How do I become a customer experience or service designer? Is there a particular path I should take? How transferable are my current skills? We get asked these questions a lot so have put together some tips for people wanting to work in this space.
In a nutshell:
- Hone your skills. Understand the hard and soft skills that employers are looking for. Map out a plan for building knowledge and practical experience in areas that are new to you. Read, study, do a range of internships. Find a mentor (or mentors), actively seek feedback, and keep practising.
- Explore. Be curious and explore the problems that you’re passionate about solving. Participate in public events and chat with a range of people.
- Clear pitch. When contacting employers, keep it short and sweet. Be clear about the position you’re seeking – intern, entry, mid, senior? Being honest about your strengths and gaps shows that you are humble and self aware, which is a good thing.
More on these points below.
Skills we look for
The skills we look for vary depending on your level of responsibility; however, there are some fundamental hard and soft skills needed across all levels. These include:
- Knowledge of the design process. The design process as we use it is a series of stages with divergent and convergent steps (looking wide, narrowing in) which help us to understand a problem space (looking wide) and then narrow down on an area of focus (problem statement) before exploring opportunities (wide again) and then iterating on these solutions to arrive at a final solution (or solutions). Read up on this here – particularly the part on the “Double Diamond”.
- Understanding human behaviour. Do you have empathy for people? Can you understand human behaviour and motivations? Read up on behavioural psychology and behavioural economics. Understand why people make the decisions that they do.
- Qualitative research. Can you conduct interviews with customers? You need to understand things like ‘natural inquiry interviewing’ techniques which come from ethnography. You need to be able to understand how to ask open questions which elicit deeper understanding of people’s needs and behaviours. Steve Portigal’s podcasts are an excellent source of knowledge into this.
- Analysis & Synthesis skills. Can you look at a data set and make sense of what you see? Can you bridge the gap between what you see and hear (findings) to gaining insights that describe the deeper meaning behind people’s behaviour? This is all about pattern recognition and the ability to combine what you see with what you know. Read up on this here.
- Visualisation. Can you make a journey map? Can you visualise a story of a customer? Can you visually articulate the steps that someone goes through in an experience, identify the pain points, highlight areas of opportunity? Google ‘customer journey maps’ and have a look at www.custellence.com and www.smaply.com.
- Curiosity. Very important. Do you have an endless fascination with why things are the way they are? Do you want to get down to the bottom of things? Do you read lots and try to learn about new things? What are you passionate about?
- Resilience. Do you have the ability to keep pushing through when things just don’t seem to be working? Do you keep going? How do you handle a quick pace, deadlines, and change?
- Comfort with ambiguity. At many times in the process of designing the answer will not be clear. You have to be comfortable with this ambiguity. The answer will reveal itself, but it won’t be clear from the start (and if it is then you’ve probably not looked hard enough at the problem space).
Have a look at our skills matrix as well, it provides more information about what we expect at different levels. We use this tool when hiring and developing staff at Meld Studios.
It is not essential to have a formal design qualification; however, structured study does help you to understand the core philosophy and process of using design as a problem-solving tool. Our superstar designers tend to be those who have studied or practised design in some way before.
There are lots of great courses and resources out there. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
These books provide a good overview:
- Exposing the Magic of Design – Jon Kolko
- Service Design – Andy Polaine and co
- Design at your service – Xenia Viladas
- A Pattern Language – Christopher Alexander
If you’re in Melbourne, RMIT offers a Master of Design Futures program. Disclaimer: Jeremy helped to create this course before joining the our team.
We also offer a range of workshops and short courses that provide insight into design as we use it.
Public events are a great way to gain practical experience and build contacts. Look out for events that include the word ‘jam’ or ‘hack’. Global Sustainability Jam, Cyclehack, and GovHack are a few examples. Also sign up to this servicedesign.net.au.
If you know the theory and want to dig deeper, these sites are good for learning about different methods and tools:
Want to learn more?
Come to one of our Open House nights and chat with us about all things design.
Shout out: Thank you to my fellow Meldsters, especially Kimberley and Sabina, for much of the advice shared in this post.