15 mai 2020

The essentials of a Service Design project

This is our first 10-point edition of what we consider to be the Essentials of a Service Design project. In other words, the 10 fundamentals that should not be ignored in the vast majority of projects if they are to be successful. If you bring a project to us, these are the 10 principles for which you will always see us rise up as one man or woman because we are convinced (and passionate) about their importance to your project.

par Matthieu Savary

There are many definitions of Service Design. Some are very specific, such as the one by the Dutch company 31 Volts; some are more general and theoretical, such as the definition coined by Birgit Mäger, a German academic and pioneer in the field, who can be found on Wikipedia.

At User Studio, we like both versions. Service design is about making a service experience more human, smarter and more enjoyable when it has little or no meaning for its users. It is both an intellectual and a tangible approach, both deductive and sensitive, which makes it possible to create a strong link between all the elements of this experience throughout a user’s interaction with the service.

A service designer is involved in an integral way during a service creation or improvement project:

  • strategically in terms of defining the value proposition of the service in question, in line with the objectives of the beneficiary organisation (company, community, etc.)
  • operationally, in the detailed design of products, digital interfaces, spaces (the so-called ‘touchpoints’) or in defining professions and organisations

Therefore, in order to do Service Design, a constant balance must be maintained between a capacity for strategic vision and state-of-the-art creative and technical know-how. Specifically, this is reflected in the profiles and, above all, in the teams where designers are not “just designers”, but rather they complement each other's skill sets: well versed in business model issues, developers, model-makers and prototypists, explorers of the future of work, health specialists, creative technologists, etc. Teams that also know how to dialogue with professionals in a variety of specialities and understand their constraints so they can make better use of their knowledge and expertise. In a nutshell, humanists, as defined by Diderot.

This is our first 10-point edition of what we consider to be the Essentials of a Service Design project. In other words, the 10 fundamentals that should not be ignored in the vast majority of projects if they are to be successful. If you bring a project to us, these are the 10 principles for which you will always see us rise up as one man or woman because we are convinced (and passionate) about their importance to your project.

Let's take this hypothesis: you are our future client and you have a project to present to us.

The cover of "Indispensables"

1. Take a chance on innovation!

Innovation through service design is risky. So risky that you could find yourself at the end with a brand-new service that is enjoyable for its users, that costs less to maintain and that unites a team around a core vision. So risky that it might lead to the conclusion that you have to see and do things completely differently from what you originally thought.

All right, enough of the sarcasm! Actually, the only risk you really take is that of not knowing, right from the start, what you're going to find at the end of the road. Unfortunately, or not, this is part and parcel of creation and innovation: you can't know in advance what you're going to end up with. We have carried out hundreds of innovation projects, large and small, in many sectors, and the conclusion is always striking: we did not expect to create what we created..

This is part and parcel of creation and innovation: it’s impossible to know in advance what you’re going to end up with.

To find out more about the return on investment of designing services, our article tells you (almost) everything you need to know: The ROI of Service Design.

2. No project without a vision, no vision without you

No matter how far along it is, no matter how strategic, no matter how concrete or esoteric, a project cannot exist without a vision. Whether we are talking about positioning, a mission, a main objective, values, a target... it is a question of knowing why you are doing this project in this specific context.

And it's just as well! Having a strong vision is the missing parameter in the overwhelming majority of unsuccessful projects. You can count on us - our job is to help you define this great vision. If you hire us, it’s because as service designers we are committed to getting to the root of the requests that come to us, extracting their raison d'être, their underlying intentions, and how they will work to improve things.

This is also why we need you before, during and after our work on your project to co-create the vision, the value proposition, and support it through to completion.

Having a strong vision is the missing parameter in the overwhelming majority of unsuccessful projects

3. User research, guaranteed to save time

To start a project, we invariably carry out a user research phase: a sequence of opportunity studies, field analysis, user observation and stakeholder interviews all at once (just that!).

For us service designers, our approach to user research is pragmatic: we don't do it just for the art, as a gesture or to acquire general knowledge (although we welcome it when it comes our way!). It's never an end in itself. When we choose to carry out a series of user research studies, it’s with the aim of understanding the relationship between users and a product or service in order to improve all or part of it, if necessary. Or to create a new one.

At User Studio, user research is also an essential tool for understanding and getting to grips with the context of use. For your project in particular, it’s a question of us grasping your business context, of understanding the issues of your users by observing and interviewing them, and understanding what they really do with your service. But it also allows us to immerse ourselves in a universe whose many parameters will only become apparent to us later on, and will only reveal themselves to us when we have already largely begun our proposal work. Each observation is a source of inspiration, an opportunity for innovation. This is why it is usually our designers themselves who carry out these observations and interviews. As external contributors, with a fresh eye on the subject and a cross-cultural background, they see things differently and ask some genuinely new questions.

Each observation is a source of inspiration, an opportunity for innovation.

Of course, the approach has its limits: participant observation which distorts what is observed; lack of representativeness; limited quantitative value; hazards or security standards which keep us at a distance; confidentiality or sensitive information which hinders our work... we can never gain access to everything. We will not come up with figures, trends and statistics that will have the value of universal truths: but we will draw qualitative beliefs and insights, anecdotes and verbatims from situations that we have experienced or that we have been told about first-hand, that no telephone survey or Google form will be able to match. On many subjects, thirty minutes alone, face-to-face with a police officer in his office at the station tells you more about the life of a police officer than 100 questionnaires filled out in a hurry at lunch by his colleagues.

And contrary to all expectations, after 5 quality interviews, very few new lessons are learned. In this case, in order to innovate, we will concentrate on a small number of profiles, the atypical profiles of "extreme users". Through them, we will identify weak points that will inspire us to create new offers.

This approach will allow us to avoid dealing with a pre-identified need or problem, but rather focus on issues that make sense in the context you provide, and give us the opportunity to work on creating an attractive value proposition for real users. It's a bit like going to the doctor for a sore throat: we always prefer the doctor to examine us before prescribing medicine that might not be right for us.

In short, give us the means to carry out the most extensive user research possible: even if sometimes you don't feel you are learning much, even if sometimes you have to jump through hoops to get interviews with your users, your project will benefit greatly from this grassroots connection and it will save us all a lot of time!

Working to create an attractive value proposition for real users.

4. Creativity, the real way to stand out

Creativity is one of the pillars for differentiating your product or service. Indeed, the entire history of innovation bears witness to this.

What is complicated about creativity is that it cannot be prescribed. It is fuelled by influences and references. It can be maintained and worked on. It is expressed in all stages of the designers’ work, as long as it is given free rein.

More specifically, it calls for an iterative, non-linear work process that can break away from the originally defined methodology when necessary. You have to search, try, try again, do it often, and often realise that you have gone too far, then start again from scratch. Starting from scratch because it’s often by questioning absolutely everything that we reaffirm previously held beliefs, and the concept is enriched with elements gleaned from each iteration.

We must allow ourselves to go off the beaten track, to look beyond what technology and finances can provide, to venture beyond what is reasonable.

To be creative on a project, you must also know how to put the cart before the horse. Drawing initial formal insights very early on can indeed lead to a very enriching contribution to the 'upstream' phases of defining a value proposition or a concept. Even if theoretically, this is doing things a bit backwards.

Finally, creativity requires an open mind... and time. We know that it is not easy to defend it, that it is sometimes an arm wrestle with the most Cartesian minds! Indeed, in order for creativity, inventiveness and imagination to be expressed, we have to think outside the box, to look beyond what technology and finances can provide, to venture beyond what is reasonable. You also have to allow yourself to shift deadlines, to be a little less rushed, to aim for the highly creative medium term rather than the poor short term. We never came up with the best concepts in a one-day workshop. We need time to be able to make proposals, to take the project beyond the expected scope.

5. Technical feasibility, a compass we like to keep in mind

We never ignore technical issues, the feasibility of the concepts and designs we create. The make-up of our team supports this assertion: it includes professional creative technologists and several designers capable of accurately integrating semi-functional prototypes. In addition, all our designers are experienced in working with developers.

Therefore, we typically consider the Agile approach with the utmost interest. It is even, in its philosophy, a modus operandi that inspires us: iteration, the ability to move forward by doing, collaborative creation, workshops... these are expressions that speak to us.

And we are well aware that having a procedure in place where everyone plays their part is reassuring, particularly for project managers, product owners and organisational consultants, whose work is made easier.

However, although making work easier and reassuring everyone is positive, keeping a critical mind is also important: we always remain particularly attentive to the way in which the Agile approach is implemented - and in general how any technology development approach is implemented.

We always pay particular attention to the way in which [...] any technology development process is implemented

As the cornerstone of service creation in France, and the alpha and omega of many of our clients' strategic decisions, we have very often noted that the predominance of technology over all other project components undermines efforts to step back and take in the vision for the products and services that are produced. Typically, staying focused and consistent is a particularly difficult task when our designers are called in to build a project conceptually and formally while it is being developed in parallel, due to cost effectiveness and the availability those involved. Not to mention the users’ point of view, which can be neglected by the technical imperatives that move forward crushing everything in their path. And let’s not forget the time wasted on all sides, because a decision was not made to pause the development of certain features until their design had been finalised. It's all a question of finding the right balance!

6. The workshops and the joint reference framework they create

Our workshops, whether they are feedback workshops or creative workshops, are a great opportunity to unite your team behind observations from the field or from our work, and concepts created together with you.

On the one hand, the ideas that emerge during the workshop will inspire our creative work later on: it is a question of understanding the issues, the constraints of each of the stakeholders that will impact on the final product, as well as capturing insights, needs, ideas, and beliefs. This valuable work will form the basis for our future creative work on your project.

On the other hand, it’s also an effective way of getting your teams to talk to each other, to understand their common challenges, to create a vocabulary and a common reference framework. It’s a unifying experience that brings all the stakeholders to the table. This is a fundamental reason why it’s important to think collectively and systematically about who to invite to the workshop, but also how the workshop should inform the rest of the project. It’s easy to understand that the absence of a key figure at a key workshop organised at a key moment complicates the project’s progress... its uptake will not be as good, and potentially, in a worst-case scenario, subsequent creations will be hindered or even rejected due to a lack of ownership or sense of involvement. Therefore, it is crucial to invite decision-makers or financial backers to pivotal meetings, such as validation and production launch meetings, as well as workshops. Despite, at times, the difficulty of asking them!

It’s a unifying experience that brings all the stakeholders to the table.

7. Working on the form, synthesising the vision

It will not have escaped your attention that we are designers. If you hire us, naturally it’s so we can think about your innovation or product and service improvement needs, but also so that we can create the most successful, intelligent and beautiful version of these. So that we can see it through to completion.

Because the design of a product or service cannot be improvised or neglected. It is the concrete, tangible result of a project, the essence of a vision - and it is essentially what makes it a desirable product or service in the eyes of its future users (or not desirable at all!).

Form is part of our vocabulary as designers. At every stage of our work, formatting comes into play: use scenarios, sketches, wireframes, graphic universes, branding…So much so that drawings, models and even prototypes are our main design tools. We use them in an iterative process, alternating between sketches, realistic renderings, plans, interactive samples... an organic way of grasping your subject, working on it, creating, presenting our ideas, bouncing ideas off each other, displaying a future that doesn’t yet exist, or even concretely supporting a strategic discussion with your financial backers.

The form is the concrete, tangible result of a project, the synthesis of a vision.

In this way, we work on your project step by step, validating all the stages with you, from the concept sketch to the realistic formatting.

8. Kinematics and the desire they evoke

The world around us, in which we live, exists only in time. Each of our acts, however insignificant, takes place within a period of time that is perceptible to humans. It implies a movement, however small, that unfolds, by nature, in time. In practical terms, a door that we "operate" can be open or closed but assumes all the intermediate positions to pass from one state to the other. You might well say that we’re not saying anything new here!

Except that in the world of coloured pixels brought to our fingertips by the screens we use, things often appear or disappear instantly, at least from the point of view of our perceptive abilities. In terms of an experience, it isn’t great. Where our flesh-and-blood humanity expects to be satisfied, gratified by a sophisticated disappearing act, the abrupt closing of a window can be frustrating - at least subconsciously as you’re left wondering "Where has that window gone?” On the flip side, a pop-up notification on an electric scooter rental app to tell us that the machine is ready for use is particularly enjoyable. Even if it turns out the message itself was less pleasant!

As good service designers, we take care to make all movements and transitions seamless.

As good service designers, we take care to make all movements and transitions seamless. Whether this is the moment you spot a scooter, the moment you scan it, the moment you pay, the moment you ride on it, the moment you stop... We believe that this attention to kinematics is one of the essential steps in any service design project where the experience must be human and create desire - in other words, all our projects.

To find out more about the design of kinematics in (digital) services, read our article on the subject: Designing kinematics: a passing fad (FR) ?

9. Prototyping and the guarantees it provides

From kinematics to interactions, there is only one step... so to speak. In fact, interactions are at least as crucial as the kinematics in the uptake of a digital service, given that they embody the experience for the users, in the true sense of the term. They make the famous 'touchpoints' of the service - the handles of the service, in order words - (almost) physical. This is reflected in the way a button reacts when clicked or tapped, in the way a coupon tears along the dotted lines, the way an advisor answers the phone... interactions with a service are multiple and infinitely multifaceted. Just like real life, in fact!

Their importance is particularly noticeable when we look at the door handle, for example, which we opened and closed while talking about kinematics earlier. The handling of it, in terms of the way it feels in your hand, the way it fits in your palm, the resistance it offers when you want to move it, and many other parameters, are all interactions that industrial designers must pay attention to.

These interactions embody the user's experience.

In order to take care of these interactions, and guarantee the soundness and ergonomics of our recommendations, we have to prototype the interactions we design, especially digital ones, in order to make it possible to test them in conditions that are as close as possible to how they will be used for real. By making these prototypes, however rudimentary, we guarantee a high level of uptake by future and current users and help your internal teams to take ownership of their future product. For developers in particular, this is an ideal way to visualise and share the vision of what they will be programming.

10. Each project has its own method!

By way of conclusion, and this goes somewhat against the grain, and is even commercially counterproductive if not explained well: design is not a method. It gets worse: there is no standard method for innovating through design!

However, and this is the point, we do things methodically... with many methods. Depending on the project and in a very personalised manner, we call on the many skills that our designers and partners have developed over the years: ethnography, facilitation, change management, business modelling, motion design, digital prototyping, development monitoring, electronics, agile approach, etc. It is the hallmark of our process as designers to draw inspiration from approaches, methods, techniques and knowledge from the living, creative laboratory that we have before our eyes (the world around us!) in order to create a strong and coherent vision. In other words, we are not a toolbox, we are not specialists in everything but, if we had to define ourselves as experts in something, we could call ourselves experts in making everything consistent.

Design is not a method.

With this objective of consistency in mind, the project managers at User Studio are the same designers who will actually work on your project. This is a particularly effective way of adjusting the management and methodology on an ongoing basis so that they match the needs that we discover as we go along, as closely as possible. This “homemade” particularity makes our designers the best experts in innovation methodology through service design.

To find out more about design and method, read our article that puts our position into perspective regarding our profession, with regard to practices currently in vogue: can design be considered a method?

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