Abandoning suit and tie to become a Service Designer

Koos
Artur Poluektov

Reading time
8 min read

Date
Oct 16, 2019

Resistance to change is a common human trait. Nevertheless, as humans, we only grow when we embrace the change and in my case, life gave me plenty of opportunities to do so. As a teenager, I left everything I knew behind and moved to Portugal with a suitcase and a smile on my face. It was a frightening and radical experience that only an immigrant can fully understand. Most recently, I changed my corporate career to become a Service Designer at Koos and after a few months into it, I could not feel happier. After speaking with several people, I realized that there are many of you who also fell in love with human-centered design and want to change your career to practice it full-time. I am writing this article to demystify some of the doubts you might have and to inspire you to take a leap of faith into the world of Service Design.

How it all started

Born as a curious person with multiple interests, I struggled to choose a field of study and later a profession. Unable to select between rational thinking and creativity, I followed my grandma’s advice and enrolled in a major in economics. Thank you, grandma! It was a safe choice with plenty of job opportunities after university and most importantly, it was a numerical field where you can’t go wrong if you do the math. I liked the math, so it seemed logical.

However, after spending a few years in financial and strategic areas at big companies, the perspective of moving up in the corporate ladder started to feel boring. By then, I had built some skills and wanted to use them to create value for other people and organizations, while remaining true to my essence. Searching for solutions, I discovered Service Design Thinking and decided to become a practitioner.

I found Service Design fascinating because it allowed me to use equally both sides of my brain, combining analytical thinking with creativity. I was told that people are naturally inclined to either use the left hemisphere, responsible for logic and analytical thinking, or the right hemisphere, responsible for 1 imagination, intuition and creativity. This theory conditioned me to think that I can’t do both. I discarded this belief because it no longer worked for me. There are many brilliant Service Designers out there, who learned to use both sides of their brain effectively. If they can do it, so can I (and you).

What is Service Design

Let’s start by clarifying what is Service Design and why it matters so much for me and for different sorts of organizations in the modern service economy. Service Design can be defined as a methodology based on a set of principles such as co-creation, holistic approach, an iterative process which goes from the surface to the core and of course human-centricity. It can be also defined as an organizational culture of being primarily focused on the users of services that the company provides. Or put simply by a co-founder of Koos Service Design, Jules Prick, “find out what customers want and give that to them”. Providing the customers with something that they really need and want, is a core of delivering value for any business and you don’t need an MBA from Harvard to understand that. Just in case if you want more definitions of Service Design, then there is a full article on this topic in Koos’ blog.

The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.

— Arnold Schwarzenegger

Beat your fears and embrace discomfort

You might be afraid to start building a new career in Service Design feeling that you are too old or unschooled for it. You need to overcome those fears, for real. One of my favorite heroes is Arnold Schwarzenegger. A poor Austrian immigrant, who became Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia, aka the best bodybuilder on the planet, a Hollywood star who is still kicking asses as Terminator, and a successful politician who served two terms as governor of California. He nailed it several times in different fields because he refused to believe that he was too old, his accent was too strong or his muscles didn’t combine with the suit and tie. Arnold is a living example of someone who made it and then embraced the risk and discomfort again, in order to pursue success on a different stage.  So if you feel that Service Design is for you, go for it all-in and stop making excuses! 

One of the key characteristics of a Service Designer, is that you will never stop learning. When we grow adult, learning becomes a painful process, especially if we have already achieved some level of professional success elsewhere. Instead of getting demoralized, learn from the best, stay open and absorb as many as you can.

Prepare yourself to withstand embarrassment, by not knowing all the answers and by making rookie mistakes.

— Artur Poluektov

That leads me to another topic. Service Design is a broad field which requires an extensive set of competencies and you might need to upgrade your skills. While seduced by the idea of using sneakers and T-shirt for a business meeting, some of the corporate stars are afraid that they are not creative enough and that their lack of originality will be soon discovered. Don’t let your personal fears and biases mislead you. We are all naturally creative and creativity can be practiced, as described by Tom & David Kelly in their brilliant book Creative Confidence. Besides creativity and visual skills usually associated with design professionals, you will also need to possess strong interpersonal skills in order to empathize with users, facilitate workshops and communicate effectively your ideas. Service Design also requires good analytical skills, such as system thinking and the ability to digest and synthesize lots of information. Remember the Double Diamond process: each diamond starts by diverging, but you need to converge (synthesize) in order to move forward to the next step. Lastly, your ability to materialize prototypes for user-tests will allow you to create the ultimate customer experience for your clients.

Become a T-shaped person

Though you will need to get some additional skills, you won’t start from ground zero. Focus on building on top of the competencies that you already have, in order to become a T-shaped person, cherished by design agencies like IDEO.

There is a scarcity of formal education to become a Service Designer straight from university. It gives us,  professionals from other fields, a rare opportunity to jumpstart our careers in human-centered design. For instance, industrial designers, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, architects or business managers already possess some relevant skills and can requalify into Service Designers. 

Actually, coming from the different field rather than from strategic, product or interaction design will allow you to look at the same problem from a different perspective than your peers. Use it to your advantage. The diverse design teams usually create a more significant impact, by uniting different core skills.

Roll-up your sleeves and get your hands dirty

Education is extremely important and I encourage you to undertake a Master’s degree in Service Design if you can or learn it from the workshops and online courses. However, there is no substitute for real-life experience and you can only master Service Design by practicing it, a lot.

After getting some initial knowledge, focus on finding the right ecosystem where you can fail fast and solidify your skills. Look for an open work environment where you can apply Service Design during a project, or do it as a guerrilla project and then share your results and learnings within the company. Join the tribe of human-centered designers by participating in meetups, service jams or becoming a part of your local SDN chapter. It is also effective to look for a mentor or group of mentors, who can teach and guide you towards the next step. 

Last but not least, in order to become a rounded Service Designer, you need to do the same you would do in the gym. I’m talking about the reps. Repetition is the mother of learning and applying Service Design throughout different projects. And it will build your skills and confidence, leading you to mastery in the long term.

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

— Steve Jobs

What I’ve learned so far

I followed the above steps myself until I joined Koos Service Design to become a full-time Service Designer. Then suddenly, everything I did before that moment made sense to me. Looking backwards, I was finally able to connect the dots and fully understand Steve’s Jobs famous speech at Stanford University. 

Since I abandoned suit and tie to became a Service Designer, a lot remained the same, though everything has changed. I no longer use my suits and formal shoes, unless for wedding celebrations. I work in a creative, playful and gezellig environment (google it). However, the problems did not suddenly disappear in a sunny sky full of pink clouds, rainbows and unicorns. There are still tight deadlines, complex problems, challenging clients and short budgets. Most important, is that I am finally able to improve the world and to deliver value by applying Service Design everyday. 

I sincerely hope that my message will inspire you to fulfill your own professional dreams, especially if you want to become a Service Designer. If you are still reading this article, maybe you are ready to overcome the fear of changing your career, after investing several years in something that no longer resonates with who you are now.

As a final note, today, I feel that I am standing at the beginning of my journey rather than at the end of it, ready to push forward. As Matthew McConaughey famously put it:

Every day, every week, every month and every year in my life...my hero's always ten years away. I'm never going to be my hero. I'm not going to attain that, I know I'm not, and that's just fine with me. 'Cause that's keep me with somebody to keep on chasing.

— Matthew McConaughey

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