Richard Whitehall on Why Service Designers Need Non-Designers

Richard Whitehall from Smart Design in NYC spoke about the need for both extreme optimists and extreme realists in service design. This essentially translated to the difference between customer experience vs service operations and more broadly between designers and business people.

He began by illustrating the problem with each approach in isolation. First with SAS airlines who hired a barista to serve coffee on one of its flights which resulted in great coffee but wasn’t a very scalable solution. He contrasted that with an example from United which serves millions of cups of coffee and spent nearly a year with a 14-member committee integrating a new process when they merged with Continental airline only to find that people complained that the new coffee was terrible.

I had trouble following this theme through the rest of his presentation. He presented several interesting projects at Smart Design including the Taxi of Tomorrow that tangentially focused on the contributions of front end and backend experience as optimists and realists.

He advocated three best practices in service design:

  • Get up close and personal: Finding shared ground and embracing the differences between partners in designing and delivering services.
  • Take a trip: Getting stakeholders out of their environment and into the world of the service.
  • Tell your friends: Make sure your project goes viral within the organization.

Ultimately, Richard’s talk reminded me of an image I posted a few years ago about idealists and realists.

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