Demystifying Service Design for a better Public Service

Cutting through the jargon to understand what service design is and isn’t and why it’s important to you

Whether it’s an internal business case seeking funding or a new proposal from an external service provider, both typically feature a core proposition that boils down to:

“To solve all your problems and realise world peace – you need to spend X on this exclusive [product/service]”.

Obviously, this is a tongue-in-cheek example, but we’ve all been on the receiving end of the sales jargon and “very optimistic” claims about how a particular artefact or approach is the only possible solution to an organisation’s troubles.

Service Designers are guilty of this also with some claims and dogmatic approaches that do more to grow the mystique of individuals/organisations as service designers themselves rather than drive meaningful and sustainable outcomes for clients.

At Ngamuru we are fortunate to have a dedicated Service Design team that not only have over 20 years’ experience providing high quality service design expertise to our Government and Industry clients, but have also held a variety of senior leadership, team management and hands-on implementation roles within strategic and operational functions across a range of different industries including in the public sector.

This means our people understand, appreciate and believe in a strong Australian Public Service and are focused on partnering to uplift capability in the realisation of outcomes – not merely providing a technique or a transactional approach.

Previously we shared what service design is and why it’s critical for senior leaders and decision makers [link]. In this post we build on that and focus on sharing our experience to demystify service design further.


Demystifying Service Design by understanding what service design involves
What service Design isn’t …

As we discussed previously [link] our approach to service design is focused on planning and arranging organisational resources to improve the quality and experience of customers and the organisation’s outcomes.

Over the years as service design has grown, we can see some trends emerge that need to be called out. Specifically, service design isn’t:

  • Just about digital

It seems like almost every large organisation is undertaking some form of transformation activity. Often, these are trying to realise the great efficiencies and potential cost savings to be had from digitising legacy manual processes. Whilst organisations should be lauded for these efficiency efforts, they have pigeon-holed service design into a realm similar to business analysis. Customers don’t care about an organisation’s efficient new digital inventory management system when they are struggling on hold to a call-centre and neither do your staff who are increasingly disengaged and frustrated from not being able to incorporate the new system into mandatory business and reporting practices. In public services, omni-channel approaches aren’t just smart – they are required. So service design must go beyond just the digital channel and interactions.

  • Just about user journey maps

Similar to the previous point, service design is sometimes constrained to the development of journey maps to validate a particular problem or requirement. User research and visualisation techniques are both crucial techniques in a service designer’s toolkit, but they are simply a means to an end and do not represent the entirety of service design. A journey map without ongoing service design expertise is like a nail with no hammer!

  • About designing each service from scratch

The service design tools and techniques can equally be applied to existing services as they can to the development of brand new services. This is achieved by supporting clients to co-design overarching strategies, design regulatory compliant services and supporting delivery architectures, right through to conducting service improvement reviews and assurance activities to determine whether organisations continue to meet their strategic objectives. Improvement and innovation can be driven by service design at all ages of the service life cycle.

  • About designing and building exactly the solution users have told us they want

Frequently, well-meaning service designers get caught up in the fun of user research and collaborative co-design sessions and lose sight of the fact that services exist to provide a desired outcome to customers within the construct of an organisation or legislation. For instance, if you were to ask citizens how much tax they should pay I can tell you right now that most would answer as close to zero as possible. However, in this example there is clear legislative direction from the Government to have an effective taxation system in order to fund public works and services for the betterment of the nation. Therefore, the focus of service design should be on understanding the drivers, expectations, wants and needs of users so as to inform design, planning and implementation of robust and effective service systems that balance the needs of citizens, users and the expectations of Government.

Contact us to discuss how we can help you

We hope that the above information helps those in Government and Industry cut through some of the jargon and have a better appreciation as to what service design is (and isn’t).

Having read the post we hope you reflect and consider the following questions:

  • How are you structuring your own capabilities and interactions with users beyond digital?
  • What other service design tools and techniques should you and your teams/people be familiar with?
  • What is your service life cycle and how are you iterating and revisiting across the different levels of service delivery?
  • How do you focus on what people need, and not only what people want?

As always if you have any would like to discuss further or have any specific questions on how service design might help you and your organisation then please contact us (link).