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.


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

“My mind is entirely open again. Cheers Sarah!”

Brilliant. As always. A more sophisticated critique coming shortly 😉

Comment by redjotter

Really interesting Sarah, as you know I am tackling the subject of design thinking myself and have to agree with peter Merholz who suggests ““talking about only ‘design thinking’ and ‘business thinking’ is limiting… We have librarians, and historians, and fine artists. All of these disciplinary backgrounds allow people to bring distinct perspectives to our work, allowing for insights that wouldn’t be achieved if we were all cut from the same cloth.” therefore Gordon Ramsay has a mindset and perspective which allows him to challenge his discipline but perhaps can not be referred to as a design thinker but a culinary thinker, which would suggest to me that those with a certain mindset to bring a new perspective and new insights to design are design thinkers? I will get my dissertation up online once it gets handed in on friday so I can get all your thoughts too 🙂

Comment by Christina Kinnear

Thanks Lauren and Christina.

My thoughts exactly Christina. Yes, they are indeed design thinkers.
Yes we have lots of other professions and vocations with people who are very attune to the design and creative process. In fact everyone has the potential to be creative, some more than others, and some need motivated more.

I see the designer now as motivator and facilitator to allow for others to become creative and participate in a democratic and potentially innovative process. Design thinkers (and we see this optimally in heavily user based processes, i.e service design) are very attune to gathering insights and heuristic problem solving. (roger Martin) The mindset that is needed for this holistic, often complex thinking (considering the bigger picture,flipping problems around away from treatment to reframing the notion of the problem, open mind, democratic way of being) is a skill which is not naturally built into everyone, therefore my opinion of stating that not everyone is a designer. However Ramsay shows potential for this, but again he is in his environment, designers can naturally adapt to different situations, it would be interesting to give Ramsay a brief to redesign a bus system or innovate the banking experience. I recently wrote an essay that covers in a bit more detail the idea and notion around the mindset of the designer as being the most important thing, and it not just being about ‘the toolkit’. (I have to find out if I’m allowed to publish as it has certain work in there that isn’t yet released). I’d be really interested to read yours. Good luck with the submission!

Comment by sarahdrummond

Sarah, you may want to consider submitting one of your designs to IDEA2010.

The IDEA® (International Design Excellence Awards) program is the premier international competition honoring design excellence in products, ecodesign, interaction design, packaging, strategy, research and concepts. Entries are invited from designers, students and companies worldwide.

Winning entries receive coverage in hundreds of print and broadcast media networks around the world. IDSA has been honoring design excellence via the IDEA Awards since 1980. IDEA was formerly known as the Industrial Design Excellence Awards. The name changed in 2007 to emphasize the international reach and influence of the competition.

This year, we are celebrating a new media partner, FastCompany. In addition, we have partnered with The Henry Ford in Dearborn, MI. All finalist and winning designs will become part of the museum’s permanent collection. In addition, round 2 of the event includes physical product jurying by a panel of jurors. This will take place at The Henry Ford and the designs will be on exhibit for a two-week period during which the public will cast their vote for best design.

You can read more about this award program at The deadline is FEB.01.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!


Comment by Aimee

thanks Aimée, that’s really kind but I don’t believe in paying to enter competitions.

Thank you for the offer though, it’s appreciated.

Sarah x

Comment by sarahdrummond

I understand! Simply because I cannot help myself, take a look at this article explaining how you can benefit from industry awards:

Best of luck to you! I’ll leave you alone now!!

Comment by Aimee

Sarah, Your site came to my attention via Google Alerts, since you recently mentioned Bruce Mau in your blog. Just wanted to let you know about my new book, GLIMMER: How design can transform your life, your business, and maybe even the world (Random House UK). GLIMMER is a survey of the topics of design and design thinking aimed at a mainstream audience, the main theme being that we can all learn from designers and how they solve problems. I talked to dozens of designers for the book, including Bruce Mau, Tim Brown, John Thackara, John Maeda, Dean Kamen, Roger Martin, and Yves Behar. In support of the book, I also created, a site which further explores and discusses the topic in real time. I have a department on that site called “DesigNation,” where I assert that everyone is in some way a designer. I may link to your assertion that Gordon Ramsay is a design thinker; your article offers wonderful examples of someone who is using the principles intuitively to identify and solve problems. Thanks.


Comment by Warren Berger

It would be great if you could link it.
I’d like to get my hands on a copy of your book for a wee read. I’m fascinated by the notion of everyone as a designer, and how we can perhaps unlock this potential.

Nice to meet you 🙂
Sarah x

Comment by sarahdrummond

[…] is capable of design thinking and me saying having it as a skill is nothing unique or is it that as Sarah Drummond articulates: Anyone can conduct design thinking within their own environment but what makes design […]

Pingback by Nacue NSEC Conference Day 1 « Curiosity Manufactures Knowledge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: