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Service Design Framework

Practices and tools for delivering optimal user experience journeys.

The Skylight Service Design Framework

What the framework offers

Through many projects, Skylight has come to understand the challenges of applying service design in complex government systems. Working with different partners, we’ve adopted and refined a service design framework, a structure around our approach to solving problems. Our framework takes inspiration from others, but adapts them to fit the needs of our government partners.

The five phases

The framework includes five phases that a typical service design process moves through:

Skylight Service Design Framework

  • Initiate: Align on the problem space, including goals, vision, constraints, and environmental factors
  • Discover: Plan; research, analyze, and synthesize; socialize findings and artifacts
  • Strategize: Generate solutions; prioritize and plan; future visioning
  • Experiment: Create prototypes and tests to select the best solution, and iterate with user feedback
  • Implement: Actualize solutions and continue to measure, test, and refine

Each phase in the Skylight Service Design Framework is organized around certain outcomes — such as aligning with stakeholders on goals and vision or understanding the service landscape — and uses a set of methods to achieve them.

Service design projects vary in type of problem and solution, timeline, and many other aspects, so the framework is intended to serve as flexible guidelines. It’s normal and expected that you’ll need to return to previous steps in the process as you uncover more questions and paths to explore. As you get more comfortable implementing service design, you’ll gain confidence in knowing when to take a step back in order to move forward.

The tangled path from problem to solution. (Derived from Damien Newman and Shubhangi Choudhary)

Methods and templates

The framework includes a selection of methods that we use to achieve the desired outcomes at the various phases in the process. While there are many different methods you can use during a service design project, we’ve included the ones we find most essential.

Each method in this framework describes who needs to be involved, when to do it and how long it takes, and the steps to complete the method. Many also come with reusable templates for you to adapt and use on your own.

Case study

The framework also includes details from the Weather Systems Programs Office (WxPO) project as a case study to illustrate service design in action.

Who the framework is for

This framework offers information, resources, and tools for a range of roles and levels of expertise. Specifically, we hope this framework provides guidance for:

  • Government organizations that recognize the need for change
  • Designers interested in learning more about service design
  • Service designers looking for reference materials

Tips for success

Moving from assumption to alignment. (Derived from Jeff Patton)

If you’re using the Skylight Service Design Framework to embark on your own service design project, these tips will help guide you throughout the process:

Adjust your mindset

When you gather data during a service design project, it’s important to question everything you think you know. Holding onto assumptions about why a person interacts with a service or why a stakeholder pushes certain goals can mislead the project. To create the proper mindset:

  • Suspend judgment
  • Challenge knowledge
  • Increase observation
  • Improve creativity

Document everything

Document everything to ensure the team shares access to data and ideas from the start of a project. Writing, sketching, and visualizing gives everyone a chance to reflect, collaborate, and build a shared understanding. You may think team members are aligned when ideas are abstract, but you can’t be sure until thoughts are documented for everyone to digest, consider, and discuss.

If you work remotely, be sure to outline where all the important documents live and socialize them — meaning, make them a part of the team’s habits — often. If you work in a physical office, be sure to take pictures of everything.

Define everything

The words used to describe the service design process may differ across resources. Government offices and contractors also tend to have their own ways of speaking.

Creating a shared understanding among the team and stakeholders starts with using a shared vocabulary. Make sure the team is using the same language when they refer to different methods or artifacts. Define everything and clarify any terms that might be misunderstood by the team, partners, customers, or others — including those notorious government acronyms. To that effect, we’ve included a glossary of specialized terms we use in our framework.

Plan ahead for implementation

Creating change in organizations is hard. Plan ahead by bringing in, and co-designing with, key stakeholders at various stages in the process. Fostering buy-in and alignment early on will prepare staff for new ways of working and turn leadership into advocates. This will help you implement solutions when you’re ready.

Assign ownership when necessary

Facilitating a service design project means removing ownership from ideas and creating a collaborative atmosphere. But assigning ownership of the project and certain responsibilities is important. To promote buy-in, advocate for stakeholders to take ownership of the project. Assign responsibilities to the team or partners to ensure the project continues to push forward. If you encourage a sense of ownership among the broader team, you can increase participation and the chances of a project’s success.

Invite everyone to be a designer

Design has expanded to encompass so many skill sets, and it may be confusing for some who are unfamiliar with the discipline. Help teammates and stakeholders understand that design isn’t just making something look good (although we do aim for that, too!). Service design is inclusive of a range of roles and skill sets, and each is critical to the success of a project.

Embrace service design.

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