A Service Designer talks cats, personality clashes and her adventures doing volunteer work during the lockdown.
We talked to Service Design maestro Charlotte about cats, personality clashes and her adventures doing volunteer work during the lockdown.
Pitch your service in one minute!
So as a User Researcher and Service Designer - mainly Service Designer, the two things really go together … you look end to end from a customer’s perspective. So it’s from how did they hear about it to how do they use it once they’ve got it. It’s that streamlining and consistency from the start to the end. You want the customer to have a connected journey that is intuitive to them. You tend to find you have business analysts and UX Designers but often nobody in the middle making sure that comes together. You end up with a disconnected service that doesn’t actually work properly.
The User Research side of it is something I love doing: interviewing people and getting all the information out of them. If you don’t speak to your users, you’re in danger of building something for your tech people and that’s historically that’s why a lot of systems, particularly in banks needed to be redone every two years, as every two years they would build the system and then say: why is nobody using it? And they would say “I know, I’ll ask a tech consultant!”. You have to ask the people you are building for.
What kind of advice would you give to someone breaking into the field of Service Design?
Take the jobs that look strange and take the jobs that look interesting. That’s how I got into this. I hadn’t heard about Service Design until about three years ago. It was actually something I had actually been doing in all of my roles but I was moving into the sphere of being a business analyst and constantly saying: “what about the customer, what about the user?” Then a recruiter got in touch with me and said they had this weird role at RBS but sounds like it kinda suits you. So I say yeah ok, I’ll have a look.
There I met Shona McKay, an excellent Service Designer, and they took me on at RBS. For the first 2 months I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Nothing made sense, there were post-it notes everywhere! I just didn’t quite get it but the more I worked with those people the more it made sense and it was absolutely the way people should be working. So if someone gets in touch with you with a role and you have no idea what it’s about just go for it!
Alma: That’s good advice ...
Bobby: Alma, is that like something you recognise? It’s almost like you’re doing your job already and someone comes up with a work description.
Alma: Yes, I think it’s because you’re a natural problem solver you don’t sit necessarily in just your own role, instead you go and try and fix things round about without actually being in the role of UX Designer at that point. Yes, Charlotte that sound familiar.
Bobby: Our UI Designer also described his role as a problem solver - ultimately that’s what you do.
Bobby: Slightly touchy feely question next - What’s your inspiration?
The users are my inspiration because a lot of the time they know something doesn’t work for them or they are trying to do something; and I think sitting in project land we might see something as quite trivial, but they’re really not to the people who are trying to do that. Whether that’s trying to apply for a credit card where the motivation behind that could be that they have to pay for a boiler repair and don’t have money to do that this month. So naturally that’s a very important thing for them to do.
Some people just want to apply for a credit card, I’m not going to deny that not every reaction has emotion behind it but for those few people that desperately need the service that is being provided, that’s where I really want to help. Speaking to different people all the time every day and making their life better, that’s what inspires me.
Have you got any way of recharging, especially now being stuck in doors?
I’ve got five cats ranging from one year old to 19 years old, they keep me pretty busy. I also have a few channels which are videos of cats purring! I also crochet and make blankets, cat toys to make cat toys. When we’re not in lockdown I go to cat shows where I get to meet friends and catch up. Cooking, cooking is a big one for me. I’ve done it every day since lockdown as it a good way of resetting.
Bobby: I was just turning my roast potatoes down, I’m making up for last night tea not being too successful … What’s the best experience you’ve had doing Service Design/UX Research?
It was actually a bit of delay one. I work on the Young Carer Grant for the Scottish Government as a Service Designer and my contract to an end before it launched. So I didn’t get to see the completion of that. I was on to my next project and had my head in something else. So it felt like, yeah we spoke to lots of young carers and that was great and we built them something and I hope it works but then when I was redoing my CV in February, I looked up the stats and found out there was actually a 90% approval rate for the applications that had come out of the Young Carer Programme.
So a 90% approval rate is absolutely huge and that really pulled at my heart strings. Then looking at the ones that had been declined, I think only 2% were declined because of the actually process and the other 8% were duplicates. I got a bit of a tear in my eye about that one.
Bobby: As a Service Designer it’s great you’ve actually got a quantitative thing to pull out - 90% that’s amazing, that and pulling on your heart strings, so quant and qual in your answer, magic! Can you come up with a mistake that you’ve made that you can communicate to someone learning you’re profession? “Don’t make this one, make your own.”
Always check the content of your consent forms. Always make sure you understand what is in your consent forms and what people have consented to so you don’t accidentally share a video internally that you don’t have permission to share even though you know the person in the video, knew you would be sharing it. If it’s not on paper, it doesn’t exist. I did that once and it will never happen again … ha ha.
Bobby: I did a talk last night on how not to do user research so I collated all my mistakes, there were plenty. But yes, try not to do it more than once. So another general question, being stuck at home now, have you got any predictions about how our practice might change?
I think remote research will be taken more seriously. I like being face-to face with someone, being in the same room, giving them a cup of tea and setting the atmosphere. That’s a personal preference. Some stakeholder believe face-to-face is the only way to do research. The only way to get valuable insights to people, I think the will change with this because I have been doing remote interviews out of necessity and actually what I’m finding is the insights you are getting are not any less valuable.
Think it will also help with the spread of research, especially when you are working somewhere like the government, you need to talk to people right across the country, including the outer Hebrides and there’s times when you can’t fund the trip up there. But I think we can show you can get valuable insights from Zoom calls we can do more volume and more geographic spread and we can get more insights from general population than we did before with this.
Alma: Do you think remote user testing and face-to-face user testing will be regarded as the same quality or do you think they will be seen as two different types of usability testing?
I can’t predict how people will feel about things, but I would like them to be given equal weight. Hopefully that is something can be encouraged in the culture but can’t predict how it will actually happen.
Bobby: After this experience, we might revert to normal, but it might change everything and we regard remote anything is the same as face to face. People have been predicting VR for decades and it’s never quite come about.
Alma: I think prior to COVID-19 I don’t think remote meetings would have had the same respect as face to face research would have and people felt there was more value in face to face. But because now we have been thrust into this and people are more used to Zoom calls, this might be something that has come out of this situation and as a result would be weighted the same. That’s really interesting I don’t think we would have spoken about this maybe four weeks ago. I don’t think even though we had many more users at our disposal, that kind of non-face to face research would have been considered as a replacement for face to face.
Bobby: So, pro bono work: how has that been going? Have you got any interesting projects on the go?
I do. I actually loving this way of work from the outset and looking a being a freelance Service Designer because this really is the dream. I woke up on Monday, had a shower, go dressed, came down, made breakfast and sat in front of my laptop and thought Oh that’s right, I don’t have a job. I had been working for a small design agency and was let go because of COVID 19.
So I went onto Facebook to some local groups and offered a free service to initially one company. I explained what SD was and how it could help people. I was doing this so I could build up a portfolio. That’s something that I’m asked for quite a bit but working for big corporations, it’s not something you might have as you can’t actually share your stuff. So it’s not entirely altruistic, I’m saying if you let me come and work with you as long as I can share all the outputs then it’s yours free to use. I had a lot of interest from lots of types of places, but it was important for me I helped people that could never usually afford this type of consultancy and also a company that would really struggle without that service.
I ended up with the Cheese Lady, a local cheese company in Haddington. It was very important to me that we get her through this as her cheese is amazing. She needs to move fairly rapidly from face to face to online and she’s identified her existing subscription service is actually quite a good guaranteed source of income. She doesn’t know how to promote or build the service, nor what people actually want from a cheese subscription service. So I’ve spent a lot of time looking into cheese, which was quite fun.
The second company, Marzipan Media, is a friend’s company. They supply fully licensed music to businesses as well as video advertising. Her grandfather founded in-store advertising. Although they have customers on a global scale, they are still a very small business. They would never normally be able to afford this service and they have been doing their own B2B sales as well wanting to get small local business on board. So they’ve had to put a lot of focus on their website. They’ve ended up in the position where they’ve had some really good tech guys work on it and they’ve had some really good UX Designers working on it and it’s kinda broken because nobody had oversight to make sure it all fitted together.
I was contacted by a Scottish Downs Syndrome charity. They are having to move their services from being face-to-face to being online and again they have no idea about how to go about doing it. The person I’ve been speaking with worked in financial services and is familiar with Service Design and he’s really keen to get me to have a look at it. Again it’s a very small charity and they would never usually be able to afford that kind of service. So I’ve been working basically usual work day. I’ve carried on as if I still have a job and I intend to keep going on that way until I find one that pays me.
Alma: Will you approach the projects you’ve mentioned all at the same time?
At the moment I’m working on two at the same time but wouldn’t take on a third until I’ve complete one first. I think it’s good to have that variety. You can get your head stuck in a single project so it’s good to have something else but be able to go and work on. You can still be productive but it helps to reset you.
Bobby: I’ve found small business can be quite rewarding to work for as they genuinely need you there. Often with big organisations you get the feeling they’ve hired you but they don’t always know what they are doing with you and you really have to persuade them of your worth.
Yes they’ve hired you but they really don’t understand why you are sitting at a desk.
Bobby: That’s part of the magic of what we do. What you say about the oversight of the process is really interesting. I come from a UX background I think between a BA and UX Designer, who’s in the middle. It used to be your wireframe but in a way that’s quite limited. You’re focusing on the product rather than looking at the big picture and using people and what people tell you be the glue. Any final questions?
Alma: It has been really interesting. The variety of the job and the different roles within that role of Service Designer are quite different.
Yes it’s definitely a multi-disciplinary role. You have to have the analytical brain to understand the tech, you also have to have the empathetic side to understand the customer. A lot of the time I find UX and BA personalities don’t get on. Generally there is that clash. BA are very analytical and say it has to be like this because this is what the system does and UX Designers are saying: I want to make it look this way and I want to make it look beautiful why aren’t you listening to me. They are very emotional … wrong word … so having someone in the middle who is able to balance those two things and bring them together is very important as then both sides are taken into account rather than just the loudest voice being heard. The loudest voice is mine!!
Alma: Do you feel there are more roles for Service Designer, are companies aware that the role is that glue or bridge between BAs and UXers?
They are getting there. Service Design was included in China’s top 10 emerging roles last year. China is very much on the ball with this. We often see when China starts a trend then everyone else start to cotton onto it and follow it through. So that was a big win for Service Design to get onto that list. I think it will get bigger. However I need to say that hopefully people won’t just think, yes: Service Design, I need that we will just train our BAs.
I did an interview for a company that were advertising for a Service Designer and they want me to go in an train their existing BAs on how to be Service Designers! I said no that’s not how you do it. You have to be a certain type of person to be a Service Designer. Maybe they had some BAs that had the qualities necessary but generally you can’t just move a group of people without finding out if they’re the right kind of people.
Alma: I understand where you’re coming from. As a software trainer teaching Adobe InDesign in the past the majority of people I trained were graphic designers. After 2008 companies got rid of their in-house designers and outsourced their design work. They realised that was expensive so then started to send administrators or marketing people or anyone from the Comms department on a training course so as to do the job of a graphic designer. I feel this is sometimes unfair on the learner.
Bobby: I’ve had that experience also. A few years ago graphic designers were thrown at code and expected to figure it out! That’s given us lots to think about, thank you Charlotte. If you could send us a photo of how you’re working and sums up how life is at the moment.
Alma: Maybe cats eating cheese!
Cats, cheese, post-it notes and music into a photo.
Bobby: We’ll leave that with you as a challenge.