Using service design for user-focused, cost-effective public services

business people reviewing plans

by Laura Dobie

Faced with growing demand and reduced budgets, public services are increasingly looking for innovative ways to meet user needs with declining resources. Ahead of this weekend’s Global Service Jam, here’s a quick look at how service design can transform public services.

Design has long been recognised as a driver of economic growth and plays an important part in UK innovation and competitiveness. However, it is playing an increasingly important role in service development and delivery at both local and central government level in the UK, and there is growing interest in its potential in policymaking.

The development of digital technology has allowed businesses to generate value through increasingly advanced service offerings, and has fostered new design disciplines dedicated to services and systems, rather than objects, in which an understanding of the needs of end users is paramount. This can contribute to the development of more user-friendly public services.

What is service design?

The See Platform, part of the European Commission, defines service design as “a process that places the user as well as the provider at the heart of the development and testing process.” Service designers use skills such as visual communication, user research and facilitation to help organisations to improve their knowledge of customers’ requirements and link this to a process of idea generation, prototyping and testing.

The advantages of a service design approach

An advantage of the service design approach to public services is that it truly reflects users’ perspectives by including their input in the development process.

The See Platform identifies a number of benefits for projects, service users and organisations in its policy booklet, An overview of service design for the private and public sectors, including:

  • Better idea generation;
  • Improved knowledge of user requirements;
  • Improved decision-making;
  • Lower development costs;
  • Reduced development time;
  • Better service experience;
  • Improved user satisfaction;
  • Better innovation practices, processes and capabilities; and
  • Improved relations between service providers and users.

The Innovation Unit argues that service design can improve the user experience and achieve cost savings through transformative changes that redesign services around users’ requirements, while the Design Council report, Design for public good suggests that a service design approach can allow public sector organisations to do more with less, meet the crucial needs of the present and allow governments to realise wider long-term goals of growth and quality of life for citizens.

Getting started

Design for public good presents the Public Sector Design Ladder as a diagnostic tool for public sector organisations to gauge their level of design use and set out a roadmap for progress. It outlines the following stages:

  1. Design for discrete problems – hiring design teams for individual projects to address particular problems.
  2. Design as capability – in addition to working with designers, public sector staff understand and employ design thinking themselves.
  3. Design for policy – design thinking is used by policymakers and designers working together.

Case study: Lewisham Council

Lewisham Council’s Emergency Housing Service worked with the Design Council to improve their service through design. The initiative resulted in a more efficient and appealing service for end users, increased staff morale and reduced staff absence levels, and it is predicted to deliver savings of £386,000 per year:

Related trends: co-production

Co-production is another user-focused approach to service innovation, in which services are delivered in conjunction with service users. For a discussion of recent developments in this area, see our earlier post, which has details on our briefing on co-production.

5 thoughts on “Using service design for user-focused, cost-effective public services

  1. Pingback: From failure to improvement: how public services can turn themselves around | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  2. Pingback: Counting down to 2015 … a year in policy (part 1) | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  3. Pingback: Using service design for user-focused, cost-effective public services | Fred Zimny's Serve4impact

  4. Thanks for writing about the Jam! If you are interested in public sector services, you should see our sister event, the Global GovJam It mixes gov people, citizens and specialists for innovation and citizen-focus.
    It was kicked off be the people behind the Global Service Jam and the Australian Federal Government in 2012, went global in 2013 (more than 20 countries) and will return in June…
    See you there?


What do you think?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.