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17th July 2014

Why services designers, and graphic designers need to be story tellers

In May Each and Other’s Helen Nic Giolla Rua attended the IXDA’s, "An Evening with Adaptive Path", to hear the company’s Jamin Hegeman and Patrick Quattlebaum discuss their experiences of service design.

Jamin spoke about the five things he wish he had known about service design when he started. Afterwards, Patrick spoke about the soft skills that turn good designers into great designers.

Jamin’s five things

Jamin Hegeman has made a career of making complicated companies less so. Hegeman is one of the fathers and pivotal thinkers behind modern service design (he quite literally wrote the book on the subject), he’s also a refreshingly honest story teller.

Speaking during IXDA’s An evening with Adaptive Path in May Hegeman described his personal journey from interaction designer to service designer, and what he learned along the way. Here's what he said,

1. It goes beyond individual experiences

Companies that operate in silos risk losing customers. One of the challenges service designers try to overcome is the siloed/tribal thinking that infests a company as it grows. Services and responsibilities are spread between different departments, often leaving customers running between pillar and post. Service Designers are then challenged with fixing this type of issue but, according to Hegeman, they can end up causing more problems than they solve.

In tackling individual small issues and touchpoints service designers treat the symptoms but not the disease. And since customer experiences are so varied these days, siloed thinking requires full end-to-end customer journeys.

2. You won’t always know what you’re doing

Hegeman argued that when a client comes to you with a brief for a product, you set about designing a product. But with service design, it’s harder to know what the end result will be when you start. Clients generally dislike this ambiguity, so they need to be involved in each step of the solution.

3. There’s lots of storytelling!

Since you can’t provide your clients with a tangible end product, you need to provide them with the next best thing – great stories. A good example of a service improvement can help clients understand what you’re doing (even better if that service improvement led to a cost reduction, or increased revenue).

4. It’s not about ideas

Ideas are sexy. Execution? Not so much. The honest truth about service design is that ideas form only a small part of it – the largest part is the execution. So, when you design new touchpoints for a business, you also have to design the services, behaviours, and infrastructure that can support them.

5. You can’t do this alone.

This is a no brainer. We work for clients. In order to create really good solutions for our them we need to listen to them, ask them the right questions and tease out solutions. We can’t design without our clients or their customers. They are the ones with in-depth knowledge of the project!

Design hard, with soft skills

The difference between a good designer and a great designer doesn't lie in their creative skills, according to Adaptive Path’s Patrick Quattlebaum, but in their soft skills.

While we usually focus on designers’ hard skills, it's the soft skills – empathy, storytelling and orchestration – that turn a good designer into a great designer. It’s a provocative argument, which Quattlebaum illustrated with a unicorn; that elusive creature all us UXers strive to be.

Be empathy

Empathy has become a buzzword in our industry – a zen like state of enlightenment that UXers are encouraged to attain (presumably on their Unicorns). Refreshingly, Quattlebaum gave a practical guide to attaining empathy,

  • Practise empathic listening. When people speak try to actually listen (this is hard for me) and try to really put yourself in their shoes.
  • Be an emphatic adventurer. Take a different route to work, mix it up your stale daily routine.
  • Read more fiction. It’s been shown to improve your empathy.

Storytelling

Speaking of stories, Quattlebaum says developing storytelling skills can help designers and their users. Why? Because experiences are stories. People become engaged and invested listening to stories. The best story wins.

So, what makes a good story? According to Quattlebaum, they are

  • Authentic
  • Emotionally level
  • Have a clear beginning, middle & end
  • Detailed but minimal
  • Delivered with passion
  • Visual

Basically, a Pixar film.

Orchestration

Quattlebaum’s final point echoes Hegeman’s  – design for the big picture, and not just isolated touchpoints. When a company’s departments and practices are siloed no one looks after the whole, because everyone is just looking after their little patch.

Encouraging people who are used to siloed thinking isn’t easy, so Quattlebaum recommends UXers take improv, so we can roll with the changes without freaking out when things don’t go to plan (The idea of doing improv fills me with dread, I think us Irish UXers need an alternative to improv to develop our adaptability skills. All suggestions welcome.)

Editing: Piers Dillon-Scott | Illustration: Patrick Cusack