Summer Internship Reflections and Advice

September 24, 2020

Coauthors: Berri Berto and Chris Costes, 2020 Summer Service Design Interns

Before we begin, we are:

This summer, we had the opportunity to work with Harmonic Design and their clients as service design interns. The experience, in a word, was extraordinary. Both of us got able to work alongside some of the industry’s top designers and grow rapidly in our knowledge and practice. To give a better picture of our summer, we’ve shared our biggest challenges, our most important takeaways, and some advice for future interns. The answers to these questions exist in a written summary below and in a two-part recorded interview below. Our hope is to share our experience in multiple formats and to encourage anyone interested in service design to consider working with Harmonic Design.

Biggest Challenges

Over our time at Harmonic, we both picked up new skills, developed our design knowledge, and shared an amazing learning experience. However, there were also some challenges: 

Berri:

  • One of the biggest challenges I faced was jumping straight into a new corporate environment in an industry that I had never had exposure to working in. I found myself having to adjust quickly to how my client functioned, their culture, and industry language (so many acronyms). I found that there was not just a need for me to understand their company better, but also gaps that needed to be bridged for them to understand our work. It was our job to show them the value of our design process and bring them in so that they could understand our approach and the potential impact it can have when crafting their customers’ experiences. Creating this mutual understanding with my client ultimately was a growing experience for me to learn how to better explain my design work and understand a corporate company’s business structure.

Chris

  • Some of my biggest challenges were dealing with the environment of COVID 19. This meant I was working from offsite with a new team and learning new methods of design without the benefit of being there in person. I’m someone that uses their hands to talk and gets a lot from people’s body language, but tools like Zoom tend to limit these communication methods. To adjust for this, I learned to be much clearer and more intentional with my explanations and conversations. I also got lots of support from the Harmonic team who shared techniques for listening, speaking, and using visual tools to go along with any explanation. This practice helped bridge any communication gaps with my team and most importantly with clients during workshops. 

Important Takeaways (How it shaped us)

As interns, we took full advantage of being able to work with a multidisciplinary team like Harmonic. The summer was filled with valuable experiences, but some pivotal realizations and lessons stand-out. 

Berri:

  • I learned the power of looking at the complexity of a service experience at different levels. I had the opportunity in my project to help define the high-level fundamentals of the experience like creating experience principles and aligning the key stakeholders on key business decisions but also got to zoom in and look at the minute details of the experience like individual interactions and touchpoints. Constantly we shifted the zoom that we looked at the experience in order to see how each decision affected the overall experience at different levels. We also shifted the lens in which we looked at the experience based on different stakeholders, through the lens of the customer and the business which allowed us to keep feasibility as a priority throughout. I have to give a shout out to service blueprinting, my best friend this summer, that gave us a visual tool for breaking down the complexity of an experience and understanding the frontstage and backstage aspects. Overall it taught me what it takes to craft a holistic service experience that considers the whole ecosystem around the service.

Chris: 

  • I didn’t realize how powerful storytelling could be for service design. Even with my background in writing, to learn the role of narrative, and to see it applied with such effectiveness was a surprise and delight. My team and I created multiple narratives through tools like blueprinting sessions, ecosystems maps, and other design artifacts from workshops, processes that will shape how I practice and communicate design for years to come. The stories we generated allowed huge amounts of information and complexity to be distilled while remaining grounded in the customer experience. By consuming the story of a service moment to moment, we were also able to highlight multiple touchpoints and the role of time for the service. While I expected the process to be highlighted, I learned that feelings and emotions can play an even more important role. Going beyond the function and form brought the conversation back to the customers and the relationships that mattered most for the interaction network. With services, there are so many different levels and perspectives to consider, but visualizing and solidifying the experience through stories proved one of the most effective methods to unify a client’s understanding. 

Advice to Incoming Interns

For those who follow us, you’re all set, Harmonic is a perfect place to develop as a designer! However, we each also wanted to give a little advice that might make the experience even better. 

Berri:

  • Ask a lot of questions. Harmonic wants you to gain all that you can from this experience and are constantly willing to help teach you. Harmonic wants you to deeply understand every tool and method that you are using not just so you can do your job for Harmonic but so that you can grow your skill and understanding of service design. Along the same lines, I would encourage you to come just as you are. Never be afraid to share what you know or don’t know. Harmonic is a place full of super unique designers who embrace each other and will embrace you and the value you can bring to the team.

Chris:

  • Always be honest and acknowledge what you know you don’t know. The whole team at Harmonic is incredibly talented and is super happy to share what they know, taking the time to explain whatever it is you’re trying to understand or learn. Along with that same point, you can’t learn everything. It will be important to remain intentional about where you want to grow and to share that goal with the whole Harmonic team. You’ll find that they’re very good at making sure you have exactly the right opportunities set in front of you once they know you want to accomplish something.

Conclusion

Beyond the challenges, the take-aways, and advice, perhaps the best thing to share about Harmonic is the incredible people you’ll meet. At Harmonic, you’ll work with people who have a huge variety of professional and personal backgrounds, which means every day is a new learning opportunity and each week is a crash-course in different ways to practice or think about design. This variety combined with genuine care for each other makes for an environment filled with great teachers, strong mentors, and more than anything dynamic friends. With design’s many paths and directions, sometimes the best experience is one that offers a foundational root. As we both continue in the service design industry, our time at Harmonic has given us just that, a foundation to build confidently from. 

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