Experiential Design

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If ever a picture was to say a thousand words then it is this one. Pretty self-explanatory isn’t it!

What started out as a simple picture shared by myself and Kirstie (co-author), became one of the most popular tweets we had posted.

We are both passionate about service user experience and how we currently co produce and co design our services across local health economies and across multiple sectors which touch the lives of millions of people daily. This is why we both lead the Health and Social Care Voices National Network @HSCVoices. After reflecting and discussing via twitter as to why it stirred up so much emotion, feeling and debate, we decided to put our spin on it and write a blog.

What was a simple share about the difference between what we personally experience and how others think we want to experience, quickly resonated with hundreds of people across social media and with the work we all do across Health and Social Care sectors and adding a new dimension and offering a greater and broader meaning.

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Scott began work in the Criminal Justice and 3rd Sector designing and implementing strategies and processes to better incorporate Service User Involvement, Influence and also Co-Production and it is those values and beliefs he holds which align beautifully with the clear message in this picture.

Having spent her adult working life in the NHS both clinically and managerially Kirstie is fully aware of the need now more than ever to listen and engage with what the public want. Often it’s easy to design services around our own broad assumptions of what they should look like based upon previous service design and delivery and also upon our own internal view of the world.

We know that there are some really innovative forward thinking organisations, both statutory and voluntary who are really embracing partnership and collaborative working with people who use services, this we should be proud of and celebrate, and we know that this is not the case everywhere and so we need to work together to achieve this.

Some of our past experiences have given us a good grounding in how those of us who work within Health and Social Care should always have a good understanding of experience, both from a client perspective and from a staff perspective too. We design services based on need and improve services based on the same principles. If we go back to the picture above, we could question if anyone asked the public which route would be most utilised. Some challenge to this, has been that this is through societal laziness and to ‘cut corners’ literally, however you have to consider if the public want  the quickest route or the most attractive? Seems an obvious question doesn’t it?  Although simplistic in its demonstration, this epitomises the importance of service user involvement at all stages of design, it shows the fundamental importance of real engagement and understanding what’s important to the service user, and frequently this is not the same as what is assumed important to the provider.

It’s easy to find ourselves starting to make the same presumptions in our day to day roles, especially when we become embroiled in what we do and believe we have the expert knowledge, experience and skills. We can quickly start to believe that we have worked with a client group in depth and therefore understand the needs, wants and wishes of this ‘group’ of people and because we have an understanding of the issues faced by the clients we come into contact with we are best placed to design based on that.

At a time when finances are tight, there are projected deficits across health and social care funding, leaving gaps, and efficiencies to be made, it seems fundamental to ensure that what we are doing and the services we are designing are what matter to the public we serve. We can’t presume to know what people want and need without their involvement, they are the experts and we should be there as guest in their lives, working with and for them.

How can we model good practice?, here are some hints and tips from Scott, Community Volunteer Capacity Builder…

  • Don’t replicate what a community is already able to do or already doing
  • Ask what questions you should be asking rather than just designing questions to ask
  • Invite Service Users/Patients/Carers/Community as partners in a wider vision and not in small parts
  • Make sure Involvement and Co-Production is a learning experience and not fully outcomes focussed
  • Listen don’t defend
  • Any Co-Design has to be Mutual and Reciprocal…people know when they are being undervalued
  • No one person has all the answers and like a football league it requires many component parts
  • Identify and invest in the right leaders, not just the corporate leaders
  • Don’t expect linear processes…people not working for an organisation will think differently to Policies and Procedures…work with not against
  • Enjoy the experiences, perspectives and most of all, the inclusivity

It can be easy to misinterpret best intentions for true engagement and partnership and how this is aligned with our core values as a person and our beliefs around the public and voluntary sectors we dedicate our time to each day. This picture reminded us about the importance of making sure we continually value the ‘experience’ and Involve people in the work we do. It has in fact empowered us to spurred us on to ensure we continually take the left path and let the ‘experience do the design’ and not let the ‘design spoil the experience’.

Thanks for listening – Scott & Kirstie

Scott Bell


Scott doesn’t come from an academic background but he does have in depth knowledge and experience of the 3rd sector where he now works. He is passionate about his job, which is to enable Co-Production and Community Engagement within a project designed to engage clients into services that would give care for the following areas of need, Homelessness, Addiction, Re-Offending and Mental Health.

He is highly motivated by enabling some form of change within traditional services and the way they are delivered and one of his overall ambitions is to see a truly person centred approach and services that are designed with the service users experiences and feelings at the centre.

He is also a Co-Creator and Director of a Social Enterprise and has found lately that he feel passionately about Social Capital and Community Investment and strives to make sure that Health Care of any kind can be started from within a community and filter out. He feels this can be done through Leadership Development and giving people a voice who would, under most circumstances, go unheard.

And last of all, he is a firm believer in the ideal of a free and all-encompassing health service that keeps the patients and their needs at the heart of everything it does.


About kirstie stott

I'm a mum, daughter, partner, nurse, manager, leader, potential patient. Passionate about the NHS. Authentic, inclusive and value based leadership. Equality and diversity throughout.
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