top of page

Meet Service Designer - Francesca Desmarais

Francesca Desmarais

I work at the conceptual and strategic level of ideas, helping others think about the value that any service or product provides, and exploring new ways of providing value. I dip in and out of the worlds that exists today and the worlds that we are headed towards — dancing between people's needs, backend operations, business models, and larger societal shifts.

If that sounds a bit abstract — it is! And a key part of my job is to turn that abstraction and complexity into stories that help people have an 'aha!' moment. Stories that spark new ideas, shift perspectives, or give confidence to make a decision about a service. Often these 'stories' are a mix of research analysis and prototypes, allowing people to connect with—and even touch or experience—knowledge that our team wants to share.

In a practical sense, I am part of a team that conducts a lot of research (qualitative interviews, desk research, and quantitative surveys). We might try to understand a patient's needs when they ride in ambulances, or the experience bystanders have after being part of a life-threatening emergency. In past positions I've explored what small businesses do when flooding occurs, or the way window carpenters learn how to install a new roof window. Each research project is conducted through the frame of a challenge, or problem, and then we collaboratively turn our research into insights and opportunities that can drive new solutions. The process of research and sense making is often made stronger when done in partnership with many others outside of our team, bringing a plethora of perspectives.

My job title?

Service Design & Innovation, Senior Lead

What is your typical "day in the life of a designer"?

There are generally three types of 'typical' days for me. There are the high-energy days where we're in the field, conducting user interviews, shadowing processes, conducting workshops, testing out prototypes. I love the adventure of learning, being in new contexts, the spark of an insight, and meeting amazing people.

Then there are the office days where we're in and out of meetings, planning projects, getting input from stakeholders, making presentations, and taking care of admin tasks. This can often take up a lot of our time.

And lastly, there are the deep creative days, where we can carve out time to focus on sense making— sifting through qualitative interviews (or quantitative data) to look for patterns and connections. Or making prototypes— thinking by making and turning our knowledge into tangible concepts and scenarios. These can be the toughest, but also the most rewarding days.

Design principles you live by?

  1. Ideas are plentiful, design is in the detailed execution.

  2. Every change brings new consequences. Every change replaces something else.

  3. People within a context have the best perspective, people from outside the context can ask the most provocative questions.

  4. Every project can be a social impact or climate project.

  5. Simplicity is beautiful (but not always the full picture).

What problem can't you stop thinking about?

I can't stop thinking about degrowth. Latest climate modeling shows that 'green growth' alone won't help humanity avert the worst impacts of climate change or environmental degradation. We need to be creating LARGE strategic projects, we need to be working towards equity and climate justice—and yet we're rapidly running out of our carbon budget. As a global society we actively have to change our economic system...we have to strategically invest our remaining carbon budget, and stop chasing the paradigm of year on year growth. But what does that look like? What is the role of a designer in a world that is in-between paradigms?

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

You are not your work.

As designers we can pour our soul into projects and as a profession it has the tendency to define everything about you. People will say, ah 'you're a designer'. It's ok, and healthy, to be able to step away and have many other sides of you, even other ways of solving problems.

In the same vein, one project doesn't define you. Design is a craft which gets stronger over time. Each project is a chance to refine your skills and thinking — things won't always go the way you expect and it's not a reflection on the potential you have. Get uncomfortable, stay curious, and learn from the edges!

When is "Design done wrong"?

Bad design is lazy design. Not being intentional about your choices, not thinking critically about how each choice could have implications (especially at scale!), not testing out ideas to explore what those impacts could be, not getting feedback from experts on your choices.

I see bad design most often when teams are not given enough time, or they work too independently, away from the context they are designing within. My largest design failures have been when I try to design for a context that I am too far removed from.

What skill do you wish you picked up really early on?

Sketching. Beautiful sketching.

Design tools you can’t live without? (Physical and/or digital)

Notebook and Pen

Adobe Illustrator


Big rolls of kraft paper (or black foam boards!)

...increasingly Miro

...(unfortunately) Power Point

...the internet

What’s in your bag?

Notebook, pens, a book: 'Strategic Reframing, The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach', the latest Economist, a pack of cards, wallet, chargers, extra contact lenses, hair brush, and a mini woven Peruvian pin from a former colleague :)

Books you highly recommend for anyone pursuing a career in design?

Designing Regenerative Cultures - Daniel C Wahl

The Green Imperative - Victor Papanek

Defuturing - Tony Fry

Two Designer friends you admire and we should talk to!

Paula Te - love how thoughtful Paula is, choosing organisations to work with that reflect her values. And just a talented mix of technologist, social designer, futurist, human :)

Elisabeth Graf - Courageously shaping a design practice around the big questions in climate adaptation

Where and What did you study?

Interaction Design

Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design

bottom of page