Service design…..who are we designing for?

Caucasian female workshop participant drawing and using sticky notesWhat do Sticky notes and a rubber chicken have in common? The possibility to change the world of course!

Service Design thinking, for those who haven’t heard of it, is an interdisciplinary approach that offers great value for entrepreneurs and innovators in the field of services. Design thinking can help solve organisational problems, drive meaningful innovations and inform business strategies.

It is not about creating products, but creating services – intangibles that hinge upon experience and emotion. It is a multi-disciplinary approach to solving problems by using ethnographic research as a basis for business decision-making. Ethno-what? I hear you say? More on that in a minute.

Armed with sticky notes, and rubber chickens, Marc Stickdorn, Service Design guru, and co-editor of ‘This Is Service Design Thinking’, thinks we can better design services that meet the needs of our citizens by applying the approach of design thinking.

Late last week in an impromptu visit to the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Marc and his collaborator, Damien Kernahan from proto partners ran a ½ day ‘train the trainer’ style workshop for Innovation staff.

After trying hard not to groove to Flo-rider at the board room table, we quickly jumped into our first ‘project’ – design an online bank for pre-schoolers. This is not as easy as it sounds, but in four hours, using the methodologies of design thinking, our three groups had come up with some pretty tangible ideas for our future bankers.

Back to ethnographic research. In designing government services we tend to rely on demographic data, and professional intuition about who our stakeholders are. But are we getting it right? We quickly learned, that while this data has a role, it may also have a tendency to lead us up the wrong path in designing the services we offer.

For example, we might design a service for a man, born in 1948, who has two kids, is wealthy, lives in an affluent area and drives a nice car. Are we designing the service for Prince Charles – or Ozzy Osbourne?

By creating data-driven personas we are able to better design services with the client in mind, and engineer positive ‘touch points’ with the people we provide services to. If you are interested in finding out more about service design thinking check out

If you are on Twitter, check out #servicedesign and #designthinking or follow Marc @MrStickdornPaper charts hanging on the wall showing the customer journey map

Posted in Innovation in Practice, Innovation Theory and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I was just thinking about this one while replying over at

    It occurred to me that the question should be “who are we designing with?” As you say, somewhere between understanding the behaviour of a demographic and intuition, every designer will see the required design of a service through their the perspective of their profession. In my own area of interest, – trying to comprehend network design – this gets really messy because of the two perspectives.

    Rather than rave, let me ust cut and paste my reply to designing online engagement courses for the aps. I have to leave out the links unfortunately as this blog isn’t designed like agimo’s….

    If govspace goes through the usual evolution of gov’s communicating with their citizens, we can expect a range of, where xxx = agency or department, where the usual reply is no more than ...

    ... “thank you for your input, we’ve taken it onboard, etc, etc”.

    After that is seen not to be engaging, we’ll have a plethora of attempts, ranging from (e.g.) employing an ‘outside firm‘ to running an internal ‘social media’ team, to various approaches at engagement around topics.

    Finally, we’ll come to where we are today; trying to come up with a citizen-centric approach, where some citizens are insiders (of different agencies) and others are outsiders (common citizens). The only difference between … them will be the level of authentication (in being able to access a service) applied to this registration.

  2. Great post! A very informative article. Look forward for more.

  3. All companies have certain rules and regulations that they follow, because it’s only through discipline that you can run your processes and business smoothly and expand it even further. Companies that don’t have a proper strategy or those companies that work just haphazardly tend to see a decline in the long run.

  4. Thanks for this post! Great!