Adam standing in front of a board with sketch notes

Designing rituals: an interview with Adam Cochrane

December 1, 2022

Professionals working in the experience design field represent an array of skills and knowledge: designers and managers, researchers and engineers, data-driven and creative folks, CX, UX, EX… the profession has many faces. We are thrilled to have a service designer working in the field of financial services share some of his work and his background: please meet Adam Cochrane!

My current job / my role / how I call myself

Today I’m a lead service designer at Taxfix; in this role I am working on internal tools helping our Tax experts serve our customers best. 

At Taxfix we help people get the best out of their taxes; we have two different services for customers. An advisor-based service where you can get a tax expert to support you in filing your taxes and a beautifully designed self-declaration service.

Previously, I worked at the online fashion retailer Zalando. There I was a senior product designer with a focus on crafting new services and experiences, an exciting role focusing directly on the many different types of customers.

A project I currently work on

At Taxfix, I work with Tax experts, tax advisors, and even customer support agents. The advisors help our customers submit tax declarations, they advise them on how to get the best return and build financial confidence. My role is to help those experts and advisors: by building the right tools and crafting services that help them do this for our customers. 

It’s also about figuring out how we can scale this: How can we help the team internally to serve as many customers in the best possible way? How can we automate or create better processes and tools that help them focus on the more difficult and interesting areas of building a tax declaration? It's quite tricky and of course, bureaucratic. 

But my work also includes questions like: how can we help the advisors have good relationships with customers and build trust? And how can we help customers structure their thoughts and provide information, forms, and documentation in the easiest possible way?

The industry I enjoy working with most and why

Although I was never that passionate about fashion when working for Zalando, I was really passionate about some of the challenges that exist in that industry, sustainability, fashion advice, and even gifting. I think you can also find exciting challenges that you're interested in and that you believe need solving.

I think that's the biggest challenge for a designer: being able to find problems that you believe are worth solving and that you want to invest your time into solving. Time is finite, I feel it's the most precious thing we have. 

At Zalando, I found passion in challenges like; helping people find and get advice on what they should buy, when they should buy it, how they should buy it, how they can style themselves or also have confidence in how they address themselves, and how to find the right outfits that may represent themselves in the right way. Or regarding sustainability; how do we help people who don’t want to compromise on their values? For instance, they want it to be delivered quickly, or not compromise on their style and they also want to have this and that... And after all, they want it to be good for the environment. These ended up being quite complicated challenges in the end.

Those were all problems that I found were worth solving.

In my current work, I see that ‘Taxes’ is not a solved problem either. People find it daunting, it's not clear, transparent, or obvious. I know, for many people taxes sound boring, horrible, whatever – but I think that is a problem worth solving and therefore enjoy working on the challenge.

My tip for newbies who want to start working on CX projects

I believe a lot of people think: oh, that's a really cool idea and I want to work on building that solution! But actually what makes me happy about a job, what I'm looking for in a job much more is: what problems are interesting to solve. I might not know what I’m going to build in the end – but I know I find the problem interesting. It sounds corny but you do need to ‘love the problem and not the solution’.

That's part of the reason why I change teams often and also change companies: because I am always looking for an area that I have little knowledge of and that I was also feeling nervous and confused about. This sparks my curiosity.

A topic I am passionate about

I write and talk a lot about ritual design: how we as service designers can create meaningful experiences for the teams that we work with. How can we build psychologically safe, welcoming, inclusive, and diverse teams? And then also: how can we do that for the products and services that we create for others? 

As designers – by the very nature of our work - problem-solving, creating solutions and services for people – we also embed rituals into their life.

For instance, rituals that help acknowledge people are often a big issue, especially in the virtual world. I think limited awareness of each other, and that people aren't acknowledged for the work that they do, is a strong driver of quiet quitting or the current mass migration.

Rituals can help – might be a celebration bell, a slack channel, monthly awards, or praises. 

The same applies to the products we create – looking at products like Asana where you see a magical unicorn when you check off things, or Mailchimp where a monkey gives you a high five for sending an email campaign.

I've been quite lucky in the last few years because I could talk about the topic at several conferences, e.g. the Service Design Global Conference in Copenhagen, Push UX in Munich, and the Intersection Conference (you can find my talk at Intersection online). 

One key thing I’m trying to advocate for

One key takeaway that I always like to leave people with is: be conscious about rituals and their impact because the rituals that you create can bring people together – but they can also exclude people.

An example that illustrates this point for me is the Friday night drinks. That is often the only real social networking time for people. But then, if you're a young parent or you don't enjoy drinking, this can also be a very subtle, non-spoken way to say: hey look if you're not kind of a party person, or you're not going to stay late in the office, then maybe you're not really part of this team. 

And we can also do that to our users: What if they’re not going to pay this much money, or if your service only has a certain language – then you’re also saying to your users: you shouldn't use this product, even if you need it; we don't want you to use it because you don’t fit in that group.

That can be okay. You can also say: “We're trying to exclude these users because we actually don't serve them” – but you might be excluding the wrong people for really stupid reasons, just because you haven't been conscious of the kind of rituals that you're creating; for your team and for the people that use your services and products.

Where I draw my inspiration from

Talking about things creates conversations, examples, and input about it – so just talking and listening to others helps me a lot to get inspiration from people’s experiences. I really love when people reach out and talk to me about them!

Kursat Ozenc and Margaret Hagan from The Ritual Design Lab at Stanford are fantastic, with their two books about Rituals for Work and Rituals for Virtual Meetings.

And Ted Matthews, service design chair at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design – very interesting guy, very interesting story but also working with Norwegian football teams to actually build in this ritual aspect into the service and to the experience of questions like; what does being a fan of a football club mean? What does it mean for the players and the experience that they have? How can you draw on the rituals of mythology and bring that into events? 

Last but not least, Allen De Baton, the founder of School of Life – talks about atheism 2.0 along with rituals and about how we can draw from things that we've learned and developed as a society. Maybe we can transform this into how they can work for us today, philosophy and religion, or similar.

You can meet Adam on these channels: