The similarities between Human Factors and Service Design

Special thanks to Barry Kirby and the 1202 Podcast, from which this piece was adapted. Listen to the full interview with Chris Avis and Phil Nutley from CCD.

How we interact with users is really fascinating across the piece, and it’s something that is integral to human factors. 

What is service design, and how do people see the effects of it on a day-to-day basis?

As users, we interact with multiple services across any given day. These often play out between digital product, verbal and visual communications and physical spaces.  Services are quite hard to design for because they’re often hard to see, let alone feel, and so they often feel intangible and hidden from view. They can also be small moments, like microseconds deciding to touch an app and book something, to make you as an end user kind of aware of a great service.

What does that look like?

Well, it’s booking a bus ticket and paying for it as you’re rushing to your bus stop.  It’s grabbing some food via Deliveroo as you head home from work. It’s setting the temperature at home on a cold winter’s evening to 21 degrees as you leave the train station. That is service design. Its design-led seamless services and experiences. Human factors and service design have a role in making sure that that seamless interaction works perfectly.

What are the similarities between Service Design and Human Factors?

They both connect humans at the core. No matter what you call it, whether it’s Service Design, Human Factors or something else, essentially, they both focus on improving things for the end user.

The service experience is crucial and from a Human Factors point of view the user is part of the service, so we work hand in hand to make sure that the user has a good experience and that the overall system is designed in a way that makes it better for the human. There are many techniques that are very similar.

This means while we are improving the service/experience for the end user, the staff are involved in that process.

How have you been working to cross-pollinate the two? Are there techniques and tools that are similar or overlap?

It’s not one size fits all. When we tackle a problem space, we don’t approach it as ‘is this is a Human Factors problem?’. We are coming at it from two or three different angles, such as Human Factors, Ergonomics, Design Research, UX Designers and Wayfinding and Information Designers.

Specifically, we’ve seen a way of combining and colliding Task Analysis with Service Blueprint, Contextual Enquiry, Ethnography and kind of bringing those together. Design Thinking and Service Design allow you to create a range of methods of tools and techniques to help people share and co-create.

What are the differences?

They often say that design sits between art and science. Human Factors and Service Design sit between design and science. Human Factors is slightly nearer to the science end of the spectrum, and along with this deeper levels of detail in some methodologies. On the other hand, Service Design takes a more empathetic approach to the problem space.

They certainly do complement each other.

The nature of human factors and service design is working a lot with people – engaging them in workshops and co-creating the solution. Are there common challenges you face?

Initially, there is always a challenge in demonstrating the value of what you’re there to do, with some more than others. Often, they’ve seen consultants over the years fixing the problem for them and then going away, only to come back again in six months’ time and do it all again. Overcoming this can be tough. Particularly with staff that are disengaged from the start – if they’re not told about why/ what’s the strategy, the A to B.

Our approach to collaborative process can reignite people’s curiosity and interests and get people on their feet.  That’s been really obvious in helping people engage a lot more, they’re actively talking to each other. You often get a “oh I didn’t know you did that”, or “I thought you did xyz”, it can be eye-opening and highlight opportunities. It’s critical to encourage everybody to have a voice.

We are giving them the power.  We never solutionise to start with; we’re always there to give the tools to the people and co-create ideas. Otherwise we’re just coming in and telling them something that they already know.

Other common challenges are that you don’t have enough air cover from senior teams, particularly C-suite CEOs. Dropping in and out and not committing to the process. Where internal culture is fragile or fraught, this can be particularly difficult.

Overall, organisations don’t spend enough time stepping back to look at the whole problem space – the service or communications or workplace design. People see it as being two days out of their busy schedules with KPIs to deliver. Stepping back can really add value, because you break down assumptions and biases and get to the root of the problem, really examine it.


Phil Nutley

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