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

Posts tagged with “servicedesign”...

Service design is Dead. The New Product is Alive.

So, I changed my job title a few months ago. I dropped the ’service’ bit. I’m now just Sidekick’s Design Director. I’m now MASSIVELY EXCITED about a new thing – designing products.

But not your old products. No, I’m excited about designing a new type of evolving, networked product that requires a multi-disciplinary team just to keep it alive, let alone make it awesome. I’m calling this the New Product. Let me explain.

Service design is dead

Ok, it’s not that I think service design is dead, its just that its pretty much used up its interest for me, and I think for Sidekick. There’s two reasons for this I think. One interesting, the other less so.

First, the uninteresting bit. The problem with service design is not the practice as such, but more the way its practised. I’ve basically become a bit bored with the way in which the service design community is constantly trying to legitimise and define the central-vital-most-important-ultimate-more-strategic-than-whatever-you-do role of design in innovating and managing services. I’ve been guilty of doing this a bit in the past. Sorry about that.

Its quite an isolating view, and not very helpful for actually making change happen, and creating new cool stuff.

Second, the interesting bit. The flipside to this is that I’ve become really interested in the actual role of design in bringing new stuff to market, and creating useful things that people want (in particular digital services that solve social problems, which is what we do at Sidekick). Really importantly, I’m getting a good sense of how design fits in the mix with other disciplines in doing this, in particular technical skills, marketing skills and financial skills.

Probably this is just me getting older and more experienced, but I think its also a bit that I’m reaping the rewards of moving away from strategic consulting, and towards making and inventing new things.

As part of this shift I’ve come to the conclusion that organising the invention and making process around products is a really good way to get focused on creating good work – and ironically can help solve strategic questions along the way. Let me explain.

The New Product is alive

Everywhere I look, but basically on the web, the people I am inspired by are talking about products – product incubation, product design, product management. But this is a New type of Product, born and growing up on the web. When people talk about the New Product they’re generally describing businesses that provide a mix of content, service and experience. But the way they make that tangible is by focusing on product.

The UKs most important online property, the BBC, recently reorganised its entire online strategy around the idea of products. Writing about the change, Eric Huggers, the digital boss, says:

“The product management role [is] ‘a multi-disciplined person who operates at the intersection of technology, design and editorial and is able to bring all of these elements together’ to deliver products whose lifecycle is managed. We’ll no longer build websites which are published and which sit unattended and slowly degrade; products will be managed.”

Jack Dorsey, probably my biggest crush on the internet, and wearer of great suits, head of product for Twitter and Square (and CEO to boot) says (in an awesome video) “So, my point here is, this company is not going to be known by one person or by five people or by multiple people. It’s going to be known by the product that we put out… Support and feedback is what our customers are telling us. Product is what we are telling our customers.”

Finally, Denis Crowley, founder of Foursquare, says “I’ve always looked up to the people who went from being unemployed to doing interesting things with product.” Doing things with product. I love the active sense of this sentence. Doing things. Sounds like designing and making to me!

The New Product design is the new rave

When big, established and admired properties like the BBC, and small, ambitious, and equally admired startups like Square are talking about the same thing, its worth listening. Essentially, these businesses are using the idea of ‘product’ as a way to coordinate their digital service development activities across engineering, design, marketing and even organisational management.

The interesting thing here is that the role that sits at the heart of all of this, the product manager/designer, really sounds a lot like the stuff I’m interested in, some of which I was calling service design. In this world good product managers/designers focus relentlessly on user experiences, have a clear vision for where they want that experience to evolve to, they get that from close liaison with customers and users, they are able to translate this into briefs for technical, marketing and interface design teams – and they can wrap all of it up and sell it in to management.

Above all, they know where their product begins and ends – at the point of use. They are the ‘bring it all together’ people, but in a real, hands-on way. Because what they bring it all together into is a real, live product you can experience and use right now, just by connecting to the web. Right now. Go to, and

At Sidekick we’re embracing the new product design and management wholeheartedly. And since we’ve done that (and ditched service design!), our business has really taken off. All our current projects (bar one small research piece) have the idea of creating a ‘product’ at their heart. And once we’ve created product, we’re starting to get really good at managing it. Watch this space for big news on Buddy, our most developed product. We’ll be launching a client product in September, and there’s lots more to come over the next six months.

We’re doing a lot more at Sidekick – not least we’re really starting to nail a lot of the process stuff behind the business aspects of social innovation (but that’s another post/book) – but the thing I am getting most excited about is our products. They are the place where it all comes together. The place where you can touch, use and experience everything we’re learning about how design, technology and business can change the way social innovation happens.

All we have to do now is ship. Which we will, because we have to.
July 1st, 2011 / Tags: design, servicedesign, designthinking, innovation, productdesign / Trackback / Comments

Service Design Jobs

We've launched a jobs board on If you'd like to put a job up, email Currently there's jobs with Engine, Participle and Sidekick on there right now... go get 'em! (Especially with Sidekick!)
July 19th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, jobs / Trackback / Comments

What's next?

I originally posted a similar article to this on the Sidekick blog a couple of days ago.

As some of you may know I've recently joined Sidekick Studios to build up their design-led consulting offering to clients across the UK and beyond. I’m really excited by Sidekick’s unique combination of design thinking, technology know-how and socially progressive agenda – It’s a great time to be joining a small company with such big ideas.

We all know that UK plc, and the public sector in particular, face major challenges over the next few years, as we all try to do more with less, and achieve best for least – the question is, how do we get there from where we are today?

Service design, or the application of design-thinking to services, provides a reliable toolkit for all types of service organisations and the people that work in them to innovate their services around the needs of the people that use and provide them.

Over the past six years I’ve helped service organisations from across the public and commercial sectors make the most out of design and design thinking to create useful, usable and desirable services that save money and make customers happy.

The common thread running through all successful projects I’ve been involved with has always been a combination of applied creativity and a clear focus on designing for and with the people who will actually be using and providing the services.

Putting people at the heart of service design and innovation has two simple, clear benefits – firstly it creates genuine opportunities to identify ways of doing things differently by stepping outside the service organisation’s world. Secondly, it de-risks the process of creating new offerings by checking utility, usability and desirability of new ideas with customers in small manageable stages.

Combining this user centred approach to service innovation with the scalability of the kinds of web based technology platforms that Sidekick is developing and deploying for clients today creates hugely exciting opportunities to magnify the impact of the service design approach. I don’t know any other studio that offers this combination of design-led creativity and technical expertise together. The fact that we are focussed on helping organisations that want to do better by society is the icing on the cake!

I can’t wait to get stuck into the many projects and problems that Sidekick is already tackling, and to start having new conversations with new people that think we could help them design better services – I’ll be sharing insights and stories from this work here, and on the Sidekick site so please get in touch with me at if you’d like to chat about service design, our projects, or working at Sidekick.
June 8th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, navelgazing / Trackback / Comments

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 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

Service Design Thinks 2 - Videos and reflections on service design at scale

On the 29th of November 2009 a bunch of interesting people got together in the lovely Sense Loft to listen to talks and start conversations around the topic of Service Design at Scale.

We had three really different presentations from really different types of service designers. As with other events we had a mix of design-led people (in this case Julia) and some service designers who don't really identify their work with design practice (Steven and James).

We started with a bit of an intro around why we'd chosen the 'scale' theme. You can click through the slideshow below:

Following on from this, Steven Baker got up to tell us about his experiences of designing the wildly successful M-Pesa mobile banking service for Vodafone/Safaricom whilst working at Sagentia. It's a fascinating tale with some great insights into designing services with mass appeal.

The main message is around simplicity, and I love the elegance of the design, in particular the approach to customer acquisition - if someone sends you M-Pesa (mobile money) and you are not a member, in order to get the cash you need to go to an M-Pesa vendor with your mobile and your national ID card, which are the two things you need to sign up. Ace.

Following on from this, Julia Schaeper took the stand to tell us about her experiences as an Associate at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement. The NHS is a huge organisation (the 3rd largest employer in the world), and Julia is one of just a handful of people within it who is pushing design-led approaches to innovation.

In this presentation she shares her tips for amplifying the service design message and building support across different teams and practices through the design of processes, products and programmes:

Finally, James Gardner, previously head of Innovation at Lloyds Banking Group and now Chief Technology Officer at the Department for Work and Pensions gave us a presentation on his experience of creating an internal 'innovation market'.

The basic idea behind the market was to connect ideas for service innovation from the 'front line' of Lloyd's huge organisation to capital and capacity at the centre. In this presentation James shares some of the successes and failures of the market's design and operation:

All in all, a great evening with lots of inspiring stories. My thanks to all the speakers and to everyone who came along! If all this sounds like your sort of thing, please join our mailing list, and come along to the next service design drinks and have a chat!
May 1st, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, event / Trackback / Comments

Service Design Think 3 - Videos and reflections on designing services from scratch

On 30th of March a wide range of super interesting people got together at the fantastic sense loft to listen to three really different stories about designing services from scratch. (And to drink beer courtesy of Radarstation. Thanks guys!)

This was the third service design thinks event we've run, and to my mind it was the best yet. We introduced two new features, a case study and a panel Q&A format which hopefully added some more layers to the conversation.

I've embedded the videos from the talks below (All the talks are available separately for linking to on our Vimeo channel), with a few notes on some of the emergent themes at the end.

As with other service design thinks events, we're trying to find a balance between showcasing design-led approaches to service design alongside other methods.

In essence, this means asking interesting people, who don't have a background in design, to share their experiences of founding, running, managing and innovating services.

However, in the spirit of service design drinks, which is much more about design-led service design people getting together to share ideas and experiences, we also want to showcase remarkable design-led stories too.

So, at this event we showcased two non-design approaches, one very design-led approach and a case study that used designerly observational methods to understand a small service entrepreneurs approach. I've embedded the videos in the order in which they presented below, and then written up some of my own notes at the end - as always, your comments and tweets are very welcome!

If all this sounds like your sort of thing, please join our mailing list, and come along to the next service design drinks.

First up we had James Munro from Patient Opinion talk about his experience of getting the Patient Opinion service off the ground. James, along with Patient Opinion's founder Paul (who's featured in the panel discussion below), both come from a clinical background, and they used their deep experience of the NHS and their training as doctors to help guide and inform the design of the patient opinion service over time:

Secondly, Jaimes Nel, one of the co-organisers of Service Design Drinks / Thinks and head of research at Live|Work presented a short case study that told the story of Grace at St Pauls, a small, independent coffee shop in central London very near Lauren Tan's house (the other co-oganiser). Jaimes pulled out lots of lovely insights into how the owner of the coffee shop has designed his service and business, and concluded with a challenge to the service designers in the room - how do we make our practice relevant to service entrepreneurs operating at such small scale?

Thirdly, Sophia Parker of the Resolution Foundation and Katie Harris of Esro spoke about their experiences of setting up and running the Social Innovation Lab for Kent in partnership with Engine Service Design and Kent county Council. This was a very 'service designy' service design project - a design led initiative to design a service that helps other people (KCC employees and partners) design better services using design-led methods. Phew!

Fourthly, Zaeem Maqsood, Vice President at First Capital explored and explained what makes start up services investable. Zaeem has unique insight into this area - he's an investor and investment advisor, along with being an entrepreneur himself. His talk focussed on a service he designed for entrepreneurs and investors called 'The Gauntlet', which took the very ad-hoc, face to face venture capital pitching process and made it into a simple online tool. Part way through he also gets very candid about the failings of VC and VCs. Well worth watching!

Finally, the presenters sat down as a panel and answered questions about their work and their thoughts on designing services from scratch.

Some of the themes and challenges about the role that design-led/design thinking type service design practice can play in help services get going form scratch that I pulled out at the start of the panel included:

  • The role of planning - a lot of service design practice is about planning, but when you are starting up, most people talk about the need to be agile and change plans quickly.
  • Sector specific knowledge - service design is generally sector agnostic, and deliberately 'naive' - 'we just focus on the customer', and yet successful startup services tend to rely on having experienced, knowledgeable individuals who really understand say, health care, or coffee.
  • Personal risk - service designers working in agencies don't have any 'skin in the game', yet taking a personal risk seems to be an important part of making a start up successful.
  • It doesn't stop - service designers, like all designers, like designing things - documentation, specifications, deliverables etc. But when you are running a new service business it just doesn't stop! There is no deliverable or design really, just the effective operation and growth of the organisation.

So, lots to think about, and lots to talk about! The panel address these, and other questions in the video below:

All in all, a great event I think! We're already planning the next one, but in the meantime do please share your comments here, or come along to the next service design drinks and have a chat!
April 11th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, event / 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

A brief guide to Service Design with Paul Thurston

An abridged version of the ‘Brief Guide to Service Design’ presentation that I gave with Paul Thurston from Thinkpublic is now online. This version is focused on connecting service design practice with UX practice (it was created for the guys at UX Brighton).

If you run an event and would like to discuss how a presentation similar to ‘A Brief Guide To Service Design’ could be tailored to your audience please get in touch.

March 6th, 2010 / Tags: presentation, servicedesign / Trackback / Comments update - A month of service design events!

As some of you may know, this year we launched a revamped website to collect together the various and varied global service design drinks, thinks, talks and other events that have sprung up around the world, in part inspired by the original Service Design Christmas Drinks here in London two years ago.

Interest in putting on service design events around the world has grown and grown (we're adding a city a week at the moment), which is great news for all of us as it means more and more people are interested in talking about service design, which means they must be interested in doing more service design - which hopefully means better services for everyone. Which is good.

As a case in point, in the second half of march, if you have very deep pockets, you could go to a service design event almost every other day!


So, if you are in Sydney, Amsterdam, Cologne, London or San Francisco in March, and you're interested in meeting up with other people interested in exploring and understanding the role that design can play in improving services and service experiences, get on the site, and get in touch!
March 6th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, event / Trackback / Comments
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