one size

In the run up to Open Space South West we have been thinking a lot about spaces and services, and how they relate.

We have also been thinking about digital service design a lot recently. How best can you translate an offline service online? Digital service design is not just about balancing functionality and aesthetics it’s about facilitating an experience.

Contrary to popular opinion I don’t believe it’s possible to actually design an experience, whether physical or virtual.  With self-service experiences, and automated online services, the service offer itself may be the same, but the individual experience depends on other factors – external environmental factors,  physical, social and motivational factors.

A service designer can only facilitate the creation of an experience up to a point. In designing any service, markers can be laid out, clear routes and pathways, focusing on stimulation, functionality, comfort, and attention to detail, tailored to different types of users, but ultimately the individual experience is still governed by the user.

So, with these caveats in mind how best can we design positive experiences of public services online? What can we learn from what’s gone before, and lessons from other sectors? How can we ensure that any service is user-centric?

As people become increasingly digitally-savvy, and more services are automated online, the internet become less daunting and more part of every day life. People are becoming more empowered, more comfortable directing their own experiences. For example is it now far more cost effective for the public sector and more efficient for individuals to renew car tax discs online. It is possible to streamline, whilst improving online services. The new gov.uk site is a case in point.

The new gov.uk cost almost five times less than direct.gov.uk and was developed in an agile way with user testing and user input built in from the start. Rather than developing a polished product and launching it, this time, the government actually consulted real people, trialled aspects of the service as it was developed, and developed countless iterations of it in beta, in response to user input. The result is one simple, user friendly, entry point for all aspects of national public service.

Nowadays people need less hand-holding, and are often happy to feedback on digital service development, but have higher expectations. People want access to what they want, wherever they are, whenever they need it. They increasingly want to create their own online experience with access to relevant guidance, and information, as and when required.

This is reinforced by lessons from the private sector. Fellow speaker Barney Kirby  gave us an insight into Interactive Strategy at Marriott.com at last month’s Service Design in Tourism conference, in Innsbruck. Marriott customer needs research identified hotel guests have higher expectations of digital access to subsidiary information and local knowledge, e.g. access to more TV, help with how to find their way around a city and how to keep connected to the office etc. He emphasised that personalisation is key. Marriott is now working towards providing a simple single digital entry point for guests to addresses customers needs, wherever they are, before, during and after their stay.

As technology develops, there are more opportunities for user interaction, feedback, personalisation, and even input into the development of an online service. Not only in the public and corporate sectors, but we are seeing increasing peer-peer transactions in the so-called sharing economy. A user of one online service, may well be a provider of another online service.

Public service providers should thus bear in mind that personalisation is key, but that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Surely it’s impossible to design individual user experience, but by involving users early on, we can start to understand how and why people are using a service as it develops. Only then can we provide clear gateways, and pathways for people to plot their own customer journeys and experiences.

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