Service design for government

By Hannah Collins

01 June 2022

For Service Design Day, we break down service design and outline why it’s critical for effective government services.

Today (1st June) is Service Design Day. From the Service Design Network, “Service Design Day was launched in 2016 and is a day dedicated to service design enthusiasts – a world-wide event to bring together people from different backgrounds and disciplines.” To celebrate, we’ve broken down the service design basics and outlined why it’s critical for efficient, effective and people-focused government services.

What is service design?

Service design is an approach that links:

  • people - service users, employees, business stakeholders
  • processes - workflows, procedures
  • things - products, technology, infrastructure

Ok, so what is a service?

No one has yet defined it better than Lou Downe. In their book Good Services, Downe writes: “A service is something that helps someone to do something.” In other words, a service can be:

  • digital - apps, service portals, website pages
  • non-digital - leaflets, paper forms, phone, people
  • both digital and non-digital

Often when people talk about government services, they’re thinking of digital services. An online form. A chatbot. Downe’s definition helps us to keep in mind that services cut across many points in the physical and digital world – and that we need to design for both.

Service design for a meal kit delivery service

To illustrate what service design is, let’s look at the example of a meal kit delivery service like Hello Fresh. Remember, service design involves people, processes and things.


  • Customers (e.g. existing subscribers, new customers)
  • Employees (e.g. the chefs, warehouse staff, marketing team)
  • Service partners (e.g. the courier company, produce suppliers)


  • Recipes are created, written and photographed
  • Weekly recipes are selected and added to the app
  • Food for each recipe is sourced and packaged
  • Customers orders are processed
  • Warehouse staff pack orders
  • Couriers collect and deliver orders
  • Feedback is collected from customers and shared with the recipe team for improvement


  • The app customers use to place orders
  • Food for the recipes
  • Packaging for the food, recipe cards and boxes
  • The warehouse

Service design for Hello Fresh would look at how all of the people, processes and things in the service intersect, in order to:

  • deliver the business strategy - increase customer numbers and employee productivity
  • provide a good customer experience - tasty food delivered on time
  • provide a good employee experience - employees understand how to carry out their duties and their workload is manageable

Why is service design important?

Imagine if Hello Fresh only focused on building the app. The product design. It could have the best functionality and features in the world – but the service would not work. That's because all of the things around a product or service impact its use. Nielsen Norman Group write: “An organisation’s backstage processes (how we do things internally) have as much, if not more, impact on the overall user experience as the visible points of interaction that users encounter.”

Why government services need good service design

The cost of bad service design is…well… costly. That’s true for any service, but it’s especially important for government, where services are paid for with public funds and impact people’s lives. In an article expanding on their book, Lou Downe writes, “Spending on public services amounts to roughly a third of U.K. GDP, meaning that bad service design is one of the biggest unnecessary costs to U.K. taxpayers.”

They reference GDS research conducted in 2014, which found that:

  • 80% of the cost of government is spent on services
  • up to 60% of that cost is spent on service failure (e.g. phone calls asking how to do something)

Up to 60% of government spending on public services is spent on service failure. It’s a grim figure, but there is a solution.

Good service design is good for everyone

Our Head of Consultancy, Stewart Cruickshank, writes: “In the work we’ve done across the UK public sector to deliver digitised services and design entirely new end-to-end services, we have witnessed first-hand the benefits of service design methods to ensure services meet the needs of citizens, stakeholders and staff.

“For example, prototyping fast and gaining feedback through testing reduces delivery risk by learning what works and what doesn’t work, and helps gain internal alignment around proposed solutions. In addition, by making users, staff and stakeholders active participants in the co-design process, we have found this engages colleagues in the process, challenges internal barriers to change and can help enable a cultural shift from a focus on internal processes to outcomes for citizens.”

How we can help

Our experienced team can support your digital transformation journey from service design to delivery. Talk to us today or view our work.

Further reading