The long and short of it

My role as a service designer – albeit one that’s very fresh out of university – is consistently difficult to explain to others. Amongst those who have studied some form of design, it’s usually simple enough to explain, approximating what we do with services to what they might do with their chosen speciality. But try telling a friend or family member, and you’ll likely feel as if you’re giving confusing directions. In French. To a pet. I fully believe that initially, my dad had no idea what I do for a living, and I can’t help but feeling it’s was my fault for the clumsy way in which I attempted to explain myself.

The thing is, I started out studying product design engineering at GSA, which was remarkably easy to articulate – the product design aspect teaches you how to design things (at which point I would usually grab a phone, and brandish it like a game show prize), while the engineering side means you have the knowledge of mechanics, materials and production techniques to allow you to bring your concepts to market. In those days, I’d also throw in a couple of cheap shots at the product design students from the other studio, just to push home how good my course was, and how absurd not knowing how to finite element analysis was for a designer. This was, of course, before my defection to product design. Fate, it seems, has a very dry sense of humour.

Weirdly, I still describe my current job in the same manner as back then. Not by wielding someone’s Nokia like a Generation Game floozy, but still using the same method – telling a story. Not the one in the picture though. That’s a photo from Flickr, by a gentleman called Gene Wilburn, of one of his stories.

Service Designers love a good story, and we use them in frequently in so many ways – they’re a method of getting to the root of a problem, by asking people to take you through their everyday experiences; they’re used to make sure we’re sticking to the needs of stakeholders, through the use of detailed personas as a constant design reference, and they’re even a potential solution to problems, by helping others to understand the reality of a situation through detailed case studies.

If you let me run with this a bit – and given you’re reading my blog, I’ll assume your permission – then it makes sense to apply this logic to making someone familiar with an unfamiliar situation, like me, and the apparently unfathomable way in which I earn a crust. My role in the world is best explained through stories, and my ability as a designer is best defined by my capability to make them engaging and relevant, and to tell them in a clear, interesting way – and by paying careful attention to the tales that others tell me.

So, while before I’d be left holding the phone, nowadays, I’m more inclined to reach for an Oyster Card or the stub from a boarding pass… but hell, stories are best heard, not read. If you want to know what service design is, then give me a call, and we’ll have a blether. Mobiles are still good for some things.

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