Why service patterns are like brand systems

Erin Peace  | 

Service designers are often asked if their roles are visionary or practical, broad or technical. Should the service designer simply be a charismatic advocate of the “users-first” mantra, or should he be an experienced researcher with the ability to turn analysis into high-fidelity outcomes?

The answer to this question is simply “yes”. While the definition of service design has yet to fully coalesce, one word that comes up in nearly every definition is “holistic”. Service design is concerned with end-to-end journeys; it takes a step back to view the forest. But it also sees every single leaf on every single tree. It sees how the sun affects those leaves, when they fall, who eats them. It looks long enough to see patterns.

A service pattern is a system of parallel user journeys among similar processes, and effective service patterns creative intuitive processes. A brand identity system is a unique set of graphic associations that creates certain expectations for consumers, and a brand system is a pattern that allows those associations to be re-articulated in various ways across mediums. In brand identity systems, designers create an universal visual language; this visual language is also key to guide and support our users in service design, as it allows us to communicate the touchpoints and deliver the user experience. Just as consistency in copy, colour and typography create intuitive recognition around a brand, parallel movements along similar user journeys allow companies and institutions to create recognizable, familiar interactions with their services.

When I go to the Pret near our office, for example, I can order an americano much in the same way that I can order a latte at the Pret near Waterloo. Or Bank. Or one of their 267 stores citywide. A user-centred business like Pret would likely respond with “duh.” But how many times have we interacted with large, siloed companies or institutions whose avenues for similar functions ask us to navigate entirely different journeys?

This is where service design can take a note from flexible graphic identity systems, like Marina Willer and Brian Boylan’s branding for London’s Serpentine Gallery or Michael Beirut’s Hillary for America logo.

These kind of graphic systems allows for play and experimentation, and when used well, can bring a community together through co-creation.

In both examples, the branding is flexible and customisable enough to allow it to work in multiple contexts. One look at the scrabble H, and you understand what is being communicated – even if you’re never seen that exact image before. Parallel user journeys work in much the same way.

Service patterns are like brand systems in that they allow for quick, familiar interaction with touchpoints even on distinct journeys. Applying this concept of flexibility through familiarity to service design allows service providers to save costs and prevent confusion for users.

The Director of Design for UK Government, Louise Downe, has worked diligently to reduce these occurrences in the public sector by creating a system of service patterns in one of the most vital UK institutions, Government Digital Service: “Though they had many different names – permits, exemptions, certificates, accreditations – and different purposes – registering the birth and death of cattle, movement of livestock, getting a fishing license – they all amounted to the same thing.”

She says they were actually all forms of licenses. “They all involved someone or something getting permission from the government to do something (or not do something). But each user journey was different, many were complicated and not user-centred. What became clear was that we could improve the way licenses were granted, and in doing so articulate a service pattern which could be used in other contexts.”

Bringing evidence-based consistency into service design projects to create service patterns only works if designers truly understand the component parts of what they are transforming. But this, as mentioned above, is what service designers are best at: deeply understanding every leaf on every tree in order to better design the forest.



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