Break the curse of service design

Catalina Bonavia | 7 September 2021


“I know the system. I’ve been working with it for over 8 years. I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job” said Paul when Patricia asked him about a digital experience that wasn’t working well for their customers and was negatively impacting their employees’ processes.  


Paul is a developer and Patricia is a UX designer at a financial institution  Paul had a point. Technically the system was working. However, the customer didn’t know that and could not really know if it was working or not.  

The consequences of that? Customers keep trying to do what they know. They feel frustrated because it is not working (but it is), and then employees receive dozens of extra identical submissions and have to check them one by one. 

So… what is really going on? 

It is important to understand that just because our systems ‘technically’ work, doesn’t mean that they solve our customer’s problems or help them achieve their desired outcomes. That is why stepping into our customers’ shoes, talking with them, and observing their behaviours/ways of thinking is critical. 

When we talk about this we usually talk about empathy, which is the basis for Human-Centred Design. Empathy is extremely important – but let’s dig deeper. Why is it difficult for some people to feel that same empathy with their customers (more specifically, those who say ‘this is how we do it here)?  

Have you heard about the curse of knowledge? The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand. 

In other words, when we get used to working with something, we tend to forget that other people don’t have the same level of knowledge and understanding that we do. It can happen with your car mechanic. They know everything about cars and may forget that other people just drive and put in petrol. Similarly, leaders may have the information and background about a strategy, but when they try to communicate it with their teams, they avoid details and bring confusion. We could go forever with these examples – but you get the idea. 

I believe this is what was happening to Paul. He knows his systems, he has been working with them for over a decade, and, from his point of view, it works. However, assuming that the customer will also know that the system will work because they hit the ‘Submit’ button is like assuming that your grandma will know how to use Instagram just because we installed it on her phone. 

So… how do we break your employees’ curse?  

First, try by moving your magic wand three times and repeating abracadabra…if that doesn’t work, let’s try something else! 

  1. Acknowledge their work and efforts 
  2. Make it about the systems and experience and not about their skills so that they don’t feel threatened 
  3. Show them, don’t tell them: gather your evidence and make them listen first-hand about what your customers are going through 

The curse of knowledge can be broken. You just need to make your magic!