20 Jan 2018

What we’ve learned by being ‘DOTI’

DOTI featured image

Launched in September, 2017, we've hosted three mornings of discussion surrounding designing on the inside of organisations, and this is what we have learned.

How does design actually work on the inside of organisations? Despite the wealth of material available on design and process, we found that there was very little available on the everyday challenges of shipping products and services. From small to large companies, we wanted to have an honest conversation about how to make design work – from the inside.

We set up our bi-monthly event, Design On The Inside (affectionately known as DOTI), aiming to lift the lid on organisations and delve into how they design products and services. We eat pastries, share a cup of coffee, and explore the ins and outs of how design is being implemented, used, and scaled across organisations.

Launched in September 2017, we’ve hosted three mornings of discussion so far. This is what we learned

1. Language matters

Embedding design teams inside organisations with heavy legacy systems, poorly functioning business-as-usual practices, and long-serving staff can be tricky. Things may not have changed in a while, so plonking design words, phrases, and themes down in front of the people you’re trying to get on your side doesn’t go very far.

How we negotiate the barriers created by words is a recurring issue brought up at every DOTI event. The reality can be that “…something as intrinsic (to us) as communicating the value of meeting a customer need is not always understood by business stakeholders.’’ More and more we see design teams responding to these barriers by inviting people into the process. By this, we mean showing work at every stage of its evolution and writing internally about the realities and motivations for doing what we do. We’re also ready to give up our language and use words that work for the organisation, recognising that consistency and buy-in is what’s important.

In Government, these barriers seem to be compounded by the realities of separate design teams working across different departments. We need to ensure that when we say ‘service’, ‘journey’, and ‘customer’ we mean the same thing. No one has provided the same answer on what a digital service is and who it’s for. When we say ‘user’ some mean citizens and some mean staff. If we’re championing this way of working, shouldn’t we work to ensure we’re all referring to the same thing with the same word?

2. If someone’s not annoyed, you’re probably doing it wrong

As service designers, we’re so much more than journey mappers, problem solvers, and idea generators. At our latest event, Alberta Soranzo, end-to-end Service Design and Systems Thinking Director at Lloyds Banking Group, labelled us, rather mysteriously, as the “guardians of the connections”. This really resonates with us as we reflect on our journey of being embedded in one of the UK’s largest retailers. Here we assume responsibility to not only meet project objectives, but to make friends, finding any opportunity to explain what we do and why.

Through this practice we learn what works with different stakeholders. Innately, this ruffles feathers as people assume that we are here to step on toes and shake up the status quo. The truth is that we are here to do just that! So if someone is giving you lip, and starts probing holes in your approach, remember what they’re connected to and remember their motivations.

3. Slow but steady wins the race

Change from the inside out takes more time than from the outside in. We know this, we remind ourselves of it, and we celebrate the little wins – so why are we always so surprised when things move slowly? It can be especially frustrating when we’re faced with the urgency of the problems that we’re attempting to solve. However, we have to remind ourselves that service design works end-to-end, but organisational structures do not. It’s these systemic and cultural barriers that are the hardest to shift. The effort it takes to change mindsets and practices means that it often takes a rather painfully long time to see a difference. Be in it for the long game, and work to build in creative ways to boost team morale at every step.

4. Pirates and service designers (unlikely friends)

Buzz Pearce, Head of Design at Skyscanner, said, “When you make revenue it’s like crack. Instead, you want to get people addicted to meeting user needs!” Revenue is tangible and incredibly visible, but the direct effects of meeting user needs is less so. Identifying value for the user as well as value for the business, and defining both qualitative and quantitative metrics for both, is tricky. Buzz introduced the ‘Pirate Metrics’ concept as a way of categorizing different metrics and KPIs. It’s made up of the following metric categories:

  • Awareness
  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Revenue
  • Retention
  • Referral

Or AAARRR for short (like a pirate – see, it all makes sense now!). What matters to us as designers is how we retain existing users, and champion referrals.

However, this thinking doesn’t extend very far in Government where retention doesn’t mean anything because, quite often, there is no alternative. What Government service is your friend going to refer you to if there’s only one on offer? Metrics cleary differ depending on your perspective. However, although success can mean something different across sectors, this conversation really highlighted the need for us to get savvy when it comes to showing evidence on the benefits of service design, and building credibility for our efforts.

5. It’s important to talk

Design (on the inside) can be an isolated endeavour. One where you’re relegated to the couches for your important decision meeting because a ‘more important’ stakeholder has the right to take your meeting room. At our last event, a design lead admitted to “sneaking small improvements into latest launches to keep team morale up when commercial imperatives trump user needs.” One of the best outcomes of these mornings has been the reassurance that these open, honest conversations have brought us.

By connecting with other comrades who are designing on the inside, we share similar feelings and thoughts. It can sometimes seem like nothing is ever finished, goals are rarely reached, and milestones can be as small as your key stakeholder giving you more attention in a meeting than their phone. By revealing ourselves, our worries and our successes, and sharing these experiences, we have built a sense of community and breathed a sigh of relief as we realise that it’s not just us experiencing these things. Designing on the inside can be a tricky endeavour, but in the end – it’s worth it. Furthermore, it’s worth knowing there are other people out there, struggling with the same frustrations.

What about the future? Stay tuned

The past three DOTI events have brought up some interesting and exciting conversations, we’ve covered a lot of ground and there’s still so much to talk about! For those of you who don’t have the chance to attend our London-based events, DOTI will be coming to you. We’re looking to bring the chat to Scotland, scheming ideas of a conference, as well as relaying our learnings through your phones and computer screens via the magic of a brand new podcast!

Join our host, Sarah Drummond as she speaks candidly with those living and dealing with the reality of designing on the inside, everyday. Follow us on Twitter and keep an eye on #DOTI where you’ll get updates on when our podcasts are released and you’ll be the first to hear about our bi-monthly events, bringing speakers together to share their lessons of designing on the inside.

We want to hear from you too – do you have a topic you want us to discuss? Is your reality driving you nuts, or have you found something that works particularly well to unstick pesky processes and people? Let us know your ideas for our next event by emailing us, and we’ll see you bright and early for a coffee, pastry, and a chat very soon.