Designing digital services for better user experience

framework for mobile phone. User experience (UX) concept
  • Published Date: 18 May 2021

Digital technology can enhance the public service user experience. However there is a risk new digital solutions are being implemented without fully understanding how it affects value creation. A paper in Public Management Review discusses what it means to design for experience.

Digitalisation and value creation

Digitalisation can be described as the process of adopting and using digital technology within individual, organisational and societal contexts. Digital technology can have different functionalities including:

  • sensing: access to new forms of data e.g. through smart devices
  • communication: new ways of communication and information exchange
  • processing: new ways of data collection, analysis and decision-making using AI-based programs, cloud computing, big data analytics and machine learning
  • actuation: the replacement of human-to-human interaction with human-to-machine or machine-to-machine interaction.

Digitalisation can affect co-production and co-creation activities through changes in:

  • agency
  • dependency
  • engagement
  • roles
  • relationships between public service users and public sector organisations (PSOs).

Digitalisation and PSOs

The article offers two perspectives relevant to PSOs:

  1. Digital technology can be conceptualised as a type of resource that is constantly evolving through use. It is capable of generating new knowledge based on this collection and analysis of data. This implies that humans can be replaced by technology in service provision and decision making, as evidenced by the increasing use of smart assistants, service robots and AI.
  2. Digital technology can also be seen as a resource that the public service user may or may not integrate into their own value creation process. This use is not just determined by the user’s motivation but whether they have access to other resources required for the effective use of digital technology (e.g., knowledge, networks, and devices).

Many digitalised services are designed on the assumption that users have access to high-speed internet, possess smart devices, and know how to use them. This assumption can be problematic as it can exclude some user groups from public services. In many cases, these are the most vulnerable social groups.

A ‘one-size fits all model’, or an inside-out design approach to digitalisation, may lead to (unintended) negative consequences for public service provision. An inside-out approach focuses on the capabilities and resources required for a PSO aiming to adopt and integrate digital technology in its service operations.

The article proposes a different design approach which:

  • explores the user’s lifeworld
  • examines how changes through digitalisation affect the public service user’s value creation process and experience as an outcome.

The user experience and implications for public service design

Traditionally, a service experience was seen as something designed and orchestrated by the service provider for the user. The assumption is that the service provider is in control and can steer an experience during service delivery where the user interacts with the provider’s physical environment, front-line employees and other service users.

In recent years, the user experience concept has been shifting:

  • from a service production and delivery approach
  • to exploring possible future use situations in the user’s world.

Shifting the focus of value creation away from the service provider towards the service user implies PSOs cannot design experiences per se. They can only design value propositions aimed at supporting users in their value creation activities. This is termed ‘design for experience’.

What ‘design for experience’ means

The first step for ‘design for experience’ is building an in-depth understanding of the value creation process taking place in the public service user’s world. For example, a public service initiative seeking to reduce household food waste needs to understand the activities around food planning, shopping, storing, cooking and eating. These are all deeply entangled in the routines of consumers’ everyday lives. Diving into the public service user’s world is important to fully explore the activities, goals and context underpinning their value creation process.

PSOs cannot design user experiences but should see themselves in a support role where they support citizens in their value creation activities by providing suitable resources. Since public service users do not limit their value co-creation activities to interactions with single organisations ‘design for experience’ requires PSOs consider other actors in the system. For example, the design and provision of an e-health platform depends on other actors developing smart devices, advancing browser and network security, or increasing broadband speeds.

At a macro level, ‘design for experience’ needs to consider institutional implications. Digital technology not only changes the nature of interactions between actors, but it leads to a technology-integrated society characterised by new practices and norms.

Want to read more?

Design for experience – a public service design approach in the age of digitalization -

Jakob Trischler & Jessica Westman Trischler, Public Management Review, March 2021

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