Three things I learnt at the RCA

In July, the day after I finished my MA, I wrote this.

‘I graduated from the Royal College of Art yesterday. No better time to reflect what I have learnt over these last two years. There are many things I’ve learnt, but the three below I think are the most important.

RCA graduation day 2015 ~ photo by Charlyne

1. Drop the ego

Humble design is the way forward. Many designers, myself included, have had over inflated egos. In the past, the designer’s ego has been an asset — helping drive careers in a fashion like industry that is fuelled by publicity and celebrity. Today I see being a designer with an ego is a barrier — stopping my profession and me making a difference in education, health, finance, government, social change and the humanising of technology. Designers with their creativity, ability to make things and be hands-on can contribute much more. Yet to do so, I, we, have to be humble. Make it easier for others to work with us, by saying we don’t know everything, by ourselves we don’t have the answers, but are keen to work with others, who can do things we can’t.

2. Make stuff

Just strategy is not useful. Designers need to make services, not just design them. I’ve worked on projects these last two years, where all we made was a presentation and/or a report. The project partner, for example an accountancy firm or NHS trust, would enthusiastically feedback on a presentation, but never follow up on the “good work”. The report would retire to a shelf; collect dust, never to be read. With the gambling clinic it had to be different. Having met so many people, whose lives have been damaged by gambling, how could I just design a better service, the clinic team could not make happen? Who would that help? So I started prototyping my designs and showing them to people to try. The clinic managers got excited. They invited their bosses to come in and try the prototypes. People began saying things like “yes”, “lets makes this a reality” and “what do you need from us, to help us make this happen?” Now after four months of doing cycles of prototyping, user testing, coding, there is now a alpha asking-for-help service soon to go live. The outcome of which being hundreds, maybe even thousands more people affected by problem gambling, asking for help when they need it most.

3. Persuade people

Only part of service design is actually designing services. Much more of it feels like convincing people to let you design services. I have stopped thinking a brief tells you what people want or are willing to change. People like the idea of their services being better; more user-centred; easier to deliver. However the prospect of actually doing this many seem to find too uncomfortable. Proposals for better services often are met with people saying ‘We won’t do it’, ‘we don’t need to do it’ and ‘we’re not able to do it’. Therefore as a service designer I need to be in a position to be able to ask people “why not?’ Prove ‘look, we do need to do it.’ Show ‘we’ve tried it — it is possible, we can do it.’ Doing this appears to help unblock what stops better services being made.

Massive thank you to everyone at the RCA, the staff, my tutors, my classmates ~ I’ve learnt loads, while having a blast.’

Lead designer at the Red Cross, previously @projectsbyif, @gdsteam. Fairness fan

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