Public Service Design – Cross Government Design Meetup 22

Today I attended a Cross Government Design Meetup at the Design Museum in London. Here are some of the highlights I took away.

Introduction – Louise Downe

“Bad service design is one of the biggest costs to government”

In the future, “Services will shape government, not the other way round.” “Transformation will never be done” so focus on helping change to happen sustainably.

Dan Hill, Associate Director, Arup – Design and the public

The contrasting experience of two social housing projects shows the need for service design:

Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa, Viennna; image by Thomas Ledl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Alterlaa Kunstwerk.jpg
By Thomas Ledl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


The Robin Hood Estate; image by stevecadman – Flickrtik hartua, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link


Hill argues that the key difference between the success of the former, and the demolition of the latter is the ongoing maintenance, service and engagement.

Design needs a service blueprint. You aren’t just designing a one-off object – you’re building for life and for ongoing use. You need to design a service.
This is what was missing in the Robin Hood Estate.

There’s been a steep decline in the percentage of architects employed in the public sector. In 1970, 50% of architects were employed in the public sector; today only 0.7% of architects are.

Hill presents this as an opportunity. Digital has an opportunity to build design intelligence back into government. And we can build in this view of service design, making things better than before.

Prepare for the future by preparing to transition smoothly

It’s hard to know what the future will be like. So “The best focus for people is to make the transitions as effective and painless as possible as opposed to worrying about what the end point is.” – Michael Spence

The public sector needs to set out a vision for the future, otherwise the private sector will do it, leeching value out of a city and sending it to California.

Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris:
“We should announce, before 2020, that in Paris, no private owned AV will be allowed it will be only mobility as as service; not mobility as ownership”

Research in Zurich, Singapore and New York suggests that 80% of car use could be replaced by shared autonomous shuttle fleets.

DVLA – John Hewson

90% of DVLA interactions are now digital, up from about 9% in 2007. But that’s still 23 million paper applications per year, 5 million pieces of casework.

DVLA have made big changes to the user experience, but they haven’t yet made improvements to their internal systems.
Redesigning internal systems is another challenge, requiring slightly different expertise to building user-facing websites. These users often value efficiency over user-friendliness. One key piece of software is from 1990 and doesn’t even support a mouse, so this is a quite a challenge.

But the core discipline of prototyping, using best practices from the Service Manual, and testing iteratively will always work.

Panel discussion

The discussion reinforced the importance of applying service design to business models and procurement process – not just external user journeys. Take a service design approach to problem solving right through organisations.

Similarly, design for failure. Don’t just design for the perfect digital frontend – plan the whole service, and for all aspects of that service.

Design for the gaps between different nodes in someone’s experiences – e.g. a journey through healthcare. Each node can have its own effective risk register, but things can get lost in the cracks because there’s not always a holistic view.