2015 DesignSingapore Council Scholar Victoria Koo shares her inspiring journey to becoming a Service Designer, changing the nature of public service in the UK, and breaking new ground as an Innovation Catalyst in DBS Bank.
Sainsbury New ‘Food-to-Go’ Service proposition
Victoria Koo took on a unique path to becoming a designer, starting in traditional product design before moving into service design. Her interest in design began as a child where she was drawn to tactility and crafts. She would be constantly thinking of how to transform an old product and repurpose its use, or manipulate flat objects into spatial pieces. She once made a bag out of an old skirt, breathing new life into used materials, and transformed traditional 2D cards into unique 3D pop-up creations.
Victoria always held a strong interest in both business and social anthropology. She was exposed to Design Thinking while pursuing her Bachelors’ of Fine Arts in product design at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The course emphasized user-centred processes for designing for human needs, however, it only focused on creating physical products. Feeling like she wanted to carry this philosophy a step further, Victoria went into Service Design, where such processes were adopted and translated into designing somethingintangible; such as experiences and business solutions. Victoria went on to pursue her Masters degree in Service Design at the Royal College of Art in London after obtaining the DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) Scholarship in 2015. She has since worked to break new ground as an Innovation Catalyst in DBS, using her skills as a Service Designer to create an end to end developer ecosystem within the organisation.
Victoria was also passionate about education, and of the evolving nature and definition of work. She created the Hybrid Teaching (HYTE) programme as part of her Masters’ thesis project, which aimed to resolve the high turnover rate of new teachers in the UK education system. Emblematic of the holistic scope of Service Design, the HYTE programme consisted of understanding what were attractive career factors for millennials, what the problem with the current teaching system was, to create a targeted solution with projected results and deliverables. The HYTE programme aimed to resolve the inflexibility of existing STEM teaching career pathways to provide young promising teachers with more career options, including opportunities for skills development and part-time teaching opportunities. Working with the Department for Education in the UK, Victoria created a programme that would save the civil service an estimated £37 million just by boosting teacher retention rates by 5%. With such a successful programme, Victoria was granted an entrepreneurial Visa and monetary grants to implement her project in the UK.
HYTE prototype screen: A platform with “Profiling”, “Partnership program”, “Projects” and “Progress” as the Core service elements.
After returning from her studies abroad, Victoria was also part of the inaugural group of scholars who initiated the Design Associate Network (DAN), which has now evolved in a vast network of past and present Dsg Scholars. The DAN offers numerous opportunities for mentorship and collaboration. Apart from granting her the chance to attend a world-class institution for her Masters Degree, the Dsg Scholarship also connected her with other like-minded creatives and provided scholars with a strong network of support to return to. Recently the DAN has executed collaborative exhibitions, such as the Future of Craft: FOOD exhibition, and is now embarking on providing fresh scholars with an experienced mentor, who will provide them with invaluable guidance throughout the different stages of their design career.
Jumping into new fields with her expertise in Service Design, Victoria is now an Innovation Catalyst at DBS Bank in Singapore, where she runs new and innovative initiatives such as Hack2hire to attract and retain developer talent in the Consumer and Core Engines Banking, Technology and Operations department. Here her role is to hire for high performance teams in a measured and scalable way, while aligning with the organisation’s goal to build the future of banking. Keeping in line with her passion for the evolving nature of work, Victoria uses Service Design tools to develop a sustainable Developer ecosystem of partners, collaborators, and technology leads, to structure the right kinds of challenges that would grow and retain talent. Her work also streamlines processes to enable better work experiences for hired developers. Bringing new perspectives to the team with a unique designer’s mindset, Victoria is responsible for developing the department’s programmes that aims to enable new ways of working, akin to the gig economy in the bank. Victoria chooses to sit right in the heart of the bank’s technological core, being the centre of change and innovation, and creating better millennial experiences for this generation of young workers.
For a designer to join a bank was unorthodox. Victoria has never imagined working in the banking and finance industry, since the practice and output is so vastly different from the creative process. Being part of the technology department in DBS, Victoria’s job was a newly created role and her colleagues were initially confounded by what she does. Many had not heard of service design before. Once, there was a problem that people knew the symptoms of, but not the root cause. Through implementing a service design process, they were surprised when information and data was packaged and presented in such a way that they could identify the problem and take action on it.
Service implementation illustration: A 5 year plan effecting holistic change from inside out through culture, space & staff transformations.
What Victoria finds most fulfilling in this line of work is inducing ground-up culture changes, and using this process of thinking to help management better understand what is happening on the ground. Getting people to embrace the value of Service Design is an enriching experience for her, and she is constantly amazed at how someone who’s neither from banking nor technology could have such a significant influence on the industry. Victoria emphasizes that designers truly are the spokespeople of customers, users and employees - helping to design seamless experiences that provide relevant solutions for the problems of today. She hopes to bring design to the forefront of businesses, creating awareness that design can really create sustainable, cultural changes.
Forecasting the evolution in the field of Service Design, Victoria can see the ways in which design truly has broadened its scope into encompassing many disciplines and shifting from something tangible to something intangible. From creating experiences and crafting narratives, to designing strategies and job training, there are so many things deeply embedded in the practice of Service Design. Service Design is moving into becoming a leading strategic role, one that seeks to drive change from the inside. Beyond just creating things and having an aesthetic eye, having a holistic view on stakeholders, ecosystems, and third parties forms part of a holistic solution that drives systemic change.
To find out more about the DesignSingapore Scholarship, click here.
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