Make the service standard work for you

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The way service assessments work is changing.

As a service designer, I was initially wary of service assessments.

I feared they might be burdensome and bureaucratic when we needed to move fast.

In reality, the opposite was true.

When we were developing, we were the first team in Scottish Enterprise to be subject to an assessment.

We treated the guidance as a methodology to apply to our research and development.

We recorded everything we found and every decision we took, and published everything we did, as we did it. Designing in the open.

It’s all on our Github pages.

Don’t prepare. Be prepared

A whiteboard covered in printed charts, screenshots and prototypes
All our research went on the wall, or a whiteboard. Everything visible to everyone, Now we can point at things, and talk about them.

I recalled a conversation with our agile coach, back when we were doing our digital transformation pilot.

We were talking about Show and Tells, and he said “You should never have to prepare for a show and tell.”

And he was right. In that environment, everything we needed literally surrounded us. All our research, results from experiments testing our hypotheses, analytics and metrics – all of it was on the wall. If anyone had a question, we could say, “Ah, come over here. Let’s look at this.”

I replied, “Don’t prepare. Be prepared.”

So we took that approach, but extended it. As well as putting stuff on our walls (well, windows by then), we published everything that was publishable. We just made it part of our workflow.

Personas, data, and propaganda on our windos at Atlantic Quay.
Personas, data, and propaganda on our windows at Atlantic Quay

When you’re done with a piece of work, publish the results. It’s part of the definition of Done. Have you written up the results? Has that been published? No? Then it’s not done.

Use the service standard to build quality, inclusive services

Anyway, the real value in service assessments is we can engage with the business on our terms. We have to consider #a11y, we must think about how we included under-represented groups.

You think you need a website? No, you’re designing a service, and these are the things you’ve never thought about that you need to think about.

  • What about people with a poor (or no) grasp of English?
  • What about people who don’t have great internet access?
  • What about people who just want to pick up the phone and talk to someone?
  • What about people who can’t see your video, can’t hear your podcast?

And there is a standard for this, set by people who can kill your project tomorrow.

That is the way you should think about the service standard. It’s not a hurdle to overcome. It’s a platform to build on. Use it to build high quality services that work for everyone.

Embrace it. #DesignInTheOpen

Oh, our assessors absolutely loved our research timeline. (That was down to my user research colleague, not me.)

It made their jobs so much easier. And ours. Nobody had to curate or corral anything. We just sent them a couple of links, invited them to the office. Talked them through stuff.

And that was that.

[Editorial note: this post is based on a Twitter thread I posted back in February. I’ve tried to add a bit more detail and context here.]

I'm a service designer in Scottish Enterprise's unsurprisingly-named service design team. I've been a content designer, editor, UX designer and giant haystacks developer on the web for (gulp) over 25 years.

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