Over my career, I’ve applied my design skills in a number of different realms.

Katie Wishlade
Katie Wishlade
19th September 2019

I’ve been called an ‘Ergonomist’ designing a national transport system, I’ve been called a ‘Service Designer’ designing an end-to-end airport passenger experience and more recently at Clearleft I’ve been called a ‘UX Designer’ designing a relationship management product for a large investment bank. However, the one thing that has stood me in good stead throughout my whole career is taking a system’s approach to all problems - no matter whether they are at a service or product level.

I'm not a fan of the phrase 'digital service design'

The benefits of taking a system’s approach at a service design level is well understood. The whole premise behind service design is that an experience should be designed across all customer touchpoints - including understanding how the tangible and intangible components influence one another within the whole system. It’s one of the reasons the new term of ‘digital service design’ has never sat well with me as, unless the service is 100% digital, dividing the service design between the digital and non-digital parts defeats the object.

At a product level, your brief is typically more focused on an individual/subset of product(s) or service ’touchpoints’. However, it’s absolutely critical not to lose sight of where this component sits within the broader service strategy - what is your role, what is your relationship with other touchpoints and how might your design decisions influence other areas of the service.

Ultimately, the experience is defined by all touch-points, not just the ones you are focused on.

The risk of not maintaining a systems mindset

Not maintaining this system mindset at all levels is one of the reasons in my experience that it’s all too easy for the original service strategy to get lost at execution or take a life of its own. One of my favourite quotes of all time is this one by Steve Jobs which highlights that the journey from idea to product is rarely a straight one:

You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people ‘here’s this great idea’ then of course they can go off and make it happen. And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make.
Steve Jobs

Successful innovation relies on both service and product-level design working hand-in-hand. This is importantly a two-way relationship that requires everyone to understand that executed well the whole can actually be greater than the sum of all the parts.