Service design – a feminist manifesto

Just watched another great Car Pool podcast, this one with Oliver James. They had a good discussion about feminism and how, from something in the 70s that was about women being allowed to be women, it’s turned into something that makes women act like men. The laddish drinking culture, the suit wearing female MP etc.

Got me thinking about the worst kept secret in service design, that 90% of clients are women. I’ve been pondering this and reckon it’s down to the method – an approach to change that is about collaboration and listening. Not wishing to stereotype, but those are not characteristics of the male board room. Certainly my years in management consultany were about command and control, with top down change imposed and directed. The greatest appeal of service design as an approach is that it looks to peoples inherent resourcefulness for the answers. It says to people – you have it in you to transform the service you deliver. For me there’s something quite maternalistic in there.

Seeing the CEO of the NHS on stage last month, talking in these terms, was odd. It felt like a pretty significant change in approach. I wonder whether service design isn’t a bell weather for a wider shift, towards a more feminised approach to business.

5 thoughts on “Service design – a feminist manifesto

  1. redjotter

    This is really interesting Joel! I had a good conversation with Sophia Parker about her research for Social Animals – and in her talking to many students focused / interested in Service Design – the majority of them were female. Certainly , from a product design perspective I think the practice appeals to designers who are not happiest in the work shop making – they are happiest talking to people and researching.
    This does fit in with the notion of the workshop being dominated by males…even when I did venture in there I was met with funny looks and asked to tie my hair up…

    All very curious…what do the lads think?


  2. Tamsin

    I don’t agree that 90% of service design clients are women. I’d say there was a decent mix, having worked at Engine for a while now and across several sectors. The health sector is somewhat bias.

    But the attraction of females to service design is something we’ve discussed as an emerging trend. It is certainly not reflected in current practice in which females service designers are definitely the minority.

    The softer skills of a service designer such as empathy and capacity-building, for example, are more inherent female traits. The ‘People’ part of service design i.e. designing for people, with people, to make better people roles- again appeals to the feminine side in us.

    More of this to come…’gender roles in service provision and service design’ is material I’m working in progress.

    Would be really interesting to discuss further…



  3. […] process that is such a fundamental part of service design. But another post yesterday from Joel Bailey got me thinking perhaps its a bit deeper than that. Perhaps the very people (whether male or female […]


  4. joelbaileyuk

    90% may have been stated for dramatic effect, but I hold fast to my feeling that the client base is predominantly female. The mix in Amsterdam last year – probably the most service designers I’ve seen in a room – was certainly balanced towards female delegates. Although I may be adding another bias. And I mustn’t discount the fact that there were a lot of academics there, an industry that probably also retains a gender bias.

    Someone needs to pay PWC or Datamonitor to run some overpriced analysis on this.


  5. […] experience, gender, joel bailey, role, service design, tamsin smith Joel Bailey recently wrote  Service Design: A feminist manifesto “Got me thinking about the worst kept secret in service design, that 90% of clients are […]


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