What I learned from my first #servicesweek event

Jude Webb
Jude Webb
Feb 5 · 9 min read

A trip to Newcastle on 3 Feb 2020

Services Week 2020. Service design north. Monday 3 February 13:00–17:00, TusPark, Newcastle, NE1 5JE
Services Week 2020. Service design north. Monday 3 February 13:00–17:00, TusPark, Newcastle, NE1 5JE

It was Sunday afternoon and I was supposed to be putting the washing away, but I was having a sneaky look at twitter and noticed a tweet from @benholiday. He was talking in Newcastle on Monday afternoon, there were tickets for non gov people and I had a relatively free diary.

I then looked at the rest of the agenda and it looked brilliant — it was essentially everything that’s bubbling around in my head at the moment. So off I went to TusPark in Newcastle for Service Design North as part of #servicesweek. Here’s what I took from the day:

Theme of the day

The theme of the day seemed to me about joined-up services to create holistic user journeys, not just the products that make up the service from the organisation’s perspective.


Service-led DesignGavin Elliott, DWP Digital

As a regular at NUX Conference I’ve seen Gavin introduce people for years, but this was the first time I’d seen him present what he’s been working on. It was a fascinating walk through the progress that has been made in DWP to embed service design.

Key message:
The main takeaway for me was that taking people on a learning journey takes time, you have to understand what motivates them because they have different demands on them.

Other important takeaways included:

  • When you’re starting out you need stuff to show it works, but you need buy-in to build stuff which can be a bit chicken and egg.
  • Having made good headway in what the services are it’s getting to the point of thinking about joined up services. Remember that each user need is matched with an organisational need along the journey.
  • We should have user centred success measures.
  • The future is more influencing, and moving design thinking into new areas (but don’t use the buzz words when starting those conversations).

And some final thoughts were:

  • Communicate often what service design is
  • Do incremental changes
  • Have empathy
  • Deliver something of value
  • Demonstrate user centred design successes and measures

Product Roadmaps: A tale of tradeoffsDaniel Dalton , SaleCycle

Dan shared his journey of designing the right roadmap for his organisation when it was growing.

Key message:
His key message was to find out what job you need a roadmap to do for you and your users right now, and then design it to meet that need.

Dan started with a summary of what different people think roadmaps are for and then used the ‘Jobs to be Done’ approach to understand what types there were:

  • Prototype
  • Sequence
  • Communicate
  • List requirements
  • Have not role
  • Match to OKRs

Small organisations where everyone is in the same room don’t need roadmaps. It’s when you get bigger and need to align people that you need a roadmap.

Some best practice says roadmaps should NEVER have dates, granular detail or look like a timeline

But if your users need those things it’s fine to have them. It all depends what job your roadmap is doing for you. The process of creating it and the conversations you have around it are the most important bit - don’t be militant about the process.

If you do have dates on your roadmap you need the understanding and culture that they dates are estimates and not commitments.

A roadmap is there to:

  • Engage
  • Communicate
  • Strategic thinking

Roadmaps start with conversations, empathy with the users and are there to remove friction.

Some final thoughts on roadmaps from Dan’s talk are:

  • Solve customer problems
  • Facilitation conversations and provide alignment
  • Create a culture of learning and safety

AI, User Insight & Service DesignSteve Erdal, WordNerds

Steve observed that used well, AI can make our services more human. They take big data and turn them into insights which can be used to make decisions.

Key message:
Most big data is based on numbers because they are easier. Wordnerds are doing this with words and the meaning of what people are sharing.

But the insights are only as good as the inputs. The AI finds patterns, and then patterns of patterns. You need people to teach the system to get the best of it and then the insights can provide evidence for what you’re doing.

What the AI does:

  1. Brings in data
  2. Smart filtering by meaning
  3. Topic analysis
  4. Report (and alert)

AI captures what your users are telling you but can’t hear because there are too many voices so it often gets lost.

In the past, when a human and a computer were talking the human had to adapt to the computer. AI means that the computer can now adapt to the human. That means it can respond to many people’s needs at once.

So if you’re thinking of starting using AI then:

  1. Start with a problem to solve
  2. AI will interact with people
  3. Have a system of evaluation
  4. Talk to people who’ve done it before

Designing Healthy Start — Robert Djaelani, NHS Business Services Authority

This talk looked at the design of the service of Healthy Start, which provides food and milk for people who are pregnant or feeding children under 4 who are hungry.

Key message:
When understanding your service the context that you put your research in really matters. Look beyond the service you’re delivering to understand your user’s needs.

Robert explained that service design is at the middle ground between:

  • Policy (what needs to be done)
  • Business requirements
  • What people need

There is a large gap between those who are eligible for Healthy Start vouchers and the uptake. Over time the number of people using the service has dropped whilst the number of people using foodbanks has grown, and they meet similar needs.

They’ve done user research to understand why that might be, and identified that barriers to access, stigma of the vouchers and not having access to places that accept the vouchers are holding potential users back from using the service. They’ve also mapped the interdependent services to understand the world they’re working in.

They’ve chosen to start with the hardest to reach, most complex cases (eligible, under 18 and pregnant) with the idea that if you can get it right for these people then it’ll work for others. The plan is to use (credit) cards rather than vouchers and make it easier for people to take the service up.


Designing for Social Housing TenantsSimon Hales, Home Group

Simon shared their strategy and how it had evolved from having a goal of driving people to use online regardless of their personal choice to delivering on the customer promise.

Key message:
Their user research found there were lots of different reasons people didn’t want to use a digital service. So they are now designing services to meet user needs.

At first they had a digital service that met the business need of collecting rent, but not the main needs that the users wanted, which was to request and track repairs and see a history of all interactions with the organisation to build trust.

These services are harder to build because the process and data isn’t there to service them yet, but will really meet user needs. They are working to deliver joined up services and educate people within the business so they can deliver a better customer experience regardless of channel.


Using co-design to reveal hidden experiencesDaniel Carey, Status Digital

This talk focused on the experience of those caring for friends and family with the complexity of dementia, and how co-design can create a visual map of that.

Key message:
Working with people with lived experience of a condition, and interesting ways of visualising data, gives new insights and perspective.

Daniel started by sharing models of design, highlighting design disruption as his favourite, and as a way of getting up the mountain of policy adoption which is very difficult.

Therefore not following the Christian Bason Danish Design Centre process of: Identification of problem, idea, test, policy, proposal, political agreement, implementation to intended effects and unintended effects. Instead going from Societal challenge direct to Act/reform by design disruption.

Christian Bason — Danish Design Centre process overlaid with Societal challenge going to Act/reform through design disruption
Christian Bason — Danish Design Centre process overlaid with Societal challenge going to Act/reform through design disruption
Daniel showing that going from Societal challenge direct to Act/reform by design disruption

The plan was to use physical assets to bring the experiences to life so that they occupied a space and people had to live with the ambiguity.

Map showing circles of different sizes and colour representing different services and positive or negative feelings over time
Map showing circles of different sizes and colour representing different services and positive or negative feelings over time
Daniel’s maps were fascinating — showing a colour for different services and size and positivity. This shows that one interaction is not all positive of negative, it’s mixed.

Hint — set up your colour coding before you start any interviews or taking notes.

When you think of the experience of a doctor, they have a map and have done it before, but there is no map for the carer.

The idea of a map was used to capture people’s experiences of the journey through being a carer. A blank map was created and people came together to fill it in.

Final thoughts:

  • You need permission to fail
  • Embrace the complexity
  • Think of the human and also the community

For more on inspiring ways to visualise data check out Giorgialupi


Designing services that keep people safeJenny Gibson, DWP Digital

This talk focused on people who’d experienced domestic abuse and the fact that digital is increasingly being used as a tool of control, and what that means for designers.

Key message:
This talk served as a serious reminder of the importance of understanding the context your users live in when designing services for them.

Domestic abuse is increasing and the role digital plays in domestic abuse is growing too.

There were examples of people they’d spoken to who’s ex-partners had used digital to spy on them, which reminded us that it’s more important than ever to understand how to keep our users safe.

To discover these insights its vital to start by listening to users, and when talking about domestic abuse this also means building trust with the organisation who can give you access to those users.

When people have been hacked (or experienced digital domestic abuse) they find it difficult to trust digital, so:

  • Give people a choice (they’ll know best how to keep themselves safe)
  • Give complete clarity of all the communication that’ll happen (so they can spot if some start go missing)
  • Challenge internal pressure
  • Don’t make digital mandatory
  • Raise awareness — people living though domestic abuse don’t always recognise it

Check out womensaid.org.uk and mensadviceline.org.uk who support those living through domestic abuse.


Service design across central and local governmentBen Holiday, FutureGov

We should see public institutions as catalysts for change and design services that do that.

Key message:
As with other talks, there was a recurring theme that great design had been carried out on elements of services, but there was a need to look wider as well as reflections on how that could be done.

When thinking about visions, putting a date on them is a challenge because design should be what we’re doing now.

So what is service design?

  • Reframing
  • Creating
  • Connecting
  • Doing (as a way of learning)
  • Continuous improvement

Design isn’t redesign.

You should be thinking about an organising model not an operating model. This means you focus on services, not tech or processes.

Understand the services, and then organise around them and the outcomes they deliver. When you’re mapping you always need to think about the level of detail you need, and user research will give you the context.

Note: FUTUREGOV are collecting service patterns for local authorities

The design state of mind of how we respond to the types of questions asked mean we need to be deliberate on how and what we do.

Slide showing From and To, explained below
Slide showing From and To, explained below
Ben’s thoughts on where organisations are coming from and where they need to move to

From: Business/technical perspective
To: User focused — It could work like this, so we’re testing these assumptions now

From: Complexity
To: Simplicity — Use this to deal with complexity, simplify the ideas so you can get everyone in the same place. A map could help you get somewhere.

From: We can’t change that
To: We can change that — Everything is changing so this can too. Let’s test assumptions.

From: Needing certainty
To: Not knowing — Learn by doing — work to find out what we don’t know

From: Fixed assumptions
To: Changing our minds — need to see where we’re wrong, rather than trying to prove we’re right, we should try and learn how we might be wrong

From: Closed
To: Open — Be creative and make new connections and ideas. So work in the open


All in all it was a great day with lots of food for thought. I met some great people doing lots of great work, and even managed a quick half in the pub before getting my train home. Thank you to everyone who make this event happen.

I’m the first service designer at Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and I’m working out what that means and how to do my job well. If you’re interested in what we’re doing or how we’re approaching service design, or just want a chat please get in touch on jude.webb@jrf.org.uk

Inside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

The people working to solve UK poverty

Jude Webb

Written by

Jude Webb

Inside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

The people working to solve UK poverty

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