Designing for Equity in Service Design

Summary: Designing for equity in Service Design can have a powerful impact on equity and inclusion goals. The objective is to have the biggest impact on your users, especially individuals or groups typically left out of service delivery. An area with a substantial influence is your policy priorities.

Why Service Design is the right UX approach for equity outcomes

In tackling complexity, designing equitable and inclusive design are critical for innovation and mitigating risks of exclusion and harm. An equitable approach to service design entails centering the unique needs of all individuals, especially those who have been historically marginalized or oppressed. An area to address is the effect of your policy decisions

Service Design looks at problems as systems. Systems do not stop with the product or service but look at mapping ecosystems and stakeholders for a wider perspective. In doing so, we come across the review of policies. Policies are system-wide forces, and their impact on users needing equity is tremendous. Equity can be defined simply as prioritizing the needs of those most in need. For example, users left out of decisions historically based on socioeconomic status, for example.

Think about access to a food bank. If the person being served is required to have a proof of address to get the food, that is likely not to work since the many users of that system may be unhoused and without an address. The policy would not be equitable or accessible in this case. If a access solution included only things like changing the hours of the food back or supplying bus passes for people, it would only solve some of the access issues, and potentially not the largest underlying issue. Note: Most Privacy Policies have this model: Agree to continue or Decline= No access. In other cases, requiring a phone number or email address can also be a barrier.

Another example occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools moved to an online platform during lockdowns, many students lacked internet sufficient to complete their work. Some internet providers offered reduced price high speed internet, but in order to receive this, a credit card was required by company policy. Many families that could not afford high speed internet also did not have a credit card and was unable to access this service. Immigrant families were especially impacted by this policy.

Understanding equity in Service Design

In Service Design, removing barriers to a smooth functioning service or product-service system is critical. Equity-centered means recognizing that individuals (or the community they represent) may require different levels of support to achieve the same outcome due to diverse circumstances, such as socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, and more. Integrating equity into service design involves a holistic evaluation of the entire process, from conception to implementation, with a critical focus on identifying and dismantling systemic barriers.

Unraveling systemic issues through policy redesign

A comprehensive examination and redesign of policies and procedures is imperative to address systemic issues in both government and corporate sectors. Policy is where you can cut off the ‘head of the snake’ regarding the issues it leaves behind. For example, the issue of access can include access to a building, digital service, information, or resource. Poor quality and equity of accessibility or access to information, say for users with disabilities, can lead to barriers downstream such as no job application and continued unemployment. Note: That’s a real thing with a 75% unemployment rate in the blind community in the US.  

By addressing system-wide impacts on a user or customer experience (or student/ citizen) policy redesign can be instrumental for changing outcomes, especially for underrepresented communities. However, policy design efforts must be defined and driven with community participation and steering.

The Role of Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures serve as the backbone of any governmental or corporate institution. They dictate the rules, guidelines, and processes that shape the organization’s functioning and influence its services.  Using Service Design, we suggest starting by analyzing your policies and procedures through an equity lens. The aim is to uncover hidden biases, discriminatory practices, and exclusionary measures perpetuating systemic issues. Addressing these aspects presents an opportunity to redesign truly inclusive and transformative services.

Example: Reimagining Public Housing Assistance

Let’s explore a concrete example of how equity can inform service design in the realm of government policies. Consider a local public housing agency that provides housing assistance to low-income individuals and families. Historically, this agency has faced criticisms of perpetuating poverty cycles and concentrating marginalized communities in certain areas. By examining its policies and procedures through an equity-oriented lens, the agency can unveil systemic issues and work towards meaningful change.


  1. Inclusive Application Process: Analyzing the existing application process might reveal unnecessary barriers that hinder eligible individuals from accessing housing assistance. Simplifying the process and offering various application channels, such as online submissions and in-person assistance, can cater to diverse needs and abilities.
  2. Fair Allocation System: The housing agency might adopt an allocation system that considers applicants’ specific circumstances rather than simply prioritizing on a first-come, first-served basis. For example, families with children or individuals with disabilities could be given appropriate priority.
  3. Location and Amenities: To avoid perpetuating segregation, the agency could revise its housing location policies and ensure access to various amenities such as schools, healthcare, and public transportation to promote economic mobility.
  4. Culturally Competent Services: Training staff to be culturally competent and sensitive to the diverse needs of applicants can create a more inclusive environment that fosters trust and collaboration.
  5. Collaborative Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging with community members, advocates, and experts from marginalized groups can provide valuable insights into the lived experiences and needs of those affected by the housing assistance program.


Incorporating equity into service design via policy design is a strategic advantage for governments and corporations. By scrutinizing policies and procedures, we can reveal systemic issues that have long remained hidden and perpetuated disparities and truly improve the experience of ALL users.

Want to learn more? Check out Frank Spillers’ UX Inner Circle Policy Design workshop

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