Lydia Howland, service designer

 20 March 2013

At IDEO, Lydia works with a range of designers to find out what people want and need from experiences such as air travel.

Working on IDEO's 'human factors' team has taken Lydia all over the world.
Working on IDEO's 'human factors' team has taken Lydia all over the world.


I'm from Pershore, which is a small town in Worcestershire, but I now live in London. 

What job do you do?

I work for IDEO. We're a global design consultancy, and we design and improve many things, including products, digital experiences and – increasingly – services people use.

My current title is 'Design and Portfolio Director', but you could say I'm a service designer.  

I work on IDEO's 'human factors' team. Human factors is a term we use at IDEO to describe the people who study how customers behave, what they need, and what they want from a product, service or experience.

So, for example, IDEO could get a brief from an airline: 'We want to develop a really good seat for our first class flights'.

"We believe in designing around people, rather than designing things because they look good."

A design company could easily go straight to its industrial designers and start designing the seat, but at IDEO we want to think first about what people want and need from an airline seat, and research how airlines are experienced.

The aim is to inspire designers to make things that are more human-centred. We believe in designing around people, rather than designing things because they look good or because you happen to like a material.

We would consider the airline seat project not just a product design project, but a service design one too. When you book a flight, you're buying a service. You aren't buying the seat, you're buying the experience of flying with a particular airline.

How did you get started in design?

I took an unusual route. I did an A level in Art and Design at school, but my degree was in English Literature.

My first job was for a think tank as a researcher. While I was there we worked on a joint project with IDEO, and over the course of that project I realised I was in the wrong job, and wanted to work for IDEO!

It took me almost two years to move across. Because I wasn't a trained designer, I knew I would need to wait for a human factors role to come up. 

What do you do at work?

Service design is about capturing as much real insight about human behaviour as possible. It's about observing things, not just sitting in a boardroom.

We want to map people's journey through an experience, whether it's taking a flight or unwrapping and using a mobile phone for the first time.

User journeys have what we call 'touchpoints'. A touchpoint is where the customer experiences the brand. So on the airline example, when the customer books the flight online, when they're handed their ticket, and when they take their seat and start forming a view of the plane, those are all touchpoints. 

Using an app to book the flight, and even meeting the staff on the plane, are further touchpoints. Touchpoints cover all kinds of design: graphic, product, industrial, and so on. Service design maps out how these forms of design can work together.

In terms of my work: 

  • I spend a lot of time visiting people at home and spending the day with them. I might follow them around as they go to work, taking lots of photos, and asking them to complete exercises I've designed to help me understand their priorities.
  • We also make ourselves the subjects of the research. With an airline project, we'd take a lot of flights and record our experiences. We might even shadow the airline crew.
  • However, we don't go out, get all this insight, produce a report, and give that to our product designers. Instead, they come with us. The more eyes you have on a challenge, the more ways of getting a solution there are. 

"Service design is about capturing real insights about human behaviour."

As the designers start to come up with ideas, models, and prototypes, it's my job to discuss them with users, so the ideas can be refined further until we're confident that what we're proposing is the best possible solution.

There should be a nice straight line between what we saw people needed, what we observed they wanted, and the final product. 

What's the best thing about your job?

The variety is genuine. If you work in design, you work with engineers, management and business specialists, graphic designers, marketers, and more. 

The clients are varied, too: airlines, banks, phone companies, and all kinds of service providers. 

Service design takes you all over the place. You meet people who have just come out of prison, hospital patients, and arctic explorers. If you like people and are nosy, you can't get better work.

How do I get into design?

  1. Show your working
    Increasingly with design, it's not just about showing people what beautiful things you can make. It's about showing people your processes and research.
    I don't want to look through your portfolio and just see a beautiful finished airline seat. I want to see how you arrived at it. How did you research it? Who did you speak to? Did you make mockups? 
    We want to see people who think like designers. We want to know how they will get those insights, and how they will test things out. This is just as important as being able to use software to make a beautiful poster.
  2. Use social media effectively
    Get on LinkedIn. Sign up to Twitter. Be careful how you use Facebook, too. Make sure you understand the privacy settings so you're promoting yourself effectively to future employers.
    If you have a blog, put it on your CV. Designers want to see evidence that you have your eyes open all the time, and are contributing to conversations about design, and about your ideas. 
    Service design itself has all kinds of Google communities you can join. Be aware of the Service Design Network, and look for events and Yahoo Groups that relate to design. 
    All these sites are your tools if you want to get into this industry. 
  3. Specialise in certain things, but keep your interests broad
    At IDEO, we talk about people who are 'T-shaped'. The long bit of the T is their depth or specialism in an area, such as graphic design, for example. The top bit of the T reaches out into other areas.
    A range of interests adds value to your design thinking, and isn't a distraction. 

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