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When design fails: Not forgetting business viability in search of customer desirability

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This post is a summary of our presentation at the Service Design Fringe Festival.

Service Design is an immensely powerful approach to improving how organisations deliver to their customers and stakeholders.

However, in our experience, we still find too many service design recommendations aren’t implemented – a finding supported both by our audience at the Service Design Fringe Festival, and the Service Design literature more broadly.

It’s easy for service designers to outsource this responsibility – to blame the issue on organisational complexity, politics, lack of funding, or executional capability of the client. We think differently. Our argument is that a lack of implementation is not sustainable for service design as a discipline and that it’s not the fault of the organisations we design for.

Instead, it is something we as the Service Design community must own. If we don’t, we are no better than a company that delivers a complex product to market and then blames the customer for not being able to use it.

If our solutions are never implemented, then no value is created, and the world is not improved for our clients and their customers. To quote Brenda Laurel, a designer at MIT, “a design isn’t finished until somebody is using it”. And we believe that success isn’t a happy client, but positive change in the marketplace.

The value of business design

We believe that business design has a role to play in addressing these issues.

At its heart, business designers are business specialists brought into design projects, blending knowledge the service design discipline with a deep understanding of strategy, finance and operations. Through the addition of these capabilities, business design can ensure that our design recommendations and our products and services are commercially viable and sustainable in market.

In our experience, we’ve identified three areas where business design can add to the traditional service design approach and improve the likelihood of solutions being implemented and surviving over time:

  1. The design of our projects

  2. The viability of our recommendations

  3. The sustainability of our solutions

The design or our projects

As service designers, we apply enormous rigour to designing solutions for customers – going deep into their underlying needs, journeys, and contexts to design valuable solutions. But in the end, that is designing for someone else’s customer.

We should ask ourselves, do we apply this same rigour when designing our product for our customer?

There is a danger that when we hear ‘service design’ we immediately jump to a set of tools – to journey maps, personas, service blueprints. But in doing this, we risk designing our product without fully understanding what our customer actually requires. To what extent do we understand the organisational context; how the outputs will be funded and actioned; who needs to do it; and how well they are organised to execute.

All of these questions draw on business design skills. Where service designers speak the language of customers, business designers speak the language of organisations – of project funding, processes and capabilities, board papers, cash flows and business cases. In doing this, they can help ensure that a project’s deliverables – be they journey maps or service blueprints – align with the organisation’s needs, easing the process from recommendation to delivery.

It’s for these reasons – improving the design of our projects, the viability of our recommendations, and the sustainability of our solutions – that we believe that service is at its best when it includes business designers as an integral part of a project.

The viability of our recommendations

Similarly, it is obvious that any solution needs to deliver more value to the organisation than it costs. While we aspire to build amazing things for customers, trade-offs are often required – the best design for a customer often isn’t necessarily the optimal or profitable design for the business. Failure to make this judgement can mean a recommendation dies in business case.

The ability of business designers to assess the changes to organisational capability or process required to execute it, and to translate proposed solutions into financial outcomes allows the viability of designs to be considered in parallel to their prototyping – and the required trade-offs made in an informed manner.

The sustainability of our solutions

Finally, even if implemented, we need our solutions to deliver sustainable value over time. This means considering the dynamics of the market our solutions will play in – ensuring they are competitive and profitable over time. The value of a business designer is in understanding these dynamics, the implications for the business model, and the implications for the service design that stems from this – be they how we reduce cost-per-acquisition, improve the price/quality equation, or increase speed-to-market.

Service design + business design

It’s for these reasons – improving the design of our projects, the viability of our recommendations, and the sustainability of our solutions – that we believe that service design is at its best when it includes business designers as an integral part of a project. And for these reasons, why it’s now an integral part of EY Seren.