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Red, Blue & Green: The Primary Colors of Service

by Nazlican Goksu, Sue-Jean Sung, Jason Baker, Peter Jackson, and Kyle Cheon

This story is part of a series of design fiction that explores what a new era of public service could look like in 2025, five years after COVID-19. Learn more here.

Protagonist: Taniel
Position: Public Servant
Government: City of Nashville, USA
Illustration by Violet Hill

Taniel gets a laugh whenever they tell anyone what it’s like to work at the DMV. “You work in hell” is a typical reaction. To which Taniel replies, “Hell is a world without the DMV.”

This is the truth. During the COVID-19 crisis, every DMV office in Tennessee closed down, including Taniel’s branch in the Pie Town section of Nashville. During that time, Taniel certainly kept busy; they mostly answered the phones. Many folks called asking how to register vehicles when the DMV’s doors were locked, and it felt good to be able to extend everyone’s registration through the pandemic. But privately Taniel wondered if they were giving the right kind of help. They worried civilization itself was breaking down.

All during the months of lockdown, it seemed like none of the big stuff got done. Mortgages, marriages. Kids deciding against college and putting off their education indefinitely. Many couldn’t get job training, and many more couldn’t collect unemployment benefits. It broke Taniel’s heart.

Illustration by Violet Hill

When the city reopened, the DMV was crazy and busier than ever. In droves, Nashvillians were abandoning public transit and buying cars to feel safe. With ridership at an all-time low, the city of Nashville faced a dramatic choice: Discontinue its bus service or reinvent it.

Nashville chose innovation, and starting in 2024, public buses became traveling public services. Now, residents living in marginalized communities can access the public services they need, wherever they might be. The bus comes to you, gets you where you need to be, and lets you get things done on the go.

Each bus line has a unique purpose. The blue line is the education bus: job training, continuing education, and a curriculum based on Nashville’s history. The red line is City Hall. You could access the deed to your house, pay a parking ticket, and get married all in the same trip, if you were so inclined.

Taniel works on the green line: the DMV bus. It might seem strange to renew a driver’s license on a rolling city bus, but Taniel has never felt more in sync with the people they serve. And, Taniel’s happy to report, civilization is alive and well.

How might we amplify access to public services and meet residents where they are?

Where to go from here

There are numerous ways to take this profoundly unusual year as a chance to permanently transform. Governments at national and local levels that embrace this “reset opportunity” will emerge stronger. It’s time to listen to people, learn what has changed in their lives, and find new ways to address their needs.

These six provocations are more than hunches; we believe they will be critical territories in the new landscape of leadership. Read more about the visions behind these questions:

1. How might public services and spaces provide a contactless option?

2. How might we incentivize mobility and upskilling within government?

3. How might city, state, and federal governments reallocate resources to meet emerging needs?

4. How might we support marginalized communities and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks?

5. How might we amplify access to public services and meet residents where they are?

6. How might we give both residents and public servants more access and more choice?

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"It doesn't occur to most people that everything is designed" - Bill Moggridge

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