26 Apr User-centred service design

Recently, my content consulting has focused on service design. This means designing content that enables the majority of users to do something quickly and easily while still addressing edge case needs.

Done badly, service design not only confuses users, but costs companies and organisations money – as summed up by Louise Downe in her Government Digital Service blog post:

If these services aren’t immediately understandable and easy to use it can confuse users and lead to mistakes being made. This increases casework and phone calls for government – and the amount of time spent by users trying to fix their problem. All of this costs money. 

Having collaborated closely with some very talented user researchers and interaction designers, I’ve been immersed in user-centred design (UCD) for the last few months. Here are my top three takeaways from this approach and how it can transform a service’s usability.

Integrate words your service users actually use

Without user research, it’s easy to assume that as long as a word is in plain English it’s right. But what if there are other plain English words that would work better? Or a slightly more complex word that will mean more to your users?

User research and testing will reveal the terminology your users actually use.

Observe a lab session and note the terms users use to describe their interaction with an early version of your service. Or as part of a user needs discovery session, see what users would like to get out of your service and record how they describe this.

For a job search service I was recently working on, user research revealed that ‘feedback’ was a key term mentioned by users. I therefore recommended that interview feedback be integrated into the service and that this exact term be used.

Keyword research will also identify the best terminology to use. Find out what people are searching for in relation to your service, then use those words in the service itself.

Test early

A good copywriter is a diligent perfectionist by their very nature. However, this can mean their instinct is to work and work on content before they’re satisfied it’s spot on and ready to be shared.

Sharing early, with both peers and users, guides the content and stops wasting resources on what ultimately won’t work.

Share your initial ideas with user research and design colleagues to benefit from their specialist knowledge. Pair with a dev to further flesh out concepts and identify any technical limitations.

Get content in front of a user early to see how they interpret your service. Are questions clear? Do they understand what they need to do? Does the journey need to change?

Even if you don’t feel the content is there yet, testing some initial assumptions is invaluable. It not only identifies weak and successful areas, but will help you build up user-centred evidence for that all important stakeholder buy in.

Consider the whole service, not just digital

When designing a digital service you need to think about the entrance and exit points and how it fits into a wider offline experience.

For example, if there’s telephone or in-store contact are the customer service operatives using certain terminology? Is the best service strategy to align with this or to change those terms to match the digital service?

Or, is there accompanying paper documentation that needs to fit the language of your digital service? Are users able to book an appointment or experience online and therefore offline expectations need to be set?

Evaluate the end-to-end user experience to see where your digital service fits in and how you can make it a seamless part of the whole. Remember, your users won’t make a distinction between a great online service and bad offline experience (or vice versa). They’ll simply come away with a negative experience full stop.


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