Order up! Design is part of the service industry.

Design is service. Depending on who you are, that might make you have uh…feelings.

A few of us in the studio just finished season two of the much-acclaimed show ‘The Bear’. It offers a glimpse into the world of running a kitchen/restaurant amongst other themes. In a lot of ways, though, it has nothing to do with the kitchen. We find it parallels a lot of how the designer/client/studio world runs. One of the themes that really resonated was how they frame this idea of service. It is almost ritualistic. There is a misalignment in the series where Carmy, the main character, struggles to get the rest of the kitchen to adopt his perspective on the deeper view of service. He sees service as a higher calling, where the restaurant, kitchen and chefs all coalesce to provide service to the customer. A complete experience that has only the customer in mind.

If you’re a designer, this idea might make you feel indignant, or offended. Yes, you offer a unique and creative solution to the challenges laid before you by clients far and wide. We’ll come back to you in a moment. If you are a client, it might sound accurate and you agree, “Yes, I pay for design services, I get design services”.

We’re of course not talking about a fast food restaurant experience: “I’ll have the number four combo with a shake,” which perhaps is a more formulaic environment, with lack of inspiration and creativity. ‘The Bear’ dives into the deeper learned/studied process of cooking, respect and honour. Conviction, even. And then preparation for the customer.

Often it is easy to fall into these odd mental spaces as designers, and we’ve seen it as well with clients. Where the idea of service loses this deeper meaning. For the sake of the project, the scope, the budget and all the parameters and stakeholders at the table, we rush the meal. We rush the moments of making. The moments of collaboration. The moments of respect.

Watching ‘The Bear,’ we’re reminded about how it can be a true honour to serve.* There is the reverence the show manages to capture in how the end result is just as important as the collaboration and steps that lead toward it. There can be mayhem and frantic moments to be sure. You probably had some this week on a project you’re working on! But these deeper ideas around the moments of careful measurement, moments of inspiration and bold decisions, feel all too familiar with some of the projects we’ve been lucky to work on for some of our clients.

You’ve probably felt it too, as a client, or a designer. That moment where there isn’t a clear solution. But we stick to the system and process to get there. That moment where it feels like everything is on fire at once, but you look around and the team you’re with has got it. We’re going to be okay. That moment where the first reveal of the work, that moment where you can have the first taste happens, and it’s better than you can imagine. That is all built around service. It truly is an honour to serve our clients, to get to work with our team. To build together something new and exciting!

We’ve all been on the bad end of a relationship (personal or professional) that didn’t hold respect and mutual appreciation. Maybe that’s where the bad taste associated with service comes from. Ordered to do the thing, get the thing, make the thing. Maybe we can take a fresh look at the idea of service. Maybe it isn’t the negative, submissive idea it has become. Perhaps it can become synonymous with respect, collaboration and honour. Truly a word that reflects how we as designers can honour our clients and their goals.

* We even read Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara because Richie reads it in Season 2, Episode 7 (Forks). It is an excellent book, BTW.

Photos: Urban Gyllstrom and FX Network