Will Shaw
Will Shaw
Mar 10, 2017 · 5 min read

We all get asked what we do for a living in social situations, and we all spin an interpretation of our job to match our reading of the enquirer.

For me, it often goes like:

“It’s a bit like web design, but we also design physical stuff, and things like call centre scripts… and ultimately we design the organisation too. So if you have ever got frustrated with a company and muttered “I mean, how hard can it be?”… that means I’m not doing my job properly.”


“You know when you buy a new phone and you look on the website and then you speak to the person in the shop and then the person in the call centre then you order online and you get a text and your new phone arrives in a box 2 days later with set up instructions for your online account…. Yeah. I make sure that all works”

For Service Designers this can either be the beginning of a decent chat, or a complete dead end… or (and this is the worst case scenario) the beginning of a long story from someone you have just met about how they have been frustrated and let down by a company… on your day off.

The other day I met someone at a friends birthday party and they asked what I do for a living, I prepared myself for the conversation that usually follows but when I said “I’m a service designer” the reply was…

“Oh cool! I’ve read loads about you guys, you’re the first one I’ve actually met”

Service Design. It’s quite the thing.

Everyone is talking about it.

We, as practitioners, love it because it is an analytical process of identifying a problem, analysing it and then working creatively to solve it.

Companies love it because it can improve the efficiency of their operation and, hopefully, keep customers happy and happy customers are loyal customers.

When people talk about service design (and when people who have not been exposed to it before read about service design) it’s all Uber and airport design and sexy and innovative stuff happening in IoT and policy and healthcare and retail and telecomms.

And it’s all brilliant.

Clever and creative people, with brave clients and bullet proof processes getting it right, improving products and services, and delivering.

But it’s HARD, and when we talk about Service Design there is only so much value in discussing the successes.

If we want to get better, if we really want to get better as Service Designers, if we want to get better outcomes, we need to explore the shadows.

Talk about where it went wrong.

Talk about where it hurt.

Talk about when the process was difficult.

Talk about when the client wasn’t comfortable.

Talk about when you weren’t having fun.

We need to stop talking about our practice as if it’s a panacea for the all the ills in the world of products and services, and start talking about the reality of how this thing works.

The problem with, and the beauty of, service design

Once you take a company or service and examine it properly through a customer lens (with real customer input) it will expose problems. Problems that become difficult to deny or ignore.

The elephant in the room has a voice.

A company’s commitment to meeting customer need and providing the right service is brought to the fore.

And exposing customer need and pain points is only the beginning.

From there you have to identify the business processes or relationships that are letting the customer down.

And that can feel like blame.

And we know that humans don’t like being told they have been doing something wrong.

From there you work to co-create solutions.

And that often means change.

And we know that humans don’t like change.

Exposing customer need and designing better solutions is the easy bit, and not necessarily where success lies

Success lies in the bits that come between.

So instead of examining the success stories let’s talk about the tough bits.

So let’s talk about… the difficult things

The brief

Solving the wrong problem is bad for everybody and is a sure fire way to make ensure you don’t get invited back. Do proper Discovery. Fall in love with your problem. If solving THIS problem won’t get the business or customer to where you need to be, now is the time to speak up. It might mean having difficult conversations, but make sure you are doing the right thing.

The politics

It’s a tough job being parachuted into different companies and trying to be impactful and make positive change and you can’t ignore the politics. Sometimes your very presence is a political act, either way a service solution will have political consequences. Be wise to it. Be wary of it. Be sensitive to it.

Client buy in

Service design only works if you can bring everyone with you.

Make friends. Be charismatic. Be persuasive. Develop a coalition of the willing. Elevate your conversations to the level necessary to get the job done.

Invite clients to take part. To shape the research, to build the war room, to ideate with you.

Give away your tools and give permission to use them

This will only work if your client understands your process and can continue the way of thinking and process approach once you have gone. Your remit is most likely not to deliver the work, it is to deliver the work in a way that proves value in the approach and inspires your client to continue working in a customer centric, cohesive service journey way.

Commitment to the customer

Promote the commitment to the customer, so everyone feels that we are doing the right thing.

Access to the right data

Data makes decisions easier, and smoothes internal conversations.

If you know you are working with a problem that affects xx,000 customers a month that makes it a lot easier to quantify the impact of your solution…


Fill your client with a overwhelming feeling of courage. Give them the will to challenge, confidence to agitate and permission to fail. That’s not easy.

There is value in striving to do the right thing for the customer no matter how many difficult conversations it creates.

The culture

Often the solution is not a piece of software, or a business process or service pattern… Sometimes the solution is how a company treat their staff, or set the tone internally, or how they approach things.

As one of my colleagues often says “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

The wider stakeholder group

It doesn’t matter who you work for, what your job title is, what your pay grade is… If you are implicated in the project, or involved in the problem or solution we need you to come with us, but that can create an admin task and can often break a company’s established ways of working.

In short, with a bit of thought anyone can do the insight, analysis and creative solution, but the success of your project probably lies in the consulting, the bits that come between.

Service design is not here to make friends but it’s your job to make sure people like it.

Globant Consulting

Our thoughts as a strategic design practice. Blending customer insight, design thinking, innovation and organisational change.

Will Shaw

Written by

Will Shaw

Service Designer, Experience Strategist and simplifier of the complex.

Globant Consulting

Our thoughts as a strategic design practice. Blending customer insight, design thinking, innovation and organisational change.

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