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Academy Xi Blog

Community Spotlight: Gowri Penkar

By Academy Xi

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Senior Service Designer and Mentor, Gowri discusses the power of mentoring and shares how determination and community have shaped her 20 year career.

Hi Gowri, tell us a little about yourself and your professional background.

I’m a Senior Service Designer at Telstra, designing the end-to-end customer experience for 5G Home Internet, a strategic product. When I began my career some 20-odd years ago, I started as a web and UI designer. 

My early roles were limited to the aesthetics of a website or an application. But I always felt that something was missing and wanted to learn more. This self-awareness was a turning point for me and thus began a journey of lifelong learning. I taught myself by reading copious amounts off the internet because human-computer interaction courses (which was what they were called at the time) were either inaccessible or little known. 

I began to understand the need for a change in mindset, the critical need for quality customer research and empathy in my practice. In the meantime, I landed a UI role in a multinational company and used my position there to request a transition to the research team. 

My next move was to a design consultancy in Singapore, where I worked as a design researcher with multiple industries including banks, telecom, advertising and marketing agencies. Since then, I have held various roles across UX Design, Design Research, Product Design and Service Design – working with stakeholders across different areas in the business to come up with a shared vision. 

“As I look back to all those years ago, I can’t help but feel proud of where I am today, both as a designer and a person. It was sheer hard work, resilience and determination, but also the wonderful designers that I met along the way who shaped my practice.” 

Navigating a Design Career

What do you think are the biggest challenges in navigating a career in Service Design in your case? 

I think the challenges with Service Design are organisational and cultural factors. Service design as a practice is supposed to influence the organisation’s different functions, including its systems, processes, marketing, digital touchpoints, etc. However, most times it winds up having agency over just the customer-facing functions. This makes it difficult to influence the complete service journey and make meaningful changes.

There also are times where individual product owners and managers provide an environment that encourages human-centred design, but it ultimately comes down to the business vision. Sometimes organisations don’t have the budget to support true human-centred design and it winds up as a checkbox rather than a practice that ensures rigour.

In-Residence Program experience

You generously volunteer your time to mentor students at Academy Xi.
Why do you think mentoring is important?

To me, mentoring is important because it is a two-way street with many benefits for the mentor as well as the mentee. Being a mentor helps me articulate concepts that I’ve been reflecting on, or perhaps methodologies that have become second nature to me. Taking someone through my thought process and talking through the nuances of a design approach essentially solidifies my learning too. 

For the mentee, it provides the benefit of learning from someone else’s experience and their insights. It’s also a great time to be a mentee considering they have access to the industry’s best and brightest through Academy Xi, not to mention the relationships they get to build. 

What made you want to become a mentor with Academy Xi? 

When I started my career as a designer, I did it all alone and learnt the hard way. I love giving back to the community by supporting the next generation of people, especially considering the complex challenges that await them (if you’ve watched “Social Dilemma” on Netflix, you know what I mean). 

“I love to guide others along this journey of changing their mindset, because design education aside, it is a powerful way of thinking and being.” 

How have you found the process and experience of mentoring? 

I am in the process of mentoring my second Academy Xi mentee right now. What struck me about this program is how much mentees value the In-Residence program and how prepared they are for each session. It is indeed admirable. 

Another interesting takeaway is how different each person is – their backgrounds, their goals and what they hope to achieve out of the sessions. 

It makes me think of how to structure my approach to different individuals so they get the most out of the sessions. I have a structured approach to my mentoring sessions, where I ask my mentees to:

  • List their short term and long term goals
  • Prepare their questions for each session in the context of these goals 
  • Think about what they want out of each session

I find that this gives them time to reflect and identify what is important to them. 

“Mentoring, I feel, makes me a better designer and design leader.”

How do you approach mentoring? What would you say is your ‘style’? 

I take an ideation approach with my mentees, giving them room to grow and use their unique path. I like to inject positive energy into the sessions and focus on the strengths and learnings from missteps. Ideating with my mentee ensures that they develop the quality of seeing the big picture, always. 

In-Residence Program advice

How can one get the most out of a mentorship program? 

I believe that all designers should develop their leadership skills, and what better way to do this than become a mentor? Mentorship helps you to be a better leader as you get the opportunity to:

  • become an effective listener

  • extend your people leadership skills and

  • develop your communication skills

If you’re new to mentorship and need guidance with it, the brain trust a.k.a the other designers-in-residence, is a rich source of experiences, support and advice that is always interesting and informative. 

The Designer-In-Residence program is also a great opportunity for designers to articulate, express an opinion or ask a design-related question in a public forum, while in a safe space. They are wonderfully giving of their time and knowledge.

Finally, it is a wonderful community that provides an instant network of design professionals from across the industry.

Is there anything else you want to share with our community?

My advice to people who are starting on their journey as mentors is to use your engagement with this program to develop your skills as design and thought leaders. The first step towards that is to NOT prescribe approaches to mentees. Mentors are meant to create an environment for the mentee to support, guide and enable them to find their path. 

For mentees, the world is your oyster. It might seem that you are giving up your precious time for a mentorship session, but if you play your cards well, you’ll end up with a great relationship and a rich source of advice, guidance and design knowledge that is invaluable.

Academy Xi Blog

What is a Stakeholder Map?

By Academy Xi

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Stakeholder maps are an empathetic tool that enables Service Designers to gain valuable insights into how a customer feels throughout an entire service experience. As a ‘record of events’, stakeholder maps capture the interactions a customer has at different touchpoints of a service and will help break down the complexity of everyday interactions.

Stakeholder maps also draw attention to the quality of a service (QOS), which is powerful for a business’ analysis of their competitiveness against other brands or alternative services within a market. For example, within the education system, a parent’s interaction with teachers or the school principal forms part of the overall experience and a stakeholder map can assist the school identify how to improve the interaction.

The value of a stakeholder map for any organisation includes:

  • Providing a holistic view of key stakeholders and customer relationships
  • Highlighting communication and contact between the design of a service and its stakeholders
  • Identifying gaps in knowledge and resistance within the service experience
  • Creating opportunities to work with key people in the business to improve the overall service
  • Assisting the creation of comprehensive solutions by involving stakeholders into the service solution

What does a stakeholder map look like?

Stakeholder maps can contain anywhere between one to four layers, with each layer denoting a different level of influence over a service experience (known as the ‘circle of influence’):

Stakeholders in the outer layers of a stakeholder map hold less power and influence and are generally the interested parties. In the middle layers of a stakeholder map, the represented stakeholders hold moderate power and are generally influenced by the service outcome. These people can include the end users.

Stakeholders in the third or closest layer are sponsors, executives, or subject matter experts (SMEs) who interact closely with a product or service and can directly affect its outcome.

How to create a stakeholder map

Define

In the initial stage of stakeholder mapping, begin by identifying anyone who could affect, influence, or be interested in the outcome of service. Common examples of stakeholders include employees, managers, contractors, partners, suppliers, and vendors. Key considerations for the ‘definition’ stage of a stakeholder map are:

  • Identify key knowledge gaps in a service, and what needs to be uncovered
  • Create a stockist of key resources both internally and externally
  • Seek clients or customers to answer questions that are unknown
  • Map out who is currently involved in a service and start to connect the relationship between different players
  • Craft an organisational chart that visualises and conceptualises a client or customer’s stakeholders
  • Highlight past projects that may relate to the outcome of this project if this client is a repeat customer

Analyse

The saying that “not all stakeholders are created the same” rings true in the second phase of creating a stakeholder map. This step is concerned with determining the influence and power of each stakeholder.

The influence of a stakeholder can be categorised as:

  • A decision-maker
  • Visible
  • Behind the scenes (behind the line of visibility)
  • An interested party

Another question Service Designers should ask through this phase is, “What and who do these stakeholders directly influence?”

Continuing the example of a school, a key decision maker may include the Student Council that is actively engaged in the school’s ecosystem. The Student Council body has power and influence over some decisions; but an interested party may be the local council or community who keep the school’s activities on their radar but are not directly affected by any of its decisions.

Plan

Planning a stakeholder map is often the longest but most important step. In this phase, your role is to determine what needs to be discovered about the key stakeholders and players of a service.

Dependent on the information available about a service experience and how different stakeholders interact, the amount of time spent conducting research on stakeholders will come in the form of:

  • One-on-one interviews
  • Contextual inquiries
  • Research design kits
  • Service safaris

Engage

After defining, analysing, and planning how each stakeholder interacts and fits into a service, the final step of creating a stakeholder map involves physically engaging with stakeholders. This step is aimed at uncovering gaps in a service and addressing any critical problems that exist within that service.

Some things to keep in mind include:

  • What are the objectives or drivers of different stakeholders in a service?
  • Who has power and high invested interest in the direct outcome of a service experience?
  • Are there any ‘silent players’ who don’t necessarily have a presence but could strongly affect a service?
  • What are the communication styles and mediums that these stakeholders like being contacted in?
  • How do you frame your messaging to these stakeholders to ensure successful collaboration but to also solve a problem for customers?

The best method to conduct a stakeholder map is through collaboration. While working with a team, you can conduct a workshop to construct a stakeholder map. In this session, it’s vital to have a lead to navigate and direct the group in a way that enables the most efficient and effective capture of information.

Identify a list of items that need to be re-addressed at a later stage, and collect information in clusters. This stakeholder workshop should involve plenty of post-its and participants should be encouraged to draw lines of connections, highlight pain points, and actively voice different challenges throughout the process.

Learn how you can utilise stakeholder maps as a vital tool to create customised, user-centric service experiences through our Service Design courses.

Academy Xi Blog

5 Advantages of Service Design

By Academy Xi

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Service Design is inherently human-centred. Today, the human experience is a major determinant of a brand’s survival and ability to stand out from the competition. As users increasingly expect more personalised experiences, brands are now relying on Service Design to create innovative and relevant experiences for its people, partners, products, and processes.

According to Matt Kurowski, Service Designer and Co-Founder of Think5678, Service Design is the “intentional creation of valuable and impactful human experiences that create some kind of business or social value.”

Take advantage of the benefits of Service Design to stand out from the crowd. Here’s how Service Design can help your business or brand:

1. Design ideal human interactions

Utilising tools such as empathy maps and service blueprints, Service Designers are able to capture the entire end-to-end customer journey. By examining both an end user’s current experience and expectations, Service Designers are able to determine various pain points and moments of delight within a service.

There are five layers to designing for human interactions within Service Design:

  • A shift from product to service: Service Design requires a strategic shift of thinking from discrete, tangible products to a holistic and connected experience that caters to the customer.
  • Examining a product from back-end to front-end: This layer focuses on moving away from simply the end user or customer towards considering all stakeholders interested in, invested in, or influenced by a service.
  • Transitioning from consumption of a product to relationships: As the saying goes, people don’t buy a product but buy a better version of themselves. This mindset within Service Design focuses on building and nurturing sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with customers.
  • Evolving from service to business design: From the holistic lens of a business, Service Design plays an important role in encouraging different levels of innovation within a company — whether it be incremental, adjacent, or disruptive.
  • Moving from relationships to ecologies: The Service Design ecosystem focuses on every individual or aspect involved and just as ecology is the link between an environment and its organisms, the value exchange in a service benefits everyone.

2. Consider everyone involved

Service Designers understand that delivering a great service is not only dependent on the service itself, but on the experience of people delivering that service. In this way, Service Designers aim to improve and innovate services that affect both customers and organisations.

Service Design enables companies to deliver experiences that create value for customers and allow for meaningful connections between the customer and the company. By reviewing all touchpoints and interactions that lie beneath a customer’s line of visibility, Service Design becomes the catalyst for innovation and future growth opportunities. By exploring the parts that make up an experience, businesses are able to identify opportunities for innovation from the inside, out.

Tools for understanding the different parties involved in a service include:

  • Research interviews: Talking to stakeholders to clarify the problem and define successful outcomes.
  • Stakeholder maps: A record of events’ that capture the interactions a customer has at different touchpoints of a service and helps break down the complexity of everyday interactions. Read more about Stakeholder Maps
  • User personas: An archetype or visual representation of a user trend that depicts customer behaviour and patterns. Download your free user persona template here.

3. Create consistency with Service Design

The benefit of Service Design lies in its holistic process that aims to design a seamless and effortless solution for customers. Service Design ensures that the overall experience is consistent and easily understandable, with little to no friction for the customer between touchpoints.

As a core pillar of design, creating consistency in a service is about making it intuitive. By examining all the areas of a service, Service Designers aim to increase the usability and learnability of the different aspects that service.

The main benefits of improving the consistency of a service include:

  • Eliminating confusion: The more intuitive something is, the more user-friendly it is – effectively reducing error and eliminating user frustrations and pain points.
  • Improving wastage: A consistent service is built on predefined components which facilitates efficient decision making, reduces costs and time; rather than attempting to address changes for many variations, inconsistencies, and processes.
  • Encouraging continuous learning: By means of comparison, improved consistency forges a benchmark for businesses to learn and iterate. It is much easier to compare “apples to apples” within a service than making improvements across many moving parts.

4. Service Design embraces change

One of the major reasons that 90% of startups fail is creating a product that no one wants, also known as the inability to find product-market fit. Service Design improves companies’ chances of success by keeping them agile towards the constantly evolving needs of customers and changes in technology.

A Service Design led approach can help yield higher adoption and retention rates, as well as increase customer satisfaction. This drives increased revenue and market share in a highly competitive global market.

Through activities such as research, affinity mapping, and constructing a service blueprint, Service Designers are able to build and ideate a solution that is not only fit-for-purpose but also addresses the end user’s core job to be done.

5. Foster creativity and collaboration

By “stepping outside of the building” and going directly to end users, Service Design brings together all players in a service, thus drastically improving the collaboration and creativity of an end solution.

By removing stakeholders’ blinkers, Service Design injects a fresh perspective, incorporating various angles into a solution that include the client, customer, stakeholders and even external factors such as the environment.

Service Design considers how technology and products intersect and consider their relationship on a larger scale, providing an overarching view that would not be possible by simply looking at the immediate problem ahead.

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Learn how you can reap the benefits of Service Design in your business or brand with our range of Service Design courses.