Megan Miller

Maker

Making the Intangible Visible

One of the superpowers that designers have is the ability to make the intangible visible. This can be ideas, concepts, mental models, systems, data, processes, or possibilities. Many people are visual, but have no ability to make things visible. This is where designers play an important part in creating alignment through common understanding.

Service experience journey diagram

One of the biggest challenges I have faced in bringing service design to my organization is how to communicate core service design concepts to my colleagues. I decided to leverage my drawing superpowers to try to answer the question, "What is a service experience?" See the full post here.

We have many tools at our disposal: diagrams, sketches, storyboarding, drawing, modelling, simulation, visualization. In essence, these are communication tools—translation tools—that take a messy, complex reality and make it simple, understandable, clear, and compelling.

Design process diagram

When I was working with Stanford Web Services, I sought to align the team around the design and development process that we evolved over time. In documenting our process, we were able to refine it and develop as a team.

Evidencing

In service design, there is the concept of "evidencing" which focuses on creating visual evidence of the intangible aspects of services. In making visual evidence, you create shared understanding and a point of reference from which to launch conversation.

Diagram of service ecosystem

In order to create a more complete understanding of the Jumpstart website service, I worked with the team at Stanford Web Services to document and diagram the service ecosystem. This diagram captures the complexity of the ecosystem, showing all touchpoints and interactions that take place through the service lifecycle. This diagram helped the team communicate about product development and service improvements.

Part of the challenge of creating evidence is in deciding what to show, and what to leave out. Evidence must tell a story, and help guide the right conversations. Whether the goal is to identify improvement opportunities, set strategic direction, or inspire empathy, we must craft our artifacts to support the end goals.

Graphic of service metrics

Sometimes the goal is to illustrate what the future might hold. This image—meant to illustrate the possibilities of having service metrics tied to all parts of the service experience—is one of a series of conceptual images I have used to communicate my vision for service design.

The importance of making tangible, visual artifacts is great when working on strategic design or providing design leadership, though there is no set checklist of deliverables as there would be for a UX or visual design project. You have to be the one to identify when a visual artifact is needed, and what purpose it will serve in the work you are doing, and you have to be the one to make space for that artifact to have influence. This has as much to do with the stakeholders you are working with and the culture of the organization as it does with the subject matter of the work itself.

Craft and Fidelity

Lastly, I want to call out the importance of craft, and the importance of knowing when to create low vs. high fidelity. Craft matters in that you need the skills to communicate the right messages to the right audiences at the right times. Depending on the audience or on the situation, you will need a varying degree of fidelity and craft. A designer must be able to make the call when a whiteboard sketch will do (most of the time), and when you need to dedicate yourself to crafting something elegant and beautiful to match the weight and circumstance of its purpose.

Since I have transitioned away from visual, web, and UX design, I have found that less and less do I need to create polished deliverables, and instead, the process of cocreating the deliverables with my stakeholders matters more and more. It's the process not the end product that matters.

Co-created scenario map

Sometimes, the end result is the process itself. For this workshop, I facilitated teams in creating scenario maps of their high-priority scenarios. By providing a template and guiding them through the process we were able to identify many areas of inefficiency and service breakdown, without creating a polished map deliverable. Identifying areas of improvement was more important than having something high fidelity.