Unlocking the Secrets of Service Design: My Journey as an Intern at Harmonic Design

November 16, 2023

By: Diana Nguyen

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to intern at Harmonic Design and work with a small team of service designers on a client project. I had already spent two years in graduate school for design, and surprisingly, this was my first time deep-diving into service design specifically. Throughout my internship experience, I had a few aha experiences going from academic to practice; here are a few of my biggest learnings.

Siloed ways of working can be combatted through a service design approach.

Before my internship, I understood service design as an approach to working across silos. Whereas some designers are focused on a single part of the design process, service designers take a bird’s eye approach to a problem. Service design methods, such as journey maps and service blueprints, help unify stakeholders around a shared understanding of what is happening from the beginning to the end of a service. A journey approach ensures that we listen to the perspectives of every stakeholder, customer, and employee – and not just the loudest voices in the room. This approach also helps us understand the impact of our solutions and whether or not they are addressing the root cause of a problem. 

Unlock service design’s intangible essence with metaphors.

In one of my earliest conversations with Harmonic’s CEO, Patrick Quattlebaum, I was struck by the number of times metaphors came up. Granted, he has a bachelor’s degree in English… it was interesting how easily he could break down complex concepts using various metaphors. From that moment onward, I began noticing how prevalent metaphors were across the design field. It makes sense why – metaphors help make the strange familiar. By connecting service design to something we already know of, the concept of service design is deconstructed and demystified. In case you were wondering, my favorite metaphor to describe service designers is that we are similar to city planners. Our job is not to build the buildings. Instead, we figure out how these buildings should fit within a city’s existing infrastructure. We think about how all the various pieces of a city can be seamlessly integrated. As such, metaphors can be powerful tools for discussing our work and should be continuously iterated on, depending on the audience we’re interacting with.

Design tools are not the end goal; they’re just a starting point for conversation.

In design school, design methods are taught in a way that feels sacred. During my two-and-a-half years of graduate design education, I have been inundated with many design tools. Given the limited amount of time students have in school, our exploration of design tools is limited to what the tools are, why to use them, and how to put them into practice. It wasn’t until I worked at Harmonic that I realized these tools are simply starting points for exploration. In fact, before we pick what design methods to use, we should actually be asking ourselves: 

  • What point am I in the design process? 
  • Who would be participating in this activity?
  • How complex is this project?
  • Are we working on a new or existing service?
  • How much time do we have for this activity? 
  • What goals do I want to achieve with this method? 
  • What type of information do I need to move to the next phase of work?

These questions will help us identify the right tools to use at the right time, resulting in better outcomes and clarity around the direction to move into next. Over time, this practice will also help us build the sensibility to pick and apply design methods.

To understand the impact of our work, designers must incorporate measurement into our process.

A service design approach includes the practice of revisiting our journey maps to understand whether or not the experiences we build are working as intended. To do this, we need to be familiar with the high-level objectives of the organization and how they ladder down to the services we work on. Aligning with departmental and organizational metrics improves the sustainability of our efforts and ensures that there are internal stakeholders who can own the experience moving forward. A tip I learned from a Harmonica: identify the moments in a service journey that are important to measure and include the metric directly into your service blueprint. This helps all internal and external stakeholders understand what activities feed into each measurement activity. If an organization starts with a journey approach, the value of service design can also be demonstrated by qualitative data, such as anecdotes on people’s reactions and aha moments to service design. By intentionally gathering this information, we can build a stronger case for the importance of a service design approach.

As I begin to wrap up my graduate studies, I can’t help but think how serendipitous it was for me to intern at Harmonic this past summer. My internship experience not only helped me answer my questions about service design but also helped me process many of the insights I had about design generally. As I figure out my next steps, I’m excited to take these new learnings into the field.

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