Designing the Project Design Deck

How I developed a tool to help myself structure projects with my clients.



3 minute read


Many of the people I work for have never heard of service design. All they know is, they’ve got a problem that’s difficult to nail down but that needs to be fixed. I’ve probably worked for someone they know. It’s of no use to bring them up to speed with the state of the service design industry. What is helpful is showing them how it works by starting to work together as quickly as possible. Demonstrating what service design is, I’ve found, is the quickest way to secure new clients and also get them a tangible result.

The Client

I worked for myself on this one.

The Challenge

The challenges I face are:

  • communicating how a service design project might look,
  • determining how big/small a project should be,
  • working out what value this project will deliver for the client (and how much money the client is willing to spend),
  • determining the scope of works,
  • and narrowing it all down somehow (because, inevitably, we could always do more).

The Project

I discovered that one of the aspects of service design projects that people can really latch onto are the various methods used. Even if many of these methods are new to the client. They are something tangible that they can attach a purpose, method and outcome to.

So, I set about gathering up all these tools and methods referencing books like This is Service Design Thinking, Sprint, Service Startup, Design at your Service, Service Design for Business and Well Designed. I also pulled together a range of excellent methods from The Hyper Island Toolbox (An invaluable resource that you should definitely check out). I wrote them down on cards and tried to find gaps and overlaps.

I printed a first prototype set and started to use them with clients. Having real cards to use lead to me identifying a mode of operation that might work. This involved laying out all the cards on a table and sorting them out into some kind of logical order. Logical for me (as the person going to run the project, and logical for the client who would be working with me and financing it). To assist this process, I developed some additional cards that provide a kind of framework in case it is needed.

Using the cards allowed me to refine the methods selection and add a few that were missing.

I printed a second prototype set at Moo and take them to every client meeting.

The Results

The prototype cards that I use now, on almost every project, have proven to be a really useful way to quickly create a structure for a possible project. In client meetings, I can quickly lay the cards out on the table, allow the client to shuffle through them, ask questions about what they mean and, together, we can work to put some activities in order.

Without having to talk about specific amounts of money, we can add or subtract activities, discuss the consequences of doing so and the client can implicitly understand the impact on project cost (add more, costs more).

My clients get an idea what their project will look like, we set the size of the project (by adding or subtracting activities), we begin discussing what value the project will deliver, we clarify the scope of work (where the boundaries exist) and we limit what will be done.

And, my client’s expectations are visualised. The cards represent what will be done and put a glossary of terms around that work. When it comes to communicating outcomes, I can refer back to specific activities and they know what I am talking about.

When does this kind of project make sense?

Internal tool and method development always makes sense. Of course, it’s the kind of work which generally gets shifted to the very bottom of the to do list. But this kind of work can be very rewarding in the long run. Developing your own ways of doing things helps you better understand how you work now, how you could improve it and encourages you reconsider what you do on an ongoing basis.

Methods use

Problem Definition – Literature research – Observation – Service Prototyping



Work with standing man
“We worked with the Project Design Deck to put a structure around some big changes at our product design agency. We couldn’t have defined the scope without them.”Josh Jeffress, Design Anthology
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