Summary

Includes understanding the problem, exploring solutions, testing, delivering and continually improving.


Designing public services is a complex challenge and having a process helps navigate that. The following stages describe a design process - based on the Design Council’s Double Diamond model — that has been adapted for use for public services in Scotland.

Stage of design from knowing what the problem is, solving it, and then into delivery

Know the problem

Starting a project

At the start of a project, you should define:

  • what the project is
  • why it’s important
  • who you need to involve
  • how long it will take

You’ll also need to ask other important questions, including:

  • who needs to be on the project team?
  • does everyone understand their (and each other’s) role and responsibilities?
  • how will you get users involved with designing the service?

Planning is important at the beginning of any project. You should make a plan, regardless of what project management methodology you’re using, for example, agile or waterfall.

Defining the scope, outcomes, resources and deliverables will give you a strong start for the rest of the project.

Key activities to help you get started

Before starting discovery, you should make sure you’re prepared by:

Understand the problem

You’ll need to understand the people using and working with the service. This includes their needs, experiences and pain points. To do this, you’ll need to build a picture of the context that the service lives in.

To do this, you’ll need to ask:

  • what is the service?
  • who are the users?
  • why do these users need this service?
  • which people will have most difficulty using this service?
  • who is responsible for providing the service?
  • how is the service currently run?
  • who influences how the service is provided? For example, policy teams, other organisations or interest groups, or Ministers
  • how is the impact of this service currently being measured?

The focus of this phase is developing a shared understanding of what the service is, what users need and why. When talking about users, consider all people who benefit from the service or work with the service. Look at the problem from different perspectives. This will help make sure you understand what the real issues are, and what already exists to help with those issues.

Key activities to help you understand the problem

To understand the problem, you should:

  • define what you’re trying to understand — your research questions
  • engage with service users
  • review what existing data tells you about the service — for example, analytics, call logs, survey responses, public consultations, existing user research
  • explore the service landscape — what’s already out there and how this fits together

    Make sense of what you learned

As a team, you’ll need to clarify what you’ve found and what it means. You should agree what action you’ll need to take from the information and data you’ve gathered.

This is something that you’ll do any time you gather data. New data will allow you to build a deeper understanding of the service and its users.

To do this, you should ask:

  • what problem will this service address?
  • what do people’s experiences of the existing service look like?
  • what are the problems people face and the opportunities to improve the existing service?
  • what is important to who and why?

This is an important part of the process that’s often overlooked. It’s important to take the time to draw meaning from what you’ve found. You should do this regularly and collaboratively.

Use the data and stories that you’ve gathered to look for emerging patterns and themes. This is not an exact science but the aim is to reveal ideas that the team might not have considered. This will give you a good understanding when developing new ideas for testing.

You should also think about how you’re communicating your findings to the rest of the team. For example, you could use descriptive personas of what members of the public, businesses, and customers need from the service. Personas are realistic, evidence-based written descriptions of the people who’ll use your service.

Key activities to help you make sense of what you learned

To make sense of what you’ve learned, you should:

  • involve users and the team in collaborative sensemaking
  • develop user needs, stories and personas
  • develop user storyboards and journey maps of the current experience
  • define the problems and opportunities
  • define what solutions you’ll focus on in the next phase

Solve the problem

Explore solutions

Use the knowledge and insight you’ve gained from the previous stages to make and test solutions. This gives you the chance to change something and try again.

To do this, you should ask:

  • How can we solve the identified problem?
  • What might a solution look like for a user and provider?

This stage uses what has been learned to think about what solutions are possible. Take the opportunity to collaboratively and creatively generate multiple ideas. Select the best bits and consider how any constraints might shape the solution.

Key activities to help you explore solutions

To help you explore potential solutions, you can:

  • co-design solutions with users, service staff and organisation
  • develop journey maps and storyboards of the imagined experience for both the users and the service staff
  • develop physical and digital prototypes to be test with users and/or staff

Test, learn and improve

Your prototype will help you communicate your ideas when testing with users. Testing will then help you to capture feedback on your ideas. To do this, you should ask:

  • what can we learn by testing these ideas?
  • how can we measure the success of a prototype?
  • how can we improve the solution with the insight we’re gathering?

Key activities to help you test your ideas

To test your ideas, you should:

  • validate journey maps and storyboards
  • test increasingly refined prototypes with a variety of users

Delivery and making continuous improvements

Deliver a service

Delivering digital services usually involves a large multi-disciplinary team and can be complex. From a design perspective as the delivery progresses you’ll need to make sure that the needs of the people using and working with the service aren’t lost.

When designing the service consider how efficient, financially viable, and sustainable it will be.

To do this, you should ask:

  • how does this solution solve the problem?
  • what does this solution look like for a user, staff and organisation?
  • does the solution work for the user, staff and organisation?
  • how will the service be embedded and delivered?

Key activities to help you deliver a service

When you’re confident that you’ve learned enough about your service through prototyping, it’s time to build and test a working version of the service.

To deliver a service, you should:

  • develop a service blueprint that is a visual representation of the end-to-end service
  • test the physical and digital end-to-end service with a range of users
  • develop a plan for measuring the service’s impact
  • develop a plan for launching the service

Continuous improvement

You’ll need to make sure the service continues to meet the needs of the people using and working with it.

To do this, you should ask:

  • what can we put in place to measure how well this solution works?
  • when and how will we use this data to improve the service?
  • how will we know the service works better?

Key activities to help you make continuous improvements

Delivering a sustainable service includes being committed to improving it based on on-going feedback and usage data. To help you make continuous improvements, you should:

  • capture and analyse usage data
  • test the service with a range of users
  • implement changes based on what you’ve found