Lessons learnt from empowering the next generation of designers
In September, I was invited to run a week-long session teaching service design working with TECNOLÓGICO DE MONTERREY and their students in Mexico.
By empowering Mexican students to design new services that could help their local communities. Through the design challenge — How might we design better services for the local communities of Mexico that address the social challenges of sustainability, health or global equality?
The ability to travel to new countries and environments is a privilege (especially after the two-year lockdown). I’m continually learning how to enable different industries and regions to use service design. Throughout this experience, it felt vital to play a role in helping as many people as possible by exploring this discipline while being open to how different cultures apply service design.
In the future, some of the most memorable moments in my career will not be helping another multi-billion pounds/dollars organisation make more money. Giving back and inspiring the next generation to change their mindset and develop is much more rewarding. But admittedly, it doesn’t always pay the best. Balancing working between the two over the years has been a fulfilling way to work on projects I enjoy and am good at.
Why? Because there won’t be enough resources to cope with the rising complex challenges that impact different stakeholders in the future. Not everyone will be exposed to the methods, tools and thinking I and many other service designers take for granted.
From a dream to reality
Setting a clear vision for the session also started four months before landing in Mexico. This could have been less successful without working closely with people that had local context of the challenges impacting Mexico. I had a back-and-forth with some faculty team to bridge how the course could create the best learning experience. This was achieved using a learning module mixed of service design, social impact, business design and systems thinking, examples of real-life cases, practicing the work, and reflection/ feedback on their experiences.
The classic creative process for me is always trying to script out the layout. It makes life easier when I start with post-it notes on a wall or Miro board to think out loud before going into detail. This means I can have my thoughts out in the open before creating any material.
Some people learn through visuals, doing or listening techniques. As the world becomes more diverse, finding the right balance by using a little theory and real-life examples. This gives the students a chance to work on different varieties of the methods.
My time in Mexico felt like a dream as some much was achieved in a short amount of time. The group was able to do the following:
- Explore two social impact challenges chosen by the participants that impacted Mexico by applying service design
- 16 real-life service design case studies for the participant to better understand how service design is currently being used in the real world across several industries.
- Work on nine service design tools/ methods in groups/individuals to develop better services around their social challenges
- One interview with a current service designer, Marcus Ma, a service designer from eBay, who shared his story as he progressed through his career in Chemistry, UX design and service design
- 275 minutes spent on practice activities; participants could take any service design theory and put it into practice by working through challenges as teams
- The use of 9 service design tools, both individually and in groups, to develop better services across different social challenges
- Bonus: One earthquake drill in the mid of the session
Planting the seeds for change (Why I am doing it)
Throughout the pandemic, society has been impacted and needed to adapt drastically in ambiguous times. Many services and experiences, from healthcare to education, have proven they are not fit for people’s needs. These shifts will impact the future of how we experience the world. With uncertainty comes opportunities to make a difference.
I find the best way I learn is through teaching others my craft. It is a great way to document thoughts gathered over time. This forces me to break down my experiences throughout my career and make them as relatable as possible to people new to my field. Honing this skill has accelerated my storytelling ability, as getting people engaged, whether it is 2 hours to 2 weeks of workshops, takes work. The approach might be various depending on who my audience is corporate clients from a tier 1 bank, students, under-represented startup founders or international leaders.
Designing and running workshops help ensure I know what I am talking about by refining my knowledge, and building materials related to what they care about is priceless. Selfishly, this gives me the license to experiment with different ideas and content throughout my experience. Being in different cultures and surroundings is an excellent opportunity to rethink how service design could work rather than a linear approach that works for everything.
Finding a way to change mindsets and inspire people with these skills has always been a rewarding experience. You can sometimes see the difference in their eyes or body language. There is a “yes, I can do this” energy.
While industries and the world, in general, are in constant flux. It is critical to support as many people as possible to become the agents of change needed to think about problems and work on solutions to address these problems.
Choosing the right challenge that matters
Designing a better future through services means that everyone needs to be considered in the process!
How might we design better services for the local communities of Mexico that address the social challenges?
You will always find new problems to solve if you look in the right places. However, you need to know where to start. Service design within North America and Latin America is a novel concept to most people and organisations. Visual and product design is the most commonly known fields, although they are not respected across industries in the same ways as in Europe. It was vital to understand the participant’s definition of service design and ensure that their course expectations were met from day one. Lucky from day one, everyone came with an open mind, a willingness to learn new skills, and curiosity.
To support the local community to come together and build a better world through design. Shifting from design to design with stakeholders makes adopting a service or experience easier. By empowering the participants to choose the challenge, they wanted to focus on. They started from three core social challenges health, sustainability and global equity. The participants had the opportunity to break down each concept into specific problem areas related to Mexico.
Through clustering all the problems they say and experienced with their perspective. This led to building a better understanding of challenges that impact people across the whole process of any experience.
Integrating business, design and society
There is a bias for people to focus on solutions and develop ideas without understanding the complexity of the problems they are trying to solve. From my experience working across different organisations and brands has become more apparent that more needs to be spent on identifying the root cause of many problems. Or there needs to be more focus on tactical change with the context of the strategic approach when improving existing or creating new value — applying the leds of a systems model that looks at different factors that could impact any change in a positive or navigate to any ecosystems that involve various stakeholders.
Shaping the future of communities and businesses will involve understanding how to create services that affect everyone in the process. Building better products, experiences and services has become more than a competitive edge but an expectation across many industries. Service design as a discipline is still a growing space across north America, and helping the participants make sense of how they could use this mindset in their lives, and others was the primary objective.
Service design fits into the double diamond process perfectly. The process helps designers be sure that they are solving the problem with the most significant impact they can achieve. Service designers extend themselves to focus on finding the problem to be solved. In contrast, a product/UI designer could focus more on delivering the product based on the insight gained by user researchers and business strategists.
The purpose of the workshops was to move past just the theory and get the participants to have hands-on experience while working on challenges with real-world examples and proven methods that help make sense of complex issues. In comparison, designing and implementing better services that are fit for the future.
As organisations and society need to go beyond endless tools. With a focus on business and customer value when designing a new solution from different perspectives across a period of time.
Helping the students apply service design to local problems they see and care about.
The purpose was to empower the students from Tecnologico de Monterrey with the right mindset, skills and tools to create services based on design challenges they cared about.
To achieve this in five days with the output of a mini portfolio project. Each day was broken into the following:
- Immersion — Breaking down complex issues and understanding the role service design plays in today’s world
- Insights — Defining the service design by challenging our assumptions, considering people and context
- Ideas — Building on insights to generate, develop and select ideas that create value for people, the planet and profit
- Impact — Making the service real and measuring the impact it will have on the experience
Reflections and questions
As a designer, I continue to rethink how I can support others build the right mindset and skills to create a better world. Like the rest of North America, Mexico is still in the infancy of understanding service design.
It is important to understand that service design will not save the world by itself or be a silver bullet to any problem. Value creation for everyone impacted by change or a new service was one of the most significant learning from the participants in the week-long workshop. This was achieved by ensuring that service design can be used in realistic ways and can be applied to people’s lives.
I believe in building a strong community by staying engaged locally and increasing exposure and outreach to the field of service design. Connecting with complex issues across Mexico and Latin America has challenged my perspective. The vision is to keep on working with others to empower communities across the world to think and design things in a different way.