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How Christine Fent used service design to help UK citizens stranded abroad during Covid-19 lockdowns

Christine Fent, Head of Design at Caution Your Blast
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Christine Fent

Head of Design

28 Apr 2022

Two years ago at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, one of the many issues facing the country was the lack of international travel. With flights cancelled and countries locked down, thousands of UK citizens found themselves stranded abroad, running out of money and unable to fly home.  

We’re proud to say that, working in partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Caution Your Blast found a rapid solution to the problem. Together, we built a brand new online service for GOV.UK that allowed Brits abroad to apply for an emergency loan. 

Christine Fent, CYB’s Head of Design, is a designer with more than 20 years experience. Here, she tells us more about her job and her experience of working on the COVID-19 emergency loans project. 

Hi Christine! Firstly, how would you explain service design? 

To put it simply, service design is looking at the entire journey a user takes when completing a task, while thinking about all the different touch points they come across when doing that task. It’s a process that looks at the flow and how key touch points interconnect to make the user journey more logical and enjoyable to experience/use. 

More practically, what does your role look like in the day to day? At what point do you step into a project?

As a service designer, I come in at the very beginning. I work closely with users and user researchers to understand what the problem is before finding and drafting a solution for the design.

My role looks at the overall process.  I also design the actual service (eg, for an online form, I’ll create the wireframes, the prototypes, etc). I’ll design the visual aspect, but I’ll also design the interactive side of things. 

It’s the full package, if you will - from analysis to conception to build, and then fixing any additional issues that arise in user feedback. 

At the start of the pandemic, you were involved in a very significant project, can you tell me a bit more about that?

Of course! Two years ago, the FCDO asked us to design a service that would help UK citizens stranded abroad apply for emergency loans to help with living costs until they were able to get home. 

The biggest issue we had was time. This crisis had been going on for a few months and people were in a desperate situation. We had a short window to design this service and get it off the ground. There was no time for lengthy and detailed discovery or long testing sessions. 

We worked with many stakeholders including policy and other departments to make sure it worked as a service. It was very intense, but also very exciting to work on such a massive project in such a short amount of time. A project which in normal times would have taken us at least two to three months, we completed in 2 weeks. It was amazing!

Working on this project at such a historic time was a very proud moment for me. I was able to play my part at such a critical time and use my skills to help others.

Any personal takeaways from the whole experience?

A key takeaway for me is that iterative design really does work. 

The most important thing is not to try and get everything right the first time - you can just design something quickly, get it out, hear what users have to say and just work from there. Start small and slowly build on it with the users in mind. Work closely with the users rather than locking yourself away trying to find the solution by yourself. 

The other key thing is it’s so important to work with a good team. You can go so far when you are surrounded by good people with the right mindset. It’s just fascinating, I loved it!

Finally, in your opinion, what makes CYB different from other agencies and consultancies?

Caring people. CYB people genuinely care and it’s reflected in the quality of their work. It’s not just another job for us. We really want to make a difference. On every level, from the service being created to the tech being used, to the relationships being nurtured. We care about the people we work with and it matters to us that the best is always being offered to you. 

We want our work to make your life easier in the long run and we want to help you feel confident in what you need to achieve. 

If you’re interested in hearing more about how we combine our design, research and software engineering expertise to use digital as a force for good, please feel free to get in touch. We’re always up for talking to people about making people’s lives better by delivering products and services that work for those who need them.

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