Seeing Systems & Services

Creating amazing services requires we see things from different perspectives. Where we sit within systems matters to what we see.

Great service design requires that we take a variety of perspectives on our offerings and the process we deliver them. What might seem simple and straightforward can actually be revealed to be more complex and also reveal hidden opportunities in plain sight.

It is only when we approach the design of our services as a system that we can reveal these opportunities (and potential barriers). Let’s take a look at this through something we take for granted: coffee service.

Coffee time

Coffee is that most ubiquitous drink that is served all over with more than 36,000 coffee shops in the US alone representing a $47B market. Coffee and tea represent more than just a business opportunity as many view coffee shops as community gathering places, a stop for remote workers, a meeting place, and a place of reflection and creative thinking.

Which one(s) it might be for any coffee shop owner depends on how we view the service. I recently sat down with Art Assoiants as part of his Let’s Develop Podcast to talk about the relationship between systems thinking and service design and the matter of perspective-taking came up as a point of conversation around service design using coffee as an example. A link to my conversation with Art is below.

One might choose to design the service around the customer who is looking for a quick jolt of caffeine and wants to be in and out in the shortest amount of time possible.

What about the person who wants to work on her novel? The student who wishes to study quietly? The friends who want to connect? Or the freelancer looking to build a relationship with a client?

These are roles and can be designed partly by using personas , evidence-informed caricatures that can help us to see our user in the service we are designing. They create a fictional character based on data gathered and the trends that are reflected in that person.

Going Beyond the Obvious

For coffee we might have the kind of people that reflect the different scenarios above, but we can go further. What if we looked at the service through the lens of the barista? Does this person see herself as a trained professional, viewing her work as part of a craft? Or could the role be just one job of many for a person?

What kind of life circumstances might our customers be facing? Is the coffee shop a place of respite for someone seeking to escape a crowded apartment or roommate? A safe, public space to have a date with a stranger? A means to socialize with others without alcohol? Could it be the one place where a person without a home stay for hours without the fear of having to leave?

These are all circumstances, but our services can be developed to amplify or dampen the effects of these in our setting. A cafe can create spaces, social processes, products, and visual imagery that support or discourage certain markets and options. This is where the role of physical space, social cues, brand development, and product design all come into play.

This is what service design is all about.

We do this by seeing the ‘system’ the service exists through the lens of those that sit within it. Maybe we aren’t concerned about the person who wants a quick grab-and-go coffee with his headphones on looking at his phone. Maybe we don’t want to be a place of refuge and comfort — to keep people moving. Maybe we do.

Linking our aims, our values, and products with the perspectives of our intended service users is what makes systems-oriented service design different. It gets us to see not only the most likely user, but the possible one and help design for making the most harmonious service offering to address those needs and clients.

It’s by doing this that we can set ourselves apart from others and also ensure we’re addressing the target markets we want.

Note: If this is a perspective you’re interested in, there are some great resources for thinking differently about service design. Daniele Catalanotto’s writing and service design courses are worth reading as a start. If you’re ready to do it, then reach out and I can help you. My associates at Cense Ltd. is all about systems and service designer; that’s what we do.

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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