These 5 skills will make you a better Service Designer

What skills do great service designers possess? It’s a question that I’ve asked over fifty professionals, and none of them talked about learning how to create stakeholder maps, personas, or service blueprints.

If you’d like to know which skills you need to develop to become a better service designer, read on!

I want to help service designers reach their full potential. To do that you need to be great at what you do. A challenge service designers face is whether they should go deep or broad regarding their skills.

Due to the holistic nature of service design, it sometimes feels like you literally need to know everything. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There’s so much info out there that you could spend all day, every day studying and learning. If you’re spending your scarce time learning new skills, you want to know you’re learning things that really matter and that will make you a better service designer.

If you’re just reading books on service design, you’re going to miss out on some really key skills. Over the years, I found these five skills separate good service designers from the great ones.

These five universal skills also transcend service design (and you really need to look beyond service design to actually become a better service designer).

I’ve seen dozens of design portfolios and many tend to overemphasize unimportant skills, forgetting to highlight the qualities that really matter. Because, let’s be honest, eventually everybody can make a pretty decent customer journey map. That’s not what’s going to define you as a designer.

So, what are these key skills?

Communication

Being a great communicator is a cornerstone to actually get things done in service design. Think about how often you interact with coworkers, with users, with employees and, of course, with clients during a project. If you’re able to get a message across in a fast and appealing way, it makes all the difference.

There are many ways you can improve your communication skills. A good starting point, for instance, is to study the art of storytelling.

Facilitation

Probably the first word you think when you hear “facilitation” is workshops. Yes, workshops are an important part of our work. But, it doesn’t stop there.

For me, facilitation is all about being able to handle and use group dynamics to get a team to achieve the best outcome in as little time as possible. What I know about facilitation today, I’ve mostly learned from the work of David Sibbet. But, as with all the skills we’re discussing here, and especially for facilitation, it’s a skill that you only master by practicing—a lot.

Improvisation

The people who know me know I’m the dad that expects the best but always prepares for the worst. I tend to put a lot of time and effort in preparing myself for the things to come, for meetings, workshops, presentations, you know.

Early in my career, I reached a point where this planning and preparation was really holding me back. Because, during those meetings, workshops and presentations, I wasn’t really in the moment. I was often disconnected with the situation and context. This led to sub-optimal results.

Improvisation is all about feeling when to let go of your initial plan and act accordingly to what the moment and context needs. And, this skill is in all of us! Some of us just need to rediscover it, and learn to trust it again.

I know I did. In hindsight, what really helped me develop this skill were some improv theater classes I took at the time. I took them because I enjoyed having fun, and only later discovered the techniques and skills I acquired. The confidence to improvise proves extremely useful beyond the stage.

Empathizing

I hope this one doesn’t surprise you. It’s true that some people have more empathy by nature than others. But, this doesn’t mean it’s not a skill you can actively develop.

My background as a software engineer didn’t require a lot of empathy. Again, this is a skill that I only came to value later. I had to work really hard to develop it, but I enjoyed every step of the process.

Learning to see and understand the world from someone else’s perspective, and being able to deeply connect with them, is a skill that yields great results way beyond your professional life. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how I developed my empathizing skills, but it comes down to learning to be a more active listener, being patient, and deferring judgments.

Curiosity

This might sound like a strange skill, but bear with me for a moment.

Curiosity is all about enjoying exploration and getting pleasure from finding interesting questions. You might have heard that a great service designer needs a beginner’s mind. I’d like to go one step further and say that a great service designer needs to prepare for surprises to happen.

Being curious is not a passive skill—it’s an extremely active one. Highly curious people will benefit from it in the research stages of service design. But, as with everything we’ve discussed so far, it’s also something that will benefit you in all other aspects of service design as well.

You might be wondering how to become more curious. Well, as Steve Portigal mentioned on the Service Design Show, a great way to develop your own curiosity is to practice noticing.

Becoming a great service designer isn’t just about learning the tools and methods, it’s also much more about developing your communication, facilitation, improvisation, empathizing and curiosity skills.

This isn’t a complete list by any means. I’m sure you also have some ideas about what skills make up a great service designer. I’d really love to hear them, so leave a comment down below. Which skill do you think a great service designer needs? You just might inspire someone to set out on her next learning journey.

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