Gerry Scullion talking with a group of people.

Service designers as facilitators of conversations: an interview with Gerry Scullion

May 3, 2022

Professionals working in the experience innovation 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 renowned CX expert share some of his background, his learnings, and a few insights into his work: please meet Gerry Scullion!

A profile image of Gerry Scullion

My job / my role / how I call myself

I'm the CEO of and the founder of the human-centered design network. I'm also the design director at Humana. I call myself a human-centered service designer.

My service design background

I'm a qualified industrial designer. I'm a reformed user experience designer and I'm a committed human-centered design practitioner.

How I got into service design

I started working digitally online in 2003, and migrated into a full UX role in 2006. I was a UI developer in 2006 for an ad agency. And then I became Head of Design for Myspace Australia and New Zealand from 2009 to 2011. Once that happened, I moved into user experience leadership. And from that, then I quickly saw the light and got into service design in 2012.

I think as a service designer you need to have experience with...


You need to understand how business works. It can't always be about the user, or the person using the service. We need to consider – to balance – those sorts of needs at all times in order to understand how to make an impact. That's the most important thing here. We're not here just to create additional work for the business. We're really here to try and make things better.

My unconventional skill that helps me with service design

My unconventional skill is my ability to communicate, that people do say to me from time to time. The ability to listen is something that I still struggle with, but I'm told I'm decent at it. Especially running the podcast for five years has allowed me to really hone in on my listening skills. So deep listening is something that I feel is probably one of my unspoken skills – not just what they're saying, but actually how they're acting and what's behind those things.

My secret way of working that helps me to be successful

My secret way of working tends to be open-minded and really focused about opportunities. I'm not settling. That's one of the key things.

Being able to balance those needs, and remain curious, helps identify new opportunities.

And also I try to do this away from the desk. That's the secret. I try to be out and about, and I am on this far too much, but being able to put it away and reflect – taking that time away.

I saw a study recently that said you have to be completely away from work for three days in order for your brain to start producing the chemicals to really reflect. I totally believe in it.

Learning resources, books, blogs, and podcasts that I enjoy

Do you know what? I'm not a fan of design podcasts these days. I'm listening to a lot of crime podcasts, and detective podcasts. I love all that stuff. I don't really tend to gravitate towards design books. I look for other autobiographies from leaders. I'm reading Jimmy Carr's book at the moment, called “Before & Laughter”. It's pretty cool, I'm enjoying it.

Blogs, they're all the usual ones. I tend to just look on Twitter and follow the keywords. That's how I find them.

Some people I like to follow, listen to, learn from

They're probably not designers, to be honest. I look for business people. I look for people in government. I look for other areas of interest, like psychology. That's where I kind of feed my curiosity. I feel the design community is too much about navel-gazing and arguing about stuff that is just really not relevant.

At the end of the day, it's working with people, understanding people, listening to people – and letting them feel heard and respected.

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

Look internally! If you're working for an organization, ask internally if there's something you can do to work on a s****y process that helps improve it. And in the background, be applying service design.

So I always say to people, whenever they're coming to me, looking at how to get into service design – I ask them to think about the blinking cursor:

Imagine in 18 months, you're sitting at your computer and you see a blinking cursor. What do you want to write on that blinking cursor, that bullet point, about what you've achieved now?​​

I recommend thinking about this every single day. So, when you go to work, think: What have I achieved? then list those things down as you go along. It doesn't have to be in your resume, it can be in a Google keep, it can be in a Google document, whatever. But every day a bullet point: document your achievements, small wins, proud moments as you're going on, all those wins – and all those non-wins – are really, really important because it gives you a long-form, a longitudinal piece of data to look at, and show what you've actually achieved over 18 months.

You do not want to be sitting there and kind of go “Uuuh, what do I do” so that right there is really powerful and that's something.

So look internally and also start documenting your wins.

The industry I have most experience with, and what I learned from it

I've most experienced in government and working in healthcare and making things better for people. I love working with governments and councils, people who are committed on a day-to-day basis to making things better for people.

What I've learned from it is: I know nothing.

Obviously, I know an awful lot, but the more I work with people, especially through This is Doing, and from speaking to people at This is HCD, I've learned a deep sort of filled sense of humility about where I sit and what I know and what I don't know.

Sometimes it's better just to shut up.

The most common mistakes when working on CX projects?

Being too pure about the methods used, not altering, not being more flexible with methods when working with diverse organizations. At the core, we are not really that important to the success of the projects.

We are ultimately a facilitator of conversations.

A project that I really like to think back to

That's a complex question for me, there are a few of them.

Designing the first kind of holistic service for Cochlear in Australia was mind-blowing. It was an opportunity to really see what design can do.

The second one was working within the government in Australia, around designing services for vulnerable people. That just blew my mind and really helped me hone and see my position within society, a global society, and understanding that the language you use is extremely important.  

A great success moment in my career

Speaking at conferences I always think is a really nice hot tip. It means that you're doing something that people might find interesting and rewarding to listen to.

But probably the greatest success moment of my career is probably ‘This is HCD’. You know, it's what people kind of get to know me as, and they listened to me, and I get lovely emails – sometimes not so nice emails – but yeah, that's probably my greatest achievement to date.

How I think CX management will develop in the future

I think ultimately it'll be all in-house, with pockets of specialties in certain areas being brought in from time to time. You can see it already happening, the big agencies are gone.

I think there are bigger conversations to be had around design and its role in creating systems that harm.

And I think we're at a point where we probably need to put our tools down and rethink what design is and its original intent, and really lose the ego.

You can connect with Gerry on these channels

By the way! For Gerry's course "Journey Mapping Fundamentals" he offers an amazing discount to Smaply companions. In the course, participants learn the theoretical basics of journey mapping and will create and digitize maps themselves. With the code 'SMAPLYLOVE' you get the course for EUR 37 (instead of EUR 99).

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