Equitable Service Blueprints

Using a hallmark tool of service design to build more transparency, investment and agency into services.

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This article was originally written in Medium.

We live in a world where everything is and will become a service.

Technology led the charge, with hundreds of Software as a Service (SaaS) startups making up the bulk of our economy. Healthcare-as-a-Service (HaaS) thrived in COVID-19, fundamentally changing how we deliver healthcare. In the next ten years, generative AI will unleash more AIaaS businesses than we have ever seen.

So if we live in such a world, what does that mean for designers of services or service design tools? What does it mean for an equitable service?

Service blueprints (a hallmark tool of Service Design) are having a little moment after Brian Chesky at Airbnb shared a service blueprint of the Airbnb service. Service Designers and agencies responded with their slew of “we do this too” and yay for service blueprints posts. We’re chiming in and asking what could service blueprints (and service design more broadly) look like when equity is at the center?

TLDR or Keep Reading

If you want to get into our take on a service blueprint that prioritizes equity from the get-go, jump to the top of this post to download the template we created that questions the typical service blueprint.

If you want to warm up into the topic and nerd out with us about what it looks like when equity is at the center of a service blueprinting process — keep reading.

There are a few aspects of a tool like the service blueprint that we want to design away from: visibility, disposability, and choice and instead turn toward: transparency, investment and agency.

Bringing the Invisible to Light

Equitable service design acknowledges the invisible aspects of services, illuminating the unseen efforts and hidden facets that ultimately contribute to a user’s experience. The unsung heroes in the background, the backstage workers, and the subtle touches in service delivery often go unnoticed.

While we believe deeply in the power of empathy as a tool to better understand our customers. And while many of us put a lot of energy into capturing every interaction and emotion to ensure we truly understand their journey.

Could it be that in our laser-focused efforts to really “get” our customers, concentrating solely on them, we might unintentionally overlook the empathy required for the people crafting, delivering, and realizing the value we aim to provide?

Let’s take the line of visibility often present in many service blueprints. On the surface, it looks at everything behind the scenes of the service. However, it can often work like a class system, creating a harmful hierarchy of care.

We need to see the line of visibility and not use it as an excuse to hide the less shiny parts of a service. It should provide what people need when needed, but it should do so through an empathic lens that actively illuminates the unseen and champions those who typically exist outside the spotlight. No matter how minor or seemingly unimportant it may seem, every touchpoint in service design results from human creativity and labor. We respect the dignity of every person involved by realizing this, and we firmly believe that nobody is disposable.

This approach puts value on the people who make services possible, not just the people who receive the service. It means nurturing an ecosystem where everyone feels valued and respected, from the service designer to the frontline worker, from the back-office personnel to the user.

Participation by and more fundamentally inclusion in the decision making and design are essential in order to design toward visibility and agency.

Moving beyond tokenistic co-creation: Promoting Inclusivity and Agency in Service Design

Our views on where knowledge and insight reside within an organization shape how we design. Knowledge can come from many places: staff who interact with the customer, staff who are behind the scenes, the customer, etc. Yet how we co-create or include people in the development and design of a service can alter which voices, ideas, and concerns matter and which do not.

We risk flattening people’s lived experiences when we design alone. Accessibility, cultural sensitivity, and socioeconomic factors must be considered for good and equitable service design. To do this, services must be easy for everyone who needs them, based on consent, and not limited by physical ability, language skills, or anything else that might affect how someone experiences a service. With cultural sensitivity as a cornerstone of service design, we can ensure that services respect and respond to users’ diverse backgrounds and unique needs.

By doing so, service design can evolve from a tool for solution delivery into an instrument for driving systemic change.

The Journey Ahead

The future of equitable service design demands a commitment to systems that design toward transparency, dignity, and agency.

Every person, every action, and every part of the service experience is important.

It’s our responsibility when mapping a service and practicing service design, to illuminate them, to stand against disposability, and to foster a culture of dignity and visibility. Let’s challenge our design processes and tools to help us do just that.