Service design – a people-centric approach to continuous improvement

One alternative to lean that some universities are exploring is service design. Based on traditional design techniques it can be used to solve problems by understanding the user experience, as consultant Jean Mutton explains.

You will have heard the phrase ‘putting students at the heart of what we do’ – but how do you do it?

One way is using people-centred methodologies such as service design and design thinking. That’s why more and more higher education institutions are using them to solve problems, find solutions, improve efficiency and enhance the student experience – using empathy as the cornerstone.

The Design Council has developed a model which encapsulates the key steps:

    • Discover – research
    • Define – insight
    • Develop – ideation
    • Deliver – prototype

Think your institution could benefit from using service design techniques? Here are some thoughts to get you started:

    1. Harness behavioural insights: Use people-centred research to understand the ‘felt’ student experience. Mystery shopping, engagement data, survey analysis, observation and complaints will all help to uncover how a student encounters, interacts with and leaves a service.
    2. Map it: Bringing together people from across the organisation to build up a map of the student journey not only provides insights into ‘pain points‘ but helps staff members see how and where their bit of the jigsaw ‘silo’ makes up the bigger picture. For example, in one workshop the head of admissions, sitting next to a receptionist from another campus, heard how international students were confused when they turned up on a different campus to what they had expected. Turns out the students were Googling the postcode at the top of their offer letter which gave the location of the admissions office and not the site where their course was being delivered. Quick win!
    3. Fail fast and fail better next time: Prototyping quickly gets insights into what works. Near where I live they built a new cinema multiplex. The footpaths between the car park and the entrance were paved over and looked lovely with bushy plants lining the route. However, there was a zigzag path up a short slope which quickly became ignored and a short cut from one end of the path to the other was worn through the shrubbery by cinema-goers eager to get to their popcorn and blockbuster. Eventually, the management woke up, the shortcut was paved over and the people had won – voted on the best path with their feet you might say. I guess the moral of this story is do not fix your paths too early
    4. Be prepared to co-create: Employing active involvement with the staff and students who use the service or process to help shape it will add value. Try engaging people as co-designers of what their experience should be and you may be surprised what you find out.

Find out more about Service Design

Jean Mutton
Jean Mutton is director of the consultancy Go Process Design