Back to school for better Service Design

Using toys and games to break down barriers and increase creativity

The use of gameplay in user research and service design was a major theme I noticed emerging at the Service Design in Government Conference in Edinburgh last week:

We told stories with Duplo in the #playinginthefaceofdeath game run by DWP. We learned how they have used this technique to explore do user research around the difficult topic of bereavement. We also learned how a similar technique is being used by government service design teams over in Canada.
We played ‘Policy World’, an ingenious game devised by the user-centred policy team at MoJ. This was a brilliant immersive learning experience to help people understand the challenges of applying user-centred design to policy-making.
We learned about the use of cartoons to convey user insights in a playful and engaging way by a team in Northern Ireland looking at recycling services.

And there’s plenty of research that shows why this is a good idea. There is evidence indicating that playing with toys and games can increase creativity and lateral thinking by transporting us back into a childlike mindset. In this mindset people have been found to be less inhibited and afraid of making mistakes. It’s also really really fun, and a great way for teams to bond and learn to work collaboratively together. I will definitely be looking at how I can incorporate the idea of play and games into my own work.

Involving children and young people in co-design.

I heard about a couple of case studies where children and young people were involved in the design of public services, with great outcomes. One example was from Belgium, where school children were involved in co-design workshops for the design of a digital learning management service. Another example was from Northern Ireland, where A-Level DT students were enlisted to help design a new waste management system that encourages more recycling.

In both of these instances, the professional design teams were amazed at the quality and creativity of ideas generated by these young people – which makes sense when you reflect back on point no.1 above!

What a brilliant idea to involve young people as designers, even if they aren’t specific users of the service – after all it’s their future we are designing for? And with the added benefit of enhancing their education and helping equip them with design skills that will be increasingly in demand in the future – it just seems like a really good idea.

It has left me thinking about how we might do more of this sort of school outreach work around service design. I’d love to hear from anyone who is also interested in exploring this with me!