi Dan, thanks for agreeing to take part in this conversation. Maybe we should start with you outlining a bit about your research interests? Two interlinked questions then - Firstly, what do you mean by 'design with intent', and secondly why you think this is a valuable approach to interrogating and describing the way that 'designers' (which of course includes lots of ‘silent designers’ that never went to art school) act on the world?

Dan: Thanks Nick. I use 'Design with Intent' to mean design that's intended to influence or result in certain user behaviour. It's an attempt to describe a class of systems and touchpoints across lots of disciplines - services, products, interfaces, even built environments - that have been designed with the express intent to influence how people use them. Everything we design inevitably changes people's behaviour, but as designers we don't always consciously consider the power this gives us to help people, and, sometimes, to manipulate them.

It's this reflective approach that I think can be valuable as part of the design process: being aware that we're designing not just experiences, but actually designing behaviour at one level or another. Whether we mean to do it or not, it's going to happen, so we might as well get good at it.

Nick: It’s certainly an ambitious thesis! Of course pattern libraries are common in lots of different design disciplines – examples include things like grid systems for graphic designers or ergonomics manuals. However, the thing that gets me excited about your work, and what makes it so relevant to the design of services and systems made of many different touchpoints is its magnificent scope. I love that you are trying to create a universal taxonomy for describing all aspects of how designers try to shape and change user behaviour. At this point I think it would be good to introduce the 'lenses' that you've created that help us to navigate the vast terrain of this field. Could you briefly outline these lenses, with a quick example for each?

Dan: Many people have thought about influencing behaviour in different domains: this isn't a new field by any means, but the terminology and principles haven't often been presented in a form useful to designers. The lenses are a way of explaining some of these design patterns via different 'worldviews' so they can be applied as inspiration for concept generation, and as a way of challenging/extending preconceived ideas clients might have about how to influence users.

They've evolved based on designers' feedback through running workshop sessions; the latest set of eight are shown in the table. In total there's about 100 patterns spread among these eight lenses. The whole lot's available at www.designwithintent.co.uk as a card deck and a wiki, along with some other ways of classifying and thinking about the patterns.

Now it seems as though service design, by its very multidisciplinary, people-focused nature, has a great opportunity to lead this emerging field of design for behaviour change. As someone with significant experience here, Nick, how do you see this sort of thinking manifest itself - do you see any of these patterns being used intentionally in designing services? Does the drive come from clients or designers themselves? What kinds of behaviour are you trying to influence - and have you got any thoughts on what works and what doesn't?

Nick: Well, the first thing I think I should say is that the degree to which service design exploits the kinds of techniques described in your lenses depends to an extent on what you consider service design to be. Crudely speaking, I’ve been involved in two different types of service design that operate at different levels of influence over the behaviour of people engaged in the design programme, and I see application and implications in both of them.

The first type of service design, which is the closest to most other design disciplines and is essentially an aesthetic challenge, is the design of connected user experiences of different touchpoints. For more spatial/interior design projects I’ve been involved with in airports I’ve used the Architectural and Perceptual techniques to enforce compliance with queuing and engage passengers in processes by lowering visual clutter. For more digitally focused designs I’ve used Ludic and Interaction techniques to engage users in otherwise boring tasks like filling out forms by making them game like and providing rich feedback and so forth.

The second type of service design, which is a conceptual step onwards from the first, as it's primarily an organisational challenge, is using design-led methods and techniques to develop strategies for service organisations, and to teach other people how to use design to improve how their organisations work and the quality of the services they deliver.

I think at this level, the lenses are a great tool for opening up the conversation with clients and co-designers about how users are treated by the organisation. Are they inputs into a system, or are they people? Do we think of them as stupid, or smart? Do we use Security or Machiavellian techniques to force customers and citizens to do stuff, or is it better to use Ludic and Cognitive approaches that play to people’s enthusiasms and sense of fun?

When you start applying these questions to social challenges, which is where a lot of service design practice in the UK is focused, you start to get some really big ideas! Have you thought about how to focus the toolkit on design-led social programmes?

Dan: Many social challenges for design do involve behaviour change – I suppose it's a concept that is more naturally familiar to people trained in social science than (most) designers are, and the idea of influencing public behaviour, albeit mainly through laws and taxes, is well-known to the policy makers who fund many projects. It's important that designers are able to contribute to these initiatives with confidence that what we do is respected and understood by those who make the decisions.

That may mean that academic research on behaviour change, how to do it, what works and what doesn't, when, why, etc, needs to be made more easily available to designers. Academia itself can be seen as a service to society, and as such its interactions with the public would often benefit from being 'designed' with as much thought as goes into service design practice: when should it be responsive, doing research the public wants, and when should it attempt to lead and guide governmental decisions and public debate?

In many ways academic design research is of limited use without connection to what designers actually do, so my aim has always been to produce something that's useful to designers, and I hope that—together with others doing research in this area—we can help service design tackle the social challenges of behaviour change with valuable ideas, insights and evidence.

Nick: I agree, although I think it is also up to designers to take the initiative and reach out to the academy. There’s a huge amount of inspiration to be found there, and lots of opportunity for collaboration. I suppose that the important thing is to build the conversation and look beyond your current frames of reference - and I’ve certainly enjoyed doing that here!
May 17th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, behaviourchange, article, touchpoint / Trackback / Comments

The silent majority: How design thinking can help all service designers find their voice


This article originally appeared in The Guardian on 13th March 2010 entitled 'In celebration of 'silent designers'.'

To stay ahead in the world of commerce, or stay relevant in the world of government, 21st-century managers know they need to keep a connected supply of innovative ideas flowing at every level of their enterprise. In product-focused organisations, innovation management is relatively simple. It generally happens in dedicated research and development teams. Managing innovation in service organisations is more slippery, because the important innovation that creates real value is found all over the place — at all the different points where employees interact with customers, users and internal stakeholders.

Think about a social worker repeatedly visiting a foster child, or a private banker constantly discussing investment opportunities with clients. Over time, the service provided is adapted to fit the changing needs of that child, or that investor, and the improving skills of the social worker or banker.

This type of incremental innovation is equally applicable to mass services, such as call centre support, or internal services, such as IT provision within a business, and it explains why the quality of a company's service innovation is broadly connected to the quality of its staff.

This means that, to an extent, everyone working in a service organisation can be said to be responsible for research and development and at least partly responsible for the design of the organisation's services — even though most of them would not ever think of themselves as designers. In a 1987 research paper, Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas of the London Business School described these people as silent designers.


Cartoon from the fab Tom Fishburne

Through my work with many different types of service organisations, I have found that these silent designers frequently find it difficult to act on their ideas. It can be hard to connect their ideas to parts of the service beyond their everyday roles and responsibilities. A powerful solution to this challenge is to introduce them to the fundamentals behind design practice – and to tie these approaches into how they work on improving their service.

These design-led methods that can be useful within the intangible world of services include techniques to creatively explore ideas through customer or user research; visualisation methods that designers use to express ideas; and quick, low-risk prototypes that help them learn about the best way forward through hands-on experimentation.

For managers, this means encouraging everyone in the service organisation to think like designers, and to blend this with their specific experience and skills to make them more confident in exploring, expressing and exploiting ideas.

In other words, design thinking can help silent designers find their voices, as a voice coach might. The singing part, however, is quite a different matter.
March 13th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, serviceinnovation, article / Trackback / Comments

Going mainstream: The Guardian Service Design supplement now online




The Guardian service design supplement is now online. There's loads to explore, including my article on 'silent designers'. (I'll repost this here later too!)
March 13th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, publicservices, serviceinnovation, article / Trackback / Comments

Designing people-centred policy: how can user centred design help public services?

I've written an article for c&binet called: Designing people-centred policy: how can user centred design help public services?

You can read the article in full on their site, but the thrust of it focuses on the challenges faced by public servants and how design research techniques developed for product design can help overcome some of them.

The piece ends with some observations on the challenges of redesigning public services around the experiences of users:

... Of course, there are huge differences between designing better technology products and better public services, but there are some underlying principles that are remarkably simple and surprisingly disruptive when applied to the challenge of public service design:

Understanding of the user experience comes from ‘deep’ design research techniques. Genuine moments of insight come from an in depth understanding of the unique challenges faced by individuals, which is gained from time spent with people. The currency of ‘experience’ deals with emotions and moments in time that cannot be captured in statistics and trends analysis, and research outputs such as journey maps and ‘day in the life’ stories need to be carefully designed to capture these experiences for use by policy makers and service managers.

The user experience must be the primary source of insight, and the central organising principle of a programme of change. In the case of technology products the ‘user experience’ normally means the points of interface between people and products, in the case of services the user experience normally means the journey a user takes between interface points, as well as the actual touch points they interact with. Understanding and visualising these journeys (actual and ideal), and tying them to the emotional understanding gained from deep research creates a shared, empathetic platform for service re-design.

Users must be involved in (co)designing the solution. A user just telling a researcher about their concerns and worries gets us nowhere (well, it gets us a research report). Design research methods don’t separate research from action – they are one and the same thing, focussed on creating a better experience. This means that users must be directly involved in co-designing the solutions to their problems (and then maybe later maintaining the resulting service design), alongside expert designers who can bring their ideas to life through prototypes.

Designers must be involved to create prototypes. Participatory, user centred design research techniques give us the framework to understand and diagnose the real issues and problems behind users’ experiences of public services. However, in order to act on that framework, to imagine a better situation or system, you need designers who can make things real through developing and iterating prototypes of the solution. We’ve found that this is especially valuable when dealing with intangible design artefacts such as services and experiences. Prototypes bought to life through drawings, mock-ups and models create tangible evidence of progress and change and allow stakeholders to evaluate and improve on options through a hands-on process of iteration.

The research must be tied to a wider product/service development programme. The design research techniques employed by the consumer electronics businesses mentioned earlier are of course tied-in to their wider new product and service development processes. This must also be true of any public service redesign. Outputs from deep user research, co-design sessions with users and the refined service prototypes must be delivered into the parts of an organisation that knows what to do with them. Recommendations for system level changes need to go to policy heads, innovative ideas for new delivery mechanisms must go to the right service managers, and the change must be joined up often through shared communications.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments over at the c&binet site. Another piece worth checking out is Paul Bennett's Creativity and the rise of optimism.
January 27th, 2009 / Tags: article, publicservicedesign, servicedesign / Trackback / Comments