Learnings from a graphic designer being dropped into the world of service design
But why did a graphic designer end up in a service design agency?
I came in as a graphic design intern, joining in on the mammoth project that was Care Hackathon: re-imagining health and care in Ayrshire and Arran.
Beginning a new job is intimidating enough but also suddenly feeling like a small graphic designer fish in a big service design pond was fairly daunting. The Snook team, I quickly learned, are as understanding and supportive as they get. There was a real opportunity and encouragement to learn.
What is design anyway?
During the first couple of months here, I was baffled by the language and the difference from my norm. Coming from a print design background, I had only ever used the word design in one way and generally always ended up with a tangible item at the end of a project. The concept of designing a service, although it makes complete sense, was alien to me. Daily, I was hearing about methods and tools which were not always a physical thing and that confused me greatly. It made me see how sheltered I was in my thinking about design and about what design was. Suddenly, design as a discipline was a much wider sphere from what I had ever learned.
I’m not just developing designs – it’s about seeing a project move from one end all the way over to the other. Starting with research that informs all design decisions, then creating designs to be tested and further iterated with an intended audience. Beyond graphic design skills, this has involved facilitation, research, and continuous testing to develop prototypes.
Now, my designs are usually needed to assist in the process rather than being the final product. I developed a real appreciation for this process and a genuine sense of achievement and pride when seeing people interact with and add to what I’d produced.
Sensitive projects require a sensitive approach
I was fortunate enough to be part of the techVSabuse team, visualising and creating all manner of tools for the project. This is an incredibly important project exploring the role of digital technology in supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse. We were also recently in The Guardian talking about the importance of developing technology with people rather than for them.
The challenge here was to visualise experiences of domestic violence in a way that didn’t turn a person’s story into a cold or complex visual or infographic and one that doesn’t have the reader shy away from the content. For this reason, our usual stylistic approach to mapping out a step-by-step version of someone’s journey wasn’t appropriate. Even the wording wasn’t right – there is no such thing as a ‘domestic violence journey’.
So instead, I turned to my own simple hand-drawn illustrations, hand-drawn typography, and a soft pastel colour palette to visualise these stories as images. Domestic violence is not a linear experience and no two experiences are ever the same. This was kept in mind when designing the tools for this project. In place of step-by-step user journeys, I visualised these stories as ‘Experience Maps’, printing and cutting each part unevenly into its own individual card which didn’t fit into the previous or the next ones. This meant that the order of the cards could be altered and new steps could be added. Working this way meant that the result was approachable, empathetic and human, encouraging conversations and not providing final designs.
Agile design development
A workshop took place with victims and survivors and was designed to be as interactive and as communicative as possible. Workshop participants were invited to add to my illustrations and comment where they thought appropriate and felt comfortable enough to. Scenario Cards were also designed and both those and the Experience Maps received feedback and edits from victims and survivors, as well as from sector practitioners. The tools continually evolved during sessions, in a way that allowed women to generate further conversations and add to the stories without being pressured to tell their own story. Every story shared was unique.
Caring about people
The workshops and processes opened conversations and brought people together. For victims and survivors, it showed the importance of their voice. They were empowered and listened to. They got something tangible out of this.
One woman said it increased her confidence to speak publicly. Another survivor said, “Amazing! I learned a lot. I left with more hope and I feel a bit more beautiful.”
Not only were the facilitators on the day responsible for making the participants feel safe and at ease throughout the workshop but the visual approach we took to creating tools, illustrations, and all other assets assisted in creating the positive environment in which the workshop was run. There is an incredible attention to detail taken to all research projects at Snook and it is vital to remember that everything together affects how people will feel and react within a workshop or in interview settings. More about Snook’s approach to research projects involving sensitive topics can be read here.
Snook and me
One year in and many projects later, things are only getting more exciting as time moves on. As a graphic designer, my understanding of design and its limits have changed. My skills can be lent to incredibly meaningful work that really is more about improving experiences and the lives of others.
Every day I’m gaining more experience in working with people, and learning and training to understand more about health and wellbeing, education, usability testing, facilitation, and digital design. Snook is growing as I am growing as a designer and it’s great to see our offerings, abilities, and whole team evolving and becoming stronger. The learning curve has been huge and is still arching upward, but it’s one I’m enjoying the entire way – I’m excited for what’s to come, and there’s definitely lots to come.