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Ask The Expert – Designing holistically within Service Design

This year, we’ve again sponsored the UX Bristol event and the lineup of workshops and talks was brilliant. Along with some special guests, we heard from Rita Cervetto. During her talk, she shared an insightful view on how Designers, Product Managers and Engineers can make holistic design happen in tech.

We caught up with Rita after the event to gather her thoughts and top tips revolving around this.

ADLIB: What has been your career journey so far, leading you to where you are right now?

Rita Cervetto: I’ve been lucky to develop my career in different countries and environments which I think has shaped where I am today. I’ll try to be succinct…

I left Peru, my home country, in 2005 straight after a year studying Fine Arts. Instead I went to do Multimedia in Barcelona and started working whilst still in university. My first job was at the library, creating digital content for teachers. I remember creating an animation about how cranes work at the port for the engineering school and loving it. It was all about simplifying complexity and exposing people to an idea. I also had a supportive boss and awesome colleagues.

There were no service design jobs in Spain when I finished uni and most importantly I didn’t know that was a profession, so I did what most young digital creatives that need to pay rent do: get into advertising.

For the next couple of years, I must have animated a million flash banners. I learnt Actionscript, used my editing skills for video banners and got really good at pitching ideas to clients.

In 2010 I moved to Dubai. There, I set up the first Isobar office in the Middle East and helped grow the team from scratch. Some days I was a Project Manager, other days a Senior Creative. When Dentsu acquired Aegis Media, I was suddenly part of a huge creative team which allowed me to focus on being a Senior Digital Creative on integrated campaigns. This means selling things that people don’t need on as many channels as the brand can afford – social, TV, radio, print, out of home banners, digital banners… influencers even if the budget allowed. I’m not proud.

At the edge of a promotion to Associate Creative Director and whilst in France at the Cannes Advertising Festival in 2014, I noticed I could be doing very different things. Man after man after man, after man, kept walking on stage to receive their titanium and gold lions for heart-wrenching campaigns about refugees, world hunger and other injustices – of course, all ending with a logo.

All the winners had the same big glasses and haircut. Which wasn’t the problem – the real issue was that I knew, just from being in the industry, that some agencies do fake projects especially for award season.

Long story short I had to get out. The next year I moved to Manchester and started Hyper Island’s MA in Digital Management, which showed me a whole new way of working. I learnt how to be more authentic about why I do work, who I do it with and what outcomes are desirable for the common good. It set my career on a completely different path. My digital skills were still there but the purpose and way of working were different.

I spent the next couple of years developing my Service Design skills at a design studio in Manchester and learning loads in a country where design has a lot more presence. Working with amazing organisations and an amazing team too. Unfortunately, as it happens, senior leadership went through an “unconscious uncoupling” and it was time for me to move on.

I moved to Bristol and attended the best event a newbie to the region could attend: UX Bristol. That’s where I met amazing people from CX Partners, ADLIB, Mace&Menter, OVO, People for Research among many others. Soon after I was doing research for Scope and Service Design for Bristol Water and AXA.

In the middle of my consulting whirlwind, Sam (ADLIB), forwarded me an interesting job description from OVO. He helped me answer all the questions I had and after a smooth process, I knew OVO had the right environment for my post Hyper Island way of working.

One year and a half later – I’m still here! Service Design is a recognised practice at OVO, I now work at Kaluza, an OVO Group company and I am thrilled at the all-female senior leadership team heading my company. I owe you one Sam. Thank you.

ADLIB: In short, what is Service Design?

Rita Cervetto: Service Design is a type of human-centred design practice. It considers the wellbeing of people inside an organisation providing a service, the wellbeing of the customers and whether or not all the supporting systems and processes are helpful or hindering.

UX usually focuses on people outside the organisation (customers, users, etc) instead. Service Design can’t exist in isolation and collaborating with UX’ers is key – they go deep on a touchpoint where we can’t. Also, you’ll find Service Designers doing research and prototyping but you’ll notice we do it differently. We are trying to look at things with a holistic lens and facilitate collaboration across very different groups of people. We do the awkward silo-busting work, which is hard but so necessary in the hyper specialised office world we work in. I love it, it feels like the right thing to do with my time.

ADLIB: Where is a good place to start when trying to embed Service Design thinking into an organisation?

Rita Cervetto: Doing big rounds of interviewing was very useful to me. Listening before proposing solutions or approaches is helpful. Identify key stakeholders and do a stakeholder map. Document what they say and make some concepts tangible. Shareback and check you understood correctly. Repeat.

Doing a service blueprint felt like a good move for me after the rounds of interviewing. It felt like the right next step in my understanding phase.

ADLIB: What are some of the unique challenges that Service Designers face when working with tech companies?

Rita Cervetto: Placement. I think being in the right team or in the right conversations to get the right kind of outcome is infinitely hard. This is why in my talk I talk about meeting people and letting them help you find the right placement inside the organisation.

It feels odd to say “as a Service Designer I have to be in the senior leadership level conversations” or “because of the job I do I have to be where the leads are” – but it’s true.

Getting the confidence and support to make this happen is the biggest challenge I think for us. It takes time and I bet that without Yolanda Martin Olivas, our Head of Design, it could have never happened for me.

ADLIB: And finally, what would be the two or three key takeaways you’d like people to have taken from the talk?

Rita Cervetto: In the talk I went over what it’s like to be the first service designer at a tech company. I hope that people got excited about taking on similar challenges, even if they’ve never done this type of job in this type of place.

It can seem daunting at first, and especially during the first 6 months, but leaning into the new environment and finding external mentors helps. I would really like to see more Service Designers in organisations eager to address our current social and climate crisis with innovation, like Kaluza. We could do so much together!

The other key take-away for Service Designers going into tech for the first time, is to let go of a predefined “process” and set of “tools” or “method” that “work”. Coming from consultancy, I totally see how beneficial this set process is to explain ourselves to clients. However, when you are inside the company itself, the challenge is less about explaining your process and more about sustaining the work and following your projects through to the bitter end! haha, I joke. What I mean is, a set process inside an ever-changing organisation will seem rigid and hard to work with. Breaking it down, making new tools, adapting will be better than any framework you’ve sworn by before.

The purpose of our article series ‘Ask The Expert’ is to capture and share Tech, Data, Engineering, Science, Marketing and Design sector expertise. We are featuring experts, thought leaders and influencers. Showcasing sector wisdom learned through experience.