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Five lessons I learned at Snook


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Every now and again you meet somebody who is really special. Roxana is one of those people. She came along to the Snook Ensemble in 2012 and within a few weeks she was a Snookster. We were lucky to work with her for two years and now we’re celebrating her time  at Snook – she brought optimism and smiles in magical doses, as well as sheer hard work and determination. Roxana has worked on a wide range of projects for our clients such as Stirling Council, NHS 24, Scottish Government and Hyper Island.

She’s written clever stuff about what she learned and we are delighted to share it with you.

“Service design? Say what?

In this blog post I will tell you about how I went from Occupying to working with the government.

In September, 2011, I was a visual perfectionist with a fresh Communication Design MA degree and a strong determination to change the world, a desire that sprang out of personal experiences of a world that wasn’t rising to my expectations. First, I Occupied, but at the end of the day, occupying felt too passive for me. So, I became a Service Designer at Snook working in the public sector in Scotland.

After 2 years in the field, I feel I have something useful to share. I want to tell you about what being a Service Designer entails, what it takes to apply it in the public sector and a few tips for those who are thinking to work in this sector.

Service Designers?

Service Designers are applied scientists. They research the world as it is and use that information to hypothesise possible scenarios of how a specific service could be different, design a strategy for it and then test it with the end users. If the odds are on their side, they also get to implement that strategy. Implementation is usually a complex process and is dependent on many external factors such as budgets and organisational aims.

Community engagement

Service Design starts with people and studying their behaviours and values. You need to continuously find new ways of using existing or inventing new research and engagement methods that help you relate to the people you meet in order to gain insight into their lives, needs and desires. The art of designing engagement tools can sometimes turn into a hexagon-shaped hell when you do it for the first time (as it did for me), but most often, keeping things simple is best. As much as it is about finding patterns, researching for design involves looking deep into the detail and identifying the oddest insights – they can sometimes be your best friends.

Knowledge carriers

However, giving people a voice is only the start. One of the key roles of a Service Designer is facilitating interactions and building relationships between service providers and users. At Snook, Service Designers are called translators. What this means is that, as a facilitator of conversations between the user and the provider, you need to carry knowledge from one to the other. In order to do so, you need to  know how to generate insights from research and work with different levels of meaning. There are so called ‘lower level insights’ and ‘higher level insights’ and you need to ensure that your final insights belong to the same level of meaning.

Co-design

To make your idea a reality, you will need to learn to be a maverick and a deep end diver. That means using your skills and ingenuity to test your ideas. Putting your rough prototype out into the real world is scary, but vulnerability breeds power. This stage in the design process reveals important aspects about your design that you might need to reconsider. It is an iterative and emergent process that can be very efficient and insightful when users are invited to use and give feedback on your prototypes.

Organisational change

Service Designers work together with organisations to apply and implement the services co-designed with users. Working inside the public sector can be challenging if you are someone who has had little contact with this sector. Supporting organisations to put people first, implement changes and sustain them takes determination, guts and patience. You will need to go out of your way to understand dynamics of politics and organisational culture. You will also need to be fluent in ‘Ultimate Babel’ in order to relay information targeted at many different audiences and choosing your language accordingly depending on whether you are addressing the NHS, local government or academia.

Future Service Designers

Here are five lessons I learnt from my experience as a Service Designer at Snook:

1. Immersion in a new sector or field is a long process and requires interest, sharp focus and an enterprising spirit. Service Designers need to place great emphasis on immersive research that allows for deep insight and knowledge creation.

2. Service Designers need to work closer than ever with clients and involve them at every stage of the design process. Similar to how the public sector needs to work together with their users in order to deliver user-centred services, so designers need to create an accessible narrative for design to increase buy-in and demand of designed services. They need to educate clients and the public about the value in design and what it can do in order to usher supporters who can advocate for procurement processes, funding streams and systems that facilitate a thriving environment for small design organisations and independent designers starting out.

3. Graphic Designers, working in a Service Design studio will be the ultimate challenge to test your abilities of communicating clearly, concisely and effectively. However, you will need to give up your visual perfectionism for adaptive empathy. Typography is beautiful but most often, in Service Design, legibility will do.

4. Working in the public sector can sometimes mean you have to consider politics, agendas and organisational dynamics. You will need to learn where your responsibility as a designer ends and where the clients’ start. Without management skills, you will not achieve the impact you are aiming for. Stand your ground, delegate work efficiently and master filtering feedback and responding to it.

5. ‘Design is not always sexy’. (Sarah Drummond, Co-founder at Snook) It is not about Post Its. It is, though, about people skills, management skills and intentional mindsets that are able to construct a vision, build efficient partnerships and use design to turn insights and creative concepts into realistic and sustainable innovation.

What is design?

Practising in a field that is constantly evolving and where new disciplines are rapidly emerging, it is imperative that we constantly probe ourselves and seek to build a coherent discourse for our discipline.

My experience of working at Snook has prompted me to reframe my design practise. Service Design has allowed me to support organisations to research and implement development by involving the user. In further pursuing my career in design, I am interested in reversing the process and using design in supporting individuals to gain access to unknown worlds, whether that is the financial gobbledygook or their neighbour’s morning routine – I am eager to design visual, experiential and immersive interventions that open the design process to the public and engage audiences in conversation, critical thinking and build new connections and relationships between people.

From Service Design, I gained a glimpse in the public actor in Scotland and the processes behind it. This will allow me to act as a more educated challenger of the status quo and someone who can make realistic and informed suggestions of ways in which life in society might be different. In this time of scarce jobs and financial adversity, I feel as young designers, we need to reinvent conventions and catalyse alternative ways of thinking. But in order to do that we need to first challenge our own practise and take our personal and professional selves outside our comfort zones.”

We’re extremely sad to be saying goodbye to such a talented and wonderful human being! The good news for YOU is Roxana is now transitioning into Experience Design and is available for collaborations and adventures of all shapes and sizes. Be sure to follow her tweets, check out her website and seize the chance to work with her!