Design Story: HX Designer Elizabeth Meehan from Coffee no Sugar


Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I have a PhD in Sociology and a Masters in Service Design. I was involved in a European-wide project exploring customer motivations and behaviours and noted that the economy had changed from a product to experience economy. This highlighted the need for businesses to deviate from traditional practices to survive in this new economy. At that time I could see that Northern Ireland’s focus on product was resulting in a gap between what the customer wanted and the service offered. This created the desire to help them attune to todays' context.

You are a qualified service designer can you tell us what a service designer is/does and why their role is important?
A Service Designer is important today as we all use services, banking, restaurants, paying bills, etc. Services help us do something we need to do. Services that can help us do what we need in the quickest time, or add convenience, frees us up to spend the limited time we have on things we actually enjoy. 

Most significantly Service Designers help businesses see their service from the customer perspective, which is impossible for businesses to do. They help business align their offer to latent customer needs, which is the reason customers comes back.  A service must add a value - help the customer do something they actually need to do. 

What do you hope to bring to the Urban Design Challenge?
As design is called upon to solve more and more business and societal challenges, multi-disciplinary perspectives are the future. In this vein, I envision two objectives for the urban design challenge, firstly to bring graduates and students from varying backgrounds to work together on a design challenge. To expose them to different disciplines so they can see for themselves how various perspectives work together, making the end result more sustainable long term. This is a break from the tradition of each discipline working separately, and a necessary one for future growth. And secondly, I want to draw attention to and practically apply the kind of practices that are being used globally in business, like service design, to our city. 

What does design mean to you?
Design is about problem solving from the user perspective. A huge element of which is research, challenging assumptions and iterating to make sure that in each step, the end result is closer to serving the needs of its user groups. Not just surface needs but deeper, latent needs. Being able to pay a bill in a two clicks or order a coffee to collect on your morning commute, is a great example of a value added, a need satiated. 

Finally what do you hope for the future of design in Belfast? 
A city that starts to recognise the importance of building its service offer around the customer instead of responding to a trend, is an essential way forward in the future. Ultimately a culture in which constant iterations in the service offer occurs to keep businesses current and competitive. Over the past decade product, though important, has been surpassed by experience, so I hope for a future when our businesses start to add things like the customer journey to their toolkit to get into the mindset of the customer helping them stay competitive, driving growth. 

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