by Thomas Brandenburg
I try not to get too attached to anything because this work is inherently collaborative and iterative, so getting something out of my head and onto paper is important. If you lock into your own ideas too strongly then you don’t give other people the opportunity to build on them and make them better.
1. What issue related to service design thought leadership is most interesting to you?
I am most passionate about healthcare. There are so many compelling problems in both the healthcare system and in the way people experience healthcare. You could do healthcare work for your whole career and never run out of new areas to explore or things to learn. And there is a huge opportunity to impact a lot of people by addressing complex systems like billing transparency and access to preventative care.
2. How would you describe the evolution of your career from service design to design researcher? What skills do you leverage from your previous life as a service designer to your current role as a design researcher?
I was actually already conducting user-centered research as part of my role as a service designer, in addition to the design work involved in building out a system and communicating the work to our stakeholders. Switching to design research has allowed me to focus on understanding user needs and translating them to designers to make sure we are creating something that meets those needs. But our teams stay involved in the whole process, meaning the designers come into the field to help with research and I play a supporting role in the design process. The service design background definitely comes in handy when I need to translate between the two disciplines.
3. What skill(s) should a budding service designer have in their back pocket?
The ability to look at a problem and a design at different levels is key. Knowing how to see the big picture and how everything fits together but also being able to zoom in to make sure the details are fitting that picture. It’s a tricky balance.
4. How would you describe your work style?
I tend to move really quickly and try to work through a problem by trying things, prototyping in whatever medium makes most sense, like sketching an idea, or laying out a process in post-it notes. Then I talk through it with the team and pressure-test and build on it. I try not to get too attached to anything because this work is inherently collaborative and iterative, so getting something out of my head and onto paper is important. If you lock into your own ideas too strongly then you don’t give other people the opportunity to build on them and make them better. But that’s definitely something that can be challenging and I have to remind myself to step back, reassess, and pull in other people.
5. What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
“You have to know the rules to break the rules.” One of my design professors emphasized design as a technical skill with a process, guiding theory, and principles. She knew there are times to break the rules but she wanted to make sure we do that intentionally, not because we are oblivious. I try to keep that in mind both as a way to ground my work in a defined practice and to give myself permission to deviate when appropriate.
Bonus question—What is your best ninja skill?
I can open a bottle of champagne with a sword...but in terms of design, I am also very good at (compulsively) ragging type. It’s a leftover skill from my graphic design days.
Check out other 5 x 5s at the SDN US National Conference Blog