Why we need service literacy, now

In the winter of 2019, Paris was much like any other large northern European city; messy, imperfect, and cold.

But like every other city, there was a more deliberate force behind some of the mess if you looked closely. Paris was suffering the consequences of early 00s sharing-economy optimism; Its streets jammed with Ubers, snaking around blocks of ghost hotels.

One problem in particular was uppermost in the city’s minds, and that was housing. High rises had started to appear on the edge of the city that skirted planning laws with the promise of affordable homes, only at the last minute to become holiday lets. Rents were skyrocketing, property prices fluctuating wildly, and the French authorities had had enough.

In December 2019 The French Association for Professional Tourism and Accommodation (AHTOP) took Airbnb to court, accusing them of violating the Hoguet Law. The Hoguet Law is a 51 year old piece of French legislation designed to protect renters and the wider city from unscrupulous landlords, and what transpired that day in court didn’t just set a precedent for how we regulate services, but was a glimpse into how unprepared we are for a world that relies on them.

First introduced in 1970, the Hoguet Law is just one among many that makes France one of the most heavily regulated property markets in the world. Yet despite this, in 2019 one in every 50 homes in Paris was on Airbnb. In order to operate as a property broker in France, the AHTOP argued, Airbnb should have to register as a regulated operator and conform to the same rules of renting property as everyone else.

But the European Courts of Justice thought otherwise. 

Because Airbnb didn’t actually own any houses, the court argued they weren’t a real estate company. Instead, they said, Airbnb was an ‘information society service’ – meaning that they were not only exempt from any real estate laws, but any French laws at all.

Creating an international no-man’s land for services

You’d be forgiven for thinking that an ‘Information Society Service’ sounds more like a dating agency for wayward 1920’s debutantes than the description of a billion dollar property brokerage, but in Europe, Information Society Services are defined as “services normally provided for remuneration at a distance by electronic means at the individual request of the recipient of the services”. The term is an internationally recognised one, and once your service becomes one you enter a completely different word. 

Free from the burdensome laws of a specific industry, or country, if your service is deemed an information society service it gets to exists in a kind of international no-mans land of regulation; able to do whatever is legal as a ‘service provider’ in the country you’re registered in, which might of course be wildly be different to the one you operate in. Importantly though, since very few countries have standards or regulations specifically aimed at services, that means you’re pretty much at liberty to do what you like. 

You want to create a property booking website that inflates rental prices for local people? No problem! You want to provide insurance that’s almost impossible to claim in an emergency because you don’t have a phone line? Sure! Or perhaps you want to make it impossible to cancel a subscription by hiding in the small print? Go right ahead!

‘Information society’ was defined as a regulatory concept in the early 90s when the balance of the world started to tip from physical to digital. We needed a kind of ‘international waters’ for digital services to help the internet to become the global connector it is today. But the challenge we now have is that in 2021 a “service provided for remuneration at a distance by electronic means” could describe almost every service in existence, so long as a physical thing isn’t being bought or sold. It’s why Facebook continues to struggle to be held accountable for the content it produces, why Google can do whatever it likes, and Airbnb continues to operate in France.

But as any lawyer will tell you, laws only represent what we believe at the time we write them, and the far more worrying trend is that right now, we seem to believe we’re not responsible for a thing if we just provide a service to help people access the thing.

We live in a world unprepared for the impact of services

Being a service gives us a kind of invisibility cloak that allows us to break rules that we would usually apply to the physical world. Cars go through thousands of rounds of testing to make sure they don’t kill people, and we recall physical products for the most minor of infringements, but when a service goes wrong, somehow that is the fault of our users, how they interact with it, what they do with it.

The mid 00s/10s era of sharing economy services is a perfect example of this. How anyone expected Uber to remain an enterprise of office workers making better use of their cars on their way home from work, or Airbnb to remain a good way to save on your mortgage when you’re on holiday is almost beyond belief, but we did.

As soon as you introduce an economy to the idea of sharing, it stops being sharing and just becomes an economy, and the moment this happened was the moment those organisations decided that they were just the facilitators of an issue caused by their users. In short, they were just service providers.

Not every organization uses this invisibility deliberately, but the effect is the same nonetheless; a decision is made that has an effect on people’s lives with no thought given to the impact of that decision, simply because the thing in question is a service. 

I experienced this first hand a few years ago whilst sitting in the headquarters of one of the UKs largest government departments. Twenty minutes into a relatively innocuous conversation about APIs, things took a dramatic turn. The team I was talking to got to the point they wanted to make: did I think it was ok for a service to be designed as an API first? And oh, by the way, API only.

I was shocked. The first question is one I could answer, but the second I absolutely couldn’t.

APIs of services are a good thing – they can help to lessen the burden of interacting with a service provider by allowing a user to use your service as part of another service; doing things like automatically registering new cars with DVLA as part of the the factory line process, or allowing small businesses to pay their taxes to HMRC directly through their accounting software.

In contrast, ‘API only’ would mean those users would have to interact with that service via a third-party provider. These third third-parties could choose, if they wanted, to charge for the service, to make it inaccessible or a host of other things we wouldn’t expect from a public service. An alarm bell started to jangle in my head, wasn’t this…privatisation?

I tentatively asked who had approved the idea. No elected minister or official had looked at it. No vote had been held, no public consultation had been had. I voiced my concerns and was met with frustrated confusion. What we were discussing was a purely ‘technical’ issue, why was I making such a fuss?!

Whether or not privatising this service was the right thing to do wasn’t my decision to make, but that was the point, it wasn’t the decision of anyone in that room to make. Somehow a large government organisation was proposing privatising a service with no knowledge of the fact that they were doing it.


Because this privatisation didn’t involve physical things – there were no trains, telephone poles or reservoirs to divide up, no power stations and cables to think about.

If it did, perhaps it would have been a different discussion; a years-long decision maybe, peppered with public consultations, ending with a fanfare of press releases. Certainly it would have been subject to a universal service obligation to make sure the service was open and equal to everyone. But as it was, much like airbnb this was ‘just a process’ and what we were doing to it could be classified as an insignificant technicality.

There are few professions more harmful than industrial design, service design is one of them

In 1971 Victor Papanek wrote, “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few”. At the time he was right, but Papanek couldn’t have predicted that whole swathes of our cities would be unlivable, not because of poor housing, but because housing was made unaffordable by short term lets, or the roads were congested, not with cars that were badly designed, but with vast numbers of Toyota Priuses used for insta-ride-hailing. Papeneck didn’t predict the dangerous consequences of bad service design. 

The biggest influences on our lives are not products – phones, cars, hoovers or even houses –  they’re services, and they scale faster than any product on earth. But it is precisely *because* these organisations are service providers that don’t hold themselves accountable.

The hidden cost and impact of invisible services

The problem we have is that we don’t see services as real things. When we do, we think of them as somehow less impactful than physical things. We don’t see the harm we do with them to our users when they are badly designed, but we also don’t see how much harm these do to our organisation either.

In a 2017 financial study I and my team conducted at GDS, we discovered that 80% of the cost of the UK central government’s spending is spent on services. Not surprising really given the government is the oldest and largest service provider in the country.

What was surprising though was that up to 60% of this cost was spent answering phone calls and doing ‘casework’; essentially people calling to understand what they needed to do, or filling in a form incorrectly and being routed to a human decision maker in a caseworking team. This is the cost of bad service design. Those phone calls aren’t people who cant use digital services; 53% of them were just people checking how to do something that should have been clear and straightforward on the internet, 78% of that casework were ‘user errors’ ie. badly designed forms.

When you consider the fact that 1/3rd of UK GDP is spent on public services, that means bad service design is one of the biggest unnecessary costs to UK taxpayers. Money we’re not spending on the people and things that need it.

Yet this never made the news.

Services exist in the background by their very nature. They are the things that connect other things, the spaces between those things – like choosing a new car and having it delivered or booking an appointment at your GP and being treated for a condition. We barely notice them until we encounter something that stands out as obviously good or bad.

For the organisations that provide them, services are often barely more visible than they are for users. They require multiple people, and sometimes multiple organisations to provide all of the steps that a user needs to achieve their goal. Sometimes there are so many pieces to this puzzle, or it stretches across such a long period of time that we struggle to see them as a whole. They’re big, they’re messy, and importantly, they’re intangible, meaning their costs are hidden and so are their consequences.

The invisibility of services is both a blessing and a curse. We can continue to have the freedom to provide services with little thought of the consequences to our users (if that’s what we’re aiming for) but we won’t see the consequences to our organisation either. It’s a giant catch 22.

The medium is the message, until it’s not

Often our fist assumption when improving old services that don’t work anymore is to help that service to ‘be more digital’.

Given that many of the life-supporting services we rely on like banking, heath, food or utilities pre-date the internet, that’s a fair assumption to make. But the reality is that translating services into a new medium always poses a challenge; whether that’s moving from in-person to post, post to phone, phone to email, email to the internet or webform to chat.

The conventions of the medium often dictate the way that a service works; but the issue isn’t just our lack of understanding of the medium we’re using. The issue is that somewhere in that translation from one medium to the other, we didn’t think about what exactly we were translating –  the fact that we were providing a service was lost. 

Services, lost in translation

A heady euphoria for new technology takes us over. Who cares if no one can find it, have you seen what you can do with Microsoft dynamics? So what if everyone expects it to be instant when it takes two weeks, or that only being open 9-5 means no one can contact us. Just PUT IT ON THE BLOCKCHAIN!

The reality is that these issues will be issues regardless of what technology you use. No amount of new technology will make your service more findable if it’s called ‘Form V11’, and no amount of bots will hide the fact that your service isn’t open on weekends, or cuts you off if you can’t type a 14 digit card number fast enough.

The real issue we have isn’t a lack of digital literacy, or any other kind of technological literacy, but a profound lack of understanding of services – what they are, how people use them, what they need from them. Service literacy for want of a better phrase.

To get out of this situation, we need to create organisations that can see services as real, tangible things that can and should be designed, but we also need organisations that will commit to designing those services, not as an accidental byproduct of other decisions, but as a conscious, deliberate act. In short, we need organisations that are ‘service literate’; seeing services, understanding what good looks like, and committing to designing them.

Having seen 100s of organisations deal with this in the last year, there seem to be three main components to creating the kind of literacy we need in services. None are easy, but each is a vital stepping stone on the road to building good services.

The three components of service literacy

1. Seeing services

Before you can design something you have to at least acknowledge it exists, and by far the hardest part of getting any organisation to design good services is getting it to realise it has services in the first place. 

Only once you’ve done that can an organisation understand that to be a service provider, you need to consciously design those services, rather than letting them happen as an accidental byproduct of other decisions in the organisation.

This is easier said than done, so organisations tend to skip to step 2 or 3 without doing this important work to help people understand services in the first palace. 

How we make services visible is a whole other topic in itself so I’ll write another post on this soon.

2. Understanding what makes a good service

Having a shared understanding of what makes a service good or bad is fundamental to being able to work together towards making those services we’ve just identified better.

Although we all have the same basic needs from services as users (see Good Services), when it comes to the services we provide ourselves, that knowledge often gets forgotten. We forget that we need to send confirmation emails after someone’s bought something, we forget we need to tell people how long something will take, or that our service needs to be findable by someone who hasn’t used it before.

Creating a shared sense of what is and isn’t good for your service is vital to being able to work together to make things better. If you want to read about what makes a good service and haven’t done so yet, take a look at Good Services.

3. Committing to designing services

Once you’ve understood that you’re a service provider, and then understood whether or not your services are working well, the next step is to actually commit to designing them. Crucially that doesn’t just mean words, it means committing the people, time, space and resources needed to do it.

This final hurdle can be one too many for some organisations to overcome though. 

Some make it halfway, bringing in teams, but then leaving those teams without the support to make the changes they need to make, some continue to allow their services to be dictated by technology constraints, or other unconscious design decisions. Others fail to commit the people needed at all, running entire service design projects on a series of precariously balanced steering groups.

Failure to commit properly to what’s needed to deliver good services is one of the most common reasons for failure but there’s a lot more to ‘commitment’ and how that works that I can fit in here, so I’ll write another post (or series!) about this soon.

Introducing the good services scale

I made a scale to measure the quality of services using the 15 principles of Good Service design. Here’s why.

When I wrote Good Services I made a pledge – to write something useful, and above all simple.

I deliberately didn’t include any kind of matrix, ‘canvas’ or score into the book because hell is other people’s diagrams, and I wanted to see how people would make use of the 15 Principles of Good Service Design before making it into any kind of ‘thing’ from it.

The book is now on its 3rd reprint and people are using the principles in all sorts of incredible ways – as a self assessment tool, user research discussion guide and even a way of prioritising change across an organisation. 

There are many, *many* methods of measuring service quality out there – from NPS to SERVQUAL –  but the problem most of them face is that they are either too complex to have an impact (and what’s the point of measuring something if you’re not going to do anything about it?!) or they measure entirely the wrong thing; at best not telling us what we need to know, and at worst incentivising behaviours that make our services worse.

What gets measured gets done

I’ve seen so many organisations head over a cliff chasing NPS ratings with gimmick after gimmick, ignoring the lack of accessibility in their service or the basic sign up processes riddled with dead ends.

If you measure recommendations you’ll do absolutely anything to get them. Measure cost and you’ll do anything to make your service cheaper. But measure whether your service is good for users? Then, maybe we stand a chance of motivating ourselves towards a better service.

That’s why I decided to make a Good Services Scale.

The Good Services Scale won’t give you a pat on the back for being the best, or ‘achieving excellence’ – only your users can tell you that.

In fact, the top of the scale is the bare minimum you can do to enable your users to achieve what they set out to do: using a functional service. 

The Good Service Scale

There’s no complex 5 circled-spider-web to negotiate £1000s to pay in order to learn how to use it. It’s just a spreadsheet that helps you score your service on a scale from 0-4 for each of the 15 principles of good service design.

It’s available for free as a google sheet, spreadsheet, printable PDF (we’ll be heading back into offices sometime right?!) and a Miro template.

Use it to

  • Self-assess the quality of your service, either on your own or with your team
  • Structure your research with users and understand how your service is performing with different groups
  • Benchmark your service and track how it improves over time
  • Prioritise where to invest in service improvement by understanding which services need the most improvement

But most importantly; take it and make it yours. Adapt it, translate it, make it into a poster, do whatever you need to to make it work. And if you have thoughts on how to make it better, email me or DM me on twitter.

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve used it, so please share those too.


Use the Good Services Scale

Finally, Good Services posters and stickers!

At long last, you can now buy posters and stickers with some of the best quotes from Good Services check out the shop here

It’s been a strange few weeks, and in some ways it feels an odd time to be launching something new, but for the past few months I’ve been working hard to get a shop up and running to spread some Good Services fluoro-joy into the dark.

The shop features eye-poppingly bright posters and stickers of the most meme-worthy quotes from the book (ie. The ones people need to hear) designed by the designers of the book Daly Lyon

Since publishing the Good Services in February people have been spreading the messages in it far and wide, especially to colleagues who might not appreciate the way they see the world.

One of the reasons I wrote the book was to shortcut the repetitive questions people in this position often get asked, questions like – ‘what is a service?’ ‘What makes a good one?’ or ‘Why do we need designers on this?’ and in my years at GDS I learned a very important lesson; never underestimate the power of a well placed poster.

That’s why I wanted to produce posters and stickers of the messages in the book; to shortcut those questions even further by pointing folks to a massive, beautiful fluoro poster with your answer on it.

And hey, if that’s just a reminder to yourself that good services are designed and that your job doing that is totally valid when you wake up in the morning, that’s awesome too.

A2 posters are £18, A3 posters £12, stickers £2 (or £8 for 5 / £14 for 11) all printed litho printed on heavywieght 200gsm paper.

Check out the shop here
or sign up to the mailing list for 10% discount on poster bundles

10 principles for design in a crisis

Design is vital in a crisis, without it we make mistakes, risk lives, and ultimately, waste valuable time that we don’t have. But making the voice of design – and user needs – heard at a time when everyone around us is sacrificing speed for haste can be difficult.

This year I published Good Services containing 15 principles of good service design, and whilst the principles are hugely relevant to services undergoing a crisis (people still need to find your service and understand what to expect!) there are a new set of needs emerging when an entire nation, and the world, are plunged into a survival situation.

How do we help users to make informed decisions about their safety? Or act collectively? And how in a world of rapidly changing demand, do we triage users fairly?

Now more than ever we need to pool resources and share our collective ideas on what works and what doesn’t, so last week I held a zoom call to talk about how we design services in crisis scenarios to answer these questions.

200 people joined from over 20 countries around the world to create a set of principles for how we design services in crisis situations quickly.

The output was incredible.

Thank you to everyone who contributed (and sorry to everyone who tried to but couldn’t because we were oversubscribed!)

The principles are here – with more detail than below, and open for everyone to contribute to and develop.

Design for crisis principles

1. Do no harm
Do not take actions that actively put your staff or users in harm’s way

2. Speak the truth
Be open and honest, using only verified facts from trustworthy sources

3. Be clear, and actionable
Give your users clear, actionable instructions on what to do

4. Go to where people are
Understand where your users are accessing information and how they are able to access your service

5. Prioritise the most vulnerable
Make sure that people who are most at risk, or most in need, can use your service

6. Give power back
Provide people with the tools to enable them to support themselves

7. Encourage the right behaviours from users and staff
Help your users and staff to work in a way that benefits themselves and those around them

8. Respond to change quickly
Respond to the changing crisis and your user’s changing needs quickly

9. Scale responsibly
Make sure you’re able to meet demand by planning affordances in the way you scale

10. Remove barriers to ask for help
Make it easy for your users to ask you for help, when, where and how they need it

Here are the co-written notes that led to the creation of these principles, the video of the zoom call and a written transcript of it (thank you to Oliver Lindberg for the transcription!)


This blog post was kindly translated into Spanish from the original by Beatriz Belmonte, Strategy and Service Design Lead at Madrid’s Public Tech Lab. Graciaz Beatriz! Good Services the book is out now

¿Qué es un buen servicio y por qué nos cuesta tanto hablar sobre ello? Últimamente he estado haciéndome esta pregunta muchas veces. Intentando averiguarlo, hace un año publiqué este tuit y, exceptuando un par de personas que se preguntaban lo mismo, no conseguí muchas más respuestas. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 10.15.24

No me sorprende. He preguntado esto muchas veces y la respuesta siempre ha sido la misma: silencio.

No sólo parece que no tenemos unos estándares profesionales específicos para el diseño de servicios, sino que además parece que esto no supone un problema para la comunidad de profesionales. 

Antes de seguir quiero aclarar que no me refiero a una certificación profesional o a algún tipo de homologación para buenos servicios o profesionales de diseño de servicios. Me refiero al tipo de estándares a los que referirse cuando alguien nos pregunta: ¿cómo sabes que estás haciendo un buen trabajo? 

En Reino Unido los servicios generan casi el 80% del PIB nacional. Es una industria que existe – según a quién le preguntes – desde hace 15 o 20 años. En un contexto así me parece asombroso que no podamos contestar a esta pregunta cuando tantas otras disciplinas de diseño sí pueden hacerlo.

Pregunta a alguien de diseño gráfico cómo distinguir un buen trabajo y obtendrás una respuesta diferente cada vez, pero al menos podrán contestar. Su respuesta se basará fundamentalmente en un conjunto de ideas y buenas prácticas respaldadas por la industria y enseñadas en escuelas de diseño de todo el mundo: aspectos como el sistema de retícula, los principios básicos de tipografía o el uso de la iconografía.

Sin embargo, si haces la misma pregunta a la mayoría de diseñadores y diseñadoras de servicios, lo más probable es que contesten algo como “depende del servicio” o “es difícil generalizar”. Durante los más de 15 años de nuestra existencia no hemos conseguido desarrollar un lenguaje para hablar de lo que intentamos conseguir cuando diseñamos un servicio. En cambio, hemos definido cómo diseñar un buen servicio, hemos publicado una lista infinita de libros y cursos llenos de diagramas y metodologías que no responden a la pregunta clave: qué es un buen servicio.

La pregunta es tan fundamental para nuestro sector que ni siquiera la vemos, pero sin responderla estamos perdiendo el tiempo intentando conseguir legitimidad. 

This question is so fundamental to our industry that we don’t even notice it’s missing, but without it we’re spending vast quantities of our time fighting for legitimacy.

Esto no es un problema único del diseño de servicios

La ausencia de estándares profesionales nos ha llevado a una profunda crisis existencial en todo el sector que impide a las personas que trabajamos en él estar seguras de nuestra propia experiencia y conocimientos respecto al resto de las personas con las que trabajamos. 

Criticamos a las personas con las que trabajamos porque no son capaces de identificar los problemas de un determinado servicio, mientras en la misma frase afirmamos que diseñar servicios es una actividad reservada para profesionales del diseño de servicios.  Sin estándares profesionales seguiremos viendo la paja en el ojo ajeno: esperando de las personas con las que trabajamos más de lo que pueden hacer, mientras seguimos sin exigir lo suficiente a nuestra actividad profesional. 

Without professional standards we will continue to expect those around us to be able to do more than they can, and not expect enough of ourselves.

Debemos entender que mucha gente es capaz de identificar un mal servicio sin saber por qué es malo o cómo arreglarlo. Lo mismo ocurre en diseño gráfico: la mayoría de la gente puede identificar una señal de tráfico defectuosa, pero no serán capaces de explicar que el interlineado es demasiado pequeño. No es justo pedirles que sepan explicarlo, como tampoco lo es cobrar por nuestros servicios como diseñadores si no podemos podemos hacerlo. 

Tengo muchas teorías distintas sobre cómo hemos llegado a esta situación. Una de ellas es que nuestra industria ha estado históricamente dominada por agencias y nunca ha estado entre nuestras prioridades el establecer una serie de estándares universales mientras pudiéramos cobrar a cada cliente por el diseño de su servicio “único”. O que, básicamente, sufrimos una crisis de confianza colectiva que nos hace temer que nadie nos vuelva a llamar si explicamos en qué consiste un buen servicio. Cualquiera que sea la razón, necesitamos superar esta fase. Necesitamos profesionales del diseño de servicios que diseñen buenos servicios, y necesitamos que entiendan y conozcan los estándares que intentan cumplir. El objetivo no es sustituir a diseñadores por estándares, sino tener una idea clara de lo que necesitamos diseñar. 

Por este motivo, y a falta de otras alternativas, aquí están 15 principios a los que responde un buen servicio. Están basados en años de experiencia trabajando con malos servicios e intentando crear buenos servicios.

Es posible que no estés de acuerdo con todos ello pero espero que, al menos, estimule la aparición de otras opiniones y propuestas que los mejoren.

15 principios para buenos servicios

    1. Un buen servicio es fácil de encontrar: el servicio debe poder ser localizado por cualquier persona sin un conocimiento previo de los pasos que debe seguir. Por ejemplo, alguien que quiere “aprender a conducir” debe poder encontrar “obtención del permiso de conducir” sin ayuda.
    2. Un buen servicio explica claramente para qué sirve: el propósito de un servicio debe quedar claro desde el primer momento para las personas que lo utilizan. Esto quiere decir que una persona sin conocimientos previos, debe entender lo que el servicio le ofrecerá y como funcionara.
    3. Un buen servicio establece lo que puedes esperar de él: el servicio debe explicar con claridad lo que necesitan los usuarios para completar el servicio y qué pueden esperar de vuelta del proveedor del servicio. Esto incluye aspectos como cuánto tardará en completarse, cuánto costará, o si existen restricciones en el tipo de personas que pueden usar el servicio.
    4. Un buen servicio permite a las personas que lo utilizan terminar lo que necesitan hacer: Un buen servicio permite a los usuarios completar lo que necesitan hacer de principio a fin – ya sea abrir un negocio o aprender a conducir – en un proceso lo más fluido posible. Esto incluye desde el momento en el que el usuario está pensando una tarea hasta el momento en el que han terminado – y cualquier paso o ayudas necesarios, cambio o corrección posterior.
    5. Un buen servicio funciona de una forma que resulta familiar: Las personas entienden el mundo en base a sus experiencias previas. Si existe una manera previa de usar el servicio, un patrón de comportamiento que favorece al usuario, tu servicio debería reflejarlo. Por ejemplo, las personas que se suscriben a un nuevo servicio a menudo esperan un email confirmando su suscripción. Evita el uso de patrones que afecten negativamente a tus usuarios (como preseleccionar la casilla de “aceptar emails comerciales”), o patrones que son ineficientes o han quedado obsoletos.
    6. Un buen servicio puede usarse sin conocimientos previos: un servicio no debe utilizar un lenguaje que asuma un conocimiento previo del usuario sobre ese servicio.
    7. Un buen servicio es independiente de las estructuras organizativas: el servicio debe funcionar de manera que no exponga innecesariamente al usuario a la estructura interna de la organización que provee el servicio, si esto no contribuye a que el usuario termine lo que tiene que hacer.
    8. Un buen servicio se completa en el mínimo número de pasos: un buen servicio requiere a los usuarios el mínimo número de interacciones posibles para conseguir sus objetivos. A veces esto significará adelantarse a las necesidades del usuario de manera proactiva. En otros casos supondrá ampliar el tiempo entre tareas para facilitar que los usuarios absorban la información o tomen una decisión importante.
    9. Un buen servicio es consistente a lo largo de todo el proceso: el servicio debe percibirse y funcionar como un todo integrado, independientemente del canal en el que se utilice. El lenguaje debe ser consistente, al igual que los patrones de diseño visual y de interacción.
    10. Un buen servicio no debe tener vías muertas: independientemente de que una persona pueda o no optar al uso de un servicio, este debe ofrecer a todos los usuarios un resultado claro. Ningún usuario debe quedar desatendido o atascado en un servicio sin saber cómo continuar, o sin disponer de una forma fácil para averiguarlo.
    11. Un buen servicio lo puede utilizar todo el mundo por igual: el servicio debe poder ser utilizado por cualquier persona que lo necesite, independientemente de su situación o sus habilidades. Ningún usuario debe ser discriminado en el uso del servicio.
    12. Un buen servicio fomenta conductas adecuadas entre las personas que lo usan y las que trabajan en la organización: el servicio debe fomentar conductas seguras y productivas que beneficien tanto a usuarios como al personal que provee el servicio. Para los usuarios, el servicio no debe instigar comportamientos que puedan ponerles en peligro en otras situaciones – por ejemplo, facilitando datos sin saber cómo van a ser utilizados. Para el personal, esto significa que no deben motivarles a ofrecer un mal servicio a los usuarios, por ejemplo creando objetivos que reduzcan el tiempo de atención telefónica que pueden ofrecer.
    13. Un buen servicio debe reaccionar a los cambios rápidamente: el servicio debe adaptarse y reaccionar rápidamente a los cambios en la vida de los usuarios y reflejar estos cambios de manera consistente en el resto del servicio. Por ejemplo, si una persona modifica su número de teléfono en la web, este número debe ser reconocido en un servicio presencial.
    14. Un buen servicio explica con claridad en qué se basan sus decisiones: cuando se toma una decisión dentro de un servicio, el usuario debe poder conocer el resultado en el momento en el que se produce y entender con claridad en qué se basa la decisión. Además, el servicio debe ofrecer al usuario una vía para recurrir la decisión si lo necesita.
    15. Un buen servicio facilita el acceso a una persona que te ayude: un servicio debe ofrecer siempre una vía fácil para que los usuarios puedan hablar de su problema con una persona si lo necesitan.

You can download a poster of the principles in Spanish (made by the fantastic Quino Terceño) here

Good Services out now!

Just over a year ago I wrote a blog post about what we mean by a ‘good service’ and how strange it is that we don’t have a better understanding of this.

The book is now finished (all 190 pages of it!) is available for preorder now

You can sign up for the newsletter to get 20% off until the 20th Dec 2019.

It has stories about some of the best (and worst) services out there and contains 15 principles that both designers and non-designers can use to design services that actually work.

The book’s been designed by Daly-Lyon there are also two awesome forewords by Mike Monteiro and Marc Stickdorn, alongside contributions from lots of amazing people – including the 3,000 or so people who commented on the original principles (thankyou if that was you!)

Why this book needs to happen

I wrote this book because after almost two decades of ‘Service Design’ as an industry, most of the services we use everyday are still terrible.

They’re terrible for lots of different reasons, but chief among them is that they aren’t designed to meet our most basic needs. In fact, most of them haven’t been designed at all.

Confirmation emails aren’t sent, explanations aren’t clear and appointments aren’t flexible, meaning that despite our best efforts, our lives are more difficult to navigate than ever before.

The vast majority of our organisations have a kind of ‘service blindness’ – where we don’t even recognise what we provide to as a service in the first place.

Those that do, often rush to create new and innovative experiences whilst overlooking the one crucial thing we need from services: to be able to do what we set out to do with as little friction as possible.

The resulting bad services don’t just add friction to our lives, they can put us in danger (there are lots of examples of this in the book).

Knowing what good looks like for services isn’t just a nice to have, it’s vital if we are going to finally see services as things that need to be designed, and provide them in a way that is safe and sustainable, both for us and the world we live in.

As Marc says in his foreword, “this book is long overdue”.

The resulting 15 principles of good service design in this book are the things that are universal to all services – whether that’s booking a flight or getting medical care.

This is book is not about ‘great services’, ‘unique services’, ‘thrilling’ or ‘magical’ services. It won’t tell you how to ‘wow’ your users with something they didn’t expect, or build something that the world has never seen before.

This book will tell you is how to design a service that your users can find, understand and use without having to ask for help.

It will tell you how to not disappoint your users, and make sure they can do the thing they set out to do. In a nutshell, it will help you to make services that work.

Onwards! From government services to the built environment

Today, I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be taking on a new role as Director of Design and Transformation for planning and land development for the UK government, based at Homes England.

We have a housing crisis in the UK, but that problem doesn’t start with houses, it starts with land, and the rules and regulations around how it’s used and by whom.

At the same time, our environment has never been under more threat than it is now.

We need to democratise the process of using land and create a world where urban development is both sustainable for humans and for the environment.
That means bringing design back into the heart of planning in the public sector and fixing the dark matter and systems that are contributing to a housing and land market that doesn’t work.

In 1976 49% of architects worked for the public sector; in London it’s now 0.13%. We need to change that. But beyond improving the design of our built spaces, we need to take a design led approach to the infrastructure that underpins the built environment itself. That means taking a long hard look at our data, services and policy objectives, and bringing together the fragmented parts of government that underpin our ability to take a coordinated approach to sustainable development in the UK. I’m excited to take on that role.

I’m not the first to attempt this, and I’m looking forward to working alongside some amazing pioneers in this space – the likes of Public Practice, Architecture 00 and Dan Hill. This sits alongside all of the fantastic work ongoing in government that I’ve had the privilege to watch grow over the past few years at places like Defra, Land Registry, MHCLG, Homes England of course (and many more that I don’t know about I’m sure).

My time at GDS has been brilliant, and I’m incredibly proud of things I’ve been able to help the government achieve.

Back in 2016 I wrote a ranty blog post that never got published. In it, I complained about the fact that government needed a central function to support service design across government. I never published it. Instead I turned it into a £5 million business case to build a programme of teams working on service transformation across government – including the Service Standard, Service Manual & Service Toolkit, design patterns, GOV.UK Frontend, accessibility and inclusion, cross government service design and community development.

We now have Service Designers in government where previously there were none; a community of over 3,000 people in user centered design; training in design for all public servants and a dramatically different landscape of standards and patterns for government services, including the wonderful GOV.UK design system.

I’ve spoken to enough governments around the world to know how lucky I’ve been to get backing and support for this and that’s a testament to not only the strength of vision GDS has, but also the incredibly talented people I’ve worked with and the determination of the Civil Service itself.

Doing this has meant I’ve been able to share that privilege by establishing the International Design in Government community (if you’re not coming to one of the 3 conferences we’re running this year get yourself a ticket!)

Digital services were the first frontier for design in government, now it’s time to take the same approach to our built environment.

If you’re doing exciting work in this space, get in touch, I’d love to buy you coffee.

Hackney Council destroyed my garden, here’s why

Yesturday morning a team of council maintenance workers moved into my community garden and destroyed it.

I’m still in shock.

Since drafting this post Hackney Council have just called to apologise, and have promised to help find another site, but this story says more about the failures of government to manage common land, than it does about what happened to me as an individual.

I live in a tiny one bedroom flat in Hackney. It has no outdoor space – not unusual in London – where less than 50% of homes in have a garden.

I’m not complaining. I chose to live in Hackney because I love the area, but last year year, like most people, our rent went up. As did the price of food, and pretty much everything else.

Several years of austerity have taken their toll on my life, and on the lives of everyone else in the capital.

When I was growing up, supermarkets collected tins to send to developing nations, now, those tins get sent to food banks in the UK.

A combination of these factors, and a hope that I could alleviate some of this problem not just for myself but also the local community lead me to think about starting a community garden.

Our cities are full of small, unutilised pieces of land – around the base of buildings, on the side of roads and between houses. These pieces of land are too small for development, but too large if you add them all up for most local authorities to do anything with within their current budgets.

One of those patches sat outside our flat for over a year. A 4 x 3m area of bare earth between some long-dead rose bushes. After an extensive search revealed no clear ownership, I set about improving the soil and planting vegetables. Nothing I was doing was permanent, and would only have improved the site for whoever owned it.

The garden literally blossomed, and by summer was producing enough vegetables to keep us and our neighbours fed. Wildlife moved into the once desert-like space – even common blue butterfly which has seen a 60% decline in numbers since the 1990s – and I met more neighbours in 4 months than I have done in my entire 15 years of living in London.

Together we started to hatch a plan to expand the garden and turn it into an official community space.

And then someone complained.

I received an email from our estate agent with a snippet of text they had received from the holding company of our building, informing me that the plants I’d grown there constituted “trespassing” and that would be prosecuted in 10 days unless I removed them.

I was shocked, but more shocking still, was the revelation that this notice had been sent by Hackney Council. An organisation who have publicly proclaimed support for urban green space.

Still optimistic, I thought as long as I could explain the situation to someone at the council they would see reason and grant permission to keep the garden. Since they were so supportive of using under-utilised space for urban greening elsewhere.

I emailed all of my local councillors – none replied.

I phoned the number of of the person who was supposed to deal with urban greening projects – they had since left and their number had been reassigned.

I even messaged the Mayor on Facebook (sorry Phill)

All in all I sent over 27 emails, made over 100 phone calls and got 2 replies. Both messages were the same – although I am a Hackney resident, I wasn’t a resident of a council estate, and therefore had no right to use the land. I had to find someone from the estate to run the garden or it would be destroyed.

I documented every one of my failed attempts to get help. It’s a long list.

One reply was from a housing officer who is part of the Debdale estate. I finally managed to get in contact over the phone and we agreed to halt this process so I could collect signatures to make the garden official, but to be honest there was a lack of any clear process and the authority of them to take forward a trespassing claim. I have to make it explicitly clear here that she had my name, contact email and phone number and followed me up a couple of months later to which I replied to her let’s catch up and update you on the interest I’d built from the estate. At no point did I cease to engage with her but she stopped replying to me despite me following up twice to engage in conversation.

I tried to work with the process. But 4 months later, after a long winter when only the most trepidatious gardeners are thinking about gardening, I was struggling to find anyone in the estate to put their name to the project.

Many were keen to be involved, but it’s one thing to be involved in a community garden, and another to run one. Particularly with the possibility that if anything went wrong with a project like this, their tenancy could be in jeopardy.

I couldn’t blame them, so I contacted the housing manager on the estate to let them know that I’d try again in spring. Since no reply came, I assumed everything was ok.

Then, yesturday without a single phone call or email from the the housing officer I’d been speaking to for months, or anyone else at Hackney, I looked out of my window to see the garden being destroyed. With the housing officer I’d worked with in attendance.

It’s important to reiterate here Hackney had my name, email and phone number and I had engaged with them throughout the process. To have no contact from them and to wake up to this is astonishing. What makes it more heart wrenching is that the housing officer I’d been working with was standing watching over the process.

A notice had apparently been posted ‘in plain view’ asking me to stop my “unauthorised gardening”. In fact, the notice was obscured by rose bushes, was a long way from the garden, and had been posted just 4 days earlier.

Why, when like any other resident I contribute towards hackney council managing publicly owned land on my behalf, would would it be the case that I had no right to use that land for the benefit of the community?

The answer is a broken business model where the residents of council estates pay for the upkeep of the land immediately around their buildings. Land which is almost all grass, and which local authorities have no resources to change.

In fact this land isn’t even seen as public land and, as the the Mayor pointed out on Twitter – “it features in individual leases and subject to different laws and regulations”

This means that estate residents pay for land that is often poorly managed, and other local residents have no rights to use it.

But who owned this particular piece of land is a minor point.

Even if there were equal rights to use that land, it would be almost impossible for either group to navigate the required bureaucracy to do so – the department that dealt with urban greening at hackney has since been shut down it seems, the form you need to use to get your space officially recognised is an inaccessible PDF, and the email address to send it to bounces. And that’s nothing compared to the social capital required to get more than 5 of your neighbours to sign a form before you’ve even started growing, on top of the worry that if anything did go wrong with the space, their tenancy might be in jeopardy as a result.

In short, the odds are stacked against even the most enthusiastic, privileged person setting something up an urban garden.

Right now I fit into that category, but for me, living rented accommodation that I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford from one year to the next, a process like this would mean missing the growing season, even if I was eligible to take part.

I don’t blame the person who complained.

They were a resident of the estate that pays for the land, and they saw someone using something ‘they hadn’t paid for’. No matter how much that land was improved in the process you can understand how someone in the right frame of mind might take offence.

But I do blame Hackney Council and every other local authority that works in this way.

Not just for providing a broken service full of dead ends, I’ve seen enough of these, but for supporting a broken business model that has lead to what amounts to social segregation of communities, and precious land not being used productively.

The notice to remove my “unauthorised growing space” so that it could be “returned to grass” was left the day before hackney council – along with 27 other London boroughs – declared a climate emergency.

Aside from Hackney Council’s contradictory policies, the bigger problem lies in how land is managed by local authorities and who gets to use it.

The biggest problem is a lack of open data.

It is almost impossible to tell who owns a piece of land as small as my garden was in the UK, especially if it is unoccupied by a building. All my searches revealed were the ownership of the buildings in the area, not the spaces between them. And I’m a civil servant, if I can’t find this out, there’s very little chance that anyone else would be able to.

Our second biggest problem is a lack of open rules and regulations

Even if you did find out who owned this land, your route to understand who had the right to use it, and for what would almost certainly involve a lawyer.

This is now a country that is literally starving, yet there are growing spaces in our towns and cities that are not being used because no one knows what the rules are for using them. Worse still the people who really need to use them, can’t afford to take the risk of using them without knowing the rules, as I did, for fear of falling foul of a system that’s already stacked against them.

What I went through wasn’t just a traumatic mistreatment of a citizen as a result of a bureaucratic gaff, but one example of an endemic negligence of the root causes of social segregation and food shortages.

If local authorities and other public bodies are reading this and wondering what they can do to improve this;

  1. Stop talking about digital transformation and fix real problems;
  2. Open up the data you have on land ownership in your area
  3. Make it clear where land can be used, and what it can be used for
  4. Provide a fast, clear way for people to get permission to use that land
  5. Treat your residents like human beings. Appreciate when they want to do something good and don’t threaten them with legal action or destruction of their property if they try.

As I said at the start of this post Hackney have now apologised for destroying the garden without any warning, and offered to find a new site for it. For which I and the other users of the garden will be grateful if it happens.

That’s some solace, but it doesn’t make up for the fact they destroyed a legitimate communities hard work and plants without notice or an inch of consideration for allowing those things to be harvested before they were destroyed. To add insult to injury though, some of the workmen did this themselves and took some of the veg home with them.

No new garden will change the damage this has done to me, the community or the root of the problem at hand – a culture that is built to avoid risks over and above supporting its citizens to live better lives.

I’m writing a book about good services

I’ve decided to write a book about good services.

I’m not doing this because I have a burning ambition to write a book – but because I feel like this is a book that needs to exist.

I wrote more about why here, but in a nutshell – after 15+ years of service design as an industry, the fact that we still don’t have a definition of what a good service is is holding us back.

To try and plug this gap we have become collectively obsessed with methodology – it’s now how we sell our wares when our clients ask for any kind of certainty of the outcome of our work. But without a way of explaining to others what it is that we’ll achieve there’s no way we can say anything more reassuring than just ‘trust the process’.

Because of this, we often spend more time convincing the people around us to let us do our jobs than we do designing services.

I’m not against guides on methodology, there are some great ones out there that form a valuable way to get newcomers up to speed, but there is a gaping hole on our collective bookshelves where the answer to the fundamental question of  ‘what do we mean by a good service’ should be, and that’s the problem I want to fix.

Some of this is basic – like how we collectively talk about what services are. I wrote a bit about this here back in 2016

Other things are more complicated, like how exactly we understand and set expectations for users. Or how you make your service findable.

The book will be based on the 15 principles which have been open and on the internet for a couple of months and were shared by Fastco back in July.

So far there have been over 2000 contributors to these, so thankyou to everyone who’s given their thoughts, please keep them coming.

I don’t want this book to stop these principles from being a community resource that is owned by the community and changes and grows over time, so the principles will stay under a creative commons licence under ‘Attribution + Share Alike‘. Please adapt them, use them or add to them however you like.

If you’d like to help with the book, let me know. I’ll be looking for contributions and case studies for each principle so if you feel passionately about any of them, or you think the thing you’ve been working on is a great example of one or more principles, let me know (my DM’s are open on Twitter).

I’m excited. It might take a long time to do but it feels like something that needs to happen.

15 principles of good service design

Good Services the book is out now

What is a good service and why are we so afraid to talk about it? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot recently.

In a bid to find out, I tweeted this a few weeks ago and – bar a couple of people also wondering the same thing – got pretty much tumbleweeds in return.

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I’m not surprised. I’ve asked this question many times and had the same response, silence.

Not only do we seem to have no discernible professional standards for service design, but more than that, we don’t seem to think this is a problem.

Before we go on, I don’t mean professional accreditation, or some kind of kitemark for what makes a good service or service designer – I mean the kind of standards that give you an answer when someone asks you ‘how do you know if you’re doing a good job?’.

With almost 80% of the UK GDP generated from services, and an industry that’s (depending on who you ask) between 15-20 years old I find it shocking that we can’t answer this question when so many other disciplines of design can.

Ask a graphic designer to tell you what makes ‘good’ graphic design and you will get a different answer each time, but at least they’ll give you an answer. That answer will crucially be based on well known industry-held ideas of best practice that are taught in design schools across the world – things like the grid system, basic principles of typography or use of iconography.

Ask most service designers this question though, and they’re likely to say something like ‘it depends on the service’ or ‘it’s hard to generalise’.

In the 15+ years of our existence we haven’t yet developed a language to talk about what we’re trying to achieve when we design a service.

Instead we’ve defined *how* to design a good service, leading to endless books and courses filled with diagrams and methodologies and no answer to the most basic question – ‘what is a good service?’

This question is so fundamental to our industry that we don’t even notice it’s missing, but without it we’re spending vast quantities of our time fighting for legitimacy.

This isn’t just a problem for service designers

This lack of ‘professional standards’ has forced us into an industry-wide existential crisis where we’re never quite sure of our own expertise in relation to everyone else around us.

We criticise the stakeholders we work with for not being able to identify the problem with a given service, whilst in the same breath claiming that service design is a skill that can only be achieved by professional service designers.

Without professional standards we will continue to expect those around us to be able to do more than they can, and not expect enough of ourselves.

We need to understand that most people can spot a bad service, but won’t be able to tell you why it’s bad or how to fix it. This is the same with graphic design – where most people will be able to identify a bad road sign, but won’t be able to tell you that the kerning is too tight. It isn’t fair to expect them to do this, just as it isn’t fair for us to charge for our services as designers if we can’t.

I have lots of theories on how we got into this situation – one of which being that as an industry historically dominated by agencies, it’s never been in our best interest to claim any universal standards when we can charge each client to do this for their ‘unique’ service. Or that fundamentally, we have a collective crisis of confidence where we are afraid that if we tell other people what makes a good service – they won’t need us anymore.

Either way, we need to move beyond this. We need professional service designers to design good services. But we need professional service designers who understand the standards they’re trying to meet.

Not so that we can replace designers with standards, but so that we have an idea of what we need to design.

So, in the absence of anything else, here are 15 principles on what makes a good service. They’re based on years of working on bad services, and trying to build good ones.

You might not agree with them all but I hope that it’s a start to many more competing views.

If you’d like to contribute your thoughts, here’s an open Google doc to start the conversation.

15 principles of good service design

A good service must:

1. Enable a user to complete the outcome they set out to do
A good service enables a user to do the thing that they set out to do from start to finish – be that start a business or learn to drive – in as much of a seamless stream of events as possible. This includes the moment that a user is considering a task to the moment they have completed it – and any necessary steps or support, change or amendment thereafter.

2. Be easy to find
The service must be able to be found by a user with no prior knowledge of the task they set out to do. For example someone who wants to ‘learn to drive’ must be able to find their way to ‘get a driving licence’ as part of that service unaided.

3. Clearly explain its purpose
The purpose of the service must be clear to users at the start of using the service. That means a user with no prior knowledge must understand what the service will do for them and how it will work.

4. Set the expectations a user has of it
The service must clearly explain what is needed from the user in order to complete the service and what they can expect from the service provider in return. This includes things like how long something will take to complete, how much it will cost, or if there are restrictions on the types of people who can use the service

5. Be agnostic of organisational structures
The service must work in a way that does not unnecessarily expose a user to the internal structures of the organisation providing the service if those structures run contrary to the task a user is trying to achieve.

6. Require the minimum possible steps to complete
A good service requires as minimal interaction from a user as possible to complete the outcome that they’re trying to achieve. Sometimes this will mean proactively meeting a user’s needs without them instigating an interaction with your organisation. This may occasionally mean slowing the progress of a service in order to help a user absorb information or make an important decision.

7. Be consistent throughout
The service should look and feel like one service throughout – regardless of the channel it is delivered through. The language used should be consistent as should visual styles and interaction patterns.

8. Have no dead ends
Regardless of whether or not a user is eligible for suitable for a service, the service should direct all users to a clear outcome. No user should be left behind, or stranded within a service without knowing how to continue, or being provided an easy route to do so.

9. Be usable by everyone, equally
The service must be usable by everyone who needs to use it, regardless of their circumstance or abilities. No user should be adversely unable to use the service more than any other.

10. Respond to change quickly
The service should respond quickly and adaptively to a change in a user’s circumstance and make this change consistently throughout the service. For example, if a user changes their phone number online, their phone number should be recognised in a face to face service.

11. Work in a way that is familiar
People base their understanding of the world on previous experiences. If there’s an established custom for your service that benefits a user, your service should confirm to that custom. For example, users who have signed up to a new service often expect an email confirmation acknowledging their sign up. Avoid customs that negatively affect your user (such as pre-selecting a ‘send me marketing emails’ tick-box) or following customs that are inefficient or outdated.

12. Encourage the right behaviours from users and staff
The service should encourage safe, productive behaviors from users and staff that are mutually beneficial. For users, the service should not set a precedent for behaviors that may put the user at harm in other circumstances – for example, providing data without knowing the use of that data. For Staff, this means they should not be incentivised to provide a bad service to users, for example through short call handling time targets.

13. Clearly explain why a decision has been made
When a decision is made within a service, it should be obvious to a user why this decision has been made and clearly communicated to the user at the point the decision has been made. A user should also be given a route to contest this decision if they need to.

14. Make it easy to get human assistance
A service should always provide an easy route for users to speak to a human about an issue if they need to.

15. Require no prior knowledge to use
A service should not use language that assumed any prior knowledge of the service from the user.