The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Following the Service Design Journey with Arun Martin

John Carter
May 20, 2024
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Following the Service Design Journey with Arun Martin

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Episode shownotes

In today's episode of This is HCD, we're joined by Arun Martin, a Service Designer based in Canada who made a transition into service design while working at IBM several years ago. We delve into his journey navigating this transition within IBM and how he managed to expand his knowledge in a field that was entirely new to service design. This experience resonates with many professionals who encounter similar challenges in their careers, and we explore the various obstacles Arun faced along the way.

Arun is recognised for his significant contributions to the service design field, regularly sharing insights through articles and LinkedIn posts, which is actually how we connected a number of years ago.

He is valuable member of the Circle community on, where he actively participates in events and stimulates engaging discussions. It's a conversation packed with insights, so let's dive in.

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Episode Transcript

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[00:00:00] Gerry Scullion: Today in the show, we welcome Arun Martin, a service designer based in Canada who transitioned from design research whilst at IBM a number of years ago. And we discuss their journey as a designer whilst working at IBM and how he's able to build his knowledge congruently whilst working in an area of the business that was entirely new to service design.

[00:00:20] Gerry Scullion: Something many of us are faced with from time to time in our career and, uh, often You know, face lots and lots of challenges along the way. So we discussed a lot of those pieces in this episode. A little bit about Arun. Arun is a prolific contributor to the craft of service design. And what I mean by that is he writes brilliant articles, regularly publishes on LinkedIn, and is actually how we connected a number of years ago.

[00:00:44] Gerry Scullion: He's a well respected practitioner and he really, really welcomes connections on LinkedIn. Um, as I said, he's prolific on there. So, plus he's also a very, very valuable member of. the circle community now on thisishcd. com, um, where he's [00:01:00] always attending the events and, uh, stimulating conversations and giving us ideas on how we can grow our community.

[00:01:06] Gerry Scullion: It's a good one. Let's jump in. So Arun, it's been brilliant to get to know you over the last year. Or two, I think, um, but maybe for our listeners, maybe start off, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from and what you 

[00:01:20] Arun Martin: do. Thank you, Jerry. Um, so Jerry, first of all, I want to thank you for inviting me to your wonderful show.

[00:01:27] Arun Martin: I've been a fan of the show, I've been listening to a few episodes, and I think we've been in touch for the, maybe for the past two, three years, um, and in terms of a little bit about who I am, so I'm a service designer currently based in Toronto, earlier I was a service designer. Working with IBM, leading a couple of service design pilot projects there.

[00:01:51] Arun Martin: And prior to that, I was a design researcher. I have a bachelor's and master's in computer science. Outside of my day job. Which I don't currently have, [00:02:00] um, I run this online service design book club and also just starting this new initiative on a service design journeys with try to bring the hidden transition stories of service design, um, online.

[00:02:14] Arun Martin: Yeah, so that's where I am. And, um, yeah, well, 

[00:02:18] Gerry Scullion: nice. Now, I remember when we first started speaking, you were kind of going through that transition period of being a design researcher and getting into service design. What was that transition like from design research into service design for you? What were the challenges that you faced?

[00:02:37] Arun Martin: Yes, I wish I could tell you. Give you a short and sweet answer. Okay. These are the top three challenges. And 

[00:02:45] Gerry Scullion: these 

[00:02:47] Arun Martin: are the possible solutions. So in short, I would say that I was unaware of the challenges that were needed for me to transition from [00:03:00] a design research to service designers role. And I think the key challenges that I faced was one was, uh, my fear of public speaking.

[00:03:09] Arun Martin: Second was on facilitation and third was reaching out of my, I would say, reaching out to a group of mentors who were more familiar with service design and getting to know their insights, you know, so all this required a big jump out of my comfort zone and, you know, I did employ the platform. Principles of human centered thinking, such as prototyping, empathizing, getting, and finally I was able to cross those challenges.

[00:03:45] Gerry Scullion: So you made that transition when you were in IBM, is that correct? That's correct, Gerry. So what was that like? Because, you know, I noticed on your, I think it was your LinkedIn profile there a couple of months ago, you were the first service designer. Is that right? In, in [00:04:00] IBM? North America. 

[00:04:02] Arun Martin: Okay. Uh, that's okay.

[00:04:05] Arun Martin: Uh, let me kind of back up. So yes, I did make the shift from being a design researcher to a service designer. So I was at IBM for five and a half years. I worked in the same IBM's business organization known as IBM Z. And I was the first service designer in IBM Z. Okay. 

[00:04:28] Gerry Scullion: So, what was that like? Because if you're working primarily as the first of anything, you've kind of got opportunities and challenges faced.

[00:04:38] Gerry Scullion: What were those, what were those like? Can you go back and play back with that, that experience was like for you as a practitioner and as a person as well? Sure. Um, so if 

[00:04:47] Arun Martin: I were to play back, I would say that there were a couple of interesting stories that stood out. One was, uh, you know, as I was getting ready for [00:05:00] the transition from, from, from being a design researcher to a service designer, I think a key aspect of what was What was being discussed was my potential new job responsibilities and skills.

[00:05:15] Arun Martin: Yeah. And at that time, you know, even I was just learning service design, you know, so theoretically I didn't have much projects under my belt. 

[00:05:23] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. 

[00:05:24] Arun Martin: So I still remember the conversation I had with my manager and manager said, okay Arun, okay. Go ahead and craft a job description, and I am, okay, I'll go and do it, and I Job description server.

[00:05:37] Arun Martin: No, I didn't Google, but What I added was very interesting. I said, okay, I'm going to be a researcher. I'm going to be a facilitator. And I, and of course I did add some points around, you know, education and advocacy. 

[00:05:57] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. 

[00:05:57] Arun Martin: And I handed it over to a [00:06:00] manager and I started my journey. Now, if I were to look back and if I were to recraft the job description, I'm going to be adding one important line item, which is change management.

[00:06:11] Arun Martin: Okay. Because change management was this hidden tool that I was not aware of till I made the transition. So, so, uh, so in terms of that professional growth, I think that the advice I would give for someone who's trying to transition to service design is. If possible, craft your job description upfront and then be open to embracing and learning new skills.

[00:06:41] Arun Martin: So that's advice I would give. And in terms of a person, I have grown a little more in terms of managing setbacks and have developed more grit and resilience because I've worked with very interesting [00:07:00] stakeholders. Yeah. 

[00:07:01] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. You work with. People who weren't really familiar with design with a capital D, um, or even let alone service design.

[00:07:12] Gerry Scullion: Is that right? That's correct. Yeah. So what, what was that like? Because I've been in those situations, but you're the guest. So I'd like to know what were the, the bits that you did that you felt build trust, um, to allow you to kind of get to the outcome that you wanted to get to. Yeah. 

[00:07:30] Arun Martin: Um, so, so the journey was a roller coaster, right?

[00:07:36] Arun Martin: Yeah. In, in terms of, you know, spreading the value of service design. I think there were a couple of key milestones. The first milestone was I did not, Go around socializing the terms service design. Yeah. IBM's pretty weak on design thinking. IBM's pretty weak on UX [00:08:00] disciplines. So I thought, let me meet them where they are.

[00:08:03] Arun Martin: So I started framing conversations around, Hey, it looks like you've been doing customer journey mapping for some time. Right. So that focuses on the front stage. Now, can we take it to the next level by looking at the backstage? So, so slowly I was just taking them on the journey from helping them move from customer journey mapping to service blueprinting.

[00:08:26] Arun Martin: Yeah. And the second was around the reframing of the language, the organizational terminology. Um, so in, in the business organization that I worked, The teams were focused or incentivized on shipping features every quarter. 

[00:08:45] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. 

[00:08:46] Arun Martin: So, so the teams that I spoke to, I said, Hey, can we reframe features as touch points and then bring in that complex journey of [00:09:00] touch points for a customer experience?

[00:09:02] Arun Martin: And I think the teams got it and that's how I was able to, you know, help them see the value of service design. 

[00:09:10] Gerry Scullion: I mean. Being the first person, uh, in kind of talking about service design, as I said, it brings its own challenges, but it gives us, you see, this whole unique set of opportunities to kind of lay the groundwork and define the baseline and take the first steps and build maturity.

[00:09:31] Gerry Scullion: What kind of skills do you feel you learned to hone? beyond the craft of service design at a personal level, at a stakeholder level that you had to get better at. Um, because I know there's an awful lot of people out there who might be listening, who are in the world of user experience design or design thinking, and they kind of want to weave service design thinking and doing into the organization.

[00:09:55] Gerry Scullion: But they mightn't have some of those stakeholder skills. What were the bits that you [00:10:00] kind of felt that, you know, This is working well. These are the bits that really helped me, uh, elevate my work. 

[00:10:07] Arun Martin: Yeah, that's a great self reflection question. So, so before I answer that question, let me share a small story with respect to my projects.

[00:10:18] Arun Martin: So, so, so when I started out as a first service designer, uh, I did speak to a few, um, design leaders at the middle management level and, um, those design leaders. We're familiar with service design, but they weren't really sure of how to approach or apply service design in that organizational context. And when I had this conversation with them, they said, okay, we get, we get what you're saying, but can you show me some examples or tangible examples of how service design has helped teams?

[00:10:59] Arun Martin: [00:11:00] And I was like, Oh, currently I don't have any examples to show because I've just started. But then I just went back and I thought about myself and said, okay, let me just focus on the pilot projects, demonstrate the outcomes of the pilot projects, and then go back to the middle management and say, hey, this is how service design can help.

[00:11:23] Arun Martin: But then there was a small twist there. And it's something that I just realized is that I was going two heads down on my projects. I was just focusing only on the service design pilot projects. I did not spend time trying to build stakeholder relationships with upper management because my focus was just getting the projects done and then, you know, wanted to show the outcome.

[00:11:54] Arun Martin: So, so, so the bits that really worked for me was that initial [00:12:00] conversation that, okay, this is what, this is who I am as a service designer. Yeah. And this is the value I plan to bring. And I think the bits that didn't work for me was I didn't have any compelling case studies to show. So, If, for someone who is listening to this podcast, if you are to build a case for service design with your top leadership or middle management, please go in with a good example of a service design case study that that's more relevant to your industry so that they can understand and they can give you the buy in.

[00:12:45] Gerry Scullion: Okay, so that's pretty good advice. I mean, if you're Working in that level, this is, I'm playing back what I'm after hearing. You don't go to the executives until you have really something to, to talk about, so to speak. Um, [00:13:00] Richard McMurray, who I was speaking to earlier on, said, Show them the corridor, but don't show them the door.

[00:13:05] Gerry Scullion: Um, and I thought that was a really nice way of framing it. He might have stolen that from somebody else, so if there is a credit associated with that quote, let me know, folks. Um, but I really like that approach because Too often we can jump and kind of go, Hey, you know, um, Mr or Mrs or whoever, um, executive, I want to talk to you about, you know, what I'm going to do.

[00:13:28] Gerry Scullion: And we kind of annoy them and they kind of go, we just want to take a wide berth. Yeah. So I think that's a pretty, a pretty shrewd, uh, observation and bit of advice there. So with your, your kind of IBM experience under your belt, where do you feel there's opportunities in the future for people? Like yourself to add, uh, to organizations, like what are the bits that you feel you want to get stuck into in the next kind of chapter of your career, 

[00:13:57] Arun Martin: Arun?

[00:13:58] Arun Martin: Sure, Jerry. [00:14:00] I think with, with my experience in IBM and How long 

[00:14:06] Gerry Scullion: were you in IBM, by the way? Just, just as a question. 

[00:14:09] Arun Martin: Yeah, I was with IBM for five and a half years. Five 

[00:14:12] Gerry Scullion: and a half years. And 

[00:14:13] Arun Martin: I was a service designer there for one and a half years. So it's four years of experience. being a design researcher and one and a half years of service designer.

[00:14:21] Arun Martin: So, so with my experience as a service designer at IBM, I'm looking for opportunities where I can apply my skills to work with different teams. Earlier, it was more about, okay, maybe as a service designer, I can work with the product teams or UX teams. But now I, you know, I think with this new skill set, I think I'm more comfortable working with different teams such as marketing, sales or delivery or operations or even strategy teams because all these teams have key stakeholders who speak [00:15:00] to the clients or customers in some way.

[00:15:03] Arun Martin: And I think as a service designer, I think the value I bring to the table is helping them see. Things from a systemic or a holistic level and then, you know, help them see the benefits both from a client outcome as well as from a business perspective. 

[00:15:22] Gerry Scullion: So it's good that you've identified that, but what, what's it like in Canada at the moment?

[00:15:28] Gerry Scullion: Because I know when I've been speaking to service designers over in Canada at the moment, like, In some parts is much more mature than other parts. Um, what does that look like at the moment from, I guess, job opportunities in Canada in the services I market? 

[00:15:45] Arun Martin: Um, in Canada, I think the service design job market is still at a very nascent stage.

[00:15:51] Arun Martin: Of course, we have few, uh, private sector financial Organizations having service [00:16:00] design teams, but I think they still do service design work more on digital services. So, so which means that there's predominantly, um, they spend more time focusing on that overlap between service design and UX. And, uh, Also in different parts of Canada, such as, um, Ontario or Alberta, British Columbia, there are a lot of, uh, service design teams embedded within the provincial government teams.

[00:16:39] Arun Martin: And they do, excuse me, they do a lot of service design work as well, but then their focus also focuses on digital experiences. So, so I would say my short answer, the market is. At a very nascent stage, it's going to pick up [00:17:00] probably in the next two to three years. 

[00:17:03] Gerry Scullion: So there is opportunities for people like you with the experience to step into those organizations who may be just thinking digital only and opening up the conversations to become more omni channel and more holistic in terms of systems?

[00:17:17] Arun Martin: Yeah, there 

[00:17:18] Gerry Scullion: That's probably what I'm hearing. Yeah, 

[00:17:19] Arun Martin: there are opportunities, yeah. 

[00:17:22] Gerry Scullion: So tell me about, because I know one of the things that when we first started emailing each other, um, I was really impressed with the service design book club. Um, now this is a really, yeah, an opportunity for you to plug your book club here.

[00:17:40] Gerry Scullion: But what's the benefit of a book club? Because, um, I've seen people work at it before in organizations and they say, God, it's very hard to get people to read the book and to come back and talk about it. But you've been able to do this successfully for a number of years. What's the secret ingredient to [00:18:00] running a successful book club run?

[00:18:01] Gerry Scullion: I don't know. I want it in three bullet points. Tell us, tell us what the secret is because your book club is very popular. And, um, I know you're very passionate about it as well. 

[00:18:14] Arun Martin: Okay. So I'm just trying to 

[00:18:16] Gerry Scullion: go folks. We're all, everyone is, you know, listening. They're like, you know, sitting back and they're like a run is about to tell us three bullet points.

[00:18:24] Arun Martin: What's the first, okay. The first bullet point would be. When I started out, uh, or when I started the service design book club, we were looking at this in person events as a key driver for learning, but post pandemic, we post, we pivoted online and we realized that it was a great opportunity for attendees around the world to join for the events.

[00:18:55] Arun Martin: So, so there is this greater [00:19:00] opportunity. To meet new people and discuss new topics. That is bullet point number one. The second is the books that I'm picking up for the service design book are not directly related to service design. So they. Those books could mirror on the, they could be on the adjacent disciplines of service design.

[00:19:24] Arun Martin: So, which means that it's provoking the attendees, including me to kind of really look at the same issues with different perspectives. And the third is the book, the book club over a period of time has also grown into a little more of a platform where people can always visit the website and always look up to see what are the [00:20:00] books they've been discussed so that they can purchase the books and read and learn at their own pace.

[00:20:06] Arun Martin: Yeah, that's a great resource. 

[00:20:07] Gerry Scullion: Like, you know, Why is, do you feel that the book club is so important? Like, cause as I, as I mentioned before, I'm really impressed when I speak to people like yourself who go out of their way to, you know, first of all, read, research, and then document, um, books, cause you're helping authors.

[00:20:27] Gerry Scullion: You're helping other people in the community find out which books are valuable and not, but that takes an awful lot of work. What does it give you as a practitioner? Um, and, you know, what, what is the, the bit behind that you feel is really important? 

[00:20:43] Arun Martin: Yeah. Um, so I'm currently on a sabbatical starting to look for job opportunities.

[00:20:49] Arun Martin: Um, so, you know, within, with experience of doing service design pilot projects. I think I am confident to handle complex [00:21:00] service design projects. Um, so just looking around, that is one, one part I want to share. The second is also about this new initiative that I'm starting on a service design journeys where, you know, where I would like to share the career transition journeys.

[00:21:21] Arun Martin: Of service designers. It's still a prototype. I still have no idea how it's gonna come out, but it's gonna be in some sort of an online format, so I'm working on that. So if, uh, anyone, or if any of you who is a service designer would like to share your story, feel free to reach out to me or send a note to Jerry who's gonna forward it to me.

[00:21:40] Arun Martin: Thank you so much Jerry, and I really appreciate what. All you're doing for the community to bring this amazing stories of practitioners to the community. You're doing an amazing community job and, and great [00:22:00] going.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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