Excerpt from the book “How to have your cake and eat it too” – an introduction to service design.


Things should work the way people expect them to work. If things don’t work that way, then they should come with instructions that are clear, logical and intuitive so users don’t resent having to learn a new way to do things. If a door is locked, there should be a sign directing you to an open door.

But things often don’t work the way people expect them to work. We are continually asked to learn new ways to do things. Much of the time, we don’t complain. We just grin and bear it. And if we have to use something, we get used to it until a clear alternative appears and then we switch so fast that often the company we used to patronize goes bankrupt: Kodak, Post Office, Blockbuster, Nokia, etc.

To improve how products work and how services are delivered, we must question why so many products don’t work as well as we would like. We should be asking “why” instead of “how.” There are so many unnecessary rules, inefficient ways of working, senselessly complicated interfaces, and bureaucratic organizations. If all products and procedures worked the way they are intended, many governments might save as much as one yearly budget every 10 years. Today, government requires so much duplication of effort, pointless work, and making people run around that sometimes it’s a wonder anything works at all.

Recently a tax official photocopied my passport, in order to send a hard copy of the information to the regional tax office where the paperwork is organized. This being the 21st century and the biometric passport in question being from the same country as the tax office, I expected that they could just read and confirm the data on the passport electronically and flag the information in the database, to link with my tax profile. Why are they copying paper?

Or why can’t children under the age of 18, in some countries, have access to an internet bank account, while in other countries they can? Why are movie ratings still in force when every movie can be seen online or bought on DVD without any age checks whatsoever?

There are a lot of questions being raised in today’s fast-changing societies. The role of education is a good example. Most schools teach many skills that parents and grandparents believe to be important but which may be out- moded or outdated later in the child’s life.

But even more importantly, a lot of information given on an everyday level is based on presumptions that have never been challenged. In some metro systems, exits are indicated by the name of the street they lead to, not by the major points of interest next to which they emerge. However, it seems reasonable that people go to places, not addresses. Contextual destination signs would make navigating easier.

When experiencing bad service or a bad product, ask yourself ‘Why?” Sometimes the answer can be cost – for example, a nice charger for a portable device may cost as much as the device itself, so a cheaper charger is provided instead for the sake of economy. Other times the answer may be that the product’s developers lacked foresight and created more problems than they solved. In addition, language barriers can cause confusion when the person tasked with checking a translation has weak native linguistic skills.

However, asking “why” at the right time in the development process can lead to startlingly obvious product innovations. When every computer still had a mouse attached by a cable, the cable had to be attached to the PC; therefore, this cable had to be very long. You had to crawl under the table to connect the device. Customers became used to this inconvenience until Apple attached the mouse to the keyboard, which made the cable short and sweet, and people no longer had to crawl under tables to make their equipment work.


Ask “why” enough times, and you’ll get to the heart of the matter. You may even find yourself in uncharted territory on the way to innovation and better service delivery. Asking “why” can upset business models. For example, many construction companies have stopped buying equipment and started renting it instead. Construction companies only use the equipment; the responsibility of making sure the equipment works lies with another organization. The result is tools that are in use continuously instead of occasionally, while maintenance of the tools is a permanent job which ensures they work better and longer. Why own tools and use them rarely if you can just rent when you need them?”

Why not read more in “How to have your cake and eat it too”? Available at online book retailers everywhere. This link will take you to Amazon.

man browsing the service design booka spread from the service design book showing the customer journey

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