Service is about more than transactions. Service is core to who we are as humans.

To serve is profoundly human. It comes with deep values – love, gifting, respect, duty and gratitude. Service is about a relationship of give and take, where the giving is as valued as the taking.

Yet when service becomes institutionalised, it tends to lose those values. It becomes cold and transactional.

My father-in-law has been wheel-chair bound since a stroke 9 years ago. My mother-in-law and wife have cared for him ever since. He’s now too ill to be looked after at home, so my wife is currently looking for different options. Her experience of navigating the British ‘adult social care’ system is a stark demonstration of how far we’ve drifted from that human sense of service.

Listening to my wife recount her days, it’s clear that my father-in-law has become an object to be processed. No matter how many well-intentioned professionals he comes into contact with (and there are many), they’re all caught up in a system where service has been placed second to economics. The result is at best clumsy, and at worst, inhuman. And for my wife and family, it is deeply distressing.

I ran a small project in adult social care back in 2010. One of the participant social workers described his team as ‘the mushroom team’ — “because they stick us in the basement and feed us sh*t.” From what I hear, I don’t think this situation has improved.

Service design has a huge amount to offer here. More than any other approach, service design’s focus on humans and human values, balanced with economic impact, offers an alternative way to navigate this crisis.

All too often technology is presented as the solution, but technology is not a good in-and-of itself, and poorly applied it can destroy human value.

Our mission at Livework is to create a more human and service-oriented world. We strongly believe that design offers a balanced approach to resolving some of the toughest questions we face in society.

We worked with the City of Oslo, one of the world’s fastest growing cities, to apply service design to their looming adult social care challenge. The results, in terms of savings and wellbeing, were compelling.

Service is core to our lives and how we relate to one another. Yet so many of the services we rely on are being pulled down by unbalanced, out-of-step, short-termist management practices that disregard human value. Design makes the difference. Design puts the human back into service.

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