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You’re so design, you probably think this post is about you

5 March, 2018

Reader warning: I’m not even sure what this post is about. I’m categorising it as ‘captured musings’ that seem to go together 😉


Even this image isn’t really even about the post! But it does have randomness, and a movie star, and design, and it’s kind of a prototype because it was made to learn where to stick stuff.


Let me just say at the outset, when I thought about doing this post the other week I thought it was a riff on research, listening and hearing.

On Feb 19 I saw Black Panther and thought about the different stories and perspectives we’ve been missing out on or people we hadn’t heard from because of the preponderance towards white, male, western, straight, etc. storytelling. I didn’t think this intellectually or because of a tweet I saw, I thought it because I was genuinely entertained and enthralled and engaged by what I felt and heard and saw on screen. And off-screen. And I am also felt a bit annoyed that, in my lifetime, this has taken so long to realise.

Then I watched an episode of the new Queer Eye and saw this little guy (cos the Fab 5 are tall!) looking up and being listened to and heard by these fabulous men – who just want to help that man. Just that man, then and there. And it was all so new to him and focused on him and what he needed and who he was.

And then, on Feb 22, at work (because this is a blog about design) we did a prototyping workshop. One of the prototypes we presented was in the form of a fully rendered brochure of the future business we were designing – customer quotes, well-lit photos, a logo, a tagline even. We asked for thoughts, and after some silence, and obvious discomfort (read: “this isn’t the sort of thing that is usually put in front of us….”) a participant said “well, I’m seeing a lot of X but what about Y?” and I realised:

A prototype is a way of ideas being heard by someone else, and them being able to reassemble their take on what they see. Their reflection is a way of a design being heard, tested and refined. This is Service Design.

But even that revelation wasn’t quite what I think this post is.

And finally, as if to bring it all together for my brain (that loves looking for patterns and complexity and randomness) today, 5 March, I watched the Oscars (told myself I wouldn’t but, day off, it’s on, one thing lead to another)…anyhoo, Kumail Nanjiani, co-writer with Emily V Gordon, of The Big Sick said something like:

“Some of my favourite movies are by straight white dudes about straight white dudes. And now straight white dudes can watch movies about dudes like me, and YOU relate. It’s not that hard. I’ve done it all my life.”

And there it was.

I think the upshot of this rambling memory recollection post is actually NOT about research, the art of listening and actually hearing about needs.

I think it’s a service design discipline self-reflection.

And how service design and design techniques – prototyping, ethno-based research, visualisations – gives an organisation and the people who work there a new way of listening and hearing.

A new voice to be heard telling them things they haven’t heard or realised in way they haven’t heard or seen before. And in ways that they can genuinely change and improve from.

So, what’s this post about again?

Design – specifically in my case, service design in the public sector – is still a different way of doing things in most organisations.

“Old” ways* still dominate in most public sector agencies. But big whoop. That prototype got a bigger revelation and realisation from that room than any document or facilitated seminar or instruction manual could ever get. It took less time to get there, it was more deeply engaged with, and it wasn’t explained by us – the designers – it was translated by them – the people who are actually going to be doing the work.

Service design might have in actuality been around a while but we’re still different to what most people in organisations have experienced. It still helps to have an older white guy at the top invite you in. But if you have an authentic voice, and if what you do gets them decisions and change, they’ll invite you back. Or the good ones find you because they’re just as interested in new ways of seeing, hearing and doing change.

And this has what to do with Black Panther, QE, and the Oscars?

Black Panther = a metaphor for the value of authentic voices, telling their stories in their ways. So just shut up and listen.

Queer Eye = an example of listening to what people really need, but making sure to ask the right things. It’s called service design not service research so make sure you can design (i.e make change) from what you uncover.

Prototypes = truly are visualising a reality (not presenting a solution) that helps people shift their thinking, or at least perceive in a different way. So stop explaining with your mouth, start sketching and start discussing.

To wit:

“And now [organisations who rely on old change and management processes] can [experience change the service design way], and YOU relate. It’s not that hard. I’ve done it [for at least 20 years]”

* If you can call Change Management, Business Analysis and Project Management old ways – but they set the expectations of every room we enter.
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