Beyond design

Can design improve your experience of the world, and be good business at the same time? Ole Thomas Tørresen, Service Designer at Designit Oslo, has put together four key points that can shape the industry for the better.

Ole Thomas Tørresen

1. From outputs to outcomes

In a world of visible, quantifiable, and palpable objects, service designers often get asked what exactly it is that they design. And that’s a really good question because many forms of design are defined by their outputs: graphic design, product design, interior design. This likens the concept of design with the production of physical things. But new forms of design are increasingly shaped by the outcomes they aim to produce.

This leads to an entirely new way of measuring success. Rather than quantifying how much is being produced, service design measures the impact small changes to a service across physical and invisible touchpoints can have. Lou Downe, famous for their work on Government Digital Services, highlights exactly this in their 15 principles of quality: success is not measured by the things we produce (outputs) but by the impact we make (outcomes).

But moving from an output focus to an outcome focus is a holistic change that needs to happen at every level. This means nurturing a culture of objectives and key results (OKRs) instead of key performance indicators (KPIs), and service designers are and will be important facilitators of this change.

2. From human to humanity-centred design

Designing for meaningful outcomes is difficult. It requires a re-think of well-known methodologies and processes. For example, user-centred design has always been a core principle of service design. As a field emerging from interaction design, it teaches methods and tools that focus on the individual experience. But this individualistic approach can lead to pollution, isolation, polarisation, and discrimination. So, as a result, service design is increasingly moving from human-centred towards humanity-centred design: from the individual to the community. This space means more responsibilities, wider considerations, and a critical eye inwards to question the methods and processes taught, especially regarding representation and diversity. Designing for humanity is complicated and almost impossible when the design scene is 89% white and 60% male. We need to make sure that the communities impacted by the design are part of designing it. This requires a more diverse design industry.

3. From velocity to quality

It’s still all about quality. The world seems to have embraced the Silicon Valley start-up mentality 'move fast and break things', but too much change too fast can break things in the wrong way. A project model driven by production can give an illusion of progress. Humanity-centred design isn’t interested in distribution but in evolution, working in tandem with the pace of the systems so that they can be adapted and adjusted to create meaningful, long-term outcomes. For this to happen, designers need to be embedded in the organisations, facilitating change over time.

'Services are less discussed as a design object, but more as means for supporting the emergence of a more collaborative, sustainable and creative society and economy.’ - Daniela Sangiorgi

4. From design process to cross disciplinary collaboration

Transforming an organisation, including their worldview of themselves, how they carry out their work, and their responsibility can be facilitated by service designers but it’s not their responsibility alone. In fact, the expectation for service designers to fix everything, preferably overnight, is what leads to a lot of pushbacks. Designs can only be implemented in collaboration with the in-house employees and experts as equal partners. This means cultivating a language for collaboration, as well as admitting that designers are only part of the innovation process. Paving way for new directions is best done together, and that requires a willingness to compromise on methodology and approach. In fact, it’s the only way to draw on people’s diverse skills and knowledge and create the best outcomes.


These four movements are the starting point for discussing the practice and evolution of service design at Designit. Service designers are key organisational agents that can promote this new way of working to deliver more value. Change is good; let's welcome some new outcomes.