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More than user-centered

Why service design in the social sector is beyond user-centered design?


Photo by V Srinivasan on Unsplash


Service design offers a wide range of opportunities to understand the complete ecosystem and bring transformation. For this very reason, it can do wonders when it comes to resolving social issues using design. Problems in the social sector never exist in isolation. There is always a complex web of issues leading to a bigger problem. The service design approach can be very helpful in identifying the hidden issues and core of the problem. It can lead us to see the bigger picture and make life easy for all the people involved in the system. My understanding of working for social problems with a service design approach has convinced me that it is much more than user-centered design. It goes beyond user-centered design in the following ways-


1. Empathize with the Service provider


The service providers in the social sector are driven by the impact on people’s lives. Their motivation is to bring positive change to society. As designers, it becomes our responsibility to understand the vision and motivation of the service providers. It also means that designers need to empathize with the service providers along with the users. There are many constraints at the service provider’s end which need a holistic understanding before we start building the service.


2. Bringing Stakeholders on the same page


The services in the social sector involve working with the local government as well as higher authorities. The decision-makers here have a deep socioeconomic and political understanding. Their experience gives a distinct perspective to look at the problems. Designers need to bridge the gap here with rich insights from the research and bring each stakeholder on a common ground to establish a shared vision. Understanding the stakeholders’ perspectives and leveraging their knowledge of the issues becomes a crucial part of service design research.


3. Smooth execution and service delivery


The front end of the social services is passion-driven individuals, who are motivated to contribute to society. Service delivery is a critical step in the service design process. The delivery should keep a focus on ground staff along with the users. Service designers need to understand the pain points of ground staff too. A thorough consideration of the required skills and training would help in the execution of the service. A holistic solution should also consider employee experience while designing for a seamless user experience.


4. Cost structure and sustainability


Every service design solution has a cost attached to it. A major challenge in the social sector is the economic sustenance of service. The users may not necessarily pay for the services in the social sector. These initiatives are meant for social good, and not essentially for generating revenue. The cost of designing services needs a deep consideration and optimization of the available resources. Designers can also bring innovation to the business model of social services to generate better revenue.


5. Feedback beyond users


Design is an iterative process. Service design is meant to improve with continuous user feedback. Further layers of feedback are also required for a holistic service design and larger impact. Stakeholders, service delivery staff, planning & execution teams also need to provide critical feedback to enhance both the frontend as well as the backend experience of the service.


The crux of the matter is to be user-centered with an equal focus on other components. Design for social change is a space full of opportunities. Service design has immense potential to create an impact on society. Stepping into the shoes of users is the design mantra but empathy has multiple dimensions to it that go beyond user experience. Service design is a systemic phenomenon and each part of this equally important to the whole.



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