Choosenick. Notes and observations on service design, as well as other interesting things/thinking. By Nick Marsh.

“They were making wire out of ingots of copper,” says Marks. “They had chicken farms to lay the eggs for the cafeteria. One building had 2,000 toolmakers. We had none at the time. But we did after that.”
This stuff makes me think of Victorian Britain. If anyone is thinking this next century belongs to anyone but China, think again. I'm just in awe of this stuff.
September 10th, 2010 / Trackback / Comments

European service design research opportunities

At Sidekick Studios we're busy working away on amazing things, and we have a network of amazing people around us that we use to make them happen. However, we currently have a really amazing opportunity turn up at our door that is making us look a bit beyond our usual networks and associates.

We're looking for design researchers to work on a Europe-wide research programme to help inform a really interesting piece of business-led social innovation. Our client is based in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and we need to conduct qualitative research in all of these countries.

At this stage, we're open to who we work with. It might be we can find one or two individuals who can speak these languages and plan the research from our London base (where our client is also based), or it may be that we partner with one or two small local agencies.

We expect the work to take place in october/november/december time, and we want the people we work with to be:

  • Fluent in one or more of the languages above
  • Be experienced in conducting qualitative design research, including home visits, discussion groups/workshops and so forth
  • Ideally have some experience of design research for service innovation
  • Ideally have some experience of design research for social innovation
  • Be available for work during october/november/december

Above all, we are looking for creative, inspirational partner(s) who will add value beyond simply conducting research. We have a strong point of view about this project, but we want to be challenged and surprised!

If this sounds like you, please get in touch with to discuss the opportunity in more detail.
September 3rd, 2010 / Trackback / Comments

Service Design Jobs

We've launched a jobs board on If you'd like to put a job up, email Currently there's jobs with Engine, Participle and Sidekick on there right now... go get 'em! (Especially with Sidekick!)
July 19th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, jobs / Trackback / Comments

Models for financing social innovation. #1 – Community lotteries

I posted this on the Sidekick blog a few days ago.


In order to create genuinely sustainable social change it isn’t enough to have a clear need, a really great idea and lots of enthusiasm (although that’s a great start!). In order to make sure solutions really stick, and the people involved in delivering them stick around, organisations must be on a genuinely sustainable financial footing.

From the local level of the community right up to the international, highly networked level of the internets, financing social innovations, be they new services and programmes, new facilities (or both), in a sustainable fashion, is hard work. At Sidekick we know this because we’re trying to do it ourselves. In this occasional series we’re going to explore some clever models for financing good ideas that social innovators looking to make change happen might find useful.

From a commercial perspective this series is essentially profiling innovative business models. It’s true that there are quite a few people doing that already (and many also saying don’t bother). What makes this different is that we’re going to focus on models that are specifically designed to maximise the social return on in investment, because, well, frankly that’s much more interesting than models that just maximise return on capital.

For this first instalment we’re looking at a model that already finances positive socially progressive projects at a national level – a lottery.

Lotteries are a very simple idea that appeal to people’s desire to get rich quick, and their belief that they’re luckier/more deserving than everyone else. It’s a simple formula; Pay into a communal money pot, buy a ticket, and then hope your ticket gets picked at a random draw. If it does, you get the pot.

The good thing about the national lottery (and why the government monopolises it nationally) is that a chunk of the pot is not given away as prize money, but instead diverted into supporting more useful things than creating instant millionaires. Stuff like art galleries, tennis courts, the Olympics – that sort of stuff.

The weird thing about the national lottery though is that it actually acts kind of like a regressive culture tax – it’s generally played by poorer people, and the stuff it funds are generally the kinds of things that richer people like to use. Not exclusively, sure, but it’s probably fair to say that giving £78million to the National Opera isn’t front of mind when you’re buying your tickets for the mega-euro-millions-roll-over draw. The allure is in the big prize, not the big society.

However, in community lotteries the connection between the people paying (playing) and the cause that the lottery supports is much more important. In a community lottery the whole point is that its a way of financing good, useful stuff for your community, like trips to the zoo for people who can't afford it, community centres and bowling clubs. Anyone can set one up (you have to get a lottery license) and then you can then start getting the cash together to start paying for that social innovation itch you have to scratch.

Essentially, a community lottery is a way of investing in your community, with the chance that you might get much more than your investment back. Kind of like tiny, local premium bonds. The combination of very local philanthropy, and the idea that you might win, creates a powerful incentive.

Beyond the local financing of local projects, another core benefit of community lotteries is that a lot the tickets are sold door to door, which means that ticket sellers get to explain the benefits face to face, and at the same time start making real, personal connections between themselves, the players and the wider community. Ace.

Harnessing playing and winning as engines of social innovation is something we’re fascinated by at Sidekick (and that we use in a lot of our work), and here we see it in action locally, and nationally. Another thing we really like is the internet, and its intriguing to think of the potential of small online lotteries to support specific community projects. That’s probably another blog post (or maybe we should just get on with making the App).

So, in summary, community lotteries use the same basic mechanisms and psychological motivators to help people part with their cash as larger national lotteries, but they do so in a way that directly improves communities and networks within them. If you’re using a community lottery to finance your local social innovation we’d love to hear about it in the comments or via our typewriter!

Next time: Community Development Trusts (basically ways for communities to own the stuff that matters to them)
July 9th, 2010 / Tags: socialinnovation, finance, businessmodel, innovation / Trackback / Comments

What's next?

I originally posted a similar article to this on the Sidekick blog a couple of days ago.

As some of you may know I've recently joined Sidekick Studios to build up their design-led consulting offering to clients across the UK and beyond. I’m really excited by Sidekick’s unique combination of design thinking, technology know-how and socially progressive agenda – It’s a great time to be joining a small company with such big ideas.

We all know that UK plc, and the public sector in particular, face major challenges over the next few years, as we all try to do more with less, and achieve best for least – the question is, how do we get there from where we are today?

Service design, or the application of design-thinking to services, provides a reliable toolkit for all types of service organisations and the people that work in them to innovate their services around the needs of the people that use and provide them.

Over the past six years I’ve helped service organisations from across the public and commercial sectors make the most out of design and design thinking to create useful, usable and desirable services that save money and make customers happy.

The common thread running through all successful projects I’ve been involved with has always been a combination of applied creativity and a clear focus on designing for and with the people who will actually be using and providing the services.

Putting people at the heart of service design and innovation has two simple, clear benefits – firstly it creates genuine opportunities to identify ways of doing things differently by stepping outside the service organisation’s world. Secondly, it de-risks the process of creating new offerings by checking utility, usability and desirability of new ideas with customers in small manageable stages.

Combining this user centred approach to service innovation with the scalability of the kinds of web based technology platforms that Sidekick is developing and deploying for clients today creates hugely exciting opportunities to magnify the impact of the service design approach. I don’t know any other studio that offers this combination of design-led creativity and technical expertise together. The fact that we are focussed on helping organisations that want to do better by society is the icing on the cake!

I can’t wait to get stuck into the many projects and problems that Sidekick is already tackling, and to start having new conversations with new people that think we could help them design better services – I’ll be sharing insights and stories from this work here, and on the Sidekick site so please get in touch with me at if you’d like to chat about service design, our projects, or working at Sidekick.
June 8th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, navelgazing / Trackback / Comments

Research in practice: Bringing behavioural change from lab to studio

I recently published an article with Dan Lockton in the fourth edition of Touchpoint, the Service Design Network Journal. This issue is focused on the relationship between service design and behaviour change. Unfortunately, they don't publish the articles online, so I can't link to any others, but here's our conversation about using Dan's 'design with intent' behaviour change lenses in service design consultancy.

Nick: Hi Dan, thanks for agreeing to take part in this conversation. Maybe we should start with you outlining a bit about your research interests? Two interlinked questions then - Firstly, what do you mean by 'design with intent', and secondly why you think this is a valuable approach to interrogating and describing the way that 'designers' (which of course includes lots of ‘silent designers’ that never went to art school) act on the world?

Dan: Thanks Nick. I use 'Design with Intent' to mean design that's intended to influence or result in certain user behaviour. It's an attempt to describe a class of systems and touchpoints across lots of disciplines - services, products, interfaces, even built environments - that have been designed with the express intent to influence how people use them. Everything we design inevitably changes people's behaviour, but as designers we don't always consciously consider the power this gives us to help people, and, sometimes, to manipulate them.

It's this reflective approach that I think can be valuable as part of the design process: being aware that we're designing not just experiences, but actually designing behaviour at one level or another. Whether we mean to do it or not, it's going to happen, so we might as well get good at it.

Nick: It’s certainly an ambitious thesis! Of course pattern libraries are common in lots of different design disciplines – examples include things like grid systems for graphic designers or ergonomics manuals. However, the thing that gets me excited about your work, and what makes it so relevant to the design of services and systems made of many different touchpoints is its magnificent scope. I love that you are trying to create a universal taxonomy for describing all aspects of how designers try to shape and change user behaviour. At this point I think it would be good to introduce the 'lenses' that you've created that help us to navigate the vast terrain of this field. Could you briefly outline these lenses, with a quick example for each?

Dan: Many people have thought about influencing behaviour in different domains: this isn't a new field by any means, but the terminology and principles haven't often been presented in a form useful to designers. The lenses are a way of explaining some of these design patterns via different 'worldviews' so they can be applied as inspiration for concept generation, and as a way of challenging/extending preconceived ideas clients might have about how to influence users.

They've evolved based on designers' feedback through running workshop sessions; the latest set of eight are shown in the table. In total there's about 100 patterns spread among these eight lenses. The whole lot's available at as a card deck and a wiki, along with some other ways of classifying and thinking about the patterns.

Now it seems as though service design, by its very multidisciplinary, people-focused nature, has a great opportunity to lead this emerging field of design for behaviour change. As someone with significant experience here, Nick, how do you see this sort of thinking manifest itself - do you see any of these patterns being used intentionally in designing services? Does the drive come from clients or designers themselves? What kinds of behaviour are you trying to influence - and have you got any thoughts on what works and what doesn't?

Nick: Well, the first thing I think I should say is that the degree to which service design exploits the kinds of techniques described in your lenses depends to an extent on what you consider service design to be. Crudely speaking, I’ve been involved in two different types of service design that operate at different levels of influence over the behaviour of people engaged in the design programme, and I see application and implications in both of them.

The first type of service design, which is the closest to most other design disciplines and is essentially an aesthetic challenge, is the design of connected user experiences of different touchpoints. For more spatial/interior design projects I’ve been involved with in airports I’ve used the Architectural and Perceptual techniques to enforce compliance with queuing and engage passengers in processes by lowering visual clutter. For more digitally focused designs I’ve used Ludic and Interaction techniques to engage users in otherwise boring tasks like filling out forms by making them game like and providing rich feedback and so forth.

The second type of service design, which is a conceptual step onwards from the first, as it's primarily an organisational challenge, is using design-led methods and techniques to develop strategies for service organisations, and to teach other people how to use design to improve how their organisations work and the quality of the services they deliver.

I think at this level, the lenses are a great tool for opening up the conversation with clients and co-designers about how users are treated by the organisation. Are they inputs into a system, or are they people? Do we think of them as stupid, or smart? Do we use Security or Machiavellian techniques to force customers and citizens to do stuff, or is it better to use Ludic and Cognitive approaches that play to people’s enthusiasms and sense of fun?

When you start applying these questions to social challenges, which is where a lot of service design practice in the UK is focused, you start to get some really big ideas! Have you thought about how to focus the toolkit on design-led social programmes?

Dan: Many social challenges for design do involve behaviour change – I suppose it's a concept that is more naturally familiar to people trained in social science than (most) designers are, and the idea of influencing public behaviour, albeit mainly through laws and taxes, is well-known to the policy makers who fund many projects. It's important that designers are able to contribute to these initiatives with confidence that what we do is respected and understood by those who make the decisions.

That may mean that academic research on behaviour change, how to do it, what works and what doesn't, when, why, etc, needs to be made more easily available to designers. Academia itself can be seen as a service to society, and as such its interactions with the public would often benefit from being 'designed' with as much thought as goes into service design practice: when should it be responsive, doing research the public wants, and when should it attempt to lead and guide governmental decisions and public debate?

In many ways academic design research is of limited use without connection to what designers actually do, so my aim has always been to produce something that's useful to designers, and I hope that—together with others doing research in this area—we can help service design tackle the social challenges of behaviour change with valuable ideas, insights and evidence.

Nick: I agree, although I think it is also up to designers to take the initiative and reach out to the academy. There’s a huge amount of inspiration to be found there, and lots of opportunity for collaboration. I suppose that the important thing is to build the conversation and look beyond your current frames of reference - and I’ve certainly enjoyed doing that here!
May 17th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, behaviourchange, article, touchpoint / Trackback / Comments

Service Design Thinks 2 - Videos and reflections on service design at scale

On the 29th of November 2009 a bunch of interesting people got together in the lovely Sense Loft to listen to talks and start conversations around the topic of Service Design at Scale.

We had three really different presentations from really different types of service designers. As with other events we had a mix of design-led people (in this case Julia) and some service designers who don't really identify their work with design practice (Steven and James).

We started with a bit of an intro around why we'd chosen the 'scale' theme. You can click through the slideshow below:

Following on from this, Steven Baker got up to tell us about his experiences of designing the wildly successful M-Pesa mobile banking service for Vodafone/Safaricom whilst working at Sagentia. It's a fascinating tale with some great insights into designing services with mass appeal.

The main message is around simplicity, and I love the elegance of the design, in particular the approach to customer acquisition - if someone sends you M-Pesa (mobile money) and you are not a member, in order to get the cash you need to go to an M-Pesa vendor with your mobile and your national ID card, which are the two things you need to sign up. Ace.

Following on from this, Julia Schaeper took the stand to tell us about her experiences as an Associate at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement. The NHS is a huge organisation (the 3rd largest employer in the world), and Julia is one of just a handful of people within it who is pushing design-led approaches to innovation.

In this presentation she shares her tips for amplifying the service design message and building support across different teams and practices through the design of processes, products and programmes:

Finally, James Gardner, previously head of Innovation at Lloyds Banking Group and now Chief Technology Officer at the Department for Work and Pensions gave us a presentation on his experience of creating an internal 'innovation market'.

The basic idea behind the market was to connect ideas for service innovation from the 'front line' of Lloyd's huge organisation to capital and capacity at the centre. In this presentation James shares some of the successes and failures of the market's design and operation:

All in all, a great evening with lots of inspiring stories. My thanks to all the speakers and to everyone who came along! If all this sounds like your sort of thing, please join our mailing list, and come along to the next service design drinks and have a chat!
May 1st, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, event / Trackback / Comments

Call for visual contributions for Service Design Drinks on Friday

Friday approaches, and with it London's number one service design drinking event! This time we're in a much nicer venue than we've ever managed to find hitherto (its called the Old Crown) and one of the things that makes it nice is that we have a projector. And we can choose the music. DJ Jaimes has taken control of that.

So, as an experiment we thought we'd throw the projector open to anyone who wants to show off some service design. What does this mean? well, we don't know, but maybe you have an experience map you want to share, or a video from some design research, or a full blown service design toolkit, or a even a full explanation of how you see service design, or maybe just some awesome photos of people. And, of course, you don't actually have to be at the event to have your images shown there.

One thing we thought is that it might be a good opportunity for students to show off some of their service design work to lots of interesting people. So if you have some images from a student project you are or have been working on or your student show : ), send them over!

We want nice big images and we reserve the right to edit the slideshow - we want it to look good - and if we don't get any stuff (booo) we'll probably just go with a Twitter visualisation linked to the hashtag #sddrinks (we might do this as well as visuals anyway as its always good for a laugh.)

If this goes well we'll make it a bit better organised next time and let people upload stuff to flickr in advance - however for now we're going old skool as this is the first time and we don't know how good the internet is there yet either so please email images or links to london [at] servicedesigning [dot] org Hopefully this will turn out to be awesome, but it won't if you don't send stuff, so send us your service design images!
April 26th, 2010 / Trackback / Comments

Service Design Think 3 - Videos and reflections on designing services from scratch

On 30th of March a wide range of super interesting people got together at the fantastic sense loft to listen to three really different stories about designing services from scratch. (And to drink beer courtesy of Radarstation. Thanks guys!)

This was the third service design thinks event we've run, and to my mind it was the best yet. We introduced two new features, a case study and a panel Q&A format which hopefully added some more layers to the conversation.

I've embedded the videos from the talks below (All the talks are available separately for linking to on our Vimeo channel), with a few notes on some of the emergent themes at the end.

As with other service design thinks events, we're trying to find a balance between showcasing design-led approaches to service design alongside other methods.

In essence, this means asking interesting people, who don't have a background in design, to share their experiences of founding, running, managing and innovating services.

However, in the spirit of service design drinks, which is much more about design-led service design people getting together to share ideas and experiences, we also want to showcase remarkable design-led stories too.

So, at this event we showcased two non-design approaches, one very design-led approach and a case study that used designerly observational methods to understand a small service entrepreneurs approach. I've embedded the videos in the order in which they presented below, and then written up some of my own notes at the end - as always, your comments and tweets are very welcome!

If all this sounds like your sort of thing, please join our mailing list, and come along to the next service design drinks.

First up we had James Munro from Patient Opinion talk about his experience of getting the Patient Opinion service off the ground. James, along with Patient Opinion's founder Paul (who's featured in the panel discussion below), both come from a clinical background, and they used their deep experience of the NHS and their training as doctors to help guide and inform the design of the patient opinion service over time:

Secondly, Jaimes Nel, one of the co-organisers of Service Design Drinks / Thinks and head of research at Live|Work presented a short case study that told the story of Grace at St Pauls, a small, independent coffee shop in central London very near Lauren Tan's house (the other co-oganiser). Jaimes pulled out lots of lovely insights into how the owner of the coffee shop has designed his service and business, and concluded with a challenge to the service designers in the room - how do we make our practice relevant to service entrepreneurs operating at such small scale?

Thirdly, Sophia Parker of the Resolution Foundation and Katie Harris of Esro spoke about their experiences of setting up and running the Social Innovation Lab for Kent in partnership with Engine Service Design and Kent county Council. This was a very 'service designy' service design project - a design led initiative to design a service that helps other people (KCC employees and partners) design better services using design-led methods. Phew!

Fourthly, Zaeem Maqsood, Vice President at First Capital explored and explained what makes start up services investable. Zaeem has unique insight into this area - he's an investor and investment advisor, along with being an entrepreneur himself. His talk focussed on a service he designed for entrepreneurs and investors called 'The Gauntlet', which took the very ad-hoc, face to face venture capital pitching process and made it into a simple online tool. Part way through he also gets very candid about the failings of VC and VCs. Well worth watching!

Finally, the presenters sat down as a panel and answered questions about their work and their thoughts on designing services from scratch.

Some of the themes and challenges about the role that design-led/design thinking type service design practice can play in help services get going form scratch that I pulled out at the start of the panel included:

  • The role of planning - a lot of service design practice is about planning, but when you are starting up, most people talk about the need to be agile and change plans quickly.
  • Sector specific knowledge - service design is generally sector agnostic, and deliberately 'naive' - 'we just focus on the customer', and yet successful startup services tend to rely on having experienced, knowledgeable individuals who really understand say, health care, or coffee.
  • Personal risk - service designers working in agencies don't have any 'skin in the game', yet taking a personal risk seems to be an important part of making a start up successful.
  • It doesn't stop - service designers, like all designers, like designing things - documentation, specifications, deliverables etc. But when you are running a new service business it just doesn't stop! There is no deliverable or design really, just the effective operation and growth of the organisation.

So, lots to think about, and lots to talk about! The panel address these, and other questions in the video below:

All in all, a great event I think! We're already planning the next one, but in the meantime do please share your comments here, or come along to the next service design drinks and have a chat!
April 11th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, event / Trackback / Comments
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