This week Maggie Breslin, a former Carnegie Mellon design grad, visited our Designing for Service class to hear about our University of Pittsburgh Medical Center projects and give a presentation on her service design work for the Sparc Innovation Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

She described her role as both understanding and making. But what do you make if you’re a service designer? A composition of elements—space, technology, people and roles, processes, and tools—within a given context. Adding, subtracting, and manipulating those elements is the work of service design, she said.

Part of her job as a designer is also to steward the customer experience. In healthcare, service is often designed as a rational systems, but she points out there is also an emotional system, through which the most interesting, most powerful information, is revealed.

The idea of the emotional system, or feeling system, as she sometimes said, got me thinking about the complexity we face as designers when you truly consider the dimensions of human behavior. As evidence of this, Maggie said they start every project by talking to patients in order to reconnect to that moment. “You can never talk to too many patients,” she said. Further, their process is to prototype with actual patients and doctors because the emotional piece is too hard to predict.

Regarding design, Maggie stressed the importance of storytelling, making, and critique. She claimed that if you can’t tell a good story, you can’t affect change within an organization. By telling a story, you can immerse your audience in the experience, which works better than a presentation, she said.

This speaks to the value of video sketches over presentations. As designers, we seek to envision the future and share that vision with others. Stories are an excellent way to convey that vision, and visualizing the story works even better. And while video sketches can do this, Maggie acknowledged that there is a lot of opportunity to do something different. The key, she said, is to find a way to make an idea stick.

As for making, that is a skill that separates the designer from other practices. Designers translate understanding into making, she said. Making is key. This point is echoed by another School of Design alum, Dan Saffer, on A Brief Message. Maggie recognized the value of all the making she had to do as a grad student, even when the making seemed unrelated to her field of study.

Finally, she expressed critique as a skill the differentiates the designer. I had not considered critique to be a skill, but it makes sense. She put it in terms of being able to share work and ideas without being fearful of criticism, and in fact welcoming the criticism because you know it will make your work all the better. In addition to taking criticism, she also acknowledged that because of our experience with critique, we are skilled at giving criticism as well.

The last thing she mentioned that I really appreciated was an example of designing for interaction that involves no technology or interface. She showed a video where a doctor was having difficulty talking to a patient about quitting smoking. Designing for a conversation…that too is interaction design.