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Sometimes You Just Have To Shut Up

17 February, 2013

New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual

  1. Sometimes you talk too much and you just have to shut-up.
  2. Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re talking about so you just have to shut up.
  3. Sometimes you just have nothing to add; you just have to shut up.
  4. Sometimes, if you’re having a one-sided dialogue – that’s actually a monologue, because people can’t engage with you – just shut up.

And so I find myself, in my blogging, and maybe even in my engagement with some of the vocal vociferous voices of the design industry, at number 3.

I have now been in the design game long enough that I see repeats of the same arguments, same hyperbole, same “design thinking” evangelisation, same let’s fix design!/let’s redefine “design” excitement! that I saw, and that excited me, some 10 years ago.

But I’m a bit over it really.

Not over design.

Not over service design.

Not over the difference design can make.

Not over being a practitioner.

And not over slaving over a blog post for hours to craft the thoughts and get the point just right in my head and on “the page” – which is the point of this post really and what direction for these efforts in the future.

Because I am over “THE PROCESS!” I know it enough to forget about it, adapt it as necessary, seek to reinvent it appropriately – I’ve earned that. And I know it enough to shudder a little each time I hear about a training course over X-days in “innovation practice” “design thinking” “experience mapping” “prototyping made easy” “become a designer”. And this is from someone who developed and ran a two-day course called Service Design 101 for a large government department! But with practicing designers, and seven years practice – not theory – experience, and a deep knowledge of the organisation itself.

And I’ve spent enough time on getting clarity on meaning that means I am over the definitions and redefinitions for the sake of supposedly encouraging dialogue, debate or for plain ole “I’m right!” purposes. Meaning matters and labels help, but definitions that fix a precise description and have to fit within 140 characters? Over it.

See, here’s what I love about design (as in service design, design in a business context):

  • It is complex.
  • It is hard – it really is. I’ve said it here before and I still agree with myself.
  • It is human.
  • The act of design can change the way people think about themselves, their roles, the people they deal with, the difference they can make, the outcomes they can achieve.

Here’s what I love about the world of design I am lucky enough (and also choose to) operate in:

  • It is not sexy.
  • It seeks to effect change in the places that don’t always start with the customer – often in deeply mundane and political places.
  • It’s about helping the right people make the right decisions at the right time (for them) to achieve their individual goal – whether it’s a policy outcome, a service outcome, a process outcome, a payment or entitlement outcome, an information outcome, a technology outcome, a certainty outcome. But what matters is the outcome, not the process.

After three-and-a-half years blogging about design resonance, my desire to move on from the love of a perfecting and describing design process (and I have loved it) has manifested as a slight obsession, after a number of projects at work, and a number of experiences, with the role of those who deliver service and their role in the service experience – at a systemic and sustainable way (think Zappos, but in a non-sexy socially-driven environment like the public, community or voluntary sector). Customer stuff – easy (as in complex, hard, always interesting etc), other people in the service system – gimme som-a that to digest, consider, hypothesise, analyse, synthesise, share.

Besides a history of working deep in organisations, there are three recent triggers responsible for this evolved focus shift:

  1. Recognising when the client has so much faith in the touchpoint itself, they just don’t fully understand internal users may be highly unlikely to maintain it (given a choice) – if you build it, the customer might come, but the people behind the scenes might not maintain the outfield, if you know what I mean.
  2. Dealing with a major telco, receiving unexpectedly responsive service from the generation that’s not supposed to give a shit. On complementing them for the great service and hearing back “well, service is what the job is about, isn’t it.”  Wondering how you recognise it, attract it, retain it, harness it, grow it, sustain it?
  3. An email interaction as a customer where I thought I was interacting with a human – only it was a human cutting-and-pasting scripts in order to deal with me efficiently. And effectively lose me as a customer. How does an organisation balance efficiency and effectiveness with being responsive and authentic?

It is that unsexy outcome-focused, change the system deeply from within – that’s what really resonates with me lately. Still with a repeatable scalable approach, still customer-centric – but maybe even more human-centric – knowing that many of those humans are bound by policy, process, tools and drivers that are outside of their control. That’s what has me seeking new insights, readings, and ways of understanding systems.

That’s probably a little harder to blog about.

That’s probably what I will blog about more now.

But I’ll shut up unless I have something to say.



The title of this post is dedicated to my business partner, Justin Barrie, who frequently challenges clients to “just shut up” in the most engaging, charming and unarguable way. After all, they invite us in. He also let’s me rant about stuff like this, and doesn’t tell me to shut up. Usually joins in. Heartily.

I’d also like to add the people guilty of 1, 2, and 4 will never read this post because they are the living embodiment of people who should indeed, just shut up.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan W permalink
    19 February, 2013 2:22 pm

    Amen! Great post Mel.

  2. 26 February, 2013 6:11 pm

    Mel (and Justin), I loved this, we’ll written, well put and well intentioned. I’m not surprised you guys are doing well. Congratulations.

    Ps. When I saw you park your car next to a wall that couldn’t be driven out of, at Melbourne Airport last year, I also thought to myself “shut up Damian”…. 😉

    • 26 February, 2013 8:50 pm

      Thanks Damien.
      And the car isn’t there anymore so I guess someone could get it out. Right person for the right task 😉

  3. 4 February, 2014 8:14 pm

    I stumbled upon your blog today, it is awesome! I love the passion, introspection & hope you have for design. Very inspiring. Thank you!


  1. Not a year in review, because it’s nearly February…so it’s more an annual post! (Still with the long titles though) |

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