Service designer Katie Harris of The Amazings on overcoming barriers
Katie Harris is a service designer, businesswoman and the brains behind two highly successful projects helping retirees to stay active and connected: NANA and The Amazings. Katie talked to us about the challenges she faced along the way – and the importance of having faith in your ideas.
Throughout my career as a public sector innovation consultant, the biggest barrier to getting anything done was other people.
This took many forms: from insanely complicated bureaucracy and impossibly large stakeholder meetings, to that one person sitting across from me at the table making it clear that they did not want to be there. The word ‘no’ can be incredibly irritating to designers. It can put an end to months of research, hours of well thought out ideas and general excitement about the possibilities of change. I can’t remember the amount of time people shot down my ideas within the first 30 seconds of hearing them. It’s probably as many times as I was lectured on how the ‘current system worked’ and why it was ‘impossible to alter’. I was only a handful of workshops away from sweeping the table of all the post its and screaming "WE MADE ALL THIS STUFF UP IN THE FIRST PLACE - WE CAN CHANGE IT".
I was tired of thinking up great ideas that tackled big social problems, all the while knowing that they weren't going anywhere - apart from into a nice report.
I used to worry that maybe my ideas weren't good enough. Maybe I wasn't communicating things in a way that people could understand. But after awhile, I came to realise that maybe I was just in the wrong environment. This is why, after five years of working within public sector organisations, I decided to go it alone. I was tired of thinking up great ideas that tackled big social problems, all the while knowing that they weren't going anywhere - apart from into a nice report.
Setting out on my own with a small group meant that I was free to work at the pace that I wanted. I surround myself with people who wanted my ideas to succeed. I was answerable to the people that matter the most: those that will actually use and benefit from the service.
How did this result? Well, in 2011 I turned my interest and research on social isolation into a new way for older people to stay active and connected. With the help of the Design Council's Independence Matters Design Challenge, I launched The Amazings; an online marketplace in which retirees could share their skills with the rest of the world. The Amazings now has a network of 16 teachers and offers around over 20 regular courses. Then in 2012, I started NANA, a comfort food cafe hosted by older ladies for which we've just smashed our £15,000 Kickstarter Campaign target to kit out the café. Thank you to our 518 supporters.
So, here’s to having faith in your ideas
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