Service Design and the Edge Effect

Robert Young, Laura Warwick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


As designers have become involved in the design of services as opposed to products, the design of services for social good, rather than simply for economic benefit has become an area of interest in research and practice. The use of Service Design in the Public Sector is well-documented with a ‘design thinking approach’ being employed in healthcare, social and government services (Mulgan and Albury, 2003; Manzini, 2010; Kimbell, 2011a). As funding for the Public Sector diminishes, a heavier reliance is being placed on the Third or Voluntary Community Sector (VCS) to pick up the slack left by shrinking public services. If this is to continue, we must ask; what is the role of Service Design practice and research in building knowledge and capacity in the VCS and is there a socio-economic paradigm to support its involvement, given that there is no existing margin to pay for this work? As a young discipline- the first Service Design consultancy, live|work, was only formed in 2001- most of the research community has focused on defining the field; articulating and proving why design could and should work on services (Sangiorgi, 2011; Wetter Edman, 2011). In Sangiorgi et al., (2014), ‘Mapping and Developing Service Design Research in the UK’ research report, White and Young characterized the existing research focus on design methods and process questions as; ‘How can we make desirable social far futures near futures through the development of appropriate methodologies?’. Examples of this focus are seen in the work of Meroni and Sangiorgi (2011) and Tan (2012), and this has continued with the work of Warwick (2015) and Yee, White and Lennon (2015). These researchers have illustrated how the development of knowledge and tools for Service Design, to understand its complex contexts, to engage the people who use, run and commission services to co-create value, is as important to the VCS as it is to business and public services. Nevertheless, the growing appetite in the sector to use design is evident from the noticeable increase in the number of VCS organizations engaging with service designers, including in the UK; Age UK, Mind, the Citizens Advice Bureau and Macmillan Cancer Research. BIG Lottery Scotland has also funded a programme, Better by Design, introducing and implementing design into fifteen VCS organizations . Universities are also building capacity in design for social innovation with an increasing volume of undergraduate, postgraduate projects and doctoral projects in this area (see SDR Network web resources and DESIS International Labs and activities web resources ). Although the UK economy as a whole has seen growth in recent years, it is estimated that the VCS’s income will be 12% lower (£1.7bn ) in 2017/18 than pre-reform levels (Clarke, Kane, Wilding, & Bass, 2012). Whilst the research focus described above has been on defining the field, refining methods and proving why design should work on services, research into the value of design to the VCS is still in its infancy (Armstrong, Bailey, Julier, & Kimbell, 2014). Yet the economic forces affecting it and the opportunity for design to have impact are also pressing. This was characterised by White and Young, in Sangiorgi et al. (2014), as: ‘How can we develop a sustainable socio-economic paradigm to support social innovation practices?’ It is this question that this chapter discusses, synthesising the key issues emerging from the experience of Service Design projects with the VCS based on the doctoral case studies of Warwick (2015), and the VCS’s growing appetite to use design in the face of economic forces militating against it. The chapter uses the analogy of the ‘edge effect’ to help characterise and understand the ecology of this dilemma, based on the interventions and actions that are occurring at the boundary of the VCS sector and Service.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesigning for Service
Subtitle of host publicationKey Issues and New Directions
EditorsDaniela Sangiorgi, Alison Prendiville
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781474250146
ISBN (Print)9781474250139
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2017


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