The Seven Key Principles To Help You Design Services With Impact

7 min read
Ben Logan
Service Design
Behavioural Science

Last year on 2nd August 2017, humans had already used up their allowance for water, soil, clean air and other resources on Earth for the whole of 2017, according to environmental groups WWF and the Global Footprint Network. This is known as ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ and the date last year was earlier than in 2016, which means humanity was surviving on “credit” until 31 December 2017.

“This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period,” reported WWF and the Global Footprint Network.  None of this is really sustainable in the long term. As a father of a two year old son, (who is soon to have a brother), these things start to enter your conscience more, thinking about the world they will be growing up in 30 years from now.

So how can we design for impact in order to provide a better world for our children?

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What do we mean by ‘designing for impact’?

As a Service Design Agency, we are constantly looking for ways to make our work mean more to those we work with. There is a lot of discussion around designing with impact (as well as measuring that impact), which can feel a bit intangible at times.

Designing with impact, as we define it, means designing services that have a material benefit to the planet we live on by being deliberately and consciously less harmful. (e.g. Should we encourage users to upgrade to the latest mobile phone when the one they have is in perfectly good condition?) It means ensuring that the work we do makes a difference to the people we work with – both benefiting the customers and creating a competitive advantage for the business, without discounting the cost of environmental externalities.

With a planet with finite resources and companies looking to reinvent themselves and challenging their current business models, this point really does give food for thought about the kinds of companies that are going to succeed in the future. Our view is that these will be ones that are intentionally designing with this second point in mind.

Which companies are embracing this concept?

O2 Recycle

The list of companies making a conscious effort in this space includes O2 with their O2 Recycle policy. O2 realised that a large part of their business model encourages people to upgrade to the latest phones, and that they needed to do more to encourage people to recycle their old devices.  We recently upgraded one of our handsets in the office, and chose to go for a reconditioned model, which came with minimal plastic packaging, and without a charging plug as they assume you will already have one (which we did). According to O2 they operate a zero landfill policy, meaning that your old device will be responsibly reused, refurbished or recycled. They’ve already recycled over 2 million devices and paid out over £135 million. This is a step in the right direction.

Air BP / Rocket Route

Air BP launched ‘The RocketRoute Fuel App’, which enables fuel to be purchased directly and easily from any one of Air BP’s 800 plus locations worldwide. Whilst the aviation industry is guilty of increasing the carbon footprint on the planet, they are taking steps to reduce this. The app has a feature, which allows aviators to offset carbon. The feature, managed by BP Target Neutral, BP’s not-for-profit initiative, allows customers to offset the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the fuel purchased. This is done via carbon credits, which support low carbon development projects around the world.

Grenson Shoes

Grenson shoes, which is a UK shoe manufacturer established in 1866, encourages you to work with their excellent repair team to fix the shoes you have bought from them, rather than buying a brand new pair from them.  This is less expensive than buying a new pair of shoes, so in effect they are encouraging you to spend less with them rather than buying new shoes each time. However, the business model actually works in favor of their long-term business interests, as it encourages brand loyalty.

And more

James Quincey, president and chief executive of Coca-Cola, stated recently that they aim to make all of its bottles with an average of 50 percent recycled content by 2030. Not only this but that the new targets will be an integral part of the company’s business model.  Unilever, Mars, PepsiCo, and Procter & Gamble are among companies that have made commitments towards packaging and recycling as reported by the FT. Nestlé last year teamed up with rival Danone to help build a greener plastic bottle, made from waste such as sawdust or cardboard.  I have to say one of my pet hates is seeing items in the supermarket, such as oranges and bananas, with plastic wrapping around them, when they already have a perfectly good protective skin!

What is really interesting about this is that a real light bulb has gone on in terms of people’s conscience around recycling, with some serious commitments around this. What is even more interesting is that the behavioural trigger or ‘nudge’ for many in the UK, was not the statements by individual companies, but from a TV show on the BBC called Blue Planet by Sir David Attenborough, which has alerted people to the harmful effects of wildlife due to the amount of plastic in our oceans.

7 principles to help you design services with impact

This is not an exhaustive list, but a few things we think are worthwhile considering:

1. Take a note from behavioural economics.

Just because a service exists, it does not mean it will be used.  Behavioural economics should be playing a much bigger role in projects that encourage people to change their behaviour.

2. Prototyping and observation are more effective than five-year business plans.

Getting out there and designing ideas with people is better than writing out unwieldy business five-year business plans. Taking a collaborative, evidence-based approach will be more compelling.

3. Measure the value of a service before and/or after the service design intervention.

In order to establish if the new service is successful, the value of the existing service should be explored early on as well as iteratively throughout service development.

4. Be prepared to convince your company to ‘eat their own lunch’.

In some cases designing with impact means reducing down unnecessary items, or in the case of O2 and Grenson shoes, encouraging your customers to repair an item rather than to always buy brand new.

5. Business Design is as important as service design.

Service design agencies and departments must get serious about the business goals and objectives on projects.  Even if you do not employ business designers, companies must appoint a member of the project team to be responsible for defining the business goals, aligning those goals with the deliverables and providing clear metrics. As the saying goes, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” (Cameron)

6. Involving the service user as well as the business in innovation.

No one person is the answer to good ideas.  Involving employees as well as the end users of a service in the innovation process is key.

7.  Socio-technical system and systems thinking is as important as ever.

I am not sure this has ever really not been important, but I see companies needing a strategy for determining how a proposed program, product or a service fits into larger environmental, political and social systems.

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