This article originally appeared in The Guardian on 13th March 2010 entitled 'In celebration of 'silent designers'.'
To stay ahead in the world of commerce, or stay relevant in the world of government, 21st-century managers know they need to keep a connected supply of innovative ideas flowing at every level of their enterprise. In product-focused organisations, innovation management is relatively simple. It generally happens in dedicated research and development teams. Managing innovation in service organisations is more slippery, because the important innovation that creates real value is found all over the place — at all the different points where employees interact with customers, users and internal stakeholders.
Think about a social worker repeatedly visiting a foster child, or a private banker constantly discussing investment opportunities with clients. Over time, the service provided is adapted to fit the changing needs of that child, or that investor, and the improving skills of the social worker or banker.
This type of incremental innovation is equally applicable to mass services, such as call centre support, or internal services, such as IT provision within a business, and it explains why the quality of a company's service innovation is broadly connected to the quality of its staff.
This means that, to an extent, everyone working in a service organisation can be said to be responsible for research and development and at least partly responsible for the design of the organisation's services — even though most of them would not ever think of themselves as designers. In a 1987 research paper, Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas of the London Business School described these people as silent designers.
Cartoon from the fab Tom Fishburne
Through my work with many different types of service organisations, I have found that these silent designers frequently find it difficult to act on their ideas. It can be hard to connect their ideas to parts of the service beyond their everyday roles and responsibilities. A powerful solution to this challenge is to introduce them to the fundamentals behind design practice – and to tie these approaches into how they work on improving their service.
These design-led methods that can be useful within the intangible world of services include techniques to creatively explore ideas through customer or user research; visualisation methods that designers use to express ideas; and quick, low-risk prototypes that help them learn about the best way forward through hands-on experimentation.
For managers, this means encouraging everyone in the service organisation to think like designers, and to blend this with their specific experience and skills to make them more confident in exploring, expressing and exploiting ideas.
In other words, design thinking can help silent designers find their voices, as a voice coach might. The singing part, however, is quite a different matter. March 13th, 2010 / Tags: servicedesign, designthinking, serviceinnovation, article / Trackback / Comments