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Every Good Service Deserves Strategy

21 July, 2022


*Bullet Me
  • Schools are service delivery organisations. The services they deliver are education services.
  • Often a strategic direction and the school objective setting is centred on the student, with parents/carers and ‘society’ as the audience.
  • My experience with schools and through research is that, as with any complex organisation who understands what service is, you must design for those who receive and those who deliver.
  • Those deliverers need to consider and know what they’re about and what they’re trying to achieve in the bigger system.
  • Enter the Strategic Framework for a Year 8 – 9 cohort.
  • But there’s so much uncertainty (ability to attend, teacher coverage, ‘covid kids’) maybe a strategy isn’t necessary at this level or it’s a nice to have
  • If you don’t think it, you won’t be it… If you don’t seek it, you won’t see it…

A Strategic Framework captures a future-focused aspirational service conversation

I love a good strategic framework. In my experience, planning is more valuable than the plan – just like sometimes the design is the conversation. To me, the notion of a ‘Framework’ is the way to capture a conversation, the revelation and agreement for people to reference and check they’re on track around “What we’re about and where we want to get to.”

A Strategic Framework is not a full-on strategy with setting of goals and priorities, determining actions to achieve the goals, and breakdown of mobilising resources to execute the actions. It doesn’t need from/to narrative, charts and data, images of people walking down hallways talking and laughing, and to be a standout demonstration of brand and corporate visual identity.

We’re talking a concise physical output here, not the concept and business capability.

And actually, it’s not the Strategic Framework itself, it’s the design conversation that gets captured as the visual artefact that matters.

At the Bishop Viard College, Year 7-8 is called Fa’avae. Fa’avae means foundations in Samoan and the name comes from this proverb:

E sui le faiga ae tumau le fa’avae

Ways of doing may change but the foundations remain the same

Samoan Proverb

Year 7 – 8 is an important stage for young people, as they transition from Primary School to Intermediate and then High School; from childhood into young person, towards young adulthood and their future beyond school.

The school has a strong vision about preparing people with qualifications and for the life beyond school.

The Fa’avae Team of three – Fuatino (Tino), the Dean, and Tasi and Steve, the teachers – wanted to set objectives for the year ahead in the short planning time they have during Term break. Tino had seen value in the school-wide objective setting she took part in and wanted to apply it to their cohort. We spent about a day on conversation about what really mattered to them and their students, and did different activities to draw out what meaning they wanted to create.

Early on we knew the concept of ‘foundations’ gave us the basis for Fa’avae’s Strategic Framework as a way to capture the baseline and aspirational drivers the Team envision for their students, community and for themselves.

Here is the key visual of their Strategic Framework:

Supporting this statement is a simple breakdown of:

  • Context
  • Strategy to Outcome
  • Measures, including ‘How are we doing?’ questions that can be used to conversationally check

The framework gives shared language, captures shared perspective. And as good design does, it gives you an intent to check in with as you move forward.

But as with all strategic anything’s, will it ever actually be used or get traction given our now three-year long traverse through unprecedented times?

Right now, schools in Aotearoa/New Zealand are in massive teaching coverage crisis which has flow on effects to what teachers and students can actually do? And where ‘covid kids’ present without expected learning fundamentals because school access was and is unpredictable, or the teacher/student dynamic proved too challenging for the circumstance.

My current research work with Principals in Australia has had stories of no new goal setting and where just surviving the Term is the aim, ‘Return to Zero’ as an aspiration because there is so much flux, and knowing that Plan A for an event or activity needs a Plan B because enough people are unlikely to turn up. Covid is still very real and present and impacting how schools operate. And how schools and their leaders aspire.

It can feel like, the reality right now, is that a strategic anything probably seems like a sketching a dream home when you’re working hard just to pay the rent.

But as intentional progress is stalled or plans go on pause due to operational circumstance, we still exist, services are still delivered, community is still made and nurtured.

Specifically, as the Covid-informed landscape evolves – approaches ease or toughen given the circumstances, policies are flung out by Departments – that framework and those conversations will, and do help right now.

The depth isn’t so relevant now, but as the Team has worked planning for subsequent terms, the framework is a intent check-in point:

  • “Are we on track?” > Fa’avae Strategic Framework > Yup. Cognitive load lightened.
  • “Can we take people along on our journey?” > Fa’avae Stragic Framework and story telling from the design activity > “Uh -huh, a conversation to engage, select, recruit can be held”
  • “Can we do anything major now?” > Fa’avae Strategic Framework > “We can reframe what we want to do to be aligned”
  • “Have we missed anything while we’ve been in the depths of doing?” > Fa’avae Strategic Framework story telling from the design activity >  “Nope, but let’s not lose sight of what we said”
  • “We really can’t do anything new right now can we?” > Fa’avae Strategic Framework story telling from the design activity > “We can’t get to what’s next yet, but we can make some small steps in that direction.”

Identifying from the seemingly lofty future focused statements how they are being lived now, what the connections and purposefulness is right now could not be done without the work we did.

Fa’avae may have to put off some doing, or expectation of the pace of evolution, but they don’t have to put off thinking, an aspiring. The Fa’avae Strategic Framework output and conversation represent: 

  • A capture, not a tome.
  • A basic structure that supports a concept or content.
  • A rapid design activity that has enabled them to quickly, yet deeply, express everything they were thinking. What Designer doesn’t love to hear: “You help put into words what didn’t even know we were thinking”.
    • anxiety reduction “Yes, we’ve talked about this one”
    • cognitive load lightening “That’s right, that’s where we’re headed”
    • on-track or off-track measurability “Ok – that’s how we mean that”
    • shared agreement “Yes we said that and that’s how we said it”
    • team engagement “remember everyone, this is where we need to be”

Strategy is big and lofty and formal and business like. But everyone who delivers within a system to people gets value from the examining “What we’re about and where we want to get to.”

In a time where UNPRECEDENTED is the adjectival catch cry, and the future is in daily review for people living through availability and supply chain issues, developing a strategic framework with a High School Year 7-8 team reminded me how assuring and energising and sustaining service design can be.

“Look where you’re going
because you will end up going where you’re looking.”

Emmet Fox

“If you don’t seek it, you won’t see it…
If you don’t think it, you won’t be it…
Tryna fake it never makes it”

‘Break My Soul’, Beyoncé

This blog’s job – For Realising and For Remembering

21 July, 2022

Hey! Long time no write!

Potted History Update: I last posted here in 2018, but had posted about all things design and service design on my work site Design Managers Australia (DMA). In 2021 we closed DMA – those posts we wanted to preserve are now here. I moved home to Aotearoa/New Zealand from Australia in mid-2021 (combo of burnout and covid/pandemic life rethinking – I am #thegreatresignation! and perhaps, ‘anti-ambition’ – although I don’t agree with the term; I have ambition – just not career or ‘traditional’ ones anymore).

I am seeking to practice and serve in my community (still working out what that is for me) which means I want to work with people and groups who may not usually think or have the opportunity to ‘do/use design’. I still believe in ‘sticky steps‘, I’m just not so sure about changing the ‘System’ that I think does work as it designed – unfortunately. So until then, I want to empower and equip my community to cope, adapt and serve it’s people.

This is part of the attraction of continuing to work in schools, children and young people, and still for me, government services. To that end I’ve been working in both the New Zealand space at a local level, and in Australia at a national level and my two main items of work are:

  1. A research project I’m leading in Australia based on work I did at DMA with Justin Barrie around applying a service design/delivery approach to primary school operations and how that supports a Principal.
    • Podcast (45 mins) with South Australian Primary Principals Assoc. if you’re interested in 2 Principals 1 Designer about what good principals do and cope with.
  2. Design support at a local school, Bishop Viard College with the Year 7-8 Dean and teachers, Fa’avae, an amazing and inspiring team of three: Fuatino, Tasi and Steve. We’ve developed a cultural identity program that has just been awarded funding for 2023 through the Pacific Innovation Education Fund (woo hoo!), and a strategic framework for the Year 7-8 cohort.

It’s been a return to enjoying design (take that burnout!) and I find myself thinking about design in practice, and wanting to share stuff again.

I always used this blog as a place to capture and recall things for myself, so here goes…again.

You’re so design, you probably think this post is about you

5 March, 2018

Reader warning: I’m not even sure what this post is about. I’m categorising it as ‘captured musings’ that seem to go together 😉


Even this image isn’t really even about the post! But it does have randomness, and a movie star, and design, and it’s kind of a prototype because it was made to learn where to stick stuff.


Let me just say at the outset, when I thought about doing this post the other week I thought it was a riff on research, listening and hearing.

On Feb 19 I saw Black Panther and thought about the different stories and perspectives we’ve been missing out on or people we hadn’t heard from because of the preponderance towards white, male, western, straight, etc. storytelling. I didn’t think this intellectually or because of a tweet I saw, I thought it because I was genuinely entertained and enthralled and engaged by what I felt and heard and saw on screen. And off-screen. And I am also felt a bit annoyed that, in my lifetime, this has taken so long to realise.

Then I watched an episode of the new Queer Eye and saw this little guy (cos the Fab 5 are tall!) looking up and being listened to and heard by these fabulous men – who just want to help that man. Just that man, then and there. And it was all so new to him and focused on him and what he needed and who he was.

And then, on Feb 22, at work (because this is a blog about design) we did a prototyping workshop. One of the prototypes we presented was in the form of a fully rendered brochure of the future business we were designing – customer quotes, well-lit photos, a logo, a tagline even. We asked for thoughts, and after some silence, and obvious discomfort (read: “this isn’t the sort of thing that is usually put in front of us….”) a participant said “well, I’m seeing a lot of X but what about Y?” and I realised:

A prototype is a way of ideas being heard by someone else, and them being able to reassemble their take on what they see. Their reflection is a way of a design being heard, tested and refined. This is Service Design.

But even that revelation wasn’t quite what I think this post is.

And finally, as if to bring it all together for my brain (that loves looking for patterns and complexity and randomness) today, 5 March, I watched the Oscars (told myself I wouldn’t but, day off, it’s on, one thing lead to another)…anyhoo, Kumail Nanjiani, co-writer with Emily V Gordon, of The Big Sick said something like:

“Some of my favourite movies are by straight white dudes about straight white dudes. And now straight white dudes can watch movies about dudes like me, and YOU relate. It’s not that hard. I’ve done it all my life.”

And there it was.

I think the upshot of this rambling memory recollection post is actually NOT about research, the art of listening and actually hearing about needs.

I think it’s a service design discipline self-reflection.

And how service design and design techniques – prototyping, ethno-based research, visualisations – gives an organisation and the people who work there a new way of listening and hearing.

A new voice to be heard telling them things they haven’t heard or realised in way they haven’t heard or seen before. And in ways that they can genuinely change and improve from.

So, what’s this post about again?

Design – specifically in my case, service design in the public sector – is still a different way of doing things in most organisations.

“Old” ways* still dominate in most public sector agencies. But big whoop. That prototype got a bigger revelation and realisation from that room than any document or facilitated seminar or instruction manual could ever get. It took less time to get there, it was more deeply engaged with, and it wasn’t explained by us – the designers – it was translated by them – the people who are actually going to be doing the work.

Service design might have in actuality been around a while but we’re still different to what most people in organisations have experienced. It still helps to have an older white guy at the top invite you in. But if you have an authentic voice, and if what you do gets them decisions and change, they’ll invite you back. Or the good ones find you because they’re just as interested in new ways of seeing, hearing and doing change.

And this has what to do with Black Panther, QE, and the Oscars?

Black Panther = a metaphor for the value of authentic voices, telling their stories in their ways. So just shut up and listen.

Queer Eye = an example of listening to what people really need, but making sure to ask the right things. It’s called service design not service research so make sure you can design (i.e make change) from what you uncover.

Prototypes = truly are visualising a reality (not presenting a solution) that helps people shift their thinking, or at least perceive in a different way. So stop explaining with your mouth, start sketching and start discussing.

To wit:

“And now [organisations who rely on old change and management processes] can [experience change the service design way], and YOU relate. It’s not that hard. I’ve done it [for at least 20 years]”

* If you can call Change Management, Business Analysis and Project Management old ways – but they set the expectations of every room we enter.

Six Principles of Principles

27 May, 2015

I love a good principle.

They’re fundamental in nature. Sometimes simple, often deep. They guide behaviour. They help make decisions in the complex world of multiple decisions required. They’re better when there are more than one – because nothing is ever black and white (if is it then they’re rules not principles).

So when I found this link to Design Principles FTW (curated by Meetod “a tiny UX agency in Sweden” doing a big job curating these principles!) I was in principle heaven.


Also, having read through many of them, I couldn’t help but have a go at my own set of Principles of Principles based seeing 73 collections and 587 principles.

The Desonance 6 Principles of Principles

  1. Same letter start, way to the heart.
  2. Single                 …word, then explain.
  3. S’Number them for better hits.
  4. Six minus one to 10 in number.
  5. Succinct verbosity, otherwise too much curiosity.
  6. So action occurs, use verbs.


1. Same letter start, way to the heart.

Connected, Courageous, Collaborative, Coherent, Co-sponsored.
Make it clear, Manage it all, Maintain what you can, Maximise the value.

I made up that last one but seems like to could be something! Anyhoo, I’ve been guilty of this in the past – using the same letter to start each Principle. I think sometimes, trying to get that matchy-matchyness (there is no linguistic term for lists starting with the same letter) may dilute the actual heart of the principles intent.


2. Single                        …..word, then explain.

I’m a fan of conciseness (even if I don’t often practice it), but I think a list of snappy descriptions is better then a single enigmatic, open-to-interpretation word. And it goes with Principle 6.


3. S’Number them for better hits.

Apparently, you get better clicks if you number your lists and posts. Just think of all the ‘4 Ways Elevators Will Get Totally Insane in 2016’, ‘38 Foods That Shouldn’t Exist’ and ‘10 Signs You’re a Sucker for Clickbait’ you click on. I know I do! I know they’ll be skimable, I know they should be fast to get through, and I know it will be a list.


4. Six minus one to 10. (See what I mean about Principle 1)

Between five and ten seems to be the most popular number for a list. I subscribe to the ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two’ (Miller’s Law) so it works for me.


5. Succinct verbosity, otherwise too much curiosity.

No gorilla arm‘ is rare as a type of principle, but generally a principle is immediately understandable so you don’t get confused. And if it is wordy or verbose, it’s probably aimed at a specialist audience.


6. So action occurs, use verbs.

Design, Assume, Tailor, Strive, Reduce, Offer – doing words! Because principles are about doing something – making a decision, changing a mind, setting a course.


Disclaimer: If, in reading this list you say “ahhhh, they aren’t actually principles!” – Sorry, I don’t really care. Sometimes it’s nice to just put fingers to keyboard, compose something and hit publish. Without making sure you’ve captured a system of broadly applicable truths. Ironic, don’t you think?

Baking is to Design Process as The Simpsons are to Research Observations

29 October, 2014


From Order to (Eton) Mess; Organised for research to analysis and synthesis.

At work we’ve been out in the field researching with users. I’ve talked before about research before on here.

Again it’s a topic in government and I can’t share details. But this time, from a design process perspective I’ve played the Second Chair role – take care of everything (finding the place, confirming anything with the participant beforehand, logistics of getting there, interview packs, back up interview packs, recording, keeping time, follow-up) so that First Chair can wholly engage in conversation with the person.

A wee note about research roles and responsibilities here: I’m a strong advocate of process. Probably no more so than when in the field. These have been deep dive one-on-one interviews for an hour or more in the homes/workplaces of the participants and on a particularly sensitive topic. You have so much going on that process frees the part of the brain that needs to be organised, rigorous, ethical and practical. That leaves the rest of your brain to be empathetic, engaging, probing, curious and on-topic (or off- as is beneficial to the project outcome).

But what my role has meant is that I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the interview process itself. Enough that I wanted to capture these observations in this off the cuff and probably over-verbose post.

So, to the observatoring!

  • It is so satisfying professionally to see someone physically change as they relax in front of you from crossed arms and suspicious expression to laughter and open gestures and genuine curiosity to explore their own thoughts. And when they start swearing? Gold.
  • Witnessing an interview that is transformed into a true conversation through rapport and authentic empathy between interviewer and participant. That is, the interviewer can articulate their understanding of a range of experiences but also able to build on the rapport with a sharing of their own feelings.
  • From a personal perspective, being presented with different ways of thinking is a total perk in some cases – sometimes people share extremely inspiring or thought provoking perspectives and experiences. It can change the way you look at your own life or attitudes. These interviews are a delight.
  • Also from a personal perspective, it is, fortunately, a rare experience, that you can come across someone who not only has completely opposing thoughts, attitudes and demeanour but who can be boorish, egotistical and really not someone you want to talk to at all. But you do. And you always find out something of value. These interviews can be a test, requiring circumnavigation of topics and questions, and strategising of responses to reach, if not rapport and openess, then at least genuine perspectives and input.

From talky-talk to writey-write (some rubby-rub out) and then re-writey-write

As we’ve gotten into the analysis and synthesis phases, I, as an introvert who needs to layer up my analysis and understanding over time (however short), have forced myself to type up my notes the evening of the interview. Yes, I know, I, who extolled the virtue of process only six paragraphs ago doesn’t follow all good process all the time. Whatever. Been doing it more than 10 years – know the rules to break them baby. Anyhoo, the love/not-love of the research phase is followed by the love/not-love of notes and analysis. We’re in that space now.

My notes are structured around themes, quotes (which I get verbatim wording from by checking the recordings – really liking as 2nd chair being able to note the times in the recording when someone shares gold), insights from the users, insights from the car debriefs.

It’s all a set-up and preparation for what I think of as the 20% of actual fun and free design time you get out of any design project. The whiteboard, the conversations in the office, the referencing of the notes, and exploring the interpretation, the different perspectives the design team brings. This is the great stuff of design.

As we move to synthesising and refining the 20% gives way to the necessary 80%. Oh, sure, we’ll get back some 20% glimpses during prototyping and viusalising, but the fact is, after analysis/ synthesis /exploring we’re through the looking glass here, people. And on to the actual design part!

To finish, you must start* NB: This is unlikely to be at a ‘beginning’

23 August, 2014

Lately at work we’ve been busy. Three jobs finishing around the same time, development work for projects starting up at the same time. That’s meant two things:

  • I love designing, but you gotta capture the design in a concrete way which means a lotta synthsising of key elements, features, contextual linkages, pattern ah-ha’s which all needs to be succintified, captured, edited, refined, described, clarified.
  • I love explaining the complex in a visual, but getting to the final graphically designed visual takes time, and mousing, lining up, and saving often, and resizing, and sourcing imagery and inspiration and making icons. And then taking a look and realising it’s unreadable, and adding a few lines and boxes. And then transferring it to an already MB-full document. So some more resizing, and wondering what the hell to do. And then googling and working it out.

So, I love and hate this time. You’ve done all the fun talky whiteboardy stuff. Now it’s time to get your define on.



We work mostly with Public Sector clients. They get a lot emphasis on *A LOT* of words to read; tables and matrices, paragraphs, bullet points – pages and pages of it. Prose and composition and narrative take time to craft, to take in, to agree on. So for a change I’ve been leaning quite heavily on sketching to draw out process changes.
Instead of getting the client to read:

The activity begins when the user makes either a formal or informal approach to the group. This may come from a variety of sources including:

      • Existing Plans
      • Previous Plans
      • Executive Forums
      • Opportunities that may result from discussion or forums
      • Informal discussions where “bright ideas’ may evolve naturally.


I’ve been sketching this and talking through the refined detail:



We use this sketchy approach all the time during the exploring and designing phase. But using it for final clarifying to the defining stage is new for me. Bourne out of necessity – too much on, too much to take in (client-side, my side), wanting to allow the client to be able to contextualise the multiple series of decisions we’ve been making together all along but now we’re in the final act.

The result has been great. Couple of times even greeted with a “great!” and a generous lean in and casting aside of reports. (It’s very nice as a designer when the new way of looking at things to a client is actually enjoyable and a relief to them from what they’re used to).


This sketching has also meant turning these conceptual views into the experience maps, and blueprints, and diagrammatic representations and frameworks has been much easier for me.

Just like the conversation is often designing. It’s true also that when you sketch you’re designing. That means when I’m using Illustrator I’m designing too. As painful as it can be to start on a blank Illustrator page.

Because as you’re drawing the person, and thinking how to colour-code them, and relate them on a screen to an icon that represents a touchpoint or a process or a feeling, you’re thinking as if doing – outside-in and inside-out.



I’ll admit I’m a bit of a perfectionist on certain things, and digitising a diagram takes time. Plain and simple. That’s not to say I haven’t always, and still don’t feel guilty for taking time to do diagrams or info design. Even if it is my job. I’d say a typical one-page diagram like a customer experience map takes probably 6 – 10 hours. All the refinements are in addition to that.

I am surprised how often I finish a diagram and just hate it. I look at it and I think: “that doesn’t work at all!” “It’s going to be illegible to anyone but me…But I’m so sick of it. And the iterations” (yes, people, iterating can be a pain in the arse!). And then a client sees it and says “I like how you’ve represented me there” (as happened recently) or a colleague explains it back to you seeing even more then you realised. That’s cool.



My final realisation from this burst of multiple visualising activity has been I am now comfortable with where I need to make a start on a blank page.

Just start.

Start at detail. Start by writing a bullet point list of what the thing should fulfil. Start by writing a story of someone looking at the diagram. Start by crafting the icons on the diagram that represent emotion, or touchpoints, or a spreadsheet. Start by picking a colour scheme in Kuler. Just start, and slowly but surely, it always comes together. And sometimes, if you’re a lucky designer like I am, you get some absolute and genuine pleasure from it. It reminds you why you love being a designer.

A True Story of Design Collaboration (in 16 sentences)

9 March, 2014

I present to you the regular verbal punctuation of a typical design conversation – after each passage analysis, synthesis, tension, delight, creativity, and often, solutions ensue.

Please, to enjoy:

It begins



Sppech2Last afternoon, before self-imposed deadline


Finally, next day, when it’s committed to paper


*Based on a true events in the DMA office.

Not a year in review, because it’s nearly February…so it’s more an annual post! (Still with the long titles though)

13 January, 2014

Jiminy wowsers! It’s been a long time since I last published a post here, huh?!. That’s not to say I haven’t been doing, thinking and writing design. In fact, I’d say just about every week I come to desonance to reference something I’ve written or thought through here. So it’s serving exactly the purpose I’d hoped.   : )

This isn’t quite a “year in review” post – I’m just in the mood for some writin’ and mullin’.

Some writin’

I have written a number of pieces on design at my company blog, DMA with my biz partner Justin Barrie. The ones I reckon have relevance on desonance are:

Technical Explorations

Creative Exercises

  • Creative Boost 2: Playing in a different design discipline to learn more about my own. (April 2013)
  • Creative Boost 1: Visualising and pattern making (August 2012)

Industry Exploration

Also, pretty freakin’ cooly and thanks to this blog I’ve been published in a number of publications

My Customer Experience Map

My illustration of service

Let that be a lesson to the kids out there to just put it out there.

Some mullin’

Two things that have preoccupied me most about design for a wee while now:

  1. Professionally, the notion of service design to focus internal service deliverers (such as IT, management) and arm them for change, from the inside-out. At DMA, we explore this in many a-conversation, and have been doing it with a couple of clients – to great effect! It’s exciting, and I believe it’s a really cool, decidedly un-sexy way to use design to effect real change. Engine are the only others in the service design space I see consciously talking about this. To me, it’s the notion of building a platform for design to be sustainable (which was part of the discussion I had with Joe Heaphy so many many yeas ago). And there’s something that resonates with business. And it’s super fun if you like dealing with complexity.
  2. Personally, maybe this one hasn’t excited me, but it has given me pause to accept. My creative thinking process is one of introversion. Introversion and reference (ie. I look up stuff – everytime). I often feel slow – in both the conceptualising and in the creative opportunity when teamed with an extroverted, quick and smart partner. This is not an enjoyable state. But it just means I need to find that solitary space early or later in the day to work through things. I get there. Or sometimes I have to say “I just need some time to think this through”… or words that effect. One night I was so frustrated with my self-defined “slowness” I drew it out. That was when I realised, it’s ok. It’s just different. I really like the place me and my brain can get to. And return to.

Hmmm, what to end on …. Here are some pictures I found on my phone that represent some creative, design-y, worky, inspiry stuff. See you sporadically in 2014!

Design outlets and inspiration -  TL: Where I get coffee TR: Tree Design in Harrietville, VIC, BL: Japanese Cheesecake with Cream chrysanthemum topper BR: Our company cycling kit.

Random design outlets and inspiration
TL: Where I get coffee TR: Tree Design in Harrietville, VIC, BL: Japanese Cheesecake with Cream chrysanthemum topper BR: Our company cycling kit.

Sometimes You Just Have To Shut Up

17 February, 2013

New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual

  1. Sometimes you talk too much and you just have to shut-up.
  2. Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re talking about so you just have to shut up.
  3. Sometimes you just have nothing to add; you just have to shut up.
  4. Sometimes, if you’re having a one-sided dialogue – that’s actually a monologue, because people can’t engage with you – just shut up.

And so I find myself, in my blogging, and maybe even in my engagement with some of the vocal vociferous voices of the design industry, at number 3.

I have now been in the design game long enough that I see repeats of the same arguments, same hyperbole, same “design thinking” evangelisation, same let’s fix design!/let’s redefine “design” excitement! that I saw, and that excited me, some 10 years ago.

But I’m a bit over it really.

Not over design.

Not over service design.

Not over the difference design can make.

Not over being a practitioner.

And not over slaving over a blog post for hours to craft the thoughts and get the point just right in my head and on “the page” – which is the point of this post really and what direction for these efforts in the future.

Because I am over “THE PROCESS!” I know it enough to forget about it, adapt it as necessary, seek to reinvent it appropriately – I’ve earned that. And I know it enough to shudder a little each time I hear about a training course over X-days in “innovation practice” “design thinking” “experience mapping” “prototyping made easy” “become a designer”. And this is from someone who developed and ran a two-day course called Service Design 101 for a large government department! But with practicing designers, and seven years practice – not theory – experience, and a deep knowledge of the organisation itself.

And I’ve spent enough time on getting clarity on meaning that means I am over the definitions and redefinitions for the sake of supposedly encouraging dialogue, debate or for plain ole “I’m right!” purposes. Meaning matters and labels help, but definitions that fix a precise description and have to fit within 140 characters? Over it.

See, here’s what I love about design (as in service design, design in a business context):

  • It is complex.
  • It is hard – it really is. I’ve said it here before and I still agree with myself.
  • It is human.
  • The act of design can change the way people think about themselves, their roles, the people they deal with, the difference they can make, the outcomes they can achieve.

Here’s what I love about the world of design I am lucky enough (and also choose to) operate in:

  • It is not sexy.
  • It seeks to effect change in the places that don’t always start with the customer – often in deeply mundane and political places.
  • It’s about helping the right people make the right decisions at the right time (for them) to achieve their individual goal – whether it’s a policy outcome, a service outcome, a process outcome, a payment or entitlement outcome, an information outcome, a technology outcome, a certainty outcome. But what matters is the outcome, not the process.

After three-and-a-half years blogging about design resonance, my desire to move on from the love of a perfecting and describing design process (and I have loved it) has manifested as a slight obsession, after a number of projects at work, and a number of experiences, with the role of those who deliver service and their role in the service experience – at a systemic and sustainable way (think Zappos, but in a non-sexy socially-driven environment like the public, community or voluntary sector). Customer stuff – easy (as in complex, hard, always interesting etc), other people in the service system – gimme som-a that to digest, consider, hypothesise, analyse, synthesise, share.

Besides a history of working deep in organisations, there are three recent triggers responsible for this evolved focus shift:

  1. Recognising when the client has so much faith in the touchpoint itself, they just don’t fully understand internal users may be highly unlikely to maintain it (given a choice) – if you build it, the customer might come, but the people behind the scenes might not maintain the outfield, if you know what I mean.
  2. Dealing with a major telco, receiving unexpectedly responsive service from the generation that’s not supposed to give a shit. On complementing them for the great service and hearing back “well, service is what the job is about, isn’t it.”  Wondering how you recognise it, attract it, retain it, harness it, grow it, sustain it?
  3. An email interaction as a customer where I thought I was interacting with a human – only it was a human cutting-and-pasting scripts in order to deal with me efficiently. And effectively lose me as a customer. How does an organisation balance efficiency and effectiveness with being responsive and authentic?

It is that unsexy outcome-focused, change the system deeply from within – that’s what really resonates with me lately. Still with a repeatable scalable approach, still customer-centric – but maybe even more human-centric – knowing that many of those humans are bound by policy, process, tools and drivers that are outside of their control. That’s what has me seeking new insights, readings, and ways of understanding systems.

That’s probably a little harder to blog about.

That’s probably what I will blog about more now.

But I’ll shut up unless I have something to say.



The title of this post is dedicated to my business partner, Justin Barrie, who frequently challenges clients to “just shut up” in the most engaging, charming and unarguable way. After all, they invite us in. He also let’s me rant about stuff like this, and doesn’t tell me to shut up. Usually joins in. Heartily.

I’d also like to add the people guilty of 1, 2, and 4 will never read this post because they are the living embodiment of people who should indeed, just shut up.

Protos Typos: When first impressions don’t need to last

28 October, 2012

NB: A version of this post, written with Justin Barrie, is also published at DMA/We Think

Recently at work we did some service prototyping with a public sector client. We wrote about it on our blog. It’s a topic I’ve often wanted to capture here because, in my experience, prototyping and service prototyping in particular can be a challenge for people to get their head around. It took me a while and then it clicked (I suppose being schooled by IDEO, and having the opportunity to mull as my full-time job did help ; )


What Prototyping is for

Prototyping is about visually and tangibly putting together a working model of a concept in order to quickly test out various aspects of a design, illustrate ideas or features, and gather early feedback. Prototyping is the language of design and its basic tenet is ‘make to learn’. It helps you move beyond talking and thinking towards action. The prototypes are not the solution itself; they represent ideas, before artefacts are created, code is written, components are developed, and solutions are implemented.

Creating a representation of a concept through a prototype, or a service prototype of the whole system, means you build something in a fast, cheap way and can test it with users – inviting real input – from your own reflection, to colleagues, to collaborative partners, to users themselves. Better yet, prototyping gives the means of creation to the users themselves.

It’s a little bit semantic, but from my perspective there are two types of prototyping:


Service Prototyping in particular

The potential of service prototyping runs the gamut from conceptually illustrating service experience through sketching or storyboards to isolating part of a system and trying changes in real time. Most people would be familiar with the concept of a pilot, where 90% of the end product is there and the intent is work out the kinks. Service prototyping can and should happen way before then.

Like prototyping, service prototyping is about learning, failing fast (roughly and cheaply) in order to design success. But service prototyping is method of methods – that is, it encompasses a number of tools and techniques. The key difference is that service prototyping is explicitly concerned with service design context itself – how it works, where it connects, who’s involved, what has to happen.


Service Prototyping in practice

So to our recent project. Unfortunately, we can’t share what the topic was about (public sector budget sensitive), but we can share that it was a rare case (when we talk to other designers in the service space) of service design not concerned with improving an existing service, but designing a new service. Blank page territory and a fantastic opportunity with a keen public sector client.

We can also share that the timeframe was tight – only five weeks. We’ve done tight service design projects before but this was extreme. It meant there was some documentation compromise in terms of depth, but in terms of breadth it was still collaborative intent > research > analyse/synthesise <> prototype/iterate > define. It also meant working closely with the team and their trust in us was critical to get to the right outcome all round – a service design that represented the users, and a service design they could use. It also meant service prototyping was invaluable to fast-track synthesis and engagement.

The opportunity for the nitty-gritty of service prototyping occurred about Day 12 – Day 15. We had done the background research, and field research with actual and potential users in one-on-one interviews and exercises. Up to Day 11 we formulated with the client representatives (our team) emerging insights – both from the internal and external view, emerging design principles and a value proposition for our component of the service within a broader service program context. And we had design features we knew would and wouldn’t work for users based on considering existing ‘like’ services.


Working up the service prototypes

On Day 13 we worked up the service prototypes for the workshop to be held on Day 15. They had to be paper-based and mobile because the workshop was going to be interstate, and in a room we where we knew we couldn’t stick stuff on walls. Sidenote: why do so many event facilities not allow you to use the walls!?

We started with all the information in our heads, a wall full of the refined insights, what we knew were key design features, the design principles and value proposition. We talked a bit about what we knew, and what knew we wanted to explore. And what we knew was likely to be the shape of the service.

And then we gave ourselves 10 minutes to sketch out how the service might work.

A bit of this, a bit of that, a bit of interpretation, a bit of personal perspective, some sacrificial red herrings, but mostly a lot of evidence. We named our concepts, and then we told them as a story – drawing out how the concept illustrated the pertinent points we wanted to learn more from. They worked! We then spent the next three hours working them into presentable component versions that we could put in front of people in a workshop. These components would also give the participants the means to work up their own versions during the workshop (some examples shown below – no artistic skill necessary!)


Workshopping the service prototypes

The workshop itself was half a day. Deliberately short for the participants who were a 2:1 mix of real users and business team representatives. The tight time also meant we could focus the thinking and activity; this was to be divergent and blue sky, but blue sky with feet firmly on the ground. After some scene-setting and informal validation of our findings so far using brainstorming and discussion we introduced the service prototypes. Telling them as a story the same way we’d done in the office. The energy of the participants was palpable as you could see they were naturally were inclined to particular prototypes they wanted to explore.

To do this we asked them to capture on the prototypes themselves:

  • What worked
  • What didn’t work
  • What would they change or add

This quickly helped us test the basic precepts of the design principles and validate or discard key design elements.

After this first round we gave the participants the pens, paper and scissors and tape and asked them to design the service themselves. As designers it was a delight to see. Having had their appetite whetted with the ‘review’ and the means made accessible with the basic service component representations the participants weren’t intimidated. They were inspired!

Using the components from the original prototypes they built on them, coming up with their own user whose journey they plotted – exploring who might be involved, what tools they’d use, even giving themselves boundaries of service because it was a government service. To bring their prototypes together we asked them to:

  • Name their service – which helps drill down into what it is at essence
  • Describe it’s key features or benefits in their own language
  • Describe what they thought might be some of the challenges – especially fruitful for their take on government service boundaries.

At the end, the participants had not only given us feedback, but had also seen and felt like they had been an active part of designing a service they would one day use themselves (hopefully soon).


The value of service prototyping

In this instance the timeframe meant it was critical to not compromise on what can sometimes look to the client like ‘play’. The value of the service prototyping enabled us as the designers, with the business team, to rapidly, roughly, and cheaply; propose, make, explore, discard, enhance, learn, and extract solution options in a few hours better than any individual crafting could have achieved.

Because the team representing the business and technology sides of the service were in the room and working with the users they were part of the conversation and saw how users interacted and talked and felt about the potential service experience. This gave them a better perspective of what was to be built. Not just what policy initiative or CabSub (that’s a cabinet submission for those of you outside of the public sector) needed to be met.

  • At a practical level, the service prototyping gave us and the client clues and direction to the ultimate service design in a very short amount of time.
  • At a client and service capability level, the service prototyping activities gave the client an exposure to the type of design thinking and practice that will help them approach their work differently because now they are thinking about humans using their service, not as use cases interacting with a system.


Post-writing-This-Post Reflection

Early on in my service design career I would have said the value of service prototyping is something like “a technique that represents the most effective tool to rapidly process ideas in a collaborative way, engaging with business partners and customers.” Mostly because organisations still don’t like the idea of the user/customer being in control. But now I say, rough a service concept out, and then give the means to the users to prototype. They’ll amaze you, and the clients. And you’ll appreciate that you really can’t come up with the answers in the same way an actual user will. That said, you still have to do the service design – I ain’t saying users are designers, you’ve still got to design the service – but they and the prototypes will help you move more quickly from talk to design and towards an implementable solution. Which is the point.