Service – thinking

  • Self-initiated is kicking off, we’ve been working on it for about a couple of weeks now and I’m starting to work myself into a particular area. 

    Tall Tales Oscar Competition, as part of the Aye Write! Festival at the Glasgow Mitchell Library, where competitors seemed to take on the role of stand-up comedians rather than traditional folklore storytellers.



    I’ve been interested in storytelling for quite a while now. It’s been growing in popularity over the last few years – so much so that the UK’s first Laureate of Storytelling, Tiffy Thomas, was appointed last month. (by comparison there has been a Poet Laureate since the 16th century.)

    tracing where storytelling has played a part in previous projects of mine, all the way back to 1st year. The tree seems to play a part too, I don't know if that will continue.


    It has become somewhat of a buzz word, a tool used in service design.

    Through a bit of reading last week – Change by Design by Tim Brown,  The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelly, Service design tools by Roberta Tassi, Making Meaning by Dillar Shedroff Rhea I began to think of storytelling being used by the design profession as a final communication tool. It is used to illustrate and elaborate on storyboards, to walk through personas and to provide examples when talking through service maps.

    Online research took me into the mind of Stephen Denning, an American ‘storytelling expert’. Previously working for the World Bank, Stephen explains how he used storytelling as a tool for laying examples to intrigue and entice potential customers/stakeholders into a new service proposition; turning the world bank into the knowledge bank, sharing their immense knowledge. where you can download the video ‘how steve encountered the power of the story’

    I began to imagine other times in which storytelling could be used in order to quickly and efficiently pass over information. It’s introductory, it’s inherent, familiar and can stand on its own without visual references. 

    Unlike many design tools and methods used in collaborative design, I see storytelling as easily being able to bridge the gap between design and business thinking (a gap I see being crossed with increasing regularity as service design grows in popularity.)

    So, where am I going? Where and how can storytelling be implemented into service design? How can I tie these two interests together?

    Last week I took part in the Aliss engine workshops in Glasgow, designed and facilitated by the wonderful wearesnook. Smaller groups were made up from the collective number of different stakeholders, patients and support groups. It was an unexpectadily wide breadth of people there, all to contribute and take the project further. 

    What I realised, when introducing myself and my role as a service designer within my team (of long-term condition sufferers, nhs board employees and a gp – 7 of us in total) is that service design is a difficult discipline to communicate to non-design thinkers.

    It seems that service designers experience this problem across workshops, interviews. We joke that we spend 80% of our time explaining what it is that we do, and 20% doing it. Wouldn’t it be good to get some of that time back?

    Service design is a young discipline, it has evolved over the time that I have been studying it. It is difficult to pin down because it grew from several different countries, languages and centres of thinking and learning. Even now, when it is becoming more stable there is still such a wide vocabulary and scattering of definitions. Methodologies and processes within the discipline pull it in different directions, broadening the spec that service designers can and do cover.

    Great if you are a design-thinker, difficult to take in if you are not.

    I want to tell the story of service design. To make it easier for service designers to translate methodologies and processes into a common language, to adapt to their environment; be that co-design workshop, company board room, pavement interviews …

    I’m thinking of it as possibly some form of pre:design, to provide workshop participants with a background of service design, examples of what has been done before so they can feel more comfortable and included in the process. They know what their involvement will include, what they can contribute, where they can take the idea.

    Perhaps it will be a tool for the designer, the facilitator. providing them with the language and explanatory stories to aid that first discussion ‘what is service design?’

    So far, I’ve been concentrating on the various definitions of the discipline. Compiling a spread from; (in no particular order) thinkpublic, the Design Council, Engine, RadarStation, Wikipedia (shame), designthinkers, live|work, service design research, 31 volts, continuum, the service design network and service design tools.

    The page nicely blocks out my window, which keeps me concentrating. I’ve gone through them highlighting the key phrases and buzz words to get an idea of where overlaps and continuity occur.

    First, I pasted the entire definitions into wordle, an online word cloud creator. and got;

    which was quite interesting to see the keywords starting the be built into a hierarchy.

    So, I took the highlighted words from those descriptions and made a cloud with them;

    which displays more of the keywords and phrases on more of a level playing field.

    Next steps?

    I want to write a brief for myself. perhaps a list of questions that I would like to answer, a couple of scenarios that I would like to ease. 

    I want to look into the use of descriptive language, how best to describe processes and methodologies to people unaccustomed to them? I have contacted the Campaign for Plain English, so will hopefully be able to include them at a later date.

    I want to contact service designers and companies, to learn how the go through that explanation, what reactions they receive, and common questions that are asked of them.

    I’ll keep you updated.

    kj x

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