A conversation about establishing trust and meaningful connections inside a client organization with Kat Jayne, Sr UX Consultant at Fathom Consulting
Interview by Thomas Brandenburg and Twisha Shah-Brandenburg, a collaboration with 5by5.blog
“Do the work. Even if no one is asking you to or paying you to, find ways to do good service design work in your community. It will feed your soul, grow your skills and help you build a network.” —Kat Jayne
What are ways in which you establish trust with your client organizations so that you can create meaningful outcomes that go beyond your engagement?
We establish trust through collaboration and transparency. Our clients are our partners every step of the engagement and we work together to establish the guard rails and objectives of not just our project, but their ongoing work. When we plan and perform research, they have a front-row seat. When we debrief and arrive at themes, document journeys, and design solutions we are working side-by-side. By the end of the engagement, they are deeply knowledgeable advocates for getting the work implemented.
What are the barriers or biases that stakeholders have that you have seen show up across different organizations?
Our stakeholders are human and exhibit all the same biases we all do. Many teams have lasting impressions from projects that have “failed” in the past. I often discover that stakeholders who are resistant to a particular approach or recommendation are not understanding how the work we are doing is different than what they have tried in the past. It is helpful to understand their context for research and design work and be able to speak to and learn from their concerns.
“When tough recommendations need to be made, trust is bolstered by crafting an articulate and data-driven story of where the research has led us and how the proposed design meets the specific needs of those involved in the process.”
Can you share with us your perspective on the dynamics of trust and decision making, (power) in the design process when working with stakeholders?
In our most successful projects, the decision makers are an integral part of the work every step of the way. When this is not practical due to the time constraints often placed on high-level professionals, it helps to get their perspective early on through stakeholder interviews. Understanding what matters to them and how they make decisions helps to focus the project in their absence. When tough recommendations need to be made, trust is bolstered by crafting an articulate and data-driven story of where the research has led us and how the proposed design meets the specific needs of those involved in the process. Even very powerful people have trouble arguing with straight-forward and well-researched conclusions.
In order to be effective what are signals that you pay attention to before accepting a new client/project?
We primarily look to understand the objectives of the project and how success will be measured. If these aren’t clear, we know we have work to do before the project can really begin. We often ask the prospective client to openly discuss what has been tried in the past in order to gain visibility into organizational challenges. We sometimes map the stakeholders involved in terms of what matters to them, their organizational position and business objectives, and communication styles. We do this to anticipate potential conflicts or oppositional forces that may come into play.
As you think about the future of service design as a profession, what are norms that need to be established so that we can gain trust and momentum within the business community?
I would like to see service designers insist on co-creation of services as the norm. I still see too many service design projects where someone is designing for a community they are not part of. While deep ethnographic research is unquestionably helpful, it’s not a substitute for actually having the recipients of the service at the table when design and decisions are happening. Design should become more about elicitation and facilitation of the ideas of others, and less about documenting elegant solutions we dream up in our beautiful offices.
For designers starting their service design journeys what advice would you have
Do the work. Even if no one is asking you to or paying you to, find ways to do good service design work in your community. It will feed your soul, grow your skills and help you build a network. At the beginning of my journey in UX, I did sitemaps for the websites of several political candidates in my area. At a weekend hackathon, we designed a service where people could text a service and receive a list of places nearby where they could access a public computer with internet. I’m not sure any of it went anywhere, but it was wonderful practice and it made me feel like I was contributing. They were also experiences I could talk about when networking or interviewing.