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

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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