Q1. When someone asks what you do, what do you say? I tend to explain it differently every time. Firstly I’ll just say that I’m a service designer and then they’ll just ask me what that means. So I explain how just as product designer designs chairs, a service designer works to make all the elements of an experience such as visiting the doctor or sending a parcel at the post office as good as possible.
Q2. What are you working on at the moment? Two amazing projects. The first is called New Start which is a Design Council supported project working together with Young Scot and FirstPort which supports employment opportunities for young people. The second is a project for Edinburgh Council called Total Craigroyston. Craigroyston is an area which receives a lot of money but that hasn’t always translated into outcomes for residents and so we’re developing a routemap for how the future for children and families can be improved through developing new services. And it’s a pretty emotional project for me since it’s where I grew up and what’s been so great has been how it has helped the local community actually see their ideas for change come to live. Recently a woman told me she’d never felt more involved in her community, it was pretty moving.
Q3. What one thing could you not do without as part of your design process? Pen and paper. And probably Post-it notes.
Q4. What is the piece of work that you are most proud of in the last few years? A project called Design for Gov which is currently in the process of being developed to a second stage. It was all about bringing the idea of user centred-ness into government. The client was really quite sceptical at first and what made the difference was how we were able to show them the How rather than just the What and Why of user centred-innovation. And the bit that makes me most proud is how the lead client has moved from being skeptical to genuinely on the road to establishing a culture of prototyping in his areas of government.
Q5. What does it take to be a better-than-average service designer? Not calling yourself a service designer helps! An average service designer gets hung up on the methodology, but it’s not about the tools, it’s all about understanding what the client really wants. That requires being really intuitive and being versed in related disciplines helps as well.
Q6. Where do you go for inspiration? I just look around, observing people and their weird behaviours and their relationships. I’m curious about why people do stuff. When I see an old lady complaining on the bus about the person whose music is too loud it inspires me because I remember when I design I do it for people like her.
Q7. If you had the rapt attention of all the people who work in arts & culture in Scotland what would you like to imprint on their brains? Just make stuff and prototype it. If you have an idea, make it happen in the cheapest and quickest way possible and see if it works. And don’t just talk about strategy all day.
Q8. What is an example of a cultural service you’ve experienced which you felt was well designed? The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It has great signage, brilliant staff and the late night events felt really targeted to someone like me. The museum was packed but despite that it was a seamless experience which somehow felt personal spacious despite the crowds.
Q9. Are there any examples of other services which have wowed you recently? This might sound strange but Amtrak in US, especially the West Coasat line. The entire service from online to offline to the way they dealt with my bags and the way they served breakfast. Everything felt personal and like a surprise.
Q10. What should everyone reading this article go and read right now? My work answer would be The Designful Company by Marty Neumeier, it’s brilliant. But my real answer is a book about post-colonial Africa called Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski. It’s an amazing combination of factual reporting and human experience. Just like the best service design.
BONUS!! Is there anything else you’d like to say? There’s a problem in the design world of people thinking that design is the panacea for everything, it’s not. It’s just one part of solving problems not the whole thing, albeit an important part.
Sarah Drummond is a designer and director of Snook, an agency specialising in using design to improve public services in Scotland. She teaches design in the UK and internationally and you can follow her on Twitter as @rufflemuffin. Image courtesy of James Porteous