Carl Quinn

Solvers Studio

The Service Designer and head of Solvers Studio talks about helping businesses.

Pitch Solvers Studio to us in 100 words or fewer. Go!

We’re a diverse team of designers, innovators and troublemakers looking to improve the world’s services to make them more valuable to people, place and planet. We facilitate, we lead, we support and we’re not afraid to tackle the big challenges. Our approach is one of collaboration and co-production as we believe in designing with, not for.  

What's your favourite technique for encouraging businesses to innovate? 

First and foremost, it’s crucial to find a language that floats their boat; a business-speak that works for them and that they find engaging. And then you can ask them a simple question - where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?  The answer is never ’to stay exactly the same as we are now’. So then that can lead onto the follow-up questions - ’so how are you going to get there?’, ‘how are you going to develop your processes/products/services to enable you to get there?’, ‘what practices are you going to employ to make you stand out from your competition, and retain/attract the talent you need?’ etc. Strangely enough, asking ‘how are you going to innovate?’ Is not a productive question.

In your experience, what's the biggest blocker for businesses achieving their goals? 

Difficult to pick just one. I guess the biggest is fear - fear of disruption, fear of failure, fear of the competition, fear of saying you’re wrong, fear of acknowledging weakness. All too often businesses fail to embrace change, don’t provide space for people to try and fail (and learn), and they forget to stop and ask the fundamental question ‘why?’ The culture of blame is endemic in some businesses. 

Describe a good experience you've had helping a business. How did it come about?

Again, difficult to pick out just one. Perhaps I can pick a particular theme rather than a specific instance or partnership? That would be simply creative confidence. The businesses or organisations we’ve worked with - whether they’re in early startup mode or have been around for years - generally find real value from our agency by us giving them the reassurance and confidence that they can do it; they can innovate, they can create, they can build, and test, and engage their users, and design, and reiterate.

They generally already have the skills and know-how, but we give them the vocabulary and the framework to identify it, explain it and do it better. And the reward is that you see it months and years later. They continue to use our methods and tools and embed design-led approaches to their work. It’s great to see us give them the confidence that they then adapt and build on.

How are you planning to grow Solvers Studio? 

Our main aim is to build and extend our Solver Community. Whilst we are an agency rooted in service design, we recognise that there are plenty of skills and aligned jobs which enhance what we do. We’re growing our online community and the intention is to have them share practice, develop their knowledge, respond to tenders, form mini-collectives, produce and create together. We support them to do this and we get their support in return. They’ll spot opportunities for us to collaborate and we’ll also be able to extend our footprint as we have an international community from around the world. Our other strategies include being focused in our core offer and our target audiences; ones which align with our ethos of doing good in the world. 

How can you tell when you're likely to have a successful collaboration? 

Oh, this is a great question, and I don’t think it has an easy answer (in our experience). I think the strongest indications of a good collaboration are twofold. One, you’re both aligned on the goal(s) that need to be achieved and you can communicate those goals to each other effectively. Two, you’re able to be honest with each other; principally, that you can both drop the pretence and admit your own limitations to each other. Acknowledging, accepting and mitigating the things you can’t do is important. 

Favourite book and blog? 

We love lots of books. Our favourite at the moment is ‘Good Services’ by Lou Downe, and is something we always recommend to anyone working with us. As for blogs (I’m not sure whether I can get away with this) I’ve fallen in love with the Design Justice site (designjustice.org) which has lots of great resources on there. If I’m not allowed that, then give Ben Holliday’s Medium page (benholliday.medium.com) a follow.

Haver are a UX design collective. We haven't had any paying clients yet. Got any advice for us? [NB this was true at the time of writing, during March 2021 we picked up our first customers.]

Nothing revelatory I’m afraid, just your usual. Know what problem you’re looking to solve, who it is you’re solving it for, create a great product or service that solves it, and then charge for your solution! Sorry that I don’t have anything more insightful than that.

Anything you'd like to collaborate on with us? It could be a business idea, an illustration ... a game?

Yes! We’ll always collaborate with good people. In fact, we’re desperate to. A lot of our work in the short-term is leading us into the startup, sustainability and urban innovation scenes. Let’s dream up something together! 

Anyone else in the start-up space we should talk to?

There are loads of good startups out there; far too many to just pick out one. Take a look through the Tech Nation ‘Rising Stars’ (/technation.io/programmes/rising-stars) programme for a good mix of tech-led startups.