May 7, 2020

Enhancing Government through Service Design

Stephanie Dacre |


We are living in the age of innovation. The Public Sector in BC is digitizing services at a faster rate than ever before. Paper based processes and legacy systems are being replaced with modern digital services aimed at improving the user experience for citizens in British Columbia. As both citizens and software providers that often work with the BC government, we are proud that the BC government has adopted service design as their methodology of choice when digitizing or improving services. However for those reading this, you may have a couple questions. Such as:

  • What exactly is service design? 
  • How does it benefit the public sector? 
  • How does Service Design help the government innovate for citizens?

What is Service Design?

Before we jump into how service design can help improve government services – let’s spend some time understanding exactly what it is. 

Time for a short history lesson! In 1991, Service design was introduced as a design principle by Prof. Dr.Michael Erlhoff at Köln International School of Design. As a result, an international group of universities began providing service design education and a network for academics involved in the domain. Thanks to Dr. Erlhoff, the network proposed a definition of the discipline:

Headshot of Prof. Dr. Michael Erlhoff

Service Design is an emerging discipline and an existing body of knowledge, which can dramatically improve the productivity and quality of services.

Prof. Dr.Michael Erlhoff

More specifically, Service Design:

  • aims to create services that are useful, useable, desirable, efficient & effective
  • is a human-centred approach that focuses on customer experience and the quality of service encounter as the key value for success.
  • is a holistic approach, which considers – in an integrated way – strategic, system, process and touchpoint design decisions.
  • is a systematic and iterative process that integrates user-oriented, team-based, interdisciplinary approaches and methods, in ever-learning cycles.

Service design designs services: 

  1. From end-to end: From when the user starts trying to achieve a goal to when they finish — including both content and transactions, agnostic to the business unit or department providing the service
  2. From front to back: Meaning the user-facing service, internal processes, supporting policy or legislation, and organizational, financial and governance structures of the service
  3. In every channel: Including digital, phone, mail, face to face and physical elements.

Downe, Louise, and Services Programme.
What We Mean by Service Design.
Government Digital Service. 2016.

How is service design different from design thinking and other design principles? 

Actually, there are a lot of similarities between service design and design thinking. Heapy emphasizes the value of the user in service creation in his article “Creating Value Beyond the Product through Services” published in the Design Management Review: ‘Service design replicates those parts of other design disciplines that go before the product: the user-centeredness, the sense of innovation, and the challenge to make things better, simpler, and more connected to the values and needs of the user.’

In contrast to design thinking, service design thinks about everything that the user experiences about a service from start to finish while design thinking principles are often applied to a single product (a piece of software for example). Service design thinks about every single touchpoint with its user.

How can Service Design benefit the public sector?

To understand how service design is helpful for public sector innovation, we first need to understand exactly what it looks like in practice. At FreshWorks we follow a service design approach that we tailor to the needs of our client. However, the 7 phases of service design remain the same:

Graphic of the different phases of service design

* Please keep in mind that service design is an invested method that we could write about for hundreds of pages. As this blog post is meant to be a short overview, so we have linked out to helpful articles on varying topics if you want to do a deeper dive!


The alignment phase involves establishing a shared understanding by all project owners, sponsors, leadership and executive teams. It’s important to confirm the government’s policy intent for the service so that the policy intent can be aligned with user needs. 

Activities in this phase could include:

  • Defining the roles of each team member
  • Setting out timeframes, milestones and deliverables 
  • Draft a stakeholder map.

By the end of the alignment phase, you should be – well…aligned. The project team should feel a commitment to the investment required to create the most value from a service design initiative. 


An overview about a typical discovery process can be found here. Discovery for service design is different because it involves examining all the service channels (not just digital). This is achieved by performing contextual user research with as many members of the team as possible. In discovery, the team should seek to understand the services from both inside-out (public sector employees) and outside-in (citizens) perspective. Understanding the citizens perspective is a critical success factor for service transformation. 

The team should seek to understand the services from both inside-out (public sector employees) and outside-in (citizens) perspective. Understanding the citizens perspective is a critical success factor for service transformation.

At FreshWorks, our service design discovery process always begins with desk research and an environmental scan and review of existing documents, process maps and artefacts. This is to ensure that we are using any work that has already been done;there is no point in reinventing the wheel. Then, we begin field research with interviews and site visits – asking users about their end-to-end experience with the service and recording their answers. 
By the end of the discovery phase, you should have the necessary information to build artefacts that define your users relationship with the service. These artefacts can include personas, scenarios and journey map(s).

Example of Service Design in Government. Journey Map used in a government project
An example of a journey map our design team completed on a recent project for the BC Government.

Opportunity – Brainstorm Ideas Through Workshops

The Opportunities Phase is an energetic segment where teams are full of excitement to solve the problems they encountered in the field. As the team shifts from current to future state, it’s important to start the phase with a review session. During the review session, you should summarize insights from the Discovery phase, present any artefacts (personas, journey maps) and confirm the team’s alignment before moving forward. 

Then, brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm! 

At FreshWorks, we work to generate ideas for a new and improved future service by running an ideation workshop (sometimes referred to as an opportunity workshop). In an ideation workshop, the team works together to explore opportunities and generate ideas for finding efficiencies. The workshop often begins as a free-form brainstorming session and then moves toward prioritization of opportunities. 

By the end of the opportunity phase, your team will have an official log to track opportunities as they arise, a feature value matrix, and an initial service blueprint


The prototyping phase serves as an opportunity to test out ideas, while mitigating the risks of building a full fledged solution. Building a concrete prototype allows the team to challenge assumptions, and tailor the prototype to the real needs of users. A good prototype should look and feel like a real digital service and provide a seamless user experience that can be evaluated through testing.


The testing phase in service design is crucial. It gives the team clear insight to how users will actually interact with the service. 

How you should test depends upon the nature of your service. Testing approaches can include:

  • Task based  – provide a task for users and record the steps they take to complete the task.
  • A/B testing – compares two versions of a page to see which performs better.

Treejack testing – users are asked to find a topic on the website, and then chooses between two or more headers (good for testing information architecture).

It’s probably a good time to remind you that service design is not a linear process.For example If you discover that users are having a difficult time using the prototype, you should revisit the opportunity phase in order to discover a new way to implement the prototype.

Graphic by FreshWorksStudio on Design Thinking: A nonn-linear process
Design Thinking: A Non-Linear Process


The roadmapping phase is exactly what it sounds like – developing a prioritized roadmap necessary to realize opportunities. Based on the work completed (prototypes, journey maps, stakeholder canvas), the team will draw out a concrete, clear plan to move forward. As expected, this phase will result in a service roadmap or project plan.

This phase doesn’t need much explanation – time to move full steam ahead! 


After implementation, it is important to continue measuring service improvements over time and iterate as needed based on user feedback. One method you can use to measure customer perception of value in services is the net promoter score (NPS).  The NPS is calculated by asking users “How likely are you to recommend [service] to a friend or colleague?” on a scale of one-to-ten.

Graphic of Net Promoter Score Scale

How does service design help the government innovate for citizens? 

Public services are everywhere you look – from public transportation to registering a business, applying for employment insurance, issuing passports, and so many more. Utilizing a service design methodology in the public sector ensures that our government services are built by the “many” instead of the “few”. Service design is a method to innovate services by understanding user needs directly through user research. This means that the citizens are directly involved in creating the product or service that they need

Utilizing a service design methodology in the public sector ensures that our government services are built by the “many” instead of the “few”. 

The following table by Steen et al. provides a concise overview of the benefits of a service design approach.

table providing a concise overview of the benefits of a service design approach

Currently, service design is allowing the public sector to fill the gaps that exist in government services, and tackle organizational change in a holistic way. However, as a relatively new and ever evolving discipline, there is still much to learn. We don’t yet have a complete understanding of the limitations of service design. For example, longitudinal studies that measure customer experience in timely intervals after service design initiatives would be extremely interesting. A measured approach like this will allow us to gain insight about how often we need to revisit the user to understand their changing needs.

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