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  • Writer's pictureJean Saung

Fine Arts to Service Design

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

3 years ago, the creative director of the startup I was working for introduced me to a friend who needed prototyping for an industrial soft-good product. Before I knew it, I started freelancing full time, organically delivering my services as a one stop shop for technical design, pattern-making and prototyping. While work was surprisingly constant and technically challenging, once I smoothed out the wrinkles of running a freelance business, I felt something was missing, something big picture.

Most people these days are surprised when I tell them I originally double majored in Jewelry Metal Arts and Fashion design. These degrees spanned 5 years, marked by my determination to look for ways to work within the college system or to convince the system work for me. I believe I still am remembered amongst the administration for my exceptions to the rule.

When people asked me why I chose those two majors, I was never quite satisfied with my responses which felt like partial truths. I would often answer with a bland and pragmatic, "I liked both the self expression of fine art and the creative problem solving of design." Still in the early stages of understanding where I fit in, I was settling for simplified explanations of my choices that were both uninteresting and uninspiring.

With my limited experience at the time, I chose the Jewelry Metal Arts program at California College of the Arts (CCA), which emphasized conceptual storytelling, emotional design, experiential exhibition, as well as quality of materials and the value of craft. The Fashion Design program presented an exciting world of inspiration, research, multidisciplinary industry, complex technical and industrial systems, and the need for a dynamic team to accomplish their demanding goals. I focused on sustainability, a fundamental, strategic area of design which I would like to see as part of everyday life and common thought, a topic I will revisit in a later post.

I also took to leadership in my last four years, working with the Director of Student Life, my mentor at the time, to spearhead a new vision for the student council, student leadership, and advocacy.

In practice, I had not wanted to necessarily double major, but what I took from both disciplines was an inherently human-centered way of designing, an empathetic, systemic and strategic approach to translating ideas into products and experiences. Combined with my involvement in the redesign of student engagement and leadership, in retrospect, my college experience is really the result of my affinity for user experience and service design.

A decade ago, few schools offered these areas of study, and even now, the overall level of awareness about User Experience is just becoming common place with Service Design as a distinct practice barely starting to attract notice in the United States.

I enjoy this definition of Service design as "products of economic activity that you can't drop on your foot...", Matthew Bishop, The Economist. Another point of view from Tenny Pinheiro, is that physical products are vessels for the delivery of services; in effect, all physical products require service design. (This will be a recurring topic in my writing, I guarantee it.) I view Service design overall as strategic design for empowerment and sustainability.

A quote that helps to express my understanding of User Experience design is by Liz Sanders, “You can’t design experiences, but you can design FOR them”. I believe User Experience is the practice of understanding fundamentally how people are individuals with diverse life experiences that we cannot truly comprehend or predict.

As designers we try our best to set users up for success in their connections and interactions, allowing them to experience our designs authentically while valuing the diverse perspective they bring to help our designs grow. As UX and Service designers, we are in service to our team, our clients and customers, and as leaders, even more so.


I believe we are the sum of the experiences we are shown and the experiences we seek. If we empower others to show us the way, and empower ourselves to look for the path, then perhaps we will all find each other somewhere in the middle, sharing in the effort to lift a rather ambitious load.

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