Service design cues for the arts

Recently I’ve been working with Clare Cooper and Rohan Gunatillake of Mission Models Money to design the next phase of MMM’s activity. (You will now see me listed as one of their Associates.) As well as important – because I’ve long felt they were on to something in their argument that the sector was over-extended and under-capitalised and needed to develop new, collaborative ways of being – it’s also been interesting and fun, partly because we’ve been working with Lauren Currie, a service designer whose company Snook are doing some great things. Lauren has written about it on her blog from her point of view, and you can see some of the many photos taken on the first day. This has involved lots of post-its, the odd role play, and even a bit of drawing and cutting out. So right up my street, then.

It has been very useful being challenging to think things through as a service for ‘users’, with a ‘user journey’. (The contemporary ubiquity of the journey metaphor is a subject for another day.) It did make me realise that’s what I started to do instinctively in describing Thinking Practice and some of the things I want to do with it, and is is perhaps a particular form of strategic thinking. It also made me wonder what the arts sector more broadly could learn from service design – and where it’s being applied currently, even if not under that rubric.

So here’s just three areas for any arts organisation to ponder using a service design approach:

1. How do artists experience your organisation? What’s the conversation you have with them like? What makes them feel a genuinely equal part of the organisation or project? How do they meet with people? How are they represented in your communications and other ‘imagery’? What do they actually do with you? How do you maintain the relationship change when the production or exhibition is over, if at all?

2. If your work includes participation or learning or engagement – or indeed any other way of ‘people doing things not just watching’ – how does the individual experience that? What are the key moments and how do you want them to feel? Are you designing the interaction, the spaces, the materials, to get as close to that result as you can? What would you want if you were that member of the public? What language do you use, and whose is it - yours or theirs?

3. What service do you provide to the people you call funders, and how do they experience and understand that? How do you communicate to them – where and when, and with what? Think of it from their seat – what’s their ideal experience and how close to it are you currently? How could the relationship grow? What happens to the contact when they stop funding you?


  1. Very useful stuff Mark, thank you. May I use as thinking points with East Durham Artists' Network?

  2. 'Course - glad it's helpful, hope it's useful.

  3. Hi Mark.
    What a brilliant post...and thank you for your kind words. I have loved working with MMM and think we achieved something quite brilliant in only three sessions. I'd really like to hear about the response and feedback you get from this post.
    Hopefully this will spark something extraordinary in the arts!


  4. Thanks. Will post your 3 points above on our forum. Let's hope we can get some thoughts running free about how to become more service-oriented, and will keep you posted.


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