Anna and Paul on Service Design Policy Trends

Anna Whicher and Paul Thurston from PDR closed out the Future Directions session of the conference by speculating on the next five years of policy trends in service design through 2020.

Their presentation began with a bit of a roll call to demonstrate the balance between government employees and designers in the audience. More than a quarter of the presentations at the conference this year were from government.

They shared a trend toward more inclusive, transparent policy making and the potential for design to engage with the political system. They also shared some success stories from over 100 workshops for 1000 government officials to learn hands-on service design methods for policy.

Less encouraging, the team also reported the results of a design survey conducted in the US and UK where less than half the organizations surveyed used any design at all. I’m not totally convinced about the numbers because only 14% admitted they even used design for styling and that’s the basic thing that every organization already knows about design, whether it be logos, web pages, signage or printed material. That number should be somewhere around 100%.

At any rate it called to mind a pair of studies from the late 1980s in the UK that explored organizations using design without calling it by that name.

The final part of their presentation focused on nine trends in the design innovation ecosystem:


  • Agile procurement will become the norm.
  • Government digital services.


  • Growth in niche design support programs
  • In the past they were broad (small businesses, etc)


  • Design promotion will be treated as a strategic investment.
  • Design investment in a very high level.
  • Promoting awareness and capacity of design in private and public sectors.


  • Thirst for knowledge. Increase in courses and training for service design.
  • People are asking about accredited courses.
  • We’ll see specialized design courses for government services.


  • Using design for policy making (not just for service development)
  • Using service design research with seniors exploring euthanasia.
  • A provocation to enable debate.
  • Design in innovation policy.


  • Design in innovation funding programs.
  • Government support for small companies is quite common.


  • Design and research getting closer.
  • The connection between the two domains is tightening.
  • Design research as a flagship investment priority.


  • Job specifications for policy makers will include design skills as standard.
  • Two examples of current UK contracts.


  • Government as service design agency.
  • The opposite of the acquisitions trend.
  • Internal groups will spin out as private industry.

It was interesting to see the speculation about internal groups spinning out as private industry. That’s essentially what happened with Participle in the UK eight years ago. The trend in the opposite direction toward design firm acquisition has certainly caught people’s attention; I’ve heard it mentioned in several presentations throughout the conference.

  1. Thanks for the write-up Jeff, great coverage of the conference as usual.

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