The Future of Service Design

Practitioner stories
7 min readOct 11, 2021

We asked service design practitioners about what they envision to be the future of service design. This is what they‘ve told us.

illustrations from the article to express concept like collaboration, co-design, having a seat at the table, the covid effect and the journey to the future

A service designer in every organisation

Practitioners would like to see a service designer embedded in every organisation, and moreover in leadership positions.

“I want to see more people in design leadership positions. I want to see more women in design leadership positions. The side projects I choose to do in my spare time, are helping to build up that community of people to be the potential future design leaders.”

illustration of a service designer having a seat at the table among others

It would be also fascinating to see service designers exploring new spaces in future. Some of our interviewees wished for people to feel brave enough to invite themselves into those places — where they were not previously included — and to start seeing themselves as problem-solvers where they are needed. One of the interviewees urged service designers to explore more ‘fluid spaces‘ like activism, where skills like facilitation, storytelling or problem-solving would be a good fit.

Sitting in between systems and sectors

Practitioners would like to see themselves sitting between systems and sectors that are less siloed. They want to encourage people to do design work that actively joins up different sectors like health care, social care, housing, or transport so that these systems are actually designed together.

illustration of people helping and supporting each other

Co-design as the default approach

Co-design, co-production and collaboration should become the default approach in future. Develop a culture where service design is ingrained as a way of doing things and not seen as something special.

“Co-designing and bringing people in at day one — just having that as our default working pattern would be good.”

illustration of different people working together with 5 hands reaching to each other

Collaboration across organisations

Some practitioners want to see collaboration as a new target operating model for public sector organisations. For instance, rather than working separately, common issues could be dealt with collaboratively amongst different organisations.

Instead of asking “what is the public experience of X organisation in Scotland during lockdown” we could be asking “What is the public experience of public services during lockdown“.

Practitioners also see a future where the private and public sector are better aligned and working more cohesively, while complimenting each other’s needs and places where some of the services overlap.

“Public sector is not always the right place and doesn’t have the resources to deliver on a lot of the service needs of citizens; the private sector doesn’t always have the perspective and the right driver in order to deliver for citizens’ needs. So there needs to be much more integration between the two [public / private].”

Aspirations for third & public sectors

There are various ways of integrating service design within the public & third sector organisations, and to achieve that the practitioners aspire for changes in the existing system:

  • designing a service from start to finish without encountering organisational pressure or constraints
  • Having a variety in practice, especially in the public sector where one could get bored, frustrated, angry or just needing a break from what they are doing
  • Having secondment opportunities that may benefit the individual, as well as contribute towards retention and adding further value to the organisation
  • Building capacity in terms of the right skills and retaining them, particularly in the third sector
  • Embedding a positive intent to make it easier for the collaborative work between the internal team and short term contract roles
  • Embedding agile working in local authorities, ‘for consistency across the system that will help to break silos’
signpost with the text: SD future

Future of service design in Scotland

When practitioners dream of the future of Service Design in Scotland, they think of community empowerment and regeneration. There are a lot of places in Scotland where towns were built around the industry and with time the industry left or became redundant. These places were not designed for the people who actually live there now. Some participants emphasised on regeneration through community participation and collaboration.

Practitioners describe the future as local and community-led and they encourage embedding service design at the micro-level, starting with small community organisations.

“We need to think about it in terms of education and healthcare within the community. We have to think about the big problems that face Scotland in terms of homelessness, the drugs crisis — How those communities directly affected can design solutions to those problems.”

One of the interviewees pointed out the potential of improving healthcare in Scotland compared to the other countries like the USA where healthcare is more siloed. There is a massive opportunity in finding the patterns across the framework that can be adjusted and adopted to the common needs of healthcare in Scotland.

“Things like booking an appointment happen over and over again, every single day in so many different places. So if we actually set out and sort out how that works for patients, for staff, for the system — so that all three get a good deal out of this and we back that up with the software we design, the data we need for it all.”

Expectation from the future Service Design community

Keeping our feet on the ground

Some designers felt that at times there are tendencies in the service design circles to talk about grand ideas. They‘ve highlighted that there is definitely a space for that, but they also need to keep their feet on the ground and make sure that what they are doing is practical and is actually improving things for people.

Engagement and political buy-in

In the future, some practitioners would like to see the service design community getting to that higher level of maturity that attracts more engagement and political buy-in.

Designers skills

Some practitioners said that the future fleet of service designers should be quite comfortable drawing and sharing stuff early, work iteratively and build ideas over time as they test them. They need to understand how to work in an agile environment, ‘because it is so rare to work on a design project that isn’t also digital‘. The future designers need to develop a methodology in which the technical and design systems work hand in hand.

illustration of a covid virus with an arrow going up from left to right

An optimistic take on Covid-19

Some practitioners spoke about creating an optimistic vision of how the response to Covid times could positively impact our work and lives. They hoped for building the service design future by:

  • feeding people’s desire for change
  • opening our eyes to new ways of communicating and sharing
  • softening people minds to experimentation
  • eliminating geographical barriers in services
  • thinking how everyday‘s businesses could move outdoors

Some felt that the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated different ways of addressing a situation. Service designers need to hang on to the learnings, so that we don’t forget and revert back to old ways:

“At the moment, we’re all thinking about how to do things in different ways because we have to. Well, let’s not forget that, let’s capture it to keep reminding us. Because again, it’s that thing about power. Because those in power want us to forget those things, right? So we have to make sure that we don’t.”

There was also a call for caution, to not allow the covid crisis to eclipse the climate crisis and focus on creating sustainable economies beyond borders and boundaries.


This summary was written by Vinishree Verma. We had done the research and analysis a while ago but she is the one who wrote it based on it and we then reviewed it with her.

She also did the illustrations for this one. So a very big thank you to her!

You can read more from her on Medium:

Contextualising Insights

These insights come from 15 remote interviews from June to August 2020. You can learn more about the research project and approach on our website.

Although we speak about service design practice, we use the term service design very broadly.

  • Half of our interviewees self-identified as service designers or have service designer as their job title. Other practitioners using service design approaches have roles in areas such as user research, accessibility, community engagement, user experience design, and design training
  • We interviewed people working in different locations across Scotland
  • Some practitioners worked as freelancers, consultants and contractors; others were employed by design agencies; and others were employed by public or third sector organisations
  • All interviewees had a mid to senior level of experience working in service design and the public/third sector

When we refer to ‘practitioners’, we refer to people who engage in service design approaches and practice within the Scottish public and third sectors independently of their job title.

Want to learn more about the project and want to get involved?

Visit our website, follow us on Medium or on Twitter @PractitionerSt1

Thank you!



Practitioner stories

We are collecting Practitioner stories of Service Design in the Scottish public and third sectors