If you’re working in tech, you may have heard about design thinking. Usually applied to discussions around making software or products, design thinking is a methodology  that centers the user in the design process, right from the start. Design thinking is also helpful when applied to services and experiences; for example, the flow you go through to receive customer service when calling a helpline, or the experience of signing up for school courses. At Bright + Early, we’re curious about using design thinking to reimagine how you experience a workplace. How does it feel to go through a recruitment process, a new employee onboarding program, or to even navigate something as simple (but important) as changing your name at work?

The practice of applying design thinking  to the creation of experience services is called service design. Linn Vizard, founder of consultancy Made Manifest, is a professional service designer and inclusive design advocate with over ten years of experience. In her practice, Linn has worked with clients like Shopify, Telus, and the City of Toronto to help them imagine and implement services that feel better to use. We spoke to Linn about how service design can be applied to creating better, more inclusive work environments and experiences. She also shares seven simple steps you can take to start using service design in your HR practice right now.

What makes a well designed service?

Services are all around us. According to Linn, a good definition is “if you can’t drop it on your foot, it’s probably a service”. Things like getting a haircut, navigating your local healthcare system, or even public transportation are great examples. When these services are poorly designed it feels like no one has thought through the needs of people actually using them. In contrast, well designed services are easy to navigate and understand.

What types of HR projects can I use service design for?

Just about everything from applying for a job to going through exit interviews is a service experience. When it’s time to improve a process like new hire onboarding, performance reviews or a training program, using service design principles will help you go beyond what everyone else is doing and create something that uniquely works for your team. You also have the added bonus of having built-in user testers: your coworkers!

How do I get started?

Step 1: Go speak to users.

Linn once worked on a project to improve the process of employees changing their name within a company’s system. While it sounds like a simple thing, a name change is often connected to a major life moment, like marriage or gender transition. Getting this right or wrong can have a major impact on how included people feel. “What we learned was that in some cases this was a place that trust was being broken in the employee experience. People felt like, ‘Hey, this is actually really important to me, but it's kind of confusing, it's pretty frustrating. I thought I followed the process and did all the steps, but then I'm seeing my kind of old name popping up in different places that I didn't expect.’”

To get started on fixing the issue, Linn spoke to a number of people who had been through the name change process recently. Where did they seek out information? A company wiki? A manager? What was easily resolved and what were the frustrations? Through these questions, she tried to put herself in their shoes. She also asked potential users to walk her through, step by step, how they experienced the system she was trying to improve. “You would want to look out for what the emotional experience is. Where is it really frustrating? Where is it smoother or even exciting? When did they feel the most satisfaction? What was disappointing?”

Step 2: Build a map of key moments.

What are the major points where your user will interact with the system you’re designing? Is there a particular phase where people tend to have a lot of questions? Write these out on sticky notes or a virtual whiteboard like Miro or Mural. For someone designing a recruitment process, this could include the experience of reading a job description, navigating your careers page, using application software, being invited for an interview, waiting for feedback, etc. Whatever you’re designing, note each user interaction point and map them out. 

Step 3: Note real experiences.

From here, use more sticky notes (or virtual ones) to write down what you heard from users in Step 1 about how they experienced each of these interaction points. In the name change example, one key moment is when someone is seeking information about how to change their name. Did someone scour the company wiki? Note it on a sticky. Did someone ask their manager, only to be forwarded on to someone else? Note it down, and look for common patterns.

Step 4: Picture the dream experience.

Knowing what you now know about the patterns and experiences your users are having, what would be an ideal journey through the map you made in step 2? How do you want it to feel, emotionally, and how should it function? Is there anything that’s already working really well? Keep using your sticky notes here. This is a great opportunity for a group idea session!

Step 5: Work backwards.

What needs to happen to turn that dream experience into a reality? For Linn’s name change project, the solution turned out to be in improving knowledge management and how different systems, like wikis, HR software, and other databases interact with each other. She worked with the company’s IT department to create connections and dependencies between independent systems to ensure a name change in one triggered a change in all of them. For someone designing a recruiting process, this could look like switching applicant tracking systems to something more user friendly, implementing scorecards, rolling out interview training, or improving process documentation. It could also include surprise and delight factors, like sending candidates a small gift or thank you note. It all depends on the problems you listened and heard your users on. 

Step 6: Roll out an MVP.

Borrow a term from your product team and launch a Minimum Viable Product or MVP. This is a skeleton, no-frills version of the program you intend to build. Take your MVP to potential users and see how things go. Are they able to navigate it easily? What does it feel like to them? Getting this early feedback will save you a lot of headaches in the long run, and stop you from going too far down a path that won’t work. 

Step 7: Iterate.

Once you roll out a new, shiny process, it’s time to test and get consistent feedback on how it’s working. Use conversations, surveys, or just keep observing people using what you’ve designed. Making small, continuous tweaks once your design is in the wild will take it from good to great!

How can I learn more?

Sign up for Linn’s newsletter, Ask A Service Designer

Check out Linn’s post on using sticky notes for ideating.

Read about how IBM implemented design thinking into its HR processes.