How to get beyond the blueprint - A Festival Story from Daniel Letts.

Following the biggest Service Design Fringe Festival to date, we're sharing the highlights of our talks and workshops with the global community, so everybody can join in discussions around our industry. Continuing in a series of short stories, Daniel Letts, who is currently working with the Design Council, writes about how we can mature as an industry, and see projects through to implementation.

What's the problem?

We’ve all been there - done the insights, developed the idea, designed the service but the service doesn’t take root as we hoped, or even withers and dies. Why is this? 

There are many reasons why a good service design can still fail: operational, logistical, financial, legal, technical, cultural, political, and usually a toxic combination of these, but they can all be summed up as not enough preparation and planning.

To use an uncomfortable analogy - in the same way that recent wars haven’t properly planned for peace, service design has a tendency to think the job is done with the blueprint. But this ignores the harsh realities of getting a designed service delivered. And yet it’s the hardest but most important part of service design - working out how the service will actually be implemented.

To flip to a more comfortable analogy, farmers only sow seeds once the field has been ploughed and fertiliser added and at the right time of year. The same is true for services - in order to be delivered effectively the service ‘ground’ has to be properly prepared ahead of time so that it can take root and flourish.

Too often service designers either shy away from or abdicate responsibility for the delivery of a service, relying instead on the client organisation to know enough and to care enough about it to make it happen.

So this was my starting point for a panel discussion at the Service Design Fringe Festival.

And whilst the title of the session obviously gives a clue as to where I’m coming from, I was genuinely interested in what other people in the industry thought about it. Whether it was an issue at all, and if so, what they thought should be done about it.

But what did the panel think?

My fellow panelists were Marta Sa, Benedict Singleton and Sean Miller – all of them hugely experienced Service Designers – and all of them, essentially I think, disagreed with me. Sean thinks we should just “chill out“ about it, Marta thinks it will come naturally, and Benedict doesn’t see it as an issue.

Our audience seemed to divide into three camps; those who have experienced this problem but were somewhat at a loss about what to do about it, those who were new to Service Design and were slightly aghast at the direction of the discussion, and – strangely – a European contingent who seemed to agree with me that Service Design needs to do more to ensure that what it designs gets implemented.

Going forward...

Over the last few years Service Design has come to a point in its life where it has come of age and needs to grow up. Having emerged from its infancy and been accepted by the design industry and increasingly by business, the days are fast running out when it can just rely on tools and techniques to deliver on it’s early promise.

Now that it’s maturing as a discipline it needs to deliver, and make an impact in the real world. It’s no longer good enough to hand over a blueprint, stick it up on the wall and waltz off into the sunset, leaving others to do the dirty work and figure stuff out. If that happens then trust will be lost and the discipline discredited.

Thanks very much for reading one of the festival stories! If you want to learn more about how to better implement service design, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our newsletter, to stay informed about future blogs. If you missed Niharika Hariharan's blog and slides about practical steps for implementation, have a look. Implementation was a big theme at this year's festival, so there are more Festival Stories on their way that provide different perspectives on the issue.

With love,

The Service Design Fringe Festival Team