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Textbooks and practical guides on service design often present process models consisting of sequential steps that can be used to guide the design process. We present below some process models that are often used, and we provide some reflections on their role in planning and structuring service design processes.

A well-known process model is the ‘double diamond’ developed by the British design council. This model consists of four main phases:

  • Discover
  • Define
  • Develop
  • Deliver
  • Test

Visualising the design process as interconnecting diamonds highlights that the process entails phases of opening, expanding and exploring, followed by closing and defining phases marked by decision making. Learn more about the double diamond process model here

A Norwegian government program, #Stimulab, which seeks to stimulate the use of design methods to support public sector innovation, has advanced this double diamond into a triple diamond process model. The third element of this triple model is an extra phase for ‘diagnosing’, based on a reasoning that it is important to spend prolonged time on understanding and ‘diagnosing’ the problem at hand. A visualisation can be found here

Other design process models dig even deeper into this ‘diagnosing’ aspect of the design process. Dorst (2015), for instance, has developed a frame creation model consisting of nine steps:

  • Archaeology: Analysing the history of the problem and the initial problem formulation.
  • Paradox: Analysing the problem situation: What makes this hard?
  • Context: Analysing the inner circle of stakeholders
  • Field: Exploring the broader field
  • Themes: Investigating the themes that emerge in the broader field
  • Frames: Identifying patterns between themes to create frames
  • Futures: Exploring the possible outcomes and value propositions for various stakeholders
  • Transformation: Investigating changes in stakeholders’ strategies and practices required for implementation
  • Integration: Drawing lessons from the new approach and identifying new opportunities within the new network.

Frame or frame creation refers to shifts of perspectives or approaches to a given problem. Exploring and applying a new frame is presented as key for innovation, which entails development and implementation of new creations. Schamineé (2018) provides examples and reflections on the applicability of this approach in public service contexts.

We believe that the different process models for service design can be helpful for structuring and guiding the design process. However, while these models may be suitable for clearly demarcated projects, addressing specific problems that can be relatively clearly defined, many projects in the public service context are complex and intertwined with processes and decisions at other government levels or in other organisations and agencies.

Thus, the process models for service design, with clearly defined phases appearing in sequence, will often not be applicable in comprehensive and complex projects. The process models can still be helpful as a kind of mental map and as a starting point for reflections on how to plan, organise and structure a design process. Indeed, the process models can be helpful because they highlight key elements to include in a design process, even though these elements may not appear in a neat sequence. Particularly, the models can be helpful because they underscore the importance of keeping processes open and explorative and of avoiding jumping to solutions too fast.

Following the process models in a strictly structured manner may imply that it becomes a straitjacket that limits rather than supports the process. It can be important to keep in mind that design and innovation processes tend to follow unpredictable paths, but this does not mean that a plan or a process model is unnecessary. Hence, agreeing on a plan for the process, but also discussing how to relate to the plan and the possibilities for deviation, is a wise way of getting started.