Service Design. Translators across people, business and tech

Mariel Macia
Nov 7, 2018 · 3 min read

The exact same reason that makes a diverse interdisciplinary team a powerful path for innovation is what also brings one of the biggest challenges: miscommunication.

Many unnecessary conflicts, delays and even lack of buy-in of projects come from problems in communication. I’ve taken part in meetings where people were talking about the same topic without realizing it, just because they were naming it differently. I’ve also been in other meetings where people were talking about something completely different using the same words.

Sometimes the barriers come from the understanding of methods, sometimes is about tools, sometimes is about buzzwords and most of the times is about expectations. The big question is: how to achieve a fluid communication among people with different knowledge, background and mindset. And the answer is service design.

Service Designers are translators. We work at the intersecting space where diverse interdisciplinary teams connect the dots. And inside this space, it doesn’t matter how we call our processes as far as they hit the sweet spot between people, business and tech.

“What we want is to cross different silos and you can only do that successfully if you speak the language of each silo. You come in as a designer trying to speak management, trying to speak accounting, trying to speak marketing, trying to speak software development, so you need to learn these languages. Then you become a translator between the different silos and that’s often the way to break them down. So, my advice to any kind of designer is learn besides your design skills, learn also something else. Become a subject matter expert on a different topic, immerse yourself in accounting (legal, marketing, management), learn the problems accounting are facing in an organization and then become a translator between fields.” — Marc Stickdorn

Maybe I would be stating the obvious by saying that empathy is the way to go. However what we should also always consider is that this capacity to place ourselves in another’s position should be applied as well to clients, colleagues, partners and every human involved in a project.

“As a product designer my material was wood, metal, glue and paper, that was the materials I learned to make stuff with. If you want to go work in a service design context, go and learn the material of organizations, the fabric of it, like politics, relationships, data and then go and make something better.” — Sarah Drummond

Service designers should be always learning because we need to keep up with the promise of being the facilitators of transformation and change. If we are really passionate about it, we are automatically infected with the responsibility for digging deeper into complexity in order to deliver simplicity.

“A lot of design education, and this is not all, but people come out of it having no idea about how organizations work and that means you don’t understand your key tool. Because your key tool is implementing change in the organization. It’s like being an artist and can’t use a brush.” — Adam Lawrence

A service designer speaks the different languages inside an organization, understands how it works and knows the fabric of what it is made of. That is how we become translators: striving to master the languages, connecting people and making communication and relationships flow.

If you have any comment or feedback please don’t hesitate to drop me a line here, on Linkedin or Twitter. Looking forward to it.


PS.: Many thanks to Manuel Bug for the artwork and Nina Pietropoli for the editing feedback!

Quotes taken from the Podcast “This is HCD”. Episodes:

- A service Design 360. Host Chirryl-Lee Ryan interview Marc Stickdorn and Adam Lawrence.

- Kicking starting a design revolution. Host Gerry Scullion interview to Sarah Drummond


We are DKdL. We use design to explore and implement cultural transformation. Come play the future with us!

Mariel Macia

Written by

Lead Service Designer at McKinsey


We are DKdL. We use design to explore and implement cultural transformation. Come play the future with us!