Palindromic structure of service design

I am desperately trying to find much simpler ways to convey how service design works. Here is one of my recent simplifications. And it is a simplification that intentionally errs toward over-simplification. It not precisely, exactly accurate, but it is directionally true and helps illuminate the logic of the methodology. It is a helpful heuristic.

The structure of service design is palindromic. That is, it has a mirror structure. It goes 1-2-3-4, then 4-3-2-1.

The first motion is understanding what the current state of the service is.

The second, reversed motion is one of instaurating what the future state of the service ought to be.

First understand:

  • 1. Understand the current organizational capabilities.
  • 2. Understand the deployment of these capabilities in the current service delivery.
  • 3. Understand the current experience of those who receive, deliver and support the experience.
  • 4. Understand where the opportunities are: what should and can change.

Then, in reverse order:

  • 4. Prioritize the opportunities: what should and can change.
  • 3. Envision a better future experience of those who receive, deliver and support the experience.
  • 2. Design a future service delivery capable of actualizing the better service experience.
  • 1. Develop the capabilities required to support the better service.

Above, I linked to an old post, a lengthy excerpt from Bruno Laour’s An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. As apt a term as “instauration” (discovery-creation) is in any truly creative act, it is even more true in service design, where an organization providing a service is dependent on voluntary actors choosing to participate in a way that sustains the service — as opposed to refusing to participate in the service, or participating in a way that undermines the service.

…we find ourselves in a strange type of doubling or splitting during which the precise source of action is lost. This is what the French expression faire faire — to make (something) happen, to make (someone) do (something) — preserves so preciously. If you make your children do their vacation homework assignments, you do not do them yourselves…

As any leader knows, even employees must be persuaded to participate in their employment. But in service design, often much of the service is delivered by partners, many of whom are not under the control of the organization. Participating in the service must be valuable to them or they will opt out or lame out.

Service design wins participation in service systems by designing for mutual benefit. It instaurates conditions where win-win interactions spontaneously occur between service actors.

And this is the single biggest difference between service design and other experience design disciplines, for example, user experience and customer experience. Service design is like them, in that those people who receive the service (whether we call them users, or customers, or consumers or patients, etc) are supposed to find that experience a good experience. That is, the design is functionally helpful, easy to understand and interact with and, hopefully, resonates with their aesthetic and moral ideals. But service design is just as concerned with the experiences of those people on the front lines, actually delivering the service. And it is also concerned with the experiences of people behind the front lines who support that service.

Services are optimally effective when they serve everyone who participates in the service — receiving the service, delivering the service and supporting the service. And, I should add: They must also work for those sponsoring the service. That is, the service must help the sponsoring organization flourish.

In the near future I’ll be posting more and more on service design. I am taking a class on designing online courses, and my project will be to design an actual course, “What is Service Design, and What Does It Do?”

I am absolutely convinced that the praxis of service design is a path to a much better way to work, live and experience life. I would love to see service design become mainstream and become our next collective enworldment, at least for everyday life.

Leave a Reply