Planning research for service design: involving users to avoid “designing blindfolded”
As a user recruitment consultancy, People for Research see trends emerging in the research sector as a result of the volume of user research projects we support. For example, over the past couple of years we have seen a huge shift in the variety of research methods used by clients; no longer is one round of usability testing the norm. More clients, from government departments to leading digital agencies, are running comprehensive research at every stage of the design cycle.
Another major change we have seen is the emergence of service design agencies or consultancies offering service design as a complimentary function to UX design.
The result is we have adjusted the way we approach recruitment projects. To illustrate this, we have invited Sam Menter to talk about how they integrate user insight across projects. Sam is the co-founder of Mace & Menter where he leads projects for third-sector and public sector clients. He has a background in research and design and has led the experience design and audience insight on BIMA and BAFTA award-winning projects. He started his career at an embryonic lastminute.com in 1999 and went on to develop his experience at the BBC before co-founding Mace & Menter in 2013.
Tell us a little about Mace & Menter and what you do.
We are a research and design consultancy with a focus on the way people behave around a service or product. We have a narrow focus on user research and prototyping; we don’t do brand work or technical development.
Research is core to how we work and forms a significant part of every project. People work with us when they are about to make a significant investment in launching or building something new.
Recent projects we’ve worked on include:
Designing a new employment service for disabled people with Scope
Service mapping and customer journey design for a health-tech startup
Running a discovery project for UK Cabinet Office around information sharing
Can you provide a brief definition of service design?
Service design essentially means thinking about the way someone is going to interact with a service over a period of time – what are their needs, what are the touchpoints and how do they connect? It’s about orchestrating a flow between these touchpoints and channels.
At the heart of service design is a user-centred design process incorporating user research, co-creation and prototyping.
The service design projects Mace & Menter get involved in tend to be those that have a digital component, but that component needs to fit into a wider interaction with an organisation. For example, we worked with a high-street retailer who wanted to explore how people interact with their business before during and after a purchase.
This involved thinking about how digital might be used to increase footfall in store, what the experience is like when a customer visits a store and how it is linked up with their previous experience online, how the customer checks out in-store and how they track delivery of big purchases. I wrote some more notes around this here.
Digital tools are so prevalent in most of our lives that the line between online and offline services is now blurred. What impact do you think this has this had on the industry?
Sometimes I talk about ‘digital services’, but really this feels like a bit of a false distinction from ‘real services’. Most services now have digital components and most digital touchpoints form part of a wider service.
Service design has been around for a long time, but seems to have become more prominent as digital has become ubiquitous. People recognise the value of connecting experiences and interactions.
A lot of what people talked about as UX five years ago seems to be being referred to as service design now. The work of Government Digital Service (GDS) has also played a role. When GDS started overhauling government services, it became clear that to create a great citizen experience you couldn’t just overhaul a website and redesign a form, you actually need to re-think the whole way the service works from a user’s perspective.
Similarly, the lines between different types of agencies are increasingly blurred: service design agencies need to do good UX work, UX agencies need to do good service design.
Whatever the label, at its heart this work is about understanding the things people need to do, the way they behave, and then designing products and services around these needs. There’s more need than ever for people who can empathise with users and can synthesise insight to improve services.
What role does research play in service design?
User research is absolutely fundamental to service design. If you’re not involving users, you may be designing the way a service works, but it’s like designing blindfolded.
You need to really understand the people who will use the service, how they will use it and their needs at each point of their interaction. If you don’t understand user needs, the likelihood of designing something that meets these needs is slim!
How do you go about planning research to support service design?
Research can take many forms, but the most useful thing to do is to visit users and observe the way they use the service or similar in their native environment. Failing that, lab interviews will yield good results. The most important thing is to use research to explore the problem space before you start designing.
When we were running research for Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) around the new MOT system, we spent time with mechanics across the UK and observed behaviour that we wouldn’t have known about had we been limited to lab research.
Co-creation sessions are also a big part of service design – design the thing with the people who will use it. You won’t necessarily end up building the things that come out of the workshops, but co-creation sessions can be used as great way of understanding user needs.
What impact does this have on the way you approach user recruitment?
Getting the recruitment right for a service design project is critical. If we don’t involve the right people in the research, again we won’t be able to identify the right needs to design around. We spend a lot of time working with our clients to define a very clear recruitment brief that they can sign off on before we start recruitment.
We tend to recruit around behaviour rather than demographics, though that’s not to say we discount demographics. We think about the ways particular groups might use a service, specific touchpoints they will use, what stages they might be at in their use of the service: do we need people who have already used the service, are currently using it or maybe have never used it?
It’s also useful to think about someone’s emotional versus functional needs around a service. This is a good article that explores this further.
What advice would you give anyone considering a review of the service they offer?
Start by using research to get as close as possible to your users. Initially don’t think too much about how the service is currently working; explore the problem that the service is trying to solve.
Think about how you might segment your users based on behaviour and attitudes and recruit accordingly. Then think about how much you can actually change, what you have control over and what are the key moments that someone will experience when they interact with you.
Make space for a discovery project that includes user research and service mapping: this will generate valuable insight for subsequent design phases and will provide a solid foundation to build on.
To find out more about how Mace & Menter use research, service mapping and prototyping to design new services, visit their website.
With a new year ahead of us in an ever-changing industry, we invited @sammenter, co-founder of @macementer, to talk about #ServiceDesign, the importance of planning ahead & investing in #UserRecruitment to avoid "designing blindfolded" | New on the blog 📢 https://t.co/AcriQhPlmC pic.twitter.com/2OwpOnmtI3
— People for Research (@people4research) January 15, 2019
User-centred design with Alzheimer’s Society
If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or email@example.com.
About the author: Jess Lewes is passionate about making research user-centred, and she is a source of knowledge for how to approach the recruitment process to get the best results for your UX research and testing. Jess is available to speak at your event, conference or company workshop.
About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.
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