Guest post written by James Lawther
James Lawther has spent the past 20 years working in factories, supermarkets and call centres. Apparently he is fascinated by operations and is always on the lookout for ways to make them work cheaper faster or better.
But we are interested in him because he writes a great blog about service improvement and offered to give us some thoughts on service design, so we took him up on this and here’s what he came up with…
I have been asked to write a guest post on service design. Unfortunately I am new to the idea of service design (code for I don’t have a clue). So I started to cast about for some help.
As a good place to start, I was pointed at this site by the Government that spells out 10 digital design principles, the how too of design for the internet age.
This got me wondering;
- What on earth has web page design got to do with customer service?
- Does digital design apply to service design?
- Do the principles result in good design regardless of the context?
After all…Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent ~Joe Sparano
So I thought I would use the digital design principles to critique a well known service, to see if they work.
My question: Could you use digital design principles to design a better Underground?
Every week I have the (somewhat limited) joy of spending time in London, which means that I have to use the tube more often than I care to think about.
So here is my test case, a service design critique of The London Underground using digital design principles:
Principle 1: Start with needs
The design process must start with identifying and thinking about real user needs … design around those … and remember that what users ask for is not always what they need.
- I need to get across London quickly
- I need to be able to get to all of London
- I need it to be simple and straight forward
- I want it to be cheap
- And one I wouldn’t normally think of asking for, I need to stay warm and dry
So far so good, the principle works, apart from maybe the cheap bit.
Principle 2: Do less
Do what only you can do. If someone else is doing it use it…concentrate on the irreducible core.
Or to put it another way, outsource what others can do better:
- Bombardier build the Underground’s trains
- The Police patrol their stations
- Virgin Media even provide WiFi hot spots
Outsourcing is everywhere.
A far more difficult question to bottom out is what is the “irreducible core”? What does Transport for London bring to the party that nobody else can? I suppose it is all to do with logistics, but it is not an easy question to answer.
The digital principle holds for service design, though I’m not sure if the Underground apply it.
Principle 3: Design with data
Learn from real world behaviour…continue this into the build and development process prototyping and testing with real users.
Another way of saying test and learn. This is easy when you are rolling out Richard Branson’s WiFi hot spots, bang a couple out and see what the uptake is. In the overall scheme of things that is not high risk, but what about when you are investing in the Jubilee Line extension at £330 million per mile? How do you design with data then?
No doubt the business case was built on proxies for passenger traffic and profitability but I don’t know if they worked.
It is difficult to disagree with the principle, but sometimes hard to put it into practice.
Principle 4: Do the hard work to make it simple
Making something look simple is easy; making something simple to use is much harder – especially when the underlying systems are complex.
During the three-hour morning rush, 57,000 people enter the Underground at Waterloo and 82 million people use that very station every year. Yet despite the crush, very few of them get lost. The Underground is a marvel of clear signage, forcing passengers to make very simple decisions to get to their destinations.
The Underground must be doing something right. This principle holds true regardless of context.
Principle 5: Iterate. Then iterate again.
The best way to build effective services is to start small and iterate wildly … test with real users.
This is the sister principle of design with data and equally challenging with large capital investments, but what about the smaller ones? Maybe the Underground apply it to:
- Maintenance programmes
- Signalling upgrades
- Driverless trains (best tested off peak)
If you are providing a service you can always provide it better, and the best way to find out how is to run a test then iterate.
Principle 6: Build for inclusion
Accessible design is good design … build a product that’s as inclusive, legible and readable as possible.
An Underground network is of no use to a person with a disability who can’t reach the platform. The Underground:
- Has 66 step free stations
- Provides an accessible tube map
- Will book and pay for a taxi if the lifts aren’t working
- Installed “platform humps” to help wheelchair users get into the trains
- Provides automatic voice announcements
Fortunately, I don’t struggle with accessibility, and I am sure the tube is far from perfect for those who do, but it is a start. Once again the rule holds true.
Principle 7: Understand context
You’re not designing for a screen; you’re designing for people … think hard about the context in which they’re using our services. Are they in a library? Are they on a phone? … Have they never used the web before?
Surely this principle relates only to the web, or does it? What is the context for tube travellers?
- To help those who are being jostled along in a crowd at speed the signs use the font P22 designed by Edward Johnston to be easily readable at a distance.
- Pregnant women can ask for a “Baby on Board” badge.
- The station names on the tube walls are positioned at eye level, the eye level of the people on the incoming trains.
Context comes in all shapes and sizes. Another tick in the box.
Principle 8: Build digital services; not websites
Service doesn’t begin and end at our website. It might start with a search engine and end at the post office…design for that, even if we can’t control it.
Now this design principle is all about the web. Is this relevant to the tube?
- There is a web site
- There are twitter accounts for each line, “@circleline Morning London! There are currently minor delays while we fix a signal failure at Royal Oak.( about 1 hour ago)”
- They have a face book page
- And there are 114 different iPhone apps (arguably 113 too many)
Customers are pulling information from every source they can. It would be foolish to design a service without thinking about the way information is presented to customers especially in the digital age.
Principle 9: Be consistent, not uniform
Use the same language and the same design patterns – this helps people… but, when this isn’t possible, make sure the underlying approach is consistent. So users will have a reasonable chance of guessing what they’re supposed to do.
Even if you have never left deepest darkest Cardiff you will have seen Harry Becks tube map. Easy to read and understand. But it has been modified over and over again. There is a:
All different but all the same, if you have seen one, you will quickly grasp them all.
Principle 10: Make things open: it makes things better
Share what you are doing whenever you can…. with the world … share designs, share ideas, share intentions, share failures. The more eyes there are on a service the better it gets … the bar gets raised.
Finally, I have found a failure, though not for the principle, just in its application.
Remember Harry Becks Map? There is another version, the anagram map which replaces the station names with anagrams; Bank becomes Knab and Westminster becomes Written Mess. It s very amusing.
But Transport for London has no sense of humour (probably because it wasn’t their idea) and they certainly don’t want to share. The web is littered with the legend “content removed at the request of Healeys Solicitors acting on behalf of Transport for London”
Fortunately the internet is more powerful than the lawyers; you can still see it here. The Welsh amongst you should search out Shadwell.
Maybe Transport for London would be better off focusing on getting their trains to run on time than protecting their tourist sales of mugs and tea towels.
Did the principles hold true?
The advice I was given was good, the digital design principles were a great place to start.
To quote Frank Chimero: “People ignore design that ignores people”.
And that is as true for Amazon as it is Apple or The Underground. And I suspect your business as well.