Mar 7 | 2021

Service design: the importance of addressing the need

by Dave Robertson

Too much of the time, as designers, we see ourselves as problem solvers above all else. It’s fun to be a problem solver – it can be intoxicating sometimes, to be able to take skills that you have, apply them efficiently, and solve a problem. And it’s even better if you can help people at the same time.

But problem solving is more than just shifting into first gear and moving off. It’s about thinking about the journey first, deciding on the best route and crucially, whether the destination is the one that is worth visiting.

I’ve been looking into the way that governments and public bodies design their digital offerings recently, and something that I found quite interesting was the challenge presented by the GDS (Government Digital Services), when designing UK Bank Holidays page on This is quite an old example (2014) and not the sexiest piece of design, but I thought it was an interesting case study of the importance of finding the need first, before starting to design.

Consider the following example – this is what the old bank holidays page featured, before the redesign.

gov uk old bank holidays layout

How helpful is this? Yes, it appears to present the information that most people need. But do most people need all that info, and if so, is it presented in the best way?


GDS discovered that most people wanted to know when the next bank holiday was, not when all of them were across three years. They also realised that showing consecutive years just wasn’t that important. Users didn’t need to compare the different bank holidays across different years.

They also found that it was easier to segment country-specific bank holidays via tabs, because for most people in England it just wasn’t necessary to add complexity to the table with asterisks for Scottish bank holidays for example.

Current Page

gov uk new bank holidays page

As you can see, the current page places much more emphasis on problem solving, rather than just displaying information. It aims to serve the actual needs of the users, rather than the perceived need. There are also links for common questions about bank holidays further down – for example around whether an employer has to pay leave for bank holidays.

This clearly illustrates the importance of doing your research before you set off trying to solve the problem. The problem appears simple on the surface – but once proper research and planning is done, it’s clear that there are better ways to solve it than just presenting the information that you think people are asking for in the way you think they want. Sounds obvious, but easy to miss.

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