With the first episode called ‘WTF is Service Design’, how could we not be intrigued with a new podcast about service design by Katie Shelly and the team at Plot London. Each episode tells the story of a design team with a mission to understand, challenge and create impact for social good. We’re very happy at Common Good to be sponsoring At Your Service which you can find on Soundcloud or iTunes and we spoke with Katie to find out more about why making and sharing this podcast on service design is important.
Katie, why did you want to make a podcast on service design?
I’m a big fan of podcasts. As a media person, whenever I listen to a really good podcast I get this urge to try my hand at making one. So when it came time to plan my Hyper Island project (about service and experience design) I knew that I wanted to do it in podcast format.
I wanted to innovate within the niche of service design podcasts by doing a story-based, episodic series that dives deeply into a single project. The current selection of design podcasts out there are all talk-show style, not so much storytelling.
The project the design team are undertaking is about financial services and inclusion, how do you think service design has played a role in your approach to the project?
Our first step was to collect all the information we could about the topic in an interdisciplinary way. I think this ‘interdisciplinary-ness’ is inherent to the way designers work. We looked at public policy, economics, ethnography, anthropology, sociology, literature, journalism and even pop culture in order to understand the topics of financial services and poverty.
We’ve also been very visual in our approach, taking the information we learned and translated it into maps, diagrams, and even comics! These graphics are useful in conversations with other people, to help make ideas more clear. When interviewing people, we tend to bring activities like card sorting exercises or we ask our interviewees to draw a picture. I think this visual, tactile approach is also a hallmark of the way designers work.
You move from your desks and into the world to dig deeper in your research, what’s your thoughts on getting out of the building?
In my opinion, we haven’t ‘gotten out of the building’ enough. It seems like one can never get out enough! There have been a few limitations on our project — very small budget, sensitive subject matter, tight timeline. The lack of user voices in our project is something that has really nagged at my conscience. I see it as an almost political thing — if we aren’t including users at the deepest decision-making levels, that means we are at risk of (unintentionally) becoming just another stakeholder foisting systems and services on an already overburdened, under-represented population.
I’m inspired by organisations like Salford Poverty Truth, who put people experiencing poverty at the centre — truly at the centre — of the organisation’s management and decision-making process. The users literally run the organisation, and the administrators simply facilitate. There is a big difference between interviewing someone to help you get some ideas versus putting them in the driver’s seat of a project.
I hope that the next step of my career will allow me to facilitate putting users in long-term decision-making roles. I think it’s the future of social impact design. If that’s not user-centered, I don’t know what is.
So, the fog, talk to us about that!
The fog is whenever confusion, information overload, or lack of clarity are taking over your brain in a project. We typically think of it as happening immediately after that initial first research push. Dalma, my classmate, mentioned in an interview that the fog can actually rear its head repeatedly in a single project. And she’s right — because actually I’m in a new fog right now, related to where the project is going, how to deal with the constraints on talking to users, and how to turn it all into an academically rigorous analysis… in three weeks.
Oh, the fog! It never leaves us. When it does leave, though, and you get that moment of clarity on what you’re doing, it feels so, so sweet.
You look at the different roles and definitions of design — service , experience, strategic , trans-disciplinary and post-disciplinary — what you’re biggest insights about these terms?
Right now, I think these are terms used mostly by people in the business of selling design — whether to a client or to prospective students. The conversation we had in episode five was a turning point for me. When I decided to call that group together, I was worrying a lot about what to call myself, mostly because I struggled so much with the question “and what do YOU do?” at social functions. After the roundtable discussion with that amazing crew of designers including George Oates, Sarah Drummond, Gil Wildman and Nick Durrant, I shifted. I started to think, “well, if my main concern is making life better for users, especially in the social impact space — it really doesn’t matter if I call myself a service designer or an experience designer or a widget-wrangler.” What matters here are the people being served, period.
And importantly how many designers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Ha! You’ll have to listen to episode five to find out! 😉
Check out At Your Service and follow Katie and the team’s journey through their design process to solve a hugely challenging design brief. We have every confidence they’re already making impact.