Man sitting on library shelf reading book.
--- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Service Design is Everywhere

It’s surprising how our behaviour, while interacting with something we know very well, has changed by the influence of an investment in service design. A fantastic example of this is the library. It is a place that has been traditionally known for “shushing” people, requiring heaping mounds of paperwork in order to benefit from their services, penalizing slow readers with fines, and being staffed with busy and sometimes intimidating people.

Hushed to hospitable

If you’ve visited a library recently, perhaps you sensed something different going on. Most libraries have recognised that they no longer have a product; they are all about an experience. Currently, they are not in the business of books but the business of learning. They are working to understand the learning needs of communities and how to translate those needs into service and experiences for customers. In other words, they have started taking their service design seriously.

Values defined by librarians have transformed into values defined by library users. Almost everything they do is about either helping people accomplish a task (preparing children to read, providing a space for families, supporting job-seekers and entrepreneurs) or curating an experience (providing entertainment, organising events and exhibitions, creating communities based on common interests). They have gone from silent, dusty and intimidating to welcoming, helpful, fresh and fun.

Rushed to relaxed

Another place that has improved greatly due to service design is the train station. If you always travel by train during rush hours, you may find yourself sprinting through the stations’ big halls, shoes tapping on tiles, coffee in one hand in search of the right platform. Enduring stress before even thinking about work is not ideal. But then imagine — while looking for the departure time of your train — you see a count down clock. You don’t even have to look at your watch. Three minutes until the train leaves. Time to take a deep breath and see if you spilled any of your coffee.

Delays in train departures from stations are disruptive to many. Train operators and commuters are both concerned about the problem and are working to explore solutions that help to avoid delays in dispatch times. One proposed solution is a count down service. A digital sign at the platform showing the minutes and seconds left before a train departs helps both train staff and travelers leave on time. Though implementation of such a system may be barely-noticed, this subtle improvement greatly improves the service of transportation.

Damp to dry

It’s amazing to realise that some streets are meters below sea level. Dry feet is something most of us take for granted every day. It’s incredible to think that the act of managing water, something that rarely crosses our minds, has such a profound effect on our daily existence and health.

When decisions about water management are made solely by a single party, the needs and wants of others involved can be overlooked. Water management is a behind-the-scenes process with potentially enormous impact on the way we continuously experience the country in which we live.

Using an inclusive new approach allows for a complex issue like this to be considered from fresh perspectives together with all involved. Everyone has a better grasp of the difficulties of water management and everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue. Planning the future of water management is possible in a way in everybody can contribute and no one’s living room is flooded.

How service design creates opportunity

By taking away the stress of catching our trains, ensuring that a city isn’t invaded by the sea, or removing the uneasiness of going to the library, we’re able to pay attention to other matters that are important to us and our loved ones. Even though these changes seem trivial at first glance, the development of brilliant ideas that stimulate our society happen only when there is space for them to exist: that of a gentle feeling library, comfortably dry feet or the knowledge you will make it to your train on time.

Well-designed and intentional yet often unnoticed or taken-for-granted services make our daily lives, and that of those around us, smoother and more comfortable, creating space for other things to come into existence.