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

Posts tagged with “servicedesign”...

Service Design Thinks 3 - Service Design from Scratch

The next Service Design Thinks is here! We've had fantastic feedback and support for the previous events, and I'm really excited about this event, which will be all about 'service design from scratch'.

Getting new services off the ground, as startups or as new offerings within existing organisations is a huge part of service design practice, and we've got a range of speakers with lots of experience of doing just that.

As with the previous events, we're trying to expand perspectives on what constitutes service design by bringing in voices from outside the design world. Of course we're not excluding design-led service designers (Sophia and Katie are flying the design-led flag this time), but we are trying to push everyone's understanding of how services are designed by all manner of people, in all manner of ways.

In addition, we're changing the format a bit this time - hopefully we'll have a fun case study from a local service entrepreneur, and we plan to do the Q&A session more like a panel at the end of the event, in order to cross pollinate the ideas and get the conversation going between presenters.

Tickets are available from the 10th on the eventbrite page, I hope to see you there!

Below is the text that went out to our email subscribers yesterday.


Please join us for three talks and one big conversation exploring what it takes to get new services going from scratch. Our diverse panel of speakers will share their experiences of founding, funding, managing, growing and designing service organisations and teams.

They’ll explore questions like:

  • What makes a new service business attractive to investors?
  • What kind of people, processes and propositions make a new service more likely to succeed?
  • What does it take to grow a new offering inside an existing service organisation?
  • What can’t you plan for?

We'll hear from:

the entrepreneur Dr James Munro, Patient Opinion
This is our NHS. Let’s make it better: Dr Munro will share his story of growing a social enterprise from scratch, and outline the lessons that all service designers can learn from Patient Opinion’s experiences.

the investor Zaeem Maqsood, First Capital
You’re funded! Zaeem will share his unique experiences of designing venture capital investment services, and explore what makes a startup service investable.

the intrapreneurs Sophia Parker and Katie Harris, The Resolution Foundation and Esro
Innovating social innovation: Sophia and Katie will share their story of starting up The Social Innovation Lab for Kent with Engine Service Design and Kent County Council

The fantastic Sense Loft venue is kindly provided by Sense Worldwide and drinks will be provided from the lovely people at Radarstation

Entry is free, but you must have a ticket. Tickets are available from the Eventbrite page from noon on the 10th of March. Hope to see you there!

March 6th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, event / Trackback / Comments

Front book vs back book pricing: The service marketing conundrum and what it means for service designers

I'm currently working on a very exciting and complex project to deliver a suite of new digital experiences for customers of one of the UK's biggest media companies. The programme of work is very detailed and hands on, something I'm really enjoying (and one of the reasons I took the job with EMC Consulting), and it throws up new challenges every day.

Last week a particular issue that we're grappling with caught my attention that has big implications for service design - the conundrum of 'front book' vs 'back book' pricing.

Above: A classic front book offer - who'd have ever thought they'd give 'em away!

This is a great example for illustrating the differences between designing for service-centric organisations as compared to designing for product-centric organisations, and it fits nicely with the insight (that I attribute to my old boss Joe Heapy that service design is really an organisational challenge, not an aesthetic one.

In this post I'm going to:

  • explain a bit about front book and back book pricing;
  • explain why it should be of interest to service designers;
  • outline the specific challenge that we have as user experience designers on this project, and;
  • conclude with some thoughts on how to try and avoid making front book and back book price differences impact on the customer experience.

As always, I very much welcome your comments here and on twitter.

What is front book vs back book?

Front book vs back book prices is a very simple concept, but one that leads to lots of complexity. Essentially, front book prices are the prices of services available to new customers, and back book prices are all the prices that were previously available to customers, stretching back over time.

The front book is very simple - its just a list of the current prices. The back book, however, can be huge and complicated - although it is still just a list. It stretches back in time over the entire period in which the service has been offered, and contains a list of every offer, bundle, package and price that every customer has signed up to. Keeping up to date back books is absolutely vital where customers sign a contract, but it is still important when customers by products and services 'off the shelf' as they may still want support later down the line.

Above: A simple product portfolio...

As a rule of thumb, in a competitive market, you would expect front book prices to slowly go down over time (or to incorporate more features, extras, auxiliary services and so on). This means that, and I'm generalising massively here, existing customers of a service are generally paying more than new customers for the same benefits that the service provides them.

A good example of this that most people will be familiar are mobile phone contracts - every time customers get a new contract in the UK (which has a very competitive mobile market) they expect more minutes, more texts, and a better handset than they had 12 months ago, for less money.
Above: even the milkman has these service design challenges these days

Why does it matter to service designers?

The difference between what new customers pay and what old customers pay doesn't really matter if you are selling services as if they were products 'off the shelf' - in other words if you are just trying to get customers to buy once.

If you take the attitude that once the customer has taken the product home, or signed on the line for the 12 month contract, you don't want to have anything to do with them again then you're pretty much free to change and manipulate prices as much as you want to maximise sales, as all your customers care about is what they are paying for the product at the point that they buy it.

However, this attitude towards the customer falls apart when you're trying to sell and provide products that are consumed over time and involve repeated contact with the customer - i.e where you want to build a relationship with the customer.

In their article 'reinventing mortgages' Chris Downs and Ben Reason of service design consultancy live|work explain how this sales oriented, product mindset just doesn't create long term value for financial service organisations:

"Banks focus relentlessly on winning new customers with the marketing strategies of soap and beer companies. We are promised that we can take a financial product home today. Worse, we are bribed with cash-back offers and gifts. These discounts and offers mean that the banks have to make their money by putting the rates up later.

Savvy customers then shop around, leaving when they spot the next great deal. The result is we have no meaningful relationship with the bank and the bank has no incentive to invest in us as customers. It is a vicious circle. Little wonder that the Norwegian insurance and banking firm Gjensidige found that over 50% of customers lack trust in financial service companies."

Devising strategies for the pricing of your portfolio of services is complex. What you charge is intimately connected to what your portfolio actually offers, what it will offer in the future (your service roadmap) and what the rest of the market is doing.

I don't pretend to have a deep knowledge of how to develop these strategies in detail, but there are some obvious drivers behind front book pricing creation and back book pricing management that I think are worth highlighting, and that explain some of the tensions and difficulties in balancing innovation with clarity.

Firstly, marketing managers working in sales want to create novelty and differentiation in the market in order to create sales, so they devise new offerings, positioning and campaigns that rename services and products, combining elements into new propositions to entice customers to buy. However, the more often they redesign the front book, the more complex it makes the back book. Thus, service innovation is can actually be a headache for any service designers looking to improve the experience for back book customers.

Secondly, there is strong pressure from 'the business' (a mythical money minded part of the organisation that all the other teams always talk about), to maintain margins, and not to give up more profitable customers. This means that customers on back book prices tend not to be able to move to front book prices easily, as there is pressure from the business to get as much money out of customers as possible for as long as possible. This is a strategy that often exploits ignorance and apathy amongst customers, and encourages service designers and managers to treat new and existing customers differently - often, it seems, treating existing, loyal customer worse!

Thirdly, there is confusion about who should take responsibility for existing customers who want to change, manage and upgrade services. Should customer services, or care teams look after them? Or should it be sales groups? This doesn't matter to customers of course, but it does create organisational challenge for the business.

Finally, with a frequently changing front book, there is of course a constant confusion in the mind of customers, new and old, about what is the best service for them. Just thinking about choosing and buying mobile phone contracts, mortgages, broadband and energy services and so on makes me stressed out that I'm not currently rationally maximising myself.

All these challenges, plus a host of issues unique to the client we're working for, have come together in a perfect storm of (exciting) complexity in the project we're working on.

Our challenge - making the back book visible

So, now we get to the really complicated bit from a design point of view! Our challenge on the project I'm working on is to create a web based tool that enables existing customers to manage their service packages and extras, and upgrade and modify their choices. This means creating an interface that links the customers back book package details with the current front book service portfolio and prices.

No mean feat when you think that there's 63 potential front book configurations alone - I currently don't know how many back book configurations there are, but it will be a lot more than 63 if you think that marketing managers change the front book roughly every quarter, introduce several major new products throughout the year, promote seasonal offers and incentives and that the company has been selling these services for over a decade.

Above: Where the action is at the moment

In the past, the company has only really enabled existing customers to upgrade and manage their packages through the call centre for obvious reasons - firstly the call centre agents can act like sales people and try and persuade customers to buy more, secondly the call agents can mask the complexity and simply offer customers bundles, and make suggestions.

Of course, the design strategist in me says, 'just make the whole portfolio much simpler', but of course when you're trying to actually get something done, your realise that it just ain't that simple! There's a lot of vested interest in maintaining the back book (not to mention legal commitments), and marketing managers aren't going to stop coming up with new campaigns, offers, offerings and pricing strategies for the front book.

How will we solve the problem and design something that customers love to use?

I can't go into detail about the solution we're designing (partly because we're designing it right now!), although I should be able to revisit this article and link to the end result in about four months or so. However, I can discuss the approach to designing the solution.

Firstly, we have the classic challenge of having a lot of existing stuff that's already been designed that sets up the expectation that we'll reuse it. We have a 'tactical' release of the new tool, a tool described in the 'vision' programme, an enormous pile of business requirements and an associated tool that's already been designed for another stream on our project that we need to think about from a UI perspective. Thorny!

How to cut through this complexity? Unsurprisingly and rather un-excitingly we're going to use a User Centred Design process (delivered via a project level Agile methodology) that goes back to basics, and starts by figuring out what users actually do at the moment. Fortunately, as most of the processes contained within the tool are currently handled by the call centre we have a wealth of information about what customers are saying and doing.

Above: The design bit

From the insights gathered in the call centre we'll begin to develop some clear, user centred design principles aligned to some clear, realistic use cases to help govern decision making. We'll then start design work to sketch out journeys, scamps and concepts, process flows and so on, all the time working closely with our business analysts and technical architects to make sure our ideas are financially and technically feasible. Once we have the UX nailed the visual designers and developers can really get stuck in (although they'll be involved earlier of course). Standard stuff for anyone who's worked on software development projects - The challenge, as always, is to deliver a solution that actually works, on time.

In the process of doing this I hope to start talking more with the propositions and pricing teams about the current product portfolio and how we can use this project to support move towards a better front and back book relationship over time.

Some ideas to help service marketing get along well with service design

Taking a step back from this specific project, below I've outlined some of the lessons I'm drawing from this project that are relevant for the 'service designers' working on the pricing strategies, product and service roadmaps and marketing campaigns that shape the front and back book of a companies portfolio of propositions.

1. Design great services (and prices)
This seems trite, but the reason that marketing managers have to come up with wacky promotions, discounts and offers that end up creating front and back book headaches is because the services they are selling just aren't that useful, usable or desirable. The best thing that an organisation can do therefore is make sure that they are offering stuff that customers really want. Easy to say of course.

Prices and pricing structures are amongst the most important bits of services to design, but, in terms of the kinds of deliverables that I've seen from service design consultancies, I would say that the thing that is always missing is prices! This is partly because designers don't like numbers, but also because the client doesn't always like to reveal very sensitive information about pricing. But, if prices aren't designed and its left 'up to the business' it risks undoing all the good proposition and service design work as customers end up looking at a confusing front book price list and an even more complex back book.

2. Remember that customers experience and view services as part of a portfolio
Beyond designing great services that customers want, if you are working in an organisation that offers more than one service its really important that new service development occurs at a service and portfolio level - in other words don't conduct innovation in service delivery silos, and make sure there is a clear, portfolio level roadmap in place for your services, as well as individual roadmaps.

Your service portfolio is, to a large extent, how customers will perceive your company as a whole and it represents your story to customers - one that stretches back in time from the current front book offerings to the back book services that they are using. Make sure it makes sense as a journey - at the very least this provides clear upgrade paths for customers, and at the very best it creates a shared sense of forward movement between the brand and the customer. Think of the evolution of the Apple product and service portfolio. There you go.

3. Keep speaking to customers all the time
One of the great things about using a design-led approach to improving services is the very strong focus on users and their requirements as the principle anchor for decision making. Engaging users in innovation efforts at an early stage will, at the very least, ensure that overly complex ideas get culled quickly. There are of course many other benefits to staying close to the customer, but making sure that they are not confused by your portfolio is vital.

4. Keep it simple and focused
Simple and clear is easy to say and very, very hard to do. However, in a complex market like media and communications, simplicity, combined with great services cuts through quickly. In terms of an evolving portfolio of offerings, this of course means having clear principles and sticking to them - very clear service lines, with simple prices and a clear separation (ideally at the price level) between core services and any extras.

The best result for customers in terms of front and back book would, in my opinion, generally be just one price for everyone. In other words, existing customers pay whatever new customers are paying. Simple.

As mentioned above, messing about with prices, reducing them, re-configuring bundles and options and offering incentives like 'first three months free' and so forth and then making a massive fuss about it in advertising campaigns confuses new customers and irritates existing customers so they leave and you have to spend even more money reacquiring them - and it slowly makes your back book more and more complex to manage.

It also has a secondary negative impact on new customers, as provided they have got beyond any initial confusion, they are likely to wait before buying and hold out for the next, better deal.

Finally, the worst thing about complex, offer driven sales strategies and portfolios is of course that they encourage customers to focus on prices - and they build an expectation that prices will always be going down.

5. Build a strong brand to help protect margins and value
Brand is a tricky thing for service designers to engage with - it represents a tangled mess of everything that the company does and is perceived as doing. Thus, a strong brand is built on repeated great products and services (delivered through great innovation and operations), great marketing and great customer support, so saying 'build a strong brand' is like saying 'build a strong company'. It's a bit trite, and kind of what service design is all about too.

However, its worth reflecting on as a strong brand has two clear links to front and back book. Firstly, the more you mess with the front and back book and make changes that confuse the portfolio story or offer price reductions the more you erode the perception of the brand as something for customers to get behind and believe in. The flip side to this is that, the stronger your brand in the minds of customers, the more you can protect margins and prices and reduce the need for front book 'innovation' (i.e special offers, discounts and so on.)

6. Remember that service design is really an organisational challenge, which means you need to keep talking across the business as much as possible and keep sticking to your user centred guns!
This is a nice one to end on. The principle challenge in tidying up the front and back is not in coming up with a fancy framework for customers but in getting everyone that works in the business to agree to a common approach. I'll let you know how it goes!
January 20th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, example, servicemarketing / Trackback / Comments

photo.jpg Great bit of service design from Tesco in this bit of direct marketing that came through my letterbox - linking in-store and online elegantly and easily using a loyalty card. Helps customers move online, makes things easy, great graphics too! Simple. Love it.
January 14th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, example / Trackback / Comments

Big public service design ideas I'm big excited about right now

A complete blogging meltdown over the past few months. Hectic at work, and busy elsewhere with a range of plans and initiatives, not least the new site (I know, I know its not done). Anyway, thought I'd throw up a quick post about some of the big ideas that I've been getting big excited about recently, and that are finding their way into proposals and projectsI'm working on, or want to work on! They might seem a bit disjointed as I've copied bits from various email correspondence.

These ideas are generally bigger than 'service design' or design-led strategy for service organisations, but I hope they're exciting for anyone working on bringing design and design thinking to public sector innovation and reform. So, here they are:

Mutualising and atomising the public sector
Philip Blonds thesis, The Ownership State is one of the most interesting big ideas around at the moment. Read the report here.

Essentially he suggesting that any part of the public sector should be allowed to mutualise. I love the simplicity of the idea, but I'm sure there's an enormous sea of complexity to navigate to get there.

My dad has actually been working with some social workers in Kent to help setup employee owned 'social work practices' along the lines of GP practices, and he told me the biggest hurdle they're currently facing is pensions - just one example of the amazingly tangled, interconnectedness of public sector reform.

Treating public funds as social venture capital funds
Lee Bryant at Headshift has a fantastic idea (or at least he's fantastically eloquent at explaining it) to treat public sector IT budgets as venture capital funds - that is that they should expect a (social) return on investment, invest small amounts and scale up when they see success, and invest in entrepreneurs not companies.

This is in marked contrast to how IT budgets are currently spent, which is generally to contract out huge, highly specified projects to an elite group of very large companies. You can watch him explain it better than me here. (scroll down through the videos)

It seems to me that this model could work way beyond IT and would be a great way to conceptualise the role of the shrunken centre in Blond's ownership state model - Ministers and senior civil servants then become investment managers, responsible for nurturing social entrepreneurs by encouraging innovators to come to them in order to apply for funding. They then get rewarded for growing their investment portfolio, and each portfolio (aka ministry) could have a different investment focus (e.g security, health, etc). This would be in marked contrast to current managerial approaches.

Design as the bridge between innovative ideas and action
Engaging users in service design is hard. Blond says in his pamphlet, 'while engaging service users in new ways has long been considered desirable, it has proven extremely difficult to realise in practice'.

As many readers of this blog know, (many readers, hmm…) my work (and interests) focuses on bringing the tools and practices of designers and design organisations into the context of services.

I've found that many of the approaches used by designers to create new products (in particular interactive products) can be abstracted and easily translated into the context of services - examples include; the idea of user centred design and user research; the focus on the user experience of a design for evaluating success; the emphasis on small multi-disciplinary teams; the focus on turning problems into projects and rewarding/recognising people who work on the toughest projects; the focus on 'building to think' by creating prototypes of solutions and experiences and iterating them with users; and the idea of a 'design process' to guide a journey into the unknown - I could go on (and have done many times before!)

Roger Martin at the Rotman School of Management has a good paper of his that sums up the design thinking movement quite nicely (albeit very sales-y).

Hyperlocal media as a service for users and communities
Finally, I'm getting more and more fascinated by the power of hyperlocal media to connect and empower geographic community groups, and not just communities of practice. It seems to me that a good understanding of the role of media as a service to users (not a broadcast tool for organisations) is going to be vital to connecting together the various bits of the ownership state, connecting those bits into communities, and providing the low cost channels for service users to assert their ownership of the new public sector.

My local blog - 'Brockley Central' - is a great resource and hub for local people to raise issues, discuss local projects and initiatives and connect with other people in the community. I love it.

William Perrin is setting up a social enterprise funded by 4iP called 'talk about local' that is trying to connect together policy and people in this area. There's a good overview on his website (second video down)

So, they're the big ideas I'm big excited about, lots of other people are too, and I'm looking forward to 2010 when we can start smashing them together through projects and events! If you have any other big ideas that I should be big excited about, please tweet or put some links in the comments.
December 2nd, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, publicservices / Trackback / Comments

From Designing Services to Design in Services

This post is my first attempt to set down some of my thoughts on the difference between designing a service (or a multi-touchpoint experience that happens over time and involves the participation of user and provider), and the broader role of design in helping service orgnisations set strategy and organise how they manage their workforce and deliver their service to customers.

I think that the two activities are often confused - and with good reason because they are closely connected and most service design projects involve bits of both. However, I think that there are big differences between the two practices that have lots of implications for how we progress the practice, pitch and manage projects and ultimately teach service design to others.

Certainly, its been useful for me to mentally separate the two out over the past few years, and I don't claim to have all the answers here - this is an initial exploration and I very much welcome feedback and thoughts from everyone, either here or on Twitter.

The bare bones of my argument is that:

1 - There is an important difference between 'service design' and 'design-led strategy for services'

2 - Service design, or the design of multi-touchpoint experiences that happen over time and involve the participation of user and provider, is a challenging and seductive idea/practice for art school trained designers. It sounds like a great idea - design more of the experience a the same time and make more money from bigger projects!

3 - Service design requires different skills to other design disciplines, but it is not very far away from most user centred design practice - the biggest difference lies in the ambition of the service designer to design a 'total experience'. The core practice involves:
3.1 - Problem identification and definition
3.2 - Agreement on a Design Process
3.3 - Co-design (and research) activities with users and providers, either in the field or in workshops
3.4 - An iterative approach to experience prototyping through creative design activities that can take in any form of service touchpoint, including:
3.4.1 - Digital touchpoints
3.4.2 - Physical touchpoints
3.4.3 - People (person to person interactions)
3.4.4 - Business processes
3.4.5 - Marketing and proposition development
3.4.6 - Strategies and plans
3.5 - Specification of the final service design concept and the beginning of traditional design management processes in the case of traditional touchpoints

4 - Service design projects like this way are great for creating a unified vision of a total user experience, but they can not be delivered as total experience designs - they must be divided up and delivered as separate elements and thus can never be experienced as 'total experiences' for the customer.

5 - This is because service organisations are not setup to deliver innovative service designs across many touchpoints at the same time. And rightly so - if the whole organisation had to change all at the same time it would create a disastrous user experience.

6 - Instead, most service innovation happens organically across the organisation, and takes the form of small incremental changes that respond to customer demand. The problem is that this type of innovation is very inefficient (different teams responding to the same problem differently) and in turn creates confusing experiences. Which is why service managers commission connected 'service design' type projects to create a unified vision to work towards.

7 - And we're back at the beginning.

8 - Many agencies that have tried to deliver on big multi-channel mega service design projects (like IDEO and Engine) have realised that the challenge is not so much creating the unified vision of a service, but is in figuring out how to help everyone on the organisation to think of themselves as the designer of the organisation's service working towards that vision.

9 - In other words, the challenge is to help everyone appreciate that their service can be designed, and then to equip them with the ability to design it!

10 - Design-led strategy and capability building for service organisations is a more accurate way to describe this 'service design' practice.

11 - It's very different from the type of multi-touchpoint experience design practice described above (although it requires a good understanding of it, and the two types often piggy back off each other during client engagements) but it is closer to practices like 'management consulting', 'training' and 'change management'.

12 - There are various ways which 'design-led thinking' can help people who work in service improve their organisations and design better service experiences:
12.1 - Promoting the idea of an open design process that turns problems into projects
12.2 - Encouraging work in small multi-disciplinary teams
12.3 - Using the user-experience as the ultimate anchor for decision making
12.4 - Involving users in the creative process
12.5 - Visualising and prototyping ideas quickly
12.6 - Incentivising people to tackle the 'wickedest' problems

13 - A lot of these ideas are well articulated by the 'design thinking' community. One of the best ways to describe this kind of activity is to see it as the reversal of design management - from managing a design to managing as a design activity!

14 - These two different practices - service design and design-led strategy for service organisations - both of which are valuable, have very different requirements on the 'service designers' who work in consultancies and in service organisations

15 - In turn, this has deep implications for how service design is taught and how service designers, service design departments and service design studios position and pitch their practice

Clearly, there's more than a blog post in the argument above, and there's lots missing, not least examples examples examples (unfortunatley most of my Engine examples are confidential) and a lot more detail to the latter stages. and indeed the whole thing. However, I think its best to get the prototype out first, however jumbled and see what people think. What do you think? Is it worth separating these two types of activity out? Can practitioners do both? Do you have to do the first before being able to do the second? Hopefully this will lead to more specific posts in the future!
September 14th, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign, serviceinnovation / Trackback / Comments

Why is service design so heterogenous? And does it matter?

The practice of service design is seemingly pretty hard to define. Many different people have spent a long time trying to develop a working definition. (Indeed, as James pointed out to us at work this week the latest edition of Touchpoint spends a lot of time just trying to convince us/itself that service design is a real thing.)

Whilst efforts to define service design are to be applauded it always feels to me that they fall short on some aspect or another - either because they're too big and try to cram everything in, or because they're too small and personal.

At the same time, despite the differences of opinion about what service design is, more and more people are getting on with it and practicing service design. I'm starting to feel like an old hand to be honest. As a consequence of this, the implicit and explicit methods used by designers practicing service design are starting to be pretty well understood and documented.

So, if we're all busy service designing, why is it so hard to settle on a definition of what we're doing? I think, in part it's because we're asking the wrong question. Instead of asking 'what is the definition of service design?' we should be looking at ourselves and saying 'why are there so many different definitions and descriptions of service design that do work?!' In other words, why is service design so heterogenous?

I've put some thoughts below, and I'd love to get your feedback in the comments or on Twitter.

Framing the question

In his (excellent) book, From Products to Services, Laurie Young provides a useful matrix developed by Johnston and Clark that helps us to get a sense of the wide spectrum of what constitutes a service.

The matrix plots the number of buyers of the service processed by a typical unit per day against the amount of contact time, customisation and uniqueness provided per buyer/transaction. I've recreated the illustration below:

The difference between the services offered by service providers at different points on the spectrum is huge. At the top left of the diagram are completely bespoke, very low volume, very high margin professional services such as strategy consultancy and investment banking. At the bottom right are 'mass services' provided at huge scale with very tight margins and often driven by technology such as fast food restaurant services or a web service. The margins, approach to market, types of people employed and relationships with customers vary enormously between these two extremes of 'service'.

There is a natural tendency for firms at both ends of the spectrum to move towards the middle of the matrix.

As professional service firms become more experienced and meet similar problems several times the solutions become more standardised, are given names and provided as 'products' on a bigger scale. Young calls these 'professional service shops'. At this point other suppliers come in to provide the offer and eventually the approach can become commonplace and can be captured in software, trained in academies and eventually undertaken by clients themselves.

At the other end of the scale, mass service firms are always trying to differentiate their commodity offers by providing customers with better experiences, more flexibility and customisation (at scale) which allows them to increase prices without increasing costs, thus boosting margin. This is often done through leveraging data and technology.

So what?

Buried in here, I think, is the reason that service design is so heterogenous, and within that answer to the paradox of service design being hard to define, yet the practice of service design being pretty well understood.

Looking again at the matrix, where do we put the service of providing service design consultancy? It's in the top left - a professional service that is very bespoke and customised to suit the needs of clients down to the very last detail. I know this because I've pitched, won and run many service design projects, and every single one has been different, has involved large amounts of client contact and is always adjusted to suit the changing needs of the client as the project progresses.

On the other hand, looking again at the matrix, where do we put the majority of the services designed by service design consultancies? They're in the bottom right.

Most service design projects I've worked on are for large service providers looking to differentiate and improve a mass service offering. There are of course lots of exceptions to this rule. Many projects undertaken at Engine are about helping our clients improve their own internal service innovation capacity - a top left service to design a top left service!

Anyway, I'm wandering off track. The point is that the service of service design itself is a highly bespoke, high margin, capability and experience focussed offer, that is constantly being tuned to suit the needs of the client. Richard K. Lyons, head of innovation at Goldman Sachs (a very, very top left service provider), talks about service innovation in professional services being 'fluid and continuous' and largely built upon lots of small micro interactions with a client/customer that over time leads to significant and very distinct knowledge about that customer's needs, and a lot of small discreet innovations to support those needs.

I think this explains why its hard to say exactly what service design is - because as far as I'm concerned, when I'm trying to win a piece of new business, service design is simply the solution to a clients problem, and when I'm running a project and managing a client I'll do (design) whatever I think is the right thing to keep them happy! Thus, the heterogeneity we see in service design is actually just a symptom of the heterogeneity we see in people who are clients for service design, and our need to constantly tune our offer to suit their specific requirements.

Perhaps this is a very particular view of service design, one bought about by the fact that the projects we do at Engine are generally 'strategic' in nature, in that they often focus on the big picture and are generally about creating big plans (although we do design touch points and service specifications too).

There are other consultancies out there that have a more focused definition of what service design is, but that's because they have a more focussed definition of who their customers are - for example mobile service design company Fjord.

What next?

Over time, I fully expect some parts of the service design offer to become more commoditised, and move down the spectrum towards the 'professional service shop' point. Some obvious candidates include multi-channel customer experience auditing and journey mapping and the development of on brand customer service behaviours.

Nonetheless, I also expect service designers who are interested in tackling the biggest, wickedest most complex problems will continue to innovate their offerings to clients, and therefore continue to outpace our ability to actually pin down what they're doing in a simple definition. Promising fields here include transformation design (as I see it a kind of internal organisational / change management design discipline) and designing for behaviour change across all design disciplines.

In the end, I don't think we should be surprised to see a lot of heterogeneity in service design. Heterogeneity is a strength, not a weakness - it allows service design agencies (and service designers) to constantly reframe their offer, adapt quickly to the market and tackle the most interesting, most complex challenges. Pinning all of that into a simple definition seems rather silly really.

What do you think? Does this fit with your experiences of designing services? Let me know here or on Twitter!
May 9th, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking / Trackback / Comments

Service Design Signposts for the Week

This week in the world of service design the big news was that the Service Design Network relaunched their website! Lots of new material, but the good stuff is in the printed journal Touchpoint, which isn't online. Weird.

In other news about print, Tim has written a book about design thinking called 'Change by Design'. Meanwhile, back in the UK Matthew has been thinking about what makes a pro-social council. There’s lots of practical tips, well worth a read for those working on public sector service design projects.

Elsewhere Sophia pointed to some great articles (featuring her work) on how local government’s innovation capacity is slowly improving. Meanwhile Joel found a nice video about the types of people you need to create good innovation teams.

Meanwhile Stephen was busy seducing us with principles for creating seductive services, and Jeff was interviewing Paul Robare on his health service design work in the US.

Mark (at Experientia) pointed us to a report on different types of co-creation and when and where to use them. James wrote a post on service innovation 'not to loose', rather than service innovation to win. An interesting idea, but not one that consultants can really sell. Well worth a read.

Mark (at 31volts) created some nice diagrams for a post where he explores the design of 'off-stage' business experiences. Service Untitled featured a guest post from Chip n’ John on creating 'Imaginative Services'. Finally, Bloomberg reported on an innovation programme by some of the world’s oldest professional service providers.
May 3rd, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign / Trackback / Comments

Some service design signposts for the week

Last week, John Carroll wrote an excellent, readable overview of the emergence of HCI and UX in the computer science world. Many people see service design as growing out of interaction design paradigms and John’s overview of where interaction design and user experience design came from is a must read.

Meanwhile, Experientia pointed to a New York Times article that shows just how far corporate ethnography has come. Intel will invest $250,000,000 in it in the home based health care market over the next five years as a result of it's ethnography studies in the field. Speaking of numbers, Live|work posted a case study about their work with an insurance company with a simple, eye catching statistic - 30% increase in sales. At the other end of the service design spectrum, Hillary Cottam of Participle wrote a long article called 'Only the Lonely' (pdf) about their work with older people in Westminster.

Stateside, Jeff wrote a nice piece on how video game strategy guides can inspire service design and David Armano was thinking about how the recession + social media = new reality for marketing (and making) stuff and services. Backing Armano's thesis up, Adam points us to a lovely piece of nerdy experience design/social marketing around the Star Trek film.
April 13th, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign, practice / Trackback / Comments

Designing Service Design Principles

'Principles' are a very common feature of most service design projects. Many people have even posited meta-principles (see Bove/Fullerton and Evenson) to help guide the development of services.

Principles appear at different stages of a project and can be used in a variety of different ways. Being able to develop useful principles is, in my opinion, a core skill for all service designers. In order to be able to develop effective principles its important to understand:

  • the value and purpose of principles;
  • the differences between different types of principles;
  • when and where to use these different principle types during projects;
  • the creative process that leads to effective principles; and,
  • how to decide if your principles are indeed effective.

Below I've outlined some of my experiences developing service principles. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send 'em straight via Twitter!

What are principles and why are they important in service design?

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm assuming that principles are creative generalisations that form the basis of further reasoning or conduct. Normally, these are expressed as short sentences, and sometimes even single words. Often they are supported by a longer sentence. Generally they come in sets (often between 3 and 7), ideally they are easy to remember (sometimes they are even mnemonic).

Importantly, service design principles are creative, that is they are not like scientific principles which are provable and explanatory, but rather they are intended to provoke further thought and reflection, within a set of creative parameters. Some example principles, for very different parts of different projects could include:

  • "Swift. Journey's with us are quick and seamless. There's everything you need and nothing you don't."
  • "Show appreciation. When a customer does something, smile and thank them for it!"
  • "Progressive disclosure. Only reveal details when the user requests them, but if details are requested, don't hide anything"

Good Service design principles are like miniature, robust, flexible briefs. Like all good briefs, they should both inspire and regulate decision making within the design and service programme. All designs generally benefit from an underlying order that creates an extensible logic for creativity (examples include grid systems or 'design language'), but principles are especially important in service design activity because:

  • Services are intangible and principles provide an anchor for thinking. This is especially true for service design projects focussed on behaviour and staff where there are almost no 'traditional' design touchpoints.
  • Services are designed and implemented by different teams. Designing and delivering services is the responsibility of lots of different groups. Managing design across different channels and touchpoints is challenging and principles provide a shared platform for design evaluation and reflection.

Ironically, generalising about the purpose and benefits of principles is difficult, as there are some very different types of principles used throughout the service design process.

How principles change through a project

The purpose of principles change throughout a project, and in my experience it is rare to carry the same principles all the way through the different stages of a design project. Very broadly speaking there are three different types of principles which mirror the three very broad phases of the service design process - research, design and delivery. Lets examine each of these in turn.

1. Research principles
Research principles are created during the synthesis stages of a research programme. Once observations and insight have been gathered about the service, context or users/providers they are interrogated by the team and patterns and connections are drawn out. The purpose of research principles is to summarise common behaviours, needs, attitudes and so forth into succinct phrases that can be used to inspire further design activity.

Research principles are not findings. The main difference between principles and findings is that research principles are not answers or end points in a process, but are instead a launch pad for further creativity. For example, the statements 'one quarter of users take up three quarters of staff attention' and 'half of users have needs that could be better solved by staff than signage' are findings, whereas 'reduce asymmetric attention' might be a research principle.

Sarah B. Nelson of Adaptive Path has a great essay on how to draw up these principles, which she calls 'design criteria'. As she says: "There’s an art to drawing [design criteria] up. They should give a design team clear direction, while leaving it room to explore different approaches to each problem. And they have to be clear and concise, but neither so reductive that they’re open to broad interpretation, or so abstract that they don’t suggest concrete solutions."

Research principles form a natural coda to the research phases of projects, and they act as a series of mini-briefs going forward into design activity.

2. Design principles
Design principles occur at a later stage in the project, and are normally derived from research principles and concept design activity, and they have important differences. Firstly, design principles are often intended for a more 'traditional' design audience once the overall service design concept has been developed; perhaps a graphic designer who's been commissioned to do some specific signage design work or an interior designer required to do a detailed concept for a service environment. The best principles work across multiple touchpoints.

Secondly, they are generally more focussed on describing how a service element should appear or feel rather than the getting at the functionality of the service itself. for example, our 'reduce asymmetric attention' principle may be evolved into more focused principles such as 'assume illiteracy', 'explain every step' and 'highlight delays'. These kind of principles are most common in service design projects that are essentially multi-channel design projects.

3. Service delivery principles
The final category of principles are used during the operation of the service by managers and service providers. These are often developed with staff and customers through a participatory (or co-design) process. These kind of principles are unique to service designs - whereas research and design principles are found in all types design projects.

The crafting of service delivery principles is a design activity within itself. Not only because the principles need to be easily memorised and useable by staff, but also because to be truly effective they need to be integrated into many parts of the operation - for example by linking them to KPI's or incentives. An example of a service delivery principle could be 'take responsibility' or 'be personal.'

Hang on! What about brand values?

Many people who spend a lot of time thinking about brands would argue that brand values fulfill a lot of the functions of service delivery principles. In my opinion, there are several key differences. Firstly, brand values are essentially focussed on communication, and although this is a vital part of service delivery it is just one part. Secondly, and somewhat paradoxically, brand values are also less focussed in that they treat the entire brand (or organisation) as the domain for the principles, whereas service delivery principles are just for a specific service. However, if they are service delivery principles to be used by the whole organisation, and that organisation's core competence is delvering a customer service then it is hard to discern where the two types of principle begin and end.

Certainly, well written and thoughtful brand values are a vital input into the development of any service, particularly where the service delivery is about tone of voice and style. Any service delivery principles should never contradict any brand values - if they do someone's doing a bad job somewhere.

How do you create good principles?

In my experience, creating principles is more art than science, and improves with experience. It always takes longer than you think, is mainly composed of arguement and debate between the project team, and requires a unique methodology for each project. However, there are several useful pointers that I can say have worked for me when creating principles at different points during projects:

1. Get the basics out the way quickly
There are some kind of banal principles that always crop up in all service design activity that really just describe the basics of a good experience and don't provide much grit to get hold of or any level of differentiation (although doing the basics brilliantly is a very hard trick to master!). Nonetheless, brilliant basics is an operational challenge and not always that useful to concentrate on during creative concept design phases. I find it's best to get these basic principles of the way early, so start by writing down words like simple, clear, seamless, transparent, sustainable, desirable and efficient etc. on the wall before you even get started.

2. Make it visual and make sure its structured
You need a big wall, with lots of space for post-its and writing. Ideally, you'll be working from a structured research output such as a journey map, personas or other material. Just sticking stuff on a wall randomly isn't going to get you anywhere. You should also be ruthless with time, otherwise you'll be there all day. Or week.

3. Work in a group of three
I've got no evidence here, but I find that three is the best number for debating and reflecting. Three means that one person can be thinking and scribbling whilst the others talk, and there's no weird silences when you worry you've 'lost it', which can happen in a pair.

5. Focus on the end user experience
Try to stay focussed on 'what it means for the experience'. Don't get lost in abstract words and concepts, instead always try to ground the principles (or suggestions for principles) in examples of how the principle would be translated into a tangible experience (sometimes called a use case).

4. Avoid single word principles
Single words are rarely expressive enough, and smack of advertising a-ha! moments. Instead, go for 2-3 words or short sentences. It's easier to boil down further later, rather than boil up once you've forgotten what 'diligent' was really meant to refer to.

How to judge success?

Generally, you just know when you've got the right principles, although you of course need experience of working with principles to know what's right. It's a bit chicken and egg. The most important proof is whether your audience (designers, clients, service providers and so on) think they are correct. You can improve the chances of this happening by involving them in the process of developing the principles, and making sure that they are seen as 'in iteration' for a period of time - although you'll have to lock them down at some point otherwise they're not principles.

The biggest proof is in the end-user pudding. Once the service design is operational, what kind of words and phrases to users use to describe their experience? Do they match the intent behind the principles? Users normally just say 'very nice' or 'really easy' or 'quite clear' and so on, so it's important that you control for different types of user and are creative in the methods you use to understand user sentiment.

Hopefully this has been a useful quick glance over the role of principles in designing services. If you have any experiences you'd like to share, or any other comments or suggestions for further reading and so on I'd love to hear about them in the comments or on Twitter!

**All images taken from the much neglected 'Daily Post-it blog' that I run/ignore**
April 5th, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign, practice / Trackback / Comments

designdrinksflyer2.png Service Design Drinks Take 3! 24th April, London Town, after work. Email me to RSVP. Last time and the time before it was great. This time it will be even better!
April 3rd, 2009 / Tags: servicedesign, drinks / Trackback / Comments

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