Hey Elizabeth, can you tell me what the fuck this Service Design thing is?

I could see the need for service design even before I knew what it was. At that time, I had a PhD in Sociology and significant research experience, but I was struggling to see the real value in straightjacket research. Then, I noticed the disconnect between the service user and the provider. I knew the tools of research, used in a practical way, would guide enquiry to understand this gap. I understood that knowledge about culture and group behaviour would also support this enquiry. So, when I heard about service design, I instantly knew that the union between analytical thinking, research skills at an evolved level, problem solving and a knowledge of culture, would allow me to add to the field and engage in significant challenges in a proactive, insightful way. 

I became a service designer, with a PhD in sociology. Quite early on however, the blend of sociology and service design allowed me identify the absence of emotional intelligence in the field. I realised for service design to have greatest impact, emotional intelligence that could reveal invisible user motivations and latent needs, was essential. I became weary of a service design attitude that de-prioritised the emotional element, reflective practises, and deep enquiry in the race to deliver.

It is this that best describes what I do. I bring emotional intelligence to the page, overlaying every kind of visual map with it to make visible the elements that indeed shape our experience. I make visible the latent thinking, feelings and emotions of the customer, as this is where sustainability lies. I allow time for thinking. And processing. I iterate and follow instincts. This is where the innovation happens.

Sprinting to the end and producing amazing visuals or documents is, as I have learned, never the answer. Rather it’s the tools that capture the human experience and chart the emotional intelligence behind our actions, the feelings and beliefs underneath the surface. For me, this work is about visualising the reality of the lived experience, forgetting how optimal the visual or theory behind the concept is.

Service design is about ensuring a service meets the needs of the user. Getting to the heart of the motivations driving choice is imperative. 

An answer by Elizabeth Meehan

Wherever the next project is..
Service Designer, Sociologist 

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