Sharing the story of the Practitioner stories

Practitioner stories
21 min readApr 19, 2022

Recently, we had two opportunities to speak about our project: the UX Edinburgh meet-up and UX Soup who interviewed us for their podcast.

image made of 3 logos, the practitioner stories’ one, the UX soup one and the UX Edinburgh one

You can find the slides we used for UX Edinburgh here.

The UX Soup episode is available here. It’s about 30min long and you can find the transcript below.

Thank you to Chris Schreiner and Lisa Cooper for inviting us on their podcast and to Duncan Stephen who told them about us. Thanks also to Mike Jefferson for inviting us at UX Edinburgh.

Want to learn more about the project?

Visit our website, follow us on Medium or on Twitter @PractitionerSt1

Thank you!

Podcast transcript

[00:15] Lisa

Hello and welcome to UX Soup, a podcast that looks beyond the buzz words to give you the latest developments impacting the user experience of personal devices and services in the home and on the go. As always UX soup is presented by Strategy Analytics a global research and consulting firm providing our clients all over the world with insights, analysis and expertise.

My name is Lisa Cooper and today we are going to talk about the topic of service design. And with me today to unpack this topic we have two practitioners in the area of service design, so with great pleasure, I introduce you to Serena Nüsing

[00:54] Serena

Hi Everyone

[00:56] Lisa

So Serena is a senior service designer at the policy profession unit based in Glasgow. Also with us today, we have Stéphanie Krus, she is also a senior service designer at Sopra Steria based in Troon. Hello Stéphanie

[01:09] Stéphanie

Hello Everyone

[01:11] Lisa

So let’s jump straight into this topic. Can you explain to the audience, in your own words what service design is for those that don’t know

[01:20] Serena

Service design means applying a user-centred design approach to the development and delivery of services. Service design starts with the people, their behaviours, needs and experiences.

In Scotland, many people will be familiar with the Service Approach to Service Design which specifically outline how we should design public services in Scotland. And when it comes to designing public services, we need to make sure that we are not only designing the right services that meet the needs of the users and business but also that we are building it in the right way, which is about understanding the problem space first, before jumping to a solution, conducting ethical and inclusive research, and working in a collaborative and iterative way. That is I guess a short and sharp definition more or less of service design but I also want to highlight what people had said during our research project and our study because I think it’s really interesting instead of thinking about how can we define it, maybe defining it by how we contribute and I’m just going to list some things that people told us — things about how service design can contribute:

  • by fostering citizen participation
  • by bringing in an evidence based approach
  • by enabling collaboration
  • by engaging people in a creative way
  • by building empathy in an organisation

Probably the most obvious but very important thing by helping organisations recognising that they are actually delivering services

[03:06] Lisa

Sometimes they forget

[03:09] Stéphanie

They often do.

[03:11] Lisa

Yes! Well tell me a little bit more about that, apparently you’ve been doing some research about the practice of service design on a volunteer basis. Is that correct?

[03:22] Stéphanie

It all started with a tweet from Kirsty Joan Sinclair who is a service designer as well, and I can’t remember exactly what she was tweeting about, it was subjects she wanted to write about I think and Angela (Angela Fernandez Orviz) who is another member of the practitioner stories group, she replied to that and I replied as well, so we got together but we had never met before. It was during covid, it was June 2020. So we started to have these discussions. She was finishing her PhD and she didn’t know too much what she was going to do after. She wanted to do a little study about all the practitioners in Scotland in the public sector but I think she wasn’t too sure about how to go about it by herself, so having someone else with her was good. But we realised very quickly that she had big plans so we needed more people for that. So we asked if people wanted to help us and that’s where we got Serena added to that — Serena do you want to add something about that?

[04:28] Serena

Exactly! That was actually the time when I first met Stéphanie and Angela, at one of these virtual Service Design Gathering meet-ups. At that point I was someone still quite new to the service design community in Scotland, so I thought, you know, researching and telling people’s stories about service design would be such a good idea. So I asked to join the team

[04:57] Stéphanie

And that’s how we ended up having weekly meetings, so outside our work hours, lunch, evenings and trying to see who we should talk to and trying to make sure that we are doing things right because people would look at what we had been doing, so we wanted it to be perfect, maybe even more than for work, because we had the time, there was no crazy deadlines, we could do whatever we wanted but we wanted to do it really well.

So we ended up talking to 15 people. We wanted to try to have people from all over Scotland and different sectors as well, so we were focussing on the public sector and the third sector, we had people from Education, the government, charities, the police, health, we really tried to cover a lot different profiles. And we had an hour discussion with each of them and then we’ve transcribed because we had no funding, no budget, so we’ve done it, all that typing

[05:58] Lisa

On your own time!

[06:00] Stéphanie

Yes! And we ended up with so much data

[06:02] Lisa

I imagine yeah.

[06:05] Stéphanie

So after that we needed more help. So we asked again and that’s how we’ve got our last member who is Vinishree Verma. So it took us a long time to do it but in the end we decided to do it bits by bits. So we divided the work and did all the summaries for each them on Medium. I’ll give you a link so people can find our summaries of insights but it took us, I don’t know, 18months? is that it? Serena, we started in June 2020 and the last summary was last December?

[06:48] Serena

Yeah something like that, we were doing it in kind of waves. Sometimes when there was capacity and we had the time did a bit more and we just had weeks of break basically because we were all busy with our full time jobs. I think we just need to acknowledge that we were able to manage, as you said, quite a big amount of data and cover really really insightful data about service design in Scotland, about the practice, about the community, and especially about the needs of the individuals practitioners.

[07:30] Stéphanie

And all that, online, I think the first time we met each others was last June, we were just doing that, I didn’t realise that Serena was so tall until I met her!

[07:48] Serena

Everyone is laughing — Thanks Stéphanie!

[07:52] Stéphanie

Normally, as a service designer there is only one of you in project the team, but suddenly we were working as 3 service designers together but all very different. So we were discussing: “why are we doing that? Oh, I wouldn’t do this like that” so there’s so much discussion about how we should be doing something and this has pushed me in directions I would have never gone by myself. So the project material was great. But also the experiment of doing it was nice.

[08:19] Lisa

The process itself, yeah.

What kind of insights did you uncover going through this process in terms of the results and in terms of, I think you were just starting to talk about yourself as well in terms of how you are going about your own roles.

[08:37] Serena

So you’re doing this research. We’ve learned about what motivates people to do service design or to become a service design practitioner. What they think the practice itself can bring to a project or an organisation. And we’ve also talked about skills and learnings. So what are things that people need to have in order to practice service design in terms of the skills, but also, what are the things that they want to learn further? How do they learn? How do they want to learn?

Personally, I found very much interesting. The kind of like other side of that which is around the difficulties that we face as a practice such as organisational barriers or challenges. With working with people.

So people were very honest about their struggles in their day-to-day practice and shared with us things that they were missing and how sometimes, designers themselves, or let’s say the service design practice, can become a blocker.

[09:45] Stéphanie

Quite often the problem were not so much the project itself and the people. Not the service user, it’s the team, it’s the the crazy deadline we have. I mean most of the problems are internal. It’s all internal

[10:01] Lisa

It’s the fragmentation with organisations can be.

[10:06] Serena

Yeah, one practitioner for example said. There’s all these sorts of reputational risks, because quite often the things that people have been asked to do are solution oriented, not problem solving. I think what is really interesting is thinking about also how, you know like, how we need to get better in communicating service design ourselves because one practitioner said that language is one of the biggest barriers to involving people and we need to be more conscious, self conscious of the language we use.

[10:42] Lisa

Was there anything that surprised you in that process? I mean, what was that a surprise? Or was that something you expected?

[10:49] Serena

Yeah, I would say I think when it comes to talking about service design, especially in the public, I think we are more used to promoting things. We are more used to, you know like have case studies, talk about all the great stuff. And to be honest, I was probably expecting to hear a lot more about, you know, like how great they’ve done in their jobs or what kind of amazing projects they have delivered over the last years. And yeah, basically how great and amazing service design is. But surprisingly, I think the focus was very much more on how can we improve? What are the challenges? What makes it so difficult from both sides in terms of like, why is it so difficult sometimes to implement service design and to conduct service design but also, being very critical about ourselves being very critical about our practice about things that they were missing, things that we are not really doing well at the moment as a community and as a practice. And I think these were really the ones that impressed me personally the most and surprised me the most.

[12:00] Stéphanie

And maybe to add to that, I think because maybe we we haven’t been too clear on that. We are all service designers, but we when we were recruiting people, we’ve talked to user researchers, content designers, people working in accessibility. So we’ve looked at people who were working in service design in general. Not only as service designer and most of them were medium to senior level and some of them they were very present on Twitter or it looked like they were doing great things and all that, so and but they were very honest about the struggles they had, so we saw a different side of of what they were doing and it’s part of what we’ve heard when people were reading the summaries as well. They felt so good to see that it was not just them struggling with things.

If you look at what’s on Twitter or what’s published, it’s it’s like everyone is doing great things but me, and and then suddenly they realise: OK no, we all have the same struggles and I think that was really good. And I think it helped the people who are reading all summaries to feel OK. Yeah, I can identify that as well in my in my work. It would have been good to be able m and maybe that’s for the next step, I don’t know, but more focusing about how we can do things better. Instead of showing all the problems that we have, but you know when you do a research project, usually you look at the problems and the second phase is about how do we do that better so we are not there yet.

[13:38] Lisa

I was going to ask, actually, do you have a next phase to this problem? Is it in the works or are you having a break?

[13:46] Stéphanie

I think at the end of it. I mean, we were really amazed that we went that far to be honest, because it was so many hours and a lot of it was fun, but sometimes it was a bit painful as well so to manage to push that and to have it in a state that we were happy with was really good. And I think now it’s just a bit hard to do where we go next, because it does take a lot of our time. We really wanted that too. We wanted to bring it back to the community. What we had done was for us, but also to give it to the community to see how we could empower people and do better as a community. I’m not entirely sure where we’re going next. If we can’t drag more people into that crazy adventure.

[14:36] Serena

Maybe we should make a call at this point. I’m just saying if there’s anyone out there who has a great idea on how to take this forward, who would like to get involved, please contact us. So yeah, we are open I think for any perspective input on how to take that forward?

I would like to mention here the great thing about this project is we’ve not started with a list of deliverables. It was not that we said, OK, we want to deliver these things. We’ve just started with a blank sheet of paper. We had no idea where we would go. And I mean now, two years later we have a website we have, I think about 10 or more articles on medium. We got a great response on Twitter. We are on a podcast just today, so I think there is interest and attraction to that project, which is just really great. Yeah, let’s see where it takes the snacks, but I think reflecting on it, I think the biggest impact that we’ve made or the biggest thing that we were able to do was to create a space for people to talk about these things to create a space, to talk individually, to reflect, to read, to think about these things as a community, you know, I think it’s always hard to measure such an impact because not everyone is liking, tweeting and reacting to things so we don’t really know, how much that has changed people’s life or people’ s practice, but we hope that it made an impact and that people were able to like reflect honestly, but also, as Stéphanie said before, not feeling alone knowing that there are other people to connect with to get in touch, and I think that’s one really great thing about Scotland. It’s a small country the service design community is small compared to like the wider world, so it’s easy to get in touch. There’s so many great people out there who are open to just have a chat to talk about these things to blog to tweet, and yeah, I think we’ve just hoped to kind of like take that a step further by doing this project by publishing our work. But as I said, we are open for input on what comes next and we would be very happy to hear back from the community at this point.

[16:53] Lisa

We will link to your LinkedIn profiles so I’m sure anyone that wants to give some suggestions could reach out to you or they’ll email us. And if they do, I will send that on to you. But I did want to ask how the process informed the way you conduct your own service design research, like how did that impacted your role?

[17:14] Stéphanie

So for me, I go to lots of events and all that, and compared to Serena and I don’t have a formal service design training and I learn a lot from other people experience. It feels like I’ve gained years of experience by doing that because it forces you to reflect a lot, and it’s something we don’t always have time to do normally. So I’ve learned a lot from that. It has added to my own experience by hearing from others. And what I’ve really enjoyed as well it was we could experiment a lot. We could try things, it worked, it doesn’t, and the things that worked well, I can reuse now.

[17:56] Lisa

How about you Serena.

[17:58] Serena

The research itself helped me to also reflect on my own practice and process. Some things that people mentioned to be honest, I hadn’t even. Thought about before. Like that wasn’t really something on my mind until actually that person mentioned it in the interview and I was like, Oh yes, actually that’s interesting. And then you start, you know, like thinking about these things and you start maybe reading new stuff.

One of the interesting things that people mentioned was for example: the emotional impact that they would like to discuss more of being a service designer or doing service design project because you’re working so closely with people you’re working on public services, on really important stuff, but sometimes also very challenging and difficult stuff that can actually change people’s life but also harm people’s live and I think it was really interesting to hear from the community and the practitioners also how it impacts their own thinking and well being in these terms and how they would like to talk more about the emotional impact and reflect more on that. I think that’s where I’ve learned the most from it as well.

[19:11] Stéphanie

It’s a weird situation where normally when you do these interviews, for a project that’s kind of remote from you. But here we were doing interviews about something that was affecting us. We were talking about our practice. So for me, I mean, I’m a service designer, I don’t think I could be a very good user researcher because I tend to join the conversation, instead of just letting the person talk. And it was even harder here because we’re talking about things like, it feels more like a chat with a colleague, but it was also, I think it was also interesting for them that situation, because the questions we had were things that were normally they were never asked. So it was really interesting and at the same time we felt we had to give it to be extra careful not to put ourselves in it, in the result, because the material was the interviews and not how we felt about it. So that was an extra difficulty. But one thing we’ve done, once we had finished all that, before starting to publish things. We asked all the participants to look at the material we had for them, to make sure they were OK with it as well, because it was people we knew and wanted to make sure that they felt OK with that. Which is something that we should really do whenever we do some research, but we don’t always have time to go back to all the participants to say are you OK with that? So we’ve done it this time.It was interesting to see how people were reacting to that as well.

It’s been great and I do think it has … we know we had some feedback from people who are really happy to see that. But it’s been helping us a lot and I think it it’s been helping quite a few people as well. So no, it’s it was great. I would have never thought all that would come from that tweet.

[21:05] Lisa

Yeah, I think people when they go into this line of work when they go into user centred design or user research service design, they want to be the advocate for the user, whoever that may be, and so that they tend to be people who care about people. And so I imagine when they run into barriers like that when they run into organisational barriers in the case of service design and and it happens and in other areas of user centred design as well. It can just break your spirit a little bit so it doesn’t surprise me that you know they felt like this was some sort of therapy session.

It’s, you know it’s you have to compartmentalise it, but it’s still kind of chips away at you a little bit when you’re trying to do your best to to get, a good design out there that works that makes that sufficient that works for people that works for all of the users involved.

One more question for you, what did you learn about the process that you think that surprised you cause you said you were learning about the process as well? The fact that you were doing this as a process I know that wasn’t the main aim, but you said there were some learnings from that. I just wanted to go back to that and and see what you meant by that.

[22:23] Stéphanie

They were a lot, because yeah, the way I had been working until that project was very much like, OK, we talked to the user, usually from an interview you have maybe 5 insights from that interview and you put that on Post-its and we tell them back to the team and you move on but here, each interview, I don’t know how many insights we had per hour of interview. Probably something like 20–30, so multiply that by 15 and I mean we had so much and Angela really wanted to keep everything first to avoid adding any bias directly by selecting what we felt was important, so that was so different. Initially I really felt like OK, I’ll go along with it, but it feels crazy to me. But now that we’ve done that, I realise it was actually so rich what we got out of it, so I don’t think it’s something I can do on every project, yeah, but it’s actually you get so much more from that.

[23:29] Lisa

You do, yes you do, yeah.

[23:31] Serena

Our users were other designers and I mean that’s very unique. Like as a designer to interview designers that definitely put some pressure on you. I can tell you it’s like you know that the person that sits in front of you knows exactly what you do and what you should do. They’re doing it as their day to day job, so I think it was really interesting. I think for both of our sides, for us as researchers and designers to have designers as our users to engage with and I guess for them I would believe it was interesting to finally be a participant and not sitting on the other side of the table, but being the one being interviewed, I think that was an interesting relationship because I mean we are one community we maybe don’t know each other personally, but we have automatically some sort of relationship to each other because we know we both are practitioners. We both are part of a community and I think that’s certainly shaped how you engage in how you plan and approach this project and how the process look like.

Not everything that we had planned worked out. I remember that at one time I thought I had this amazing idea of let’s do a template for workshops and just anyone can use it and run their own workshops. So if designed, kind of like a package for a workshop with some introduction and activities that they can use and edit the insights.Unfortunately it turned out that no one picked it up!

So I think that was something where I thought: oh my goodness, the community just gonna run their own workshops and then I had to realise, no, that’s it’s not that easy. Or you know, like there was more required than just putting out some slides for us to use.

So I think, as we said before, it was a space for us to experiment to try out which kind of methods were working ,which not, so we’ve run, for example, a workshop with the community which was really great. So, but we had to facilitate it. It was over 2 hours of flying with different activities and so on, so I think. It’s it’s 2 things for me, it’s on the first of all the first time having designers as users and thinking about what that means and how this maybe. Also, yeah, changes how you approach project. And then I guess the second thing, yeah, as with every project, not every method works for everyone. And I think we as designers know that there’s not one standard approach to how to do a project or how to solve a problem. We always need to be flexible and adjust whatever we are doing to the needs. And in this case it it was the needs of the community of our practitioners.

[26:16] Lisa

Then my next question is, will you publish the results in an academic setting? Will they be in a journal somewhere? Do you think or?

[26:23] Serena

So we would love to. So if someone is listening to this right now and they think , we have have a spot for you, that would be great. So, So what we’ve done and actually we’ve not. I mentioned it, but I think that was one of the most interesting things for me, for myself. So we started publishing insights quite early, so we’ve used medium to write articles. Shared our Google Docs. We shared our Miro boards, but we realised that it might not be accessible and inclusive to everyone. So Stéphanie came up with this great idea to say let’s build the website and use the website as a medium to talk about insights and to share insights. So that was certainly for me, a new format to share raw data and research insights, but currently we are working on a kind of final report so basically bringing everything together from the last two years into one final report to read that will be quite heavily in terms of pages. And maybe I would recommend rather read the medium articles, so use the website but I guess first it’s kind of like one way of trying to make sure we’ve documented everything what we’ve done and some people have access to it, but unfortunately there’s not any official paper yet to publishing our work.

[27:49] Lisa

And that website is practitioner stories. It’s called practitioner stories?

[27:53] Stéphanie

Yeah, well we will give you a link as well for that. Yeah yeah because it’s not, it’s something that … so I used to be a software developer but I wanted to do something very simple where Angela, Serena and Vinishree could potentially edit themselves, so I’ve used something called GitHub pages. It was just to have another potential place for people to go and see depending on their ability. What they prefer or not? Because we’ve done that as a user research, so everything was anonymised. And I know there’s a few interviews like it would have been great if we could kept the recording if the person had been happy to share it as just like a podcast or a discussion, because some of these stories were really really interesting, but we had done that with the premise that it was going to be anonymised. So the next step could be doing something similar, but this time with people who are OK to put them to put that live and everyone could listen to the person telling that story because that’s it was the practitioner stories, the only downside is that probably people will be less inclined to share anything that they don’t think they’ve done well.So there’s there’s pros and cons to that.

[29:14] Serena

And I think there’s also something to think about, who might be you know, like a great target group in future for practitioner stories, one thing that we realised is that especially young people, especially graduates and students, are very interested in that. And I’ve just recently had a chance to also share practitioner stories at the university, and I think it’s just because when you go the traditional path like my path, so going through education and learning about design and everything, I think there’s always the danger that people feel like maybe they are in a bubble and they don’t really know what a real working life actually looks like at least yeah, something that helps, especially young practitioners to think about, how do people do service design? what are their stories? what might happen? what kind of service designer can I be or designer in general and take that almost as an inspiration to just think about the their own career and the next steps?

[30:20] Lisa

Well, thank you both for joining me today. This is a really interesting topic. We’ll be sure to share the links in the show notes as well as to your LinkedIn profiles, so thank you very much for joining us Stéphanie and Serena.

[30:33] Stéphanie

It was great.

[30:33] Serena

Thank you so much.

[30:34] Stéphanie

It was a pleasure to talk about it. Yeah, thank you for having us.

[30:36] Lisa

Oh I just. Oh, it’s lovely. Lovely meeting you and this this sounds like a really interesting topic. If you have any questions about service design or if you would like to send us any questions you may have, you can email us at UX soup at Strategy Analytics.

The show notes can be found on our podcast website, uxhyphensoup.com and there you can find links to our research as well as connect with each of us on LinkedIn.

UX Soup is sponsored as always by Strategy Analytics. Check out the latest user focused insights by visiting strategyanalytics.com. Thanks for joining us.

Bye for now.

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Practitioner stories

We are collecting Practitioner stories of Service Design in the Scottish public and third sectors