Service Design: Social Structures

In our newest instalment of the Industry Experts Interview Series, we chat with Dr. Josina Vink, a Service Designer, Researcher, and Associate Professor at Oslo School for Architecture and Design. With experience in service design for healthcare in Canada, the U.S., and Sweden, Dr. Vink is an expert in breaking down complex systems.

Her work focuses on understanding the complex, underlying factors that make up services, and how broader social structures impact services. This conversation highlights Josina’s interesting lens that astutely identifies the patterns within institutions and groups of people, and how we interact within these organizations.

Captured at the Service Design Network’s Global Conference in 2019, we’re pleased to present this in depth conversation with Josina Vink.


Dr. Josina Vink:

-My name’s Josina Vink.

I am currently an Associate Professor in Service Design at AHO, the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. I have a background doing service design in healthcare in Canada, the U.S., and Sweden. Social structures are these, kind of, shared things that we share that are taken for granted and become, kind of, entrenched over time. Things like norms, and rules, and roles, and common beliefs. So, it could be something like the idea of the role of the service user, that is an entrenched social structure that we have in services. But it could also be our family structures and the role of parents and children and how those things take on. So, they’re both, within services, there’s kind of certain social structures, informal and formal. So there’s a large variety of them, and they’re things that we, are across society, that we share.

Even the idea of the service provider and service user, I think those are our fundamental social structures that we hold in design, that we need to piece apart and question and things like that. And so, a lot of businesses work with that sort of social structure in mind. We are a business, we serve you as a customer, that is a shared belief that we have that is part of what service designers work with and shape. So we often draw journey maps of one individual moving through a system. That’s how we understand things. But there’s a ton of cultures and ways of thinking that are not so focused on individuals as one entity that, it has their own autonomy, has freedom of all of these different choices and can have access in different ways.

And I think that we could learn a lot from cultures that have a more collective understanding of society and service design can, yeah, look very differently and does look very differently. People are already practicing those things in different ways in different cultures so I think there’s a lot we can learn by opening up to some of those things. For me experimentation is really key in this way of learning that we’re shaping social structures through design in this ongoing way in our everyday lives.

So we’ve been working with things like tiny tests. Getting people to go out into their everyday lives and try and challenge a certain social structure and way of working. And that ongoing experimenting, and then documenting what they find when they’re doing things differently is a way to build in a more experimental way of working in general and help people realize their own agency in the systems that they’re in. And I see those, not as a design practice that only designers can use and do, but that people more widely can start to understand how they’re shaping the service systems that they’re in.

I’m really interested, so I’m the academic space now, but I’m very interested in the idea of reflexivity, or this building the awareness of these social structures, because I think once we have that, both within service systems and within the larger society, then we can more intentionally shape them. But if they stay at the taken for granted, invisible level then we’re never really able to be intentional and they just define our lives in ways that we aren’t even aware of and might not be comfortable with, if we’re really taking a hard look at ourselves.

So I think there’s been lots of critique in different spaces and places but there is a sense of maybe the mainstream waking up to some of these critiques and building them in. So I think that’s hopeful, the sense of listening around that. I think there’s a lot more work to do. I don’t think we can just celebrate that we’ve asked the critical questions now and done the work. I think there’s a long way to go, and making and shaping those things over time and reinventing our work and how we understand service design.

From uncovering new market opportunities to finding new efficiencies through tech

We’re here to help explore innovative ways to improve service delivery and customer experience.

Get in touch