Is Humility Our New Superpower? Service Design Fringe Festival Part 2

6 min read
Ben Logan
Design Research

You are reading part two of the insights I gained from this year’s Service Design Fringe Festival. It covers the first two themes on why we should reflect on our addiction to designing products and services and why we should start building the future.

The five themes from this year’s festival are covered in two articles.

3 – Why people are still at the heart of design and how to include everyone

Now I know that I’ve said that we should stop designing products and services. My point is, we should be mindful of our time and what we’re designing. Several case studies at the festival proved that people are still at the heart of design, and when done right, we have the ability to really create an impact.

Financial inclusion begins at the bottom of the pyramid

Ideate Innovation took us through their study on redesigning the cash withdrawal system to provide a seamless process to beneficiaries for women in Pakistan.

Using qualitative ethnographic research, they gained empathy for the people they were designing for and uncovered severe service gaps. From the women, who didn’t know how to interact with the system, to the man not trusting the digital system and thus creating his own analog system, that he trusted more.

Ideate Innovation walked us through their project on financial inclusion

The project is a great example of why contextual research is so important: If we care enough about people, we need to go to them and really understand their lifeworld, their needs and pain points.

Because as Payal Wadhwa, Service Design Principal at Idean reminded us of: Technology changes fast, but people really don’t. We might have technology that enables us to rush into the future head first, but people are creatures of habit. We all make irrational decisions, have complex emotions and a thousand things on our minds. Service Designers’ primary task is to keep bringing these human factors into the mix.

Payal Wadhwa reminded us that technology changes fast, but people don’t

Some other great reminders of putting people first:

  • Hannah Pidsley, Contract Manager from AddAction and Emma Parnell, Service Design Lead at Snook demonstrated how they’ve used design to improve the process for people seeking support on drugs, alcohol and mental health issues. They’ve re-designed the system to help people change, not just manage their situation. The lengthy process included an extreme amount of barriers. Now people can book an appointment in just 5 minutes.
  • Julene Aguirre Bielschowsky, Head of Design Strategy at Capital One has together with her team created an interface to help their customer services be more human. Before, the employees spend most of their energy managing the system, when on a call with a customer. The solution has removed these pain points and empowered the employees to provide the right support for their customers. Customers that call in for help, because they find themselves in a vulnerable financial situation and need a human to talk to.
  • Sham Aziz, Head of Customer Service at Selfridges always brings the customer into the mix, by telling their story. He truly puts people first and believes that a human touchpoint is vital in customer services. Also, he kindly reminded us that “no one wants to be on the receiving end of an MVP.”

What if we started committing to working together on including everyone?

4 – Why we should work together on breaking down new silos and create a shared language

#designandclimate is a movement that tries to unite designers on the world’s pressing issues. Friday morning we came together to explore how to incorporate sustainable thinking into the design process. My group zoomed in on how agencies can commit to a sustainable agenda.

“As a designer, you have to think about the relation between what can be done and what ought to be done.” – Löwgren & Stolterman, 2004

During my Master’s Thesis, my partner and I explored how to motivate a more sustainable mindset within fashion consumption. At the end of the project, we suggested that designers should shift their mindset from a human-centred one to a humanity-centred one. We are not designing in a vacuum or for one isolated user group. The things we invent shape culture and society and we should be aware of the power we hold and do what ought to be done, instead of merely doing what can be done.

Once upon a time the design community committed to being human-centred, now it’s time to commit to creating a better world for everyone.

Sideways Dictionary explains tech using analogies. Maybe we need a dictionary for a sustainable humanity-centred design practice.

One thing was clear during this year’s festival. Let’s not make new silos. Let’s not spend our time debating who’s a designer and who’s not.

“Designers hold influence over the shaping and disciplining of communication in society.” – Mark Aakhus, 2007

We could spend that time on creating a dictionary for humanity-centred design instead. Maybe inspired by Sideways Dictionary using analogies to explain technology, so everyone can understand and be included in the conversation. Let’s break the silos, create a shared language and escape the fluffy-trap.

What if we established a shared language and planted the seed for a new culture?

5 – Why we should be designing our own culture

The very last talk I went to was with Emily Bazalgette, Senior Organisation Designer from NOBL, who elaborated on why we should reflect on our own culture. She opened with a tweet from Jason Fried, Founder & CEO at Basecamp and author of the book ‘It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work’:

“Your organization better be your best product since it’s the product you use to make everything else you do.” – Jason Fried, 2019

As she put it, we’ve spent most of our time understanding our users’ cultures, when really, we should spend more time on our own. The way we work doesn’t work. At least not for everyone. We should take the principles of HCD, equality, and inclusivity and apply them to our own workplaces and workspaces.

If you need more motivation to start designing your culture, I suggest you read the story of how dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel came to read his own obituary and realised he should maybe consider the legacy he left behind.

To uncertainty and beyond!

At Spotless we’re currently working on shaping our purpose and values. The insights from this year’s festival have given us a lot to think about.

Thank you for reading through and thank you SDFF for a great festival. Now let’s all get busy uniting, creating and making. Not products to consume, but new sustainable methods, prototypes, and interventions. Let’s pass on our superpowers so we can make design humanity’s best friend.

Staying humble might be the only superpower we really need.

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