Service Design in Heritage day 1

See, I’m getting better at this insta-documenting lark!

Today was the first iteration of Service Design in [Arts, Culture &] Heritage workshop(s), held at the Barbican Arts Centre in the Life Rewired Hub. Borne out of some great conversations with Kristen Alfaro about common difficulties with designing holistic, inclusive services when working in a Cultural institution – be it a museum, an art gallery/space etc – the goal is to introduce some service design techniques and approaches and providing a space for participants to learn by doing.

Thanks to lessons learned from previous workshops e.g. at Wild Conference, this was split into two workshops, partly to give people more options but also because even doing half a design jam is still quite intense!


Session 1 focussed on collaborative ideation techniques; session 2 on data/insights mapping and introduction to prototyping.

Much like the neo-mmanwu workshop, the structure was half a presentation type lecture sort of thing and half actually trying out the particular methods that would be used at that point of the design process.

It was a really great group of burgeoning service designers, those with a general interest in service design and techies with experience working in cultural institutions. I really valued how helpful people were to each other – sharing references and resources throughout the session.


The ideation session was a mix of a world cafe type activity, then using the ‘Disney method’ to structure the ‘How might we…?’ question which is the point where the ideation workshop ended. Whenever we (in Spaghetti Jams that is) host design jams, this step – bridging cross-referenced and data informed ideas with creating the simple challenge formulation – can be really difficult, not just for participants but also as facilitators. It can often feel like magic which isn’t the point of service design – service design is about making things clear, not shrouding in mystery! Either that, or it feels like we’ve essentially abandoned participants to figure it out for themselves (and then later on in the process, we swoop in and nicely(!) reprimand for creating an unfocussed challenge statement. The irony).

The ‘Disney method’ is great to bridge this gap, so long as it’s framed not to create solutions*, but to think more broadly about the problem and more concretely about potential caveats ultimately to create a concrete, specific challenge statement.

The data mapping and prototyping session was very light on prototyping, but the challenge we’d chosen, “How might we challenge traditional hierarchies [in the organisation]” merited the discussion to figure out what – if this were a real service project – gaps we need to fill, for which actors in the system. We’ll see how this session goes tomorrow!

So what did I learn?

First lesson learned: service evaluation workshop is required! This came out from specific questions regarding usability testing but also from some pre-workshop enquiries to this effect. Evaluation is a significant part of service design and merits dedicated time as opposed to the high level – and possible quite confusing – insertion I added.


Second lesson learned: data/insights mapping and prototyping could probably do with being split up to allow focus on more complex frameworks (and maybe even some of the supporting theory?). One justified critique about UX research and ‘agile’ is that we can be in danger of doing very slap-dash research, making a mess out of rigorous discipline centred methods e.g. a bit from ethnography, a soupçon from sociology etc.

Service design is a bit better off because the first step is always to look at existent data and analysis from any and all components of the system but how much of this comes across in a half day workshop? Something to think about clarifying.

Personally, I think there is a demand for accessible introductions to statistically rigorous approaches (at least from myself).

Tomorrow is another day at the Barbican with a similar set up. In the meantime, I’ll be setting up a slack channel for Service Design in Heritage, as much for ideas and feedback (I don’t think I quite have time for full on community mentoring/moderating) as well as  being a space for online meetups.

What will be the output?

Aside from the Service Design in Heritage slack group, I’ve been working on a ‘service design in heritage’ zine, which you can download here.

It’s still in draft, so feedback on anything that should be added or needs to be clarified will be much appreciated!


*As the ever wise Daniel Blyden amended me, technically trying to create a ‘How might we?’ statement is a kind of solution finding so…

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