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The designer: master of many roles

Posted by: Fjord | Date added: Thu 24 Nov 2011

“As designers, we are constantly immersing ourselves in different worlds and professions, and get to learn about the most interesting things." (Us and Them Studios, 2011)

In digital service design, we can take this one step further, and say that not only are we constantly learning about different professions as part of our roles, but we are also impacting on those professions with the services we create.

As digital service design matures, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is an area that calls for a broader set of skills and knowledge than those directly related to the execution of design. Not only do we design services for our clients that will enable them to differentiate and offer their customers real value, but we also challenge business models and marketing norms.

Our UX concepts often require us to help our clients to breakthrough their long-held preconceptions and be willing to embrace a more unfamiliar future. In order to do this, we need a strong understanding of how content, experience and brand interject. Additionally, it is essential that we have strong storytelling skills to ensure buy-in from our clients and their customers.

As a result we designers find ourselves increasingly grappling with situations that are not traditionally associated with the role of the designer. At the extreme end, what we design can mean the difference between success or failure for our clients, especially if they are a start up. This means that we need to be able to think about our design in terms of how success can be measured in a business context as well as from a user's perspective – what is the positive impact the service we are designing will have on their lives?

We are also creative technologists, who need to be able to ensure the successful implementation of our designs, by asking the right technical questions throughout the design process. Equally, we need to be able to imagine the future and break down our own preconceptions, in a world where smart objects are already becoming ubiquitous; we need to think about what it means to design for the invisible.

For building and growing a team in a digital service design agency this means that we need to embrace other varied and convoluted paths to design, whether via business consultancy, journalism or product design – these routes are as valuable as those more direct. It also means that tangential skills and interests are of increasing importance.

At Fjord we recognised a need for specialists who can add deep levels of expertise in some of the areas of service design that we found ourselves increasingly grappling with; expanding our repertoire to include business, marketing and branding skills. Our core experience design team still places interaction and visual design at the heart of everything it does with research and technology both running through the middle. But increasingly, these distinctions also become blurred.

The story of the interaction design concept and IA, is meaningless without an understanding of how the visual design will make sense of functionality, hierarchy and value for money. Equally, experience of the brand and how the success of the design will be measured in business terms, cannot be untangled from the design process.

As a result, our skills become broader, and the places we look to for inspiration also become more varied. Naturally, we read blogs, keep up to date with what is happening in the world of fashion, art, healthcare, banking and more. We keep up to date with overall trends, economic factors, new technologies and shifts in opinion, but we also need to find a way to share all our varied interests which is where extracurricular activities play a part.

In an extremely busy design studio, time is in scarce supply, so any non-project based activity needs careful planning and flexibility. In essence what we create is a framework for idea exchange. A weekly meeting gives us the opportunity to invite guests from the design world and beyond to give us their insight into what is going on in the market. We also use it as an opportunity for us to reflect on the work we have recently delivered and any learnings we may have gained from that. These weekly sessions are planned in order to encourage variety and give everyone the chance to take to the stage and most importantly they are hosted on a rotating 'come dine with me' style basis, so the refreshments are always top notch!

On a more micro level, we encourage those with deeper specific skill sets such as those in business design, research, interaction or visual to host skill share sessions. These ad hoc sessions can be incredibly valuable especially if they involve smaller groups with the opportunity for discussion.

An additional source of inspiration comes from the internship programme that we run. By casting the net wide, we have the opportunity to hire interns with varied skill ranges, which they then pass on via project work and presentations. This has a double benefit, it helps to keep us fresh and on our toes and introduces us to varied fresh talent for our team.

Offering more traditional training and attending relevant events also has an obvious place, but sometimes the more leftfield of these can be most effective. A good example of this came earlier in the year when we provided a weekend of Arduino programming training and most of the team willingly gave up their weekends to attend. More recently, one of our senior designers ran processing workshops, with many of the team finding a way to attend and high demand afterwards for a follow up.

Next year, I hope to continue pushing the more lateral approach, with a session in fashion design, a great design studio bake off, regular creative detoxes (care of D&AD) and sessions on storytelling.

All of these sessions help to bring us closer together as a team, provide an outlet for creativity beyond everyday demands and most importantly keep our horizons well and truly open. If 2012 ends up being the year it promises to be, we are going to need it!

Image - © HP_Photo -

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