More than ideas 

The exploration workshop, as we call it, is a participatory design step that includes users and/or stakeholders and is intended to generate ideas. Clients love exploration workshops, because it’s their chance to see and share out all the ideas that have been kicking around in their heads without an outlet. While we do our own exploration as a design team, to generate ideas that will ultimately feed into the proposed solution, the exploration of others is an equally important part of the process.

I won’t go into workshop structure or format in this post, because there are many ways to approach exploration depending on the project at hand. Inputs can include inspiring images of other products or services, thought-provoking questions, open-ended prompts, or simply an identification of problems or pain points. Outputs are creative solution ideas that validate insights and challenge assumptions.

While gathering user and stakeholder ideas might appear on the surface to be an exercise in pure creativity, it also generates strategic insights into the right direction for designed service futures. 

Participatory design and change

To redesign service processes, to better deliver service experiences, to reconsider services from a human-centered or ecological perspective—in short, to practice service design—requires participatory input. In service design, as in any other flavor of design, giving people exactly what they (seem to) want is almost never the answer. However, having that knowledge is invaluable. 

Those redesigned processes and enhanced service experiences change the lives of the people they touch, and people do not naturally like or embrace change. Accordingly, the ideas that come out during participatory exploration sessions are an indication of what would constitute comfortable change. The average scale and scope of proposed solutions, and the typical medium of solution delivery, are key insights into what the organization thinks it can tolerate. Examining the ideas by role or function can reveal differences in comfort level that might prove essential to a service roadmap. 

To paint an example in broad strokes: if most of the suggested solutions from a large, key department are described as digital touchpoints—within an organization known to be high touch and reliant on peer-to-peer networking—it tells you that this large part of the organization is afraid to suggest changes to its peer-networked relationship structure. 

Armed with deeper insight into what changes are comfortable, it becomes the service designer’s responsibility to find the right balance: identify solutions that are effective and push beyond organizational comfort, but remain respectful to the natural human aversion to disruption and change.

Diagnostics Matter 

Any designer will tell you that having their work out in the world is important to them, even if that work is the redesign of an invisible process. Taking apart or changing established services and processes is difficult work, and identifying potential problems early is key to maintaining momentum and organizational confidence throughout that work. Diagnosing comfortable change through creative participation and idea generation is one way to eliminate roadblocks and make sure design work sees the light of day.