Design the meaning

Lives are shaped by chance encounters and by discovering things that we don’t know that we don’t know. Debbie Millman

As we come near the end of the first chapter of the master I discovered that my world has expanded and as a result of this, I now have a lot more questions about service design than I did 5 months ago, to continue this learning cycle I decided to take this questions and ask the service designers I come to meet during this past months.
Throughout the master I’ve been curious about how to transfer knowledge to the client for the roll out of a service. So I sat dow with Chiara Torti, service designer from the Politecnico of Milan and tutor of the workshop we did for Action Aid, and talked with her about transferring knowledge in the design process.
Preparing for the meeting with her, I had in my mind the idea of talking over the roll out phase of the service, because is the phase when you deliver stuff right? Wrong! As Chiara explained a project involves multiple instances and levels of decision making and trading of knowledge that constantly reshape the space of possible solutions, it is for this reason that one of the biggest challenge that we face as service designers is to understand your client, including both the final user and the internal stakeholders, and define when to involve them in the design process.
So with this in mind we started going over the process she usually follows in a project and highlighting the moments where there is a transfer of knowledge, which allowed me to pick up three key points:
First, you need to understand the internal process that has put your client in the place of asking you to design/redesign something, this includes understanding the internal structure and the stakeholders involved. As a result of this you will be able to:

  • Understand the core values of the company, thus allowing you to have a wider vision of the issue at stake and at the same time make your client understand design as a system and not a set of independent solutions.
  • By having a wider picture of the issue, you can start setting boundaries to yourself, facilitating the design process.
  • Set an atmosphere of collaboration, defining the right roles and moments for the decision making process.

Second, the decision making moments are great spaces for transferring knowledge not only about the project, but also about the more general design process that you are following. For instance when delivering the initial concept, a workshop can be set in place to help the client take decisions on the project at hand, and at the same time help them understand in a practical way how the process is being conducted, which are the difficulties being faced and the time invested. This moments of decision making and transferring of knowledge are closely linked to defining the space of the solution, every time that there is an approval it is necessary to go over everyone involved and check the feasibility and the willingness to implement the decision taken.
Third, clients, in particular but all the stakeholders in general, need to understand the reasons behind the design, in this sense to design is to give meaning. For a project to be successfully implemented you need to clearly explain why it is important, and this meaning needs to be contextual to the stakeholder you’re talking to. In this sense, prototypes, pilots and training sessions are not only about testing or delivering knowledge, they’re also about creating commitment to the project by understanding the meaning of the things being designed for them.
Transferring knowledge then is not only about delivering the results of your work, but also about helping your client understand better the design process, facilitating their decision making, and creating commitment at different levels for the project to be successful.