The Truth of Designing Services

November 12, 2021 by No Comments | Category Digital, Digital Public Services, User-Centred Design

In this blog Sam Ernstzen, Digital Service Standard Assessor within Scottish Government’s Directorate for Internal Audit and Assurance, and Serena Nusing, Senior Service Designer, based within Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate share with you five truths about designing services. 

Being experienced service designers we see very common things across projects. We thought sharing what we see will help others design better services. We call them ‘The Truth of Designing Services’. They are relevant for any type of service no matter if you’re designing a public service for citizens, developing an internal service or improving an existing service interaction. 

In this blog we will share with you five truths about designing services. We will also offer a reflective question for you to ponder about your own service and tips on how to identify how to see where this is impacting you in your organisation.

 1. Everybody needs to have needs for your service

We consider the needs of all users in a service, this includes, frontline staff, partners, service owners as well as end-users.  In order for a service to perform, it needs to work for everyone. Understanding why your service exists and the outcomes it needs to achieve for all users is the foundation of creating a well performing service.  

Question: Do you know who all your users are, their needs and the outcomes they want to achieve?

Tip: Reframe objectives and needs as outcomes for each user group, don’t forget internal users!

2. People choose the path of least resistance

Humans tend to be hardwired to follow the path of least resistance, cutting out things that they don’t understand or perceive as necessary. The same is true for users of your service, they want to avoid any form of complication and will try to find a way that has the least effort for them. The amount of effort users need to perform to get their tasks done, impacts how positively they will experience it – it will in turn impact the performance of your service.  Introducing increased numbers or transactions, through errors, confusion or clarification all create resistance in your service that needs to be eradicated.

Question:  How are you creating resistance in your journeys and or services you offer to customers?

Tip: Look for the things you think customers get ‘wrong’ all the time e.g. incomplete information or eligibility criteria? Look for the errors in applications or frequently asked questions. Make sure users can access, use and exit your service. 

3. Any issue a user encounters will all negatively impact the performance of the service

Every service operates as part of a wider ecosystem – think about buying a house and all the different people that are involved in this to make it happen. A service weaves through an organisation’s system and depends on the integration of relevant resources, structures and people for its success. Any friction or issue a user experiences when using your service, will negatively impact the performance of your service. If you only look at the parts you are responsible for, the other parts may not work or join up properly, which would mean the overall experience using the service is still poor. Building a shared understanding of the breadth and complexity of the ecosystem of your service early-on will help you to not only improve the user’s experience but also the performance of your service. You might not have responsibility for any issues but it is your problem. 

Question: What are all the parts of your organisation that your service touches?  Are you aware of what happens when any part of your process encounters any interface, even if it is not technically your responsibility? How do these processes influence the overall  performance of your service?

Tip: Focus on the handover points in your service – these tend to be the weakest points, where there is the greatest chance of confusion and poor experience.

4.  A good idea, a good technology or processes alone will deliver an experience but not the ones you want

Many projects start with a new idea, replacing old technology or reviving processes that are out of date. These legacy technologies have been driving the user and staff experience – which often means they are delivering a poor user experience, think about all the workarounds you may have implemented or the repeat processing or disconnect between online and offline processes. This is not sustainable and can cause low customer satisfaction, complaints as well as low staff engagement. We can also get fixated on the latest technology – but we need to understand how it will help our organisation deliver a better service and better user experience. Technology, processes and ideas rarely work in isolation and are just one part of the whole service experience you need to design. 

Question: What new technologies, ideas or processes are you implementing?  How do you know it will improve the delivery of your service and user experience?

Tip: Look deeper at new initiatives you are implementing, check in with the people who are impacted by this change. Will it help them to achieve their outcomes? 

5. More time for designing leads to less time fixing later

It’s easier and quicker to iterate a designed service than trying to make major rebuilds to an existing one. Making sure you understand the pain points and gaps in your service and forging short term mitigations and fixes is the best way to prevent major re-works post launch. You may not have the complete answer but having a list of fixes and implementing a plan for continuous improvements will make sure that you stay one step ahead.  

Question: What insights do you have that could be explored deeper?

Tip: Test ideas with users, especially ones that you are not sure about. It will take you a little bit of time to get set up but it’s absolutely worth it as it speeds things up later. Good services are designed – they don’t just happen.

Keep these truths in mind when you’re designing  services. They will come about anyway but it’s up to you if you just let them happen or if you consider them in the service experience you’re creating. 

If you have any questions or want to know more about service design, please feel free to get in touch via email: or

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