The next frontier of service design is the workplace

Bree Groff

Guest author Bree Groff currently is CEO of NOBL, a collective of organizational designers, experience designers, and team coaches committed to expanding access to meaningful work. She is a graduate of M.S. Learning and Organizational Change and has co-taught one of the program’s design courses.



Before I joined NOBL as the Managing Director of our New York office, I worked as a director of innovation, an interpersonal chemistry researcher, a service designer, and a magician’s assistant. I know what you’re thinking: “exactly what is service design?”

People tend to understand product design — someone thought about how to make my vacuum swivel, or how to give my toothbrush a nice grip. But this way of thinking can also improve services, like waiting in line at the doctor’s office.

My pediatrician’s office is a great example. Can’t get your kid to cooperate to be weighed? The examination bench itself is a scale. Find it absurdly annoying to write out the address of your insurance company, by hand, in 2016? (I mean seriously…) No problem, just email them a picture of the insurance card.But what does this have to do with work? Let me fill in the blanks:

  • Successful businesses thoughtfully design customers’ experiences in order to exceed expectations and ensure customers will buy the service again.
  • Successful employers thoughtfully design employees’ experiences in order to exceed expectations and ensure employees will DEVOTE THEIR LIVES, day in and day out, to serving the organization.

Same thing! Except, as I’m sure you noticed by my subtle capitalization, designing for the employee is far more important. Would you find it acceptable if 70% of your customers were dissatisfied? 70% of employees are disengaged at work, and somehow that’s not a call to action.

So how can you take the first step in improving your employees’ experiences?

  1. Ask one employee for a chat. Sit down for an hour, maybe take them to coffee, and ask what work is like for them. Don’t convince them it’s great, or explain why things are a certain way: just open it up and listen. You’ll know you’re doing it right if they’re talk 5x more than you, and when you do speak, it’s to say “Tell me more about that…”
  2. Brainstorm around one issue. Focus on one thing from that discussion — something you could fix or augment — and sit down with a colleague or two (and ideally, your interviewee) to generate ideas to make that thing better.
  3. Try it out. Take one of those ideas — the one you sense fits most squarely in the intersection of “it would be awesome” and “we can actually do it” — and run an experiment. Recruit your “design team” (a colleague or two) and use it for a week.
  4. Retrospect. Sit down with your colleagues and interviewee and think about how the experiment went. What was good? What was bad? What can you change for next time?

Maybe all you do is make a better template for submitting expenses. Or make a policy to go out for a team lunch with any new hire. As you practice, you’ll go bigger and do better.

Listen. Brainstorm. Try stuff. Reflect. That’s the secret sauce.

This post is republished with permission of the author.

Image credit: Peter Clarkson

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