Over the last 5 years, give or take, businesses have been slowly but steadily leaning themselves more towards “designing” everything (businesses, , products, experiences, etc). Suddenly you see that the designer’s way of thinking (a.k.a design thinking) is becoming highly valued across the board by companies and startups.

More applied approaches have risen with it, being Service Design one of them.

I won’t digress more about service design itself. Much people have done a much better job than I could ever do (like what Shahrzad did), but I will ask though: why the act of ‘designing’ seems so uncanny to many of us?

Since I’m not a formally trained designer myself I have long faced a hard time to connect with this universe. Although it is a highly instinctive process — as it should be, after all designing is ultimately getting in touch with people’s needs/perceptions/aspirations and addressing them to their core — we are pretty much conditioned to respond to demands that are on the surface just to pass the ball forward in our day-to-day deliveries.

Designing stuff requires a (rare) prerequisite: Empathy.

Yes. Empathy. The art of recognizing that user’s perspective (or persona for the design geeks out there) is what matters. Not your boss’, not your client’s and not even your own. That kind of detachment is hard, but necessary.

And, let’s suppose you were able to find all the resources, the skills, the timing, and the sense of empathy needed to put forth a proper design process and you managed to deliver a nice piece of service blueprint (a customer journey, an empathy map or whatever). Let’s say you even got the means to develop that service and put it into operation, it seems to me that most of the companies will still have a hard time to recreate that process in order to do proper design consistently over time, unless you are able to implement some ’empathy enablers’ within the company.

Empathy enablers comes even before any ideation stage. I’m talking about things that can successfully clarify existing opportunities such company could have if it were to be consistently empathic towards its customers.

One good (yet really simple) example of that sort of thing was just developed by Mauricio Manhaes at SCAD and it’s called The Collaborative Service Map of Opportunities (COSMO), which is basically a tool that allows businesses to explore opportunities in a holistic way by looking into different possibilities within its own context. This is still fairly experimental but maybe you can put it into good use downloading the tool here.

For most cases, operating on design-mode can be difficult for various reasons, but nothing hits a businesses like its ultimate boss: the market. So, it’s imperative that the designer acts strategically and put MVPs out there as soon as possible and gather market evidence that justifies keep going and expanding.

In paralel, you(maybe a designer with the right credentials and some good politics?) should make good use of this momentum to successfully implement those empathy enablers I mentioned.

The challenge is to that momentum to long lasting change.

Other than that I could give a handful of good practices to build a more empathic culture within product development is to implement things like:

  • Establishing and maintaining an open communication with extreme users of your service (or prospects of your product if you still don’t think everything is service 🙂 as well as with employees on the field through various channels.
  • Assure there’s enough openness in the company for trial and error (aka prototyping). Yeah, prototype like crazy. There are plenty of tools for that (look up at Service Design Tools for inspiration)

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