5 x 5 - Taking Issue, Traci Thomas

Interview with Traci Thomas, Senior Strategic Designer at MAYA, a BCG Company

by Thomas Brandenburg

We need to design for better public safety and policing, and enabling law enforcement to effectively communicate and have better interactions with citizens. It’s about designing for the intangible and a service design approach can help.

1.What kind of hybrid communication tools have you seen or been asked to create? For instance, service blueprints that show journey stages, or journey maps that show blueprint visualizations. Do you think mixing different tools into one visualization is a good idea?

There’s a running joke amongst my peers that I’ve become the queen of customer journey maps. You can usually find me mapping a user journey on paper, the whiteboard, and on screen. The journey maps I work on are invariably a hybrid of different tools such as the 5E framework, POEMS, service blueprint, etc. For me, it all comes down to the story you want to tell and visually illustrate. There isn’t one right way of doing them. I find that combining the best elements from different tools can yield a compelling, visual story. Sometimes that story can become complex with many elements, and you run of the risk of creating a lot of visual noise. It’s a tricky balance to expose the complexity of a current state journey so that clients can appreciate the challenges at hand, but yet make it easy and clear to understand.

2. Do you think Design Thinking has gotten more traction in the business world than Service Design? If so, why?

I’ve had a twisty path to design. I started my career in financial services at Fidelity Investments doing institutional marketing. In 2007, I decided to pursue to design and in 2008, I started the design program at the Institute of Design in Chicago. At that time, Design Thinking was a foreign concept to many. But that has clearly evolved. Today, traditional business schools now incorporate design thinking courses in their curriculum. Organizations are seeing that design literacy creates business value and they’ve begun to infuse design thinking into their culture by creating in-house capabilities or acquiring smaller design firms. So, yes, design thinking has evolved and has grown in popularity.

Design thinking feeds into service design, but the service design approach is much more nuanced. Because of the systemic nature of services—coordinating processes, people, place, interactions, and information—there’s a broader range of factors to consider. Businesses are realizing that people value great experiences over things. They might not be using the term Service Design, but they are asking for it.

3. Where is service design not happening? Why?

Service design is not happening in the public sector — at least it hasn’t taken hold in the U.S. One sector that urgently needs service design is law enforcement. It has sadly become increasingly commonplace to read about police brutality in headline news, which is typically geared towards people of color. Body cameras and mobile apps are just a few solutions used to fight back against police violence.  While these “touchpoints” are useful to hold parties accountable and help victims seek justice, the long-term solution goes beyond digitally mediated tools. What’s fundamentally needed is a change in police behaviors and policies. We need to design for better public safety and policing, and enabling law enforcement to effectively communicate and have better interactions with citizens. It’s about designing for the intangible and a service design approach can help.

4. Given the attention to topics of demographic diversity and a culture of inclusion in design, do you think enough is being done, especially regarding the field of service design?

As a person of color, I’m constantly thinking about diversity and inclusion in my role as a service designer, particularly when I’m planning for research. There are challenges in recruiting a culturally diverse set of participants. Some groups, like African Americans, might be reticent to participate in research because of the dark history involving them in clinical trials. It’s important to understand why these hurdles exist and think about ways to make participation seem less risky and suspicious. I’m also concerned about the bias that it could potentially introduce when we don’t widen the aperture of people we talk to.

I believe good design is democratic and should involve a broad range of people and communicate to a diverse audience. We also need to have more diversity in design teams. As designers, we ensure that users are prioritized in the solutions we design. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t come to the table without our own internal biases. Having a diverse team can help to mitigate those biases and check them at the door.

5. Thinking about the “dark front stage” of service design, created to trick and manipulate the customer—do you think this is a creeping trend for service design in the same way dark patterns have been for UX?

In service design, we are inherently asking people to change their behaviors when a new service is introduced or an existing one is improved. But we must keep our eyes peeled for the unintended consequences that our designs can reap. If they are enabling negative behaviors, we need to pull back and adjust accordingly. Changing one’s behavior is not easy. There are behavioral economic principles that we, as designers, can help users embrace change. So instead of trickery or manipulation, which sound dubious and deceitful, it should be about motivating and encouraging users to accept a new thing or future state.

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