Inside the head of a designer


Choruses from the rock

Ramsay as design thinker

Last night I realised the reason I don’t own a tv is the fact that I be likely to waste hours in a trance watching ‘rubbish’.  I also never really have time to, but in a rare ‘evening off’ I found myself plonked in front of the tv and accidentally happening upon Gordon Ramsay’s ‘F Word’.

What caught my attention (apart from the fact I enjoy culinary topics) was some of Gordon Ramsay’s comments to restaurant owners during his visits to judge them for ‘local’ restaurant of the year.  Ramsay for me was just hitting the nail on the head.  He comments to staff,

“It’s not just the food, it’s the service”

Ramsay was talking about the service and the experience throughout, not just the ‘goods’, something that Pine and Gilmore discuss and separate in their book, The Experience Economy, which Jeff Howard articulately discusses here, (saving me repeating his thoughts, and a must read for service designers)

Recently inspired from a publication to search out T.S Eliot’s poem, Choruses from the Rock , the last line from this excerpt stood out for me.

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?

Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”

What will you answer? “We all dwell together

To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.

Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

And so, in my mind, Ramsay was the stranger, and reflects elements of a design thinkist. He states to staff,

“I’ll be upstairs and downstairs”

This echoes the frontstage and backstage fundamentals of service design.  He interacts with everyone, frontline staff (waiters), backstage staff (chefs) and the customers, gaining opinions from all sides to build a holistic picture of the restaurant, focusing on the product, the service, the experience.

The comments that really stopped me were Ramsay erratically stating what the ordering system was and trying to comprehend why it was so difficult for an order to be passed from the waiters to the chefs,

“I can tell straight away the ordering system is far too complicated”

“If he’s entering the computer, and they’re entering the order, and he makes a mistakes…then it’s already going through two people…then it’s printed out downstairs…they take the order, then it is in another waiters hand…”

In an old post Lauren  Currie wrote,

“David described Jamie Oliver as a design thinkist…an opinion I completely agree with. The way he engages with people, integrates himself into their lifestyle etc. is admirable.”

And so I saw Ramsay as a bit of a design thinkist.  I sadly marvelled at his almost erratic behaviour trying to understand why no one was questioning  the ordering system of the restaurant or why the chefs weren’t questioning why the plates were coming back with half eaten food or sauce on the plates.

“Do the customers say anything when we clear this away.  Is anyone telling the chef?…does anyone give constructive feedback to the chef downstairs.  Why is this not eaten, and why is the sauce still there, surely you would want to know!”

As part of my Masters in Design Innovation I’ve been doing work in the public sector, looking at how design skills and ways of thinking can be transferred to front line staff to think about the user experience and innovate at a grassroots level.  I began with quite an open mind about this being possible, and I still believe it is, Ramsay has reignited my beliefs a little.  I do believe however that design is a vocational profession and I believe that the way Ramsay excelled at noticing details is because he was in environment he knows well, and is top of his game in.  In addition though he was taking on the role of investigator, and this is something to take stock of.  In the book Simplicity, Edward De Bono says,

“If you are too good at adjusting to the current system you may never realise the system needs changing.”

Staff learning how to Customer Journey Map

Staff learning to customer journey map

And so if we take the task of passing the skills and tools of service design to ‘non’ designers, perhaps to think of it like the role of investigator is the way forward.  By giving people new skills and tools to think in the ‘customer’s’ shoes and like a designer, they will be able to see ways the front line service can be changed.  This does however require a level of autonomy to be allowed to do this.  I will categorically say that currently in the public sector this is very difficult and comes down to many things like the risk averse mentality and management structures.

There is hope though.  And something I want to believe is discussed in Thackara’s opening to his book, In the Bubble: Designing for a complex world.

“Everyone designs,” wrote scientist Herb Simon, “who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations, into preferred ones.” For Victor Papanek, too, “design is basic to all human activities – the placing and patterning of any act towards a desired goal constitutes a design process.”  Designing is what human beings do.”

I am troubled that it takes a certain type of person and mindset to think and question scenarios like a designer and soon I hope to publish a recent piece of writing on this topic which elaborates on my thoughts.  In no way am I set in any way on my opinions, the next nine months or so I will be investigating this through practical work with frontline staff in the public sector with a clear goal on a sustainable implementation, so when designer’s are out the picture, staff have the relevant support and skills to use the designer’s toolkit and thinking.  In essence, it will have to be a transformative process, and if you haven’t already, pick up Tim Brown’s ‘Change by Design’ I suggest you do.

“The designer is no longer defining a finished result, but is creating the conditions for, or catalysing an emergent system that will change and re-configure after they have left the scene”

Those who know me personally may remind me that I did state not everyone can be a designer but at the very least I’d like to think that others can harness aspects of design thinking to start asking questions about the services they deliver and designers can start to work on ways of sustainably changing cultures in new domains.

My mind is entirely open again. Cheers Ramsay!

I would be interested to get thoughts on the subject of ‘Everyone as designer’ and from people who have worked on similar projects to hand over design skills.