Service design: chip and bin

Paul Squires
4 min readMay 4, 2022

Service Design has rightly become a prominent discipline in recent years, where organisations — particularly those in the public sector — have worked with both service design principles and practitioners to make services more meaningful, easy, and relevant to the customers who need them.

I have written about my Dad before, so I’ll tell you a story about how I discovered what service design is, without ever specifically knowing of the concept or its name.

For the purposes of the story, I am taking you back to the mid-1980s. I grew up in a pretty dumpy, nondescript and sometimes rather odd part of east London. As is so often the case in the UK, I was walking distance from maybe 5 fish-and-chip shops. Saturday dinners consisted of a takeaway from either “the chippy”, the pie and mash shop, or when Pizza Hut opened, one of those — which seemed posh at the time.

One of these fish-and-chip shops is the Ercan Fish Bar on Barking Road. It was there in the 1980s and continues today. Here it is in Google Street View — the end of a row of shops.

Aside from the Ladbrokes betting shop (in the middle of the row with the red sign), I think that it’s the only shop there which has remained. The reason as to why both the betting and chip shops have stayed there is because the West Ham United football ground was behind it. So, if you were watching football, you could place a bet before the match started, and have your dinner after it had finished.

Here’s a diagram of the shops on that block, done in PowerPoint (don’t @ me).

Slightly to the west of Ercan is a pedestrian crossing, controlled by traffic lights.

There is a litter bin in the yellow box marked A.

The lines with arrows mark my impression of “customer outflows” — the walks which people would take when leaving Ercan. They would walk along the same block (as my friends and I did when going to Ercan from school), cross the road, and so on.

The litter bin marked B doesn’t exist. This is where I bring my Dad back into the story.

I recall my Dad telling people that there was a chippy close to where we lived that had a bin outside. I knew that this was Ercan. For some reason, this irked my Dad. He would tell them that the council didn’t think bin placement through.

The pavement litter confirmed that he was correct. Some people stood outside Ercan to eat their fish and chips and would put their litter into Bin A. However, this was only the case in specific situations, such as on football match days when supporters could stand around and chat. Most of the time, they would walk away from the shop.

This was certainly the case for me as a schoolkid; Ercan was quite a walk from school (there was a chippy closer to school, but we walked to Ercan for some reason) and the only way to get back to school on time was to eat our lunch while walking.

The problem that we had in doing so, like many other Ercan customers, was that there was no other bin around. My Dad’s point was that although Bin A satisfied the use case of people standing around eating their fish and chips, there was no Bin B which satisfied the majority use case of people walking away from the shop, eating their food while they walked, and disposing of it there.

The number of potential customer outflows makes it a litter and hygiene issue and, to be honest, no-one wants to walk around with fatty chip papers in their hands. The placement of Bin B would have solved this problem for my school lunch break, as it would have for many other customers, because we walked out of Ercan along the row of shops. The placement of additional bins close to additional customer outflows would have helped to solve the litter problem even further.

In other words:

Put bins where customers have eaten their chips, and will be discarding their chip papers.

Put services where customers want and expect them.

That is service design.

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Paul Squires

Founder @imperica @pereramedia / Strategist @ibminteractive / Chair @furtherfield. Digital, media, art, politics, environment, culture, ephemera.