SDN Touchpoint: Systems Thinking in Service Design

Peter JonesDesign for Practice, Service Design, Systemic Design

Touchpoint is back! The long-awaited issue on systems thinking in service design was just published by the Service Design Network, and of course, we find it is beautifully designed. The guest editors were two well-regarded academics, J. Tuomas Harviainen from Tampere University and Josina Vink, who is a graduate of an early cohort in the OCADU SFI MDes program, and is now a service design professor at Oslo’s AHO, a partner school of ours for many years. Josina’s editorial titled “The Systems Turn in Service Design” sets out a grand challenge for both disciplines:

“There is a transition underway in service design that is
challenging traditional ways of working. As the scope
of service design projects continues to expand, service
designers are increasingly confronted by the immense
complexity of overlapping service systems. Amid
entangled global crises – including climate change,
migration, eroding democratic norms and strained
healthcare systems – there is growing awareness of the
urgent need for significant societal shifts. The discipline
of service design is being looked to as contributor and
facilitator of these critical systemic changes.”

Vink, J. (2021). Touchpoint,12 (2), p. 10

Kristel Van Ael and I submitted a piece for the issue to present our views of the service-system design relationship. As Kristel and Namahn had previously designed a successful service design toolkit, we wished to show how the need for the Systemic Design Toolkit grew from the more complex issues across stakeholders, governance, and service levels in our client projects. Between Namahn’s public sector engagements with the Toolkit, and our use of the tools in OCADU’s Masters’ training, we have found it especially valued in public policy contexts, where service design has been taken up as a core practice for policy implementation. A primary application of the Systemic Design tools has been to move the policy design upstream from implementation to system-level and root issue interventions, which cannot be resolved at the level of implementation of policy instruments. We show this relationship in the image used as Figure 1 in the article.

Systemic design extends service design to the system (Van Ael, 2021)

We show the functional relationships between interaction, service, and systemic design, with each practice having an overarching connection to the other. In many ways, this model portrays a “system of systems” view – wherein Interaction design supports and is entailed within service touchpoints and interaction moments, and service systems are contained within value constellations or public value systems. Interaction design defines the conditions for experiences that emerge in service touchpoints. It is not a stage of design but is carried through all service processes. Service design, in general, develops comprehensive solutions for providers to co-create extraordinary service experiences, while hiding complex background interactions.

Systemic design does not duplicate methods of the other disciplines. Its specific purpose is to create system value, facilitated by stakeholder-driven design decisions, for policy and multi-organisation systems. The Systemic Design Toolkit was developed to enable all designers “in the system,” service and strategic designers, to workshop with any and all stakeholders in co-creation for complex systems and service solutions within these systems.

The Toolkit uniquely addresses complex system challenges:

  • We provide tools that map whole systems, contexts, human behaviours within systems, and that connect services within systems.
  • Corporate service design requires tools that define relationships to systems, to identify risks and potentials from a service’s interaction in the relevant system.
  • Systemic design extends beyond ‘users’ to build on knowledge and experience from inclusive contributions across many system stakeholders.
  • The tools help define sociotechnical systems that contain many complex tasks (such as medical practices where specialized equipment, training, and informatics are tightly integrated). Common design tools are insufficient for sustained, iterative development of expert knowledge required for large sociotechnical systems.

I think all the articles are well-selected for the issue and have relevance across many contexts. The Touchpoint formats are concise, focused briefs with clear graphics fitting the story. The editors have chosen articles from around the world, Northern Europe, Canada, and the UK, Asia, Australia, and the US – and it’s good to see colleagues from the systemic design world. I”ll give special mention to fellow SDA board member Benedicte Wildhagen, of Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA) whose article on Norway’s public sector innovation lab StimuLab presents their process model, partnership with Halogen, and approach to experimentation. Another OCADU Strategic Foresight & Innovation grad Nourhan Hegazy is co-author on “Implementing Policy through Systemic Design” with Kara Waites of the Treasury Board. Nourhan has been working in the public sector innovation, in Canadian government policy labs since her graduation, as well as numerous others from the program, where they are able to employ their combined skillsets of systems thinking and systemic design in service contexts.