Service design mistakes I’ve made, and the big lessons learned
As a service designer, I spend a lot of my time selling the value of design thinking alongside practising service design doing. This week, I spoke about how to sell service design at the inaugural International Design in Government Conference.
I choose to use the word sell intentionally. When you’re working in the public sector, where user or ‘human-centred’ design is still a relatively new concept, every conversation counts towards showing the value of thinking and working in this way.
Starting out in the public sector, I made a few mistakes. Here’s what I learned, so you don’t have to.
Mistake 1 — The answer to your prayers
In my first few design roles, I went in all guns blazing. In reality, I wasn’t the service design angel come to bestow wisdom and light. I was kind of a burden.
To many people, service design felt like the latest bandwagon like so many other industry trends that had come and gone in the past. It wasn’t seen as a transformative way of thinking about how we can continuously design and improve public services.
What did I learn? Listen and be empathetic to the culture that you’re working in.
When working with new teams, you are delivering a service of service design. That has to start by listening to and understanding their needs, and taking the time to understand the culture you’re working in. Trust me, I tried to get a room full of senior leaders to work with emojis and let’s just say it did not work out well.
My mistake was in assuming that my culture and ways of working were better. Understanding culture to build relationships is important.
Mistake 2 — A horse in a field of llamas
I am different. At times, I purposefully make myself different to everyone I’m working within an effort to push against a teams norms and culture. It’s great on one hand but can be alienating on the other. It has also meant that in past work people saw me and the change I was bringing as a threat and not as part of the team. I stood out like a sore thumb, or like a horse in a field of llamas.