The Anatomy of a Service Designer

There are a growing number of Service Designers out there, and a growing demand for their services. But what really makes up a good service designer? We thought we’d have a go at answering that.

Empathy – a good service designer will soak up customer insight. Put them in a room with a customer, a cup of tea and some biscuits and they’ll walk out with an instinctive understanding of what that person needs, even if they haven’t specifically said it. They are excellent at reading between the lines.

Pattern recognition – a good service designer can cover a wall with a rash of post it notes and synthesise them down to two or three overlapping patterns. Insight is a service designer’s lump of rock. The answers are in there, they just have to gently chisel away to reveal them.

System logic – although many service designers look a bit like architects, it’s a fact that the good ones have more of the engineer about them. They understand that service experiences are created live in the moment, when multiple human, IT and content systems come together. They understand that what happened to the customer upstream, has an impact on the customer now and further on, downstream. They design systematically great services.

Patience – good service designers know that, in order to realise the customer experiences they design, they need to manipulate the entire business to a different purpose. The whole organisation is their canvas. They know that change takes time, though they’re willing to play for the long game to see it happen.

Fieldwork – good service designers spend a lot of their time out in the wilds, in all conditions, speaking to customers and service providers. The Japanese call it thegemba – the place where the work happens. That’s where great service designers pan for gold. The best ones get itchy if they’ve spent too long in the studio.

Diplomacy – service design is a challenging practice for many organisations. Customers like to travel horizontally, yet most organisations are organised vertically. So the customer has to constantly jump across big ugly chasms in their journey. To break these structures down means coming face-to-face with those powerful gods of business – middle management. A good service designer has a humble, diplomatic manner, so that each manager sees the opportunity, not the challenge.

Visualisation – good service designers live according to an ancient script: a picture tells a thousand words. They can sit in a room and hear five people not quite settling on an abstract idea, and with a few strokes of a sharpie get everyone to relax and say “yes that’s it.”

Facilitation – service design isn’t about signature design. There’s no Starke, Braun, or Ive. Good service designers deliver results through collaboration. They tread that fine line between keeping it participative, whilst stopping it from becoming a democratic, designed-by-committee mush.

Best to think of these as graphic equalisers (those of you who can remember those) – in that some service designers will be stronger in one area, than in others. The key is to build a team that can deliver on all fronts.

Oh, and of course, feel free to disagree. After all, who are we to judge?

Long live design – the @SDR_LDN Team

Written by Joel Bailey for Strategic Design Resource

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