Service Design in Government (organised by Software Acumen) is one of, if not the, UK’s most prominent conference addressing Service Design in the public sector.
Launched in 2014 the conference has grown year on year, drawing service designers from all over the globe to the UK and establishing it as the go-to event on an international level.
Following four years in London a review into participant numbers and their origins culminated in a decision to relocate the conference to Edinburgh to accommodate their growing audience, and in tandem with the move refresh the SD in Gov identity.
The main requirement of the brief was to reaffirm SDinGov as the definitive, international conference for service design, in order to reassure its discerning, design-savvy participants that despite a change of location they’d be attending the conference that they have come to know and trust for high quality content and delivery.
Secondly, both Software Acumen and Bureau had independently concluded that the existing brand could do a lot better at representing and reflecting SDinGov’s participants. We wanted to show an understanding of their work and the challenges they face, while simultaneously reflecting their hugely varied backgrounds and experiences.
A key tenet of Service Design is “User First”, meaning that gathering data on users and considering their needs at every step of the design process is paramount. We know that anyone designing a digital public/government service must consider everyone – users with a huge range of needs.
The diversity of SDinGov’s audience (unsurprisingly) mirrors the diverse nature of the populations service designers need to consider. We put particular effort into learning about inclusivity and representation in graphic design, looking for designers and projects that had tackled similar issues.
We also looked into other Service Design conferences and were encouraged that we couldn’t see anyone else making much effort towards representative and inclusive design, giving SDinGov a great opportunity to lead their field in this respect.
We’ve worked hard to create an identity that strikes the right balance on a couple of levels.
Firstly we needed to balance the existing identity against a clear update and evolution. Our new identity needed to be recognisable enough to SDinGov’s existing audience so as to continue their relationship with the conference, whilst providing a bit of an update to reassert SDinGov as the leader in its field.
There was another, quite tricky balance to aim for, between the aesthetic and functional aspects of the identity.
As a conference aimed squarely at designers of a very particular, it’s crucial that the identity is visually appealing to that audience. However considering Service Design’s core principle, our work shouldn’t get in the way of core functionality, or sacrifice clarity of information.
We wanted our design to assist understanding rather than hamper it.
To strike these balances we’ve tried to keep things as clean as possible, retaining the existing colours but reducing their use throughout. We’ve updated typography using using a clear, organised hierarchy (inspired by gov.uk) to provide structure to information, setting everything in a new, contemporary typeface with some similarities in form to the old font.
We thought we could make a big step towards the User First principle by placing a particular focus on people in the identity’s imagery. We decided to lead with illustration for a number of reasons:
- No reliance on photography from events, or worse still, stock photos. We won’t spend hours looking for the “right” photo.
- It’s totally flexible, we can illustrate any person, scene, object we want to represent.
- It can be tested and iterated quickly with lower costs than photography.
- It can be stylised to match the event’s colour scheme, and provide various level of abstraction or detail as appropriate.
Most importantly illustration allows us to depict people that may not currently attend SDinGov who we want to represent in the hope of making them feel welcome to do so in future.
After undertaking some research into inclusivity in design, we illustrated a group of people which we intended to deploy across the website and print material. The aim here was to attempt to represent as diverse an audience as possible; we considered gender, age, ethnicity, visual and hearing impairment, wheelchair users and people with no disabilities.
The task of tackling inclusivity is certainly complex, and in discussion with Software Acumen it was decided that the illustrations of people would be, initially, refined to those we could identify as participants in the conference. Primarily this was to address concerns about having a counter-productive outcome by producing reductive stereotypes, until we could carry out more research into fair representation and inclusivity. Therefore, we returned to some reliance on photography from previous events in order to inform illustrations of existing participants.
As with all of our projects we’ve worked in an agile-inspired way, doing small amounts of work to test our approach and ideas with our client before learning from their feedback and developing further.
In this case we begin with a written description of each proposed illustration – often in relation to a particular page or area of the website. We’ll then produce a simple pencil sketch for approved ideas, and review that before incorporating the appropriate feedback and building the sketch into a more polished illustration for use in marketing materials.
There have been a couple of instances where we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves and gone on to polished illustration too soon, only to re-work or discard images entirely in light of valuable insight from our client – an important reminder of the advantages of an agile process.
We’re taking a transitional approach to replacing the events logo so that’ll come later, but we’ve already begun deploying the new identity on the event’s website.
Starting with the new approaches to typography and colour, we’ve also deployed illustrations representing key action points that the audience will go through as they decide to participate in the conference, in consideration of the international audience’s experience.
There are supporting illustrations to support the change in venue and location.
We’re excited to develop the ID further on the wide range of promotional and printed material that we design for each Software Acumen conference, though unfortunately we’ll have to wait a few months before we start on that portion of the workload.
Results to measure
As we deliver the first stages of the new identity and illustration, it’s vital that we capture audience feedback on our approach wherever possible.
As everyone on our studio team is White British and able bodied, examining our own biases and looking beyond our own experiences can only get us so far. It’s important to that our efforts to represent people that don’t look like us or share our experiences are undertaken with sensitivity and understanding, which we can only gain through speaking to the people we want to represent.
We’re soliciting feedback from SDinGov’s participants by inviting them to contact us through the conference website and on social media, as well as making our own attempts to reach people in demographics outside our own*.
We’ve learned a lot on this project and are looking forward to an even deeper understanding of representative design as we continue over the next few months.
*If you’d like to share your feedback, experience or advice around this topic please contact us