Within Meld we talk a lot about the value of clients and their colleagues seeing themselves in the change. Yes, what we design has to be a reflection of the people it is designed for, their needs and desires, but the change needed to deliver that needs more than the promise of a good customer experience.
Seeing yourself is more than a reflection. We can all tell the difference between a mirror and a real, living, breathing ‘me’. To see yourself, beyond your reflection, is to see your fingerprints. Seeing what you’ve left behind. What you’ve created.
Being a designer and having your client or colleagues recognise, in ‘your’ design work; an idea they had, a turn of phrase they used or a certain diagram sketched by them is an immensely powerful tool for helping change get over the line. It can be the difference between your project going ahead – having real, lasting change – or dying a slow death of bureaucracy in a drawer somewhere.
How? We design with our clients. We don’t design for our clients.
Co-design is the minimum. It’s an activity we use because we don’t have the answers and it’s also for doing exactly this. But there is more you can do. Mostly, I encourage in every interaction to relentlessly look out for signs and symbols unconsciously produced by the people for whom your work means change (in our case; most people in the organisation) and file it for later use.
One easy thing to start doing is to make note of the terminology people use for certain things. It’s probably different to what you use. Speak their language back to them. As unconscious as their signals, their acceptance will be too. I’ll leave some more examples below.
We’re lucky at Meld, often the work we do has a huge impact. Part of which is the impact that it has on people’s working lives. The design of the service is relatively easy compared to getting the organisation to adapt. It requires one of the most challenging organisational feats. Change. And it comes long after we’ve left the building. The first design project I worked on that required real change took two years to see the light of day. It was completely unrecognisable.
To leave behind traces of the people in the organisation we’ve worked with in our design, is to leave behind a breadcrumb trail of acceptance. A person seeing themselves in a change will produce a preacher, a fighter, or an easy decision. Change will almost always face a challenger. Make sure to leave behind champions who are willing to take on the hard part of what we do.
Here are some other points to use if you need your clients or colleagues to see themselves in the change your design work produces:
- Make a lot of design decisions with the people who will make decisions later on.
- Create a multiplicity of moments for a multiplicity of inputs.
- Listen and externalise people’s thoughts back to them.
- Take notes. All the time. Write verbatim if you can. Use these later.
- Constantly ask to involve more and more senior stakeholders.
- Coach people through design, rather than facilitate or lead.
- Design in and around and for culture.
- Present your ‘work-so-far’ back to as many people and as often as possible.