Nana’s cards


My grandma is an artist. She lives in a thatched cottage in Surrey with a garden that goes all around the house, with white wrought iron gates. My dad and his siblings grew up there. Nana has a room with her paints in it. The cupboards are painted and the tablecloth has a flower pattern on it. There is a window that looks out on to the garden. On the desk in an alcove are huge piles of thick paper with her artwork. She’s very picky – if she doesn’t like a painting, she cuts out sections of the bits that work and sends them as postcards.

Nana sends a card when you call her. She’s the most avid card sender that I know. She’s learning how to email but she still loves cards. She sends cards out faster than she can paint.


When I started exploring painting about a year ago, she was excited and asked me to paint her some cards on commission. She asked for some more for Christmas. These cards are my Christmas present for her.

I’m not showing you these cards to show off my illustration skills. I’m showing them to share with you that I am working on these skills, and to discuss why it’s important to me that I’m doing this.

Getting commissions and deadlines has worked very well for getting me to paint. I didn’t study art formally, and I was never top of my class for drawing in design school, but I find it important creatively to practice a craft – whatever medium it is.

Producing a quantity of cards means that I’m not overly precious about any single card. I try out a quantity of ideas, and some work better than others. That’s just how it works. Not all of these cards work as well as I’d hoped. I get them to a stage where they’re good enough for now – I keep working into them, and I repeat ideas in various ways that have potential – it’s a kind of prototyping.

Nana loves flowers, and this style of flower drawing. She liked the nautical themes and the oranges from my last batch, so I repeated these three styles of card.

I think they’re prettier in real life – I don’t think the camera has quite done them justice.


Painting is not part of my career work skill set. But perhaps one day it will be. My local cafe has asked for a few batches of cards to sell, which I’ll take on in the new year as a little side project.

The practice of painting strengthens and maintains my creative work processes. This is particularly important when I don’t work in an exclusively creative work environment – it takes more maintenance to be wholly connected to my creative self, to avoid picking up non-creative behaviours.

It’s also useful as a service designer to be experiencing creative processes outside of designing services. Services can seem a bit intangible – we can’t design a service as directly as we can design a shampoo bottle – we have to communicate the design of a relational service through notations to denote kinds of interactions. (Exclusively digital services have a stronger visual designed element than services based on series of human interactions through various other formats – I’m more interested in these more holistic relational services.)

And in the process of designing a service, there’s lots of other stuff that goes on that doesn’t involve typical design processes, such as bringing stakeholders on board with the process and concepts – the orchestration of people and resources to set up the interactions of the service.

Creating tangible outputs through a design process helps me get back to my roots. It’s more straightforward, autonomous, and you can see the effects immediately.


By being in the habit of drawing and painting, I hope to strengthen the visual communication skills I do use in my work. I am growing my confidence in my illustration abilities, and this helps with certain service design processes including storyboarding.

Normally I’m a graphics layout type person, and I do a lot of visual mapping too, to unpick processes and relationships. Lots of people tell me that I’m a good visual communicator, which makes me feel flattered. I would really like to grow my skills in illustration – not to be a full time illustrator, but to be able to strengthen the visual communication style that I use in my career as a service designer.

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