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A state of service design (view from the top of the world)

31 May, 2012

This top of the world!

It’s been a busy month of many dialogues, conversations, presentations, seminal decisions, great client work, painful service design moments, great service design moments. That means this post has gone through some incarnations:

  1. From love letter
  2. To surprised yet slightly reserved observation
  3. To rant (strewn with swears galore…galore I tells ya!)
  4. To laid-back reflection.

The ‘Love Letter’ Part

We Heart Service Design in the Public Sector

On May 4 the second Australian-based Service Design Conference was held in beautiful Melbourne. First off, let me just say that I have always dreamed of speaking at a service design conference. The chance to encapsulate my thinking, my experience, my style in a visual and verbal form was something I thought I’d maybe get to do one day, but didn’t actually expect until the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself in April via Steve Baty. (It shows the value of putting your voice out there, having a network, and being authentic – at least that’s my take on how me and my colleague Justin Barrie were invited to participate.)

The topic we chose was service design in the public sector. A topic I’m drawn to (see this for why I say that). The chance to speak was great. The chance to solidify thinking was even better and set me up for the coming month (and this post).

You can see the presentation and hear the audio on our DMA blog.

I’m very proud of our presentation – I like what we said, I like how we said it, I like how it looks, I liked the response, and I really do love service design in the public sector!

The ‘interested-yet-slightly-detached-observation’ bit, including edited elements of the ‘rant’ but mostly a ‘laid-back reflection’

Straight after the conference I went for a trip back home to NZ and, given most of my friends are designers, I caught up with a good number of them. It was inevitable that the topic of design, service design, and design in the public sector came up over an extraordinary amount of delicious food and beverage. I also caught up with some old managers I’ve worked with who are in charge of service design groups in a couple of public sector organisations – one with a well-established capability, one whose capability is being established (at a grand pace thanks to leveraging off the former well-established capability ; )

Because I don’t want to call out specific agencies or designers (this is my opinion piece after all and there’s a mess of commercial-in-confidence sensitivities) what follows are my observations on the state of service design practice and leadership as reflections:

  • The challenge for any in-house design capability will always be to make the case for service design – why the organisation should spend time, resource and money on research and understanding, why the organisation should involve customers and users early, why the organisation should think differently about concepts and options, why a designer’s voice is as valid as a BA or an Architect or a Project Manager (but also why the designer voice should not dominate, except to bring together all the voices in the conversation).
  • Focus on outcomes not outputs. The tangible deliverables like maps and blueprints and diagrams may help make the case for the value of service design but don’t spend a week on a draft map of the customer experience if it’s going to take your time away from actually ‘designing’ the solution – which means time spent working with the other change disciplines and people in the organisation (assuming it’s a given you’ve engaged constantly with actual customer/users). Craft the beautiful elegant artifact towards the end, but don’t think it’s good design because it looks good on the page and executives say they love it even though the design isn’t actually finished.
  • Measure, measure, measure – If you can’t tie a line of sight between what you design and recommend, what is built and delivered/implemented and what difference the designed service makes to customer and business then it’s hard to make the ongoing case for the value of service design.
  • Warning: rant portion begins: You wanna know something? Service design is hard. Fucking hard. You’re not only trying to change the way an organisation does things, you’re trying to humanise their strategy, you’re dealing with all level of customer, user and stakeholder, you’re educating your client – on how their business works, on how their business should work, and you’re doing that by doing the design work with them. If you get it right you create new thinking that results in those you work with changing the way they think. To reiterate – it’s fucking hard – but a great hard when you get it right, and you get your expectations right (see this to see my view on that).
  • If you want a service design to stick: capability building is an integral part of design practice, organisational change is an integral part of design practice. If you aren’t as focused on these parts of the service design activity than I think I’d call what you’re doing UX (see this for my views on that). That is why service design is exquisitely fucking hard at times. Rant portion ends.
  • Being seen to be ‘innovative’ and undertaking ‘transformation’ isn’t as important as you think. They may seem so at the time, but real innovation/transformation isn’t measured purely as savings or internal change; if you say you’re customer-centric the measure is by the experience of the customer (that said, the two aren’t mutually exclusive). Hearing about ‘transformation’ programmes that started in 2000 and are still ‘describing what they’re about’ is not transformation. ‘Innovating’ business process improvements to save on widget production with no real impact on the stress a citizen experiences isn’t innovating (see this or this to see what I think of innovation and transformation).
  • There seem to be three emerging takes on service design practice. This has certainly been observed in NZ, somewhat observed in Australia, and conversationally validated in a recent conversation with both New York and Melbourne-based academics:
    • UX-led (see this post on my views on this)
    • Marketing agency/advertising agency-led (see this on my view on that)
    • Institutionalised by large organisations. Think (and probably see this for my view on that).
  • Governments desire centralisation of design (at the moment). At risk of never being invited to work with certain departments (and both NZ and Australia are looking at this model) I just don’t think I believe in a cross-departmental centralised-design capability centre-of-excellence type model. I’m just going to put that out there. I think the battle over having the ‘right’ approach will homogenise what is fundamentally a creative business discipline. Like when a great British show is re-made by an American network. It just loses somethin’.  I reserve the right to change my mind on this one.

So what’s the State of Service Design from all that and who am I to comment? As just a gal, who loves the complex complicated world of service design, who has practiced and practices in both NZ and Australia – with a focus on the public sector, who cares not to generalise about ‘designers’ and what they do or don’t do, should or shouldn’t do, but observe what works and what doesn’t from a do-something-to-get-something-done perspective, I think service design’s state seems about right – growing, making a difference, creating new meaning and perspectives for complex organisations but also subject to some ego, some claim-staking and some ‘I have the right way’ posturing. So not really any different to any other discipline that’s concerned with making change happen in today’s crazy complex world.

While I didn’t want to name people directly above I do want to credit these great designers, thinkers, and conversationalists for my great May immersion: Justin Barrie, Meena Kadri, Matt Ellingson and Emma Saunders (from Empathy), Ramari Slattery (and the gang at HousingNZ), Yoko Akama, Anne-Laure Fayard, most of the speakers and people I spoke with at Service Design Melbourne.

Design research: sorting your shoe walking from your talk talking

7 April, 2012

Collage of field research

We’re currently doing field research for a pretty cool project and client – it’s government so I can’t share too much. But it’s government that potentially touches everyone and they effectively want that touch to be a gentle shoulder pat, not a punch (even though the current design represents more of a wave from the other side of the street). So to speak.

Anyways, it’s prompted me record my thinking about designing the research activity itself (there’s a whole other post about empathy). This post is specifically about ethnographically-based, or field research, and specifically in-depth interviews. I have a love/not-love relationship with field research because I know, KNOW! the best data and insights about people’s experience comes directly from talking with the people themselves. People are the experts of their own lives. But I don’t think designers are researchers. The research itself is a means to an end – it informs decisions – doesn’t make them. The outcome sought from the research is understanding in order to design from that understanding (as opposed to researchers whose outcome ends at the analysis of the research findings).

  • The love part is how sweet it is when you start getting good information and insights and you’re excited about the emerging possibilities for a solution. It’s is meeting all kinds of different people (although I maintain after 10 people you rarely get new insights – just putting that one out there). It’s also the traveling to different parts of the country and often realising how beautiful it is. New Zealand, I’m looking at you. Australia, I’m only just discovering you.
  • The not-love part is the initial stages when you’re not sure your approach is right (even when you’ve piloted it and it worked). It’s the time it takes to get into the rhythm of interviewing. And preparing and noting all the (necessary) paperwork.

I cut my teeth in design on some deep and long research studies. When I think back to 2004 when I first went out with a small team and spoke to people about who they were so we could understand them in relation to the Agency I worked for we seemingly had months. Luxury! Because I had such an excellent schooling in the approach (initially via Leslie Tergas, IIT ID alum), I consider field research a specialisation within the design discipline. That’s because it’s not just a conversation, it’s not just creating activities someone can do to help elicit information in different ways. It’s all those things plus what you’re going to do with, and how you’re going to use, that information.

My Approach to Design Research Design

My basic construct for research – separate to the myriad of appropriate rigor in terms of documentation, protocols, and useful artefacts you create along the way – is broadly as follows:

  • What do we know: from background research, from stakeholder engagement, about the user experience (think|do|use), about the service?
  • What is the research task: contextual, generative, or evaluative?
  • Why are we researching: to drive, inspire, inform?
  • What don’t we know: from all of the above
  • How could we find it out: approaches, techniques, games, [insert creative invention here]
  • Who from (and how can we find them): recruitment gurus please apply here
  • What will we do with what we discover: analysis/synthesis/prototyping iteration starts with the thinking here

There is no cut-and-paste approach to research. In fact, it is at this point that I’d say there is a wonderful opportunity for designers to indulge in innovative techniques, approaches and musing amongst themselves. An opportunity to take some time and space to answer the above questions with modicum of selfishly-creatively ‘designerliness’ (because for the rest of the time we must be collaborative and engaging).

But in terms of research types and sources this table is a useful reference for working out the research task. I can’t tell you if it has an original source because I’ve adapted the content so many times for different contexts but I believe Cheskin may have something to do with it.

Type Contextual Generative Evaluative
Data to help uncover: Business context – mapping of customers world, processes and users Unmet needs, discover new opportunities, stimulate creativity Effectiveness, optimise design,assess business potential
Research methods: Market research, PEST, Trends, Demographics Qualitative, Quantitative, Ethno-based, Participatory Qualitative, Quantitative, Evolving and validation design concepts, User testing, usability testing, user acceptance testing


  • Do I think you need to do research for every design project? Yes.
  • Ethno-based every time? No. (But do background research – every time). If you do it right and create meaningful artefacts – like experience maps, typologies, and other frameworks and prototypes, you should be able to use them to design services into the future. Until you can no longer answer the question ‘Do we know the user experience?’
  • Do I think this is the most overused collection of words in relation to research:

“To really understand people you have to walk a mile in their shoes. That means you have to take yours off first.”

  • Yes. In reality, when you go out and speak to people you need to think of them as Imelda Marcus – for they wear many shoes. And you need to find and walk in the right ones. But you need to wear your ones when you design. Your shoes matter too.

If you want more thinking on design research try these:

There are other bibliographies of Design Research – but, to be frank, I don’t look at any. I seek and find when I need to ; ) Happy for any comments to leave their favourite links.

Businessifying Design (Whating the what?)

29 February, 2012

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

Design the new business - quotes

I recently saw ‘Design the New Business’ I’d heard about the movie for many months and finally had the opportunity thanks to Damien Kernahan from Proto Partners and the Canberra Service Design Drinks to see it.

A quick movie review

If you’ve seen ABC’s Deep Dive about IDEO and it inspired you to believe design really was a vocational pursuit in a business context beyond graphic design, Design the New Business will show you how design has evolved to help business solve new problems and deliver on opportunities by providing a perspective that traditional change or program methodologies can’t. Not that these methodologies are ineffective, but design’s point of difference is utilising:

  1. Customer experience as the driver of change activity
  2. The back and forth we call prototyping and iteration to progress towards better business outcomes.

A longer movie review

My longer take on the movie itself is that three key points resonated with me (consider some of the following as my notes from the viewing and some quotes from the film):

  • The notion of people/customer/consumer has evolved
    Customers expect authenticity from businesses as much as they expect adaptiveness in services that are interconnected with other channels, services, experiences. More and more, people aren’t alike which means traditional segmentation (which business still likes and asks for) needs new ways of describing customer ‘types’. These types matter because ROI is in brand loyalty and in real connections to and with the audience.
  • Prototyping and iteration is design’s point of difference
    Sometimes analysis isn’t enough, sometimes you need to synthesize – and this back and forth we call prototyping and iteration is how we progress in design. We have to do that because in the design space you either optimise or you evolve something without knowing upfront what the end result will be. And you must ‘fail-to-learn or you’ll maximize your risk to fail big’ (I think Alex Osterwalder said this).
    This point might seem obvious, but when you’ve operated this way for 12 years, you sometimes forget that’s not how most people, and business or change methodologies work. This was my wee revelation on the night and I’m now no longer frustrated/fascinated when people won’t pick up a pen and start capturing their thinking until they think it’s ‘perfect’.
  • It’s not systems thinking, it’s system humanizing
    Design provides a way of managing the complexity, and provides clarity to the fuzzy stuff, (fuzzy in nature, in complexity and because people are human…and some are even fuzzy). It can do this because it has the tools to guide the fail-to-learn process. Design exists in a dynamic context and needs to respond to the complex systems in which it supports. Business is one of those systems, as is government, as is society. Design must impact all these systems. It must translate and interpret need (whether at customer or citizen level) into business propositions that can be acted upon, and sustained.


Post-it's by candlelight

So to some evolved definitions

What it made me (and my biz partner Justin) think about was how we define what we do, because when we talk amongst ourselves, talk with clients, or talk with people not in the ‘biz,’ we find ourselves adapting our language, but always keeping on message with key elements. And sometimes, when we hear designers or clients speak the oft heard mantra about ‘customer first’ it just doesn’t stack up if they’re actually thinking ‘customer only’.

It also made me revisit some of the definitions I’ve posted here in the past. So taking that and the awesome power of the collaborative conversation here are the definitions that work for me as at….now!.

NB: These aren’t meant as ‘lift speeches’ – they’re more the summary of points that govern our thinking and keep us honest about what we actually want to do, and how we want to create change that actually makes a difference.

  • Service (for other designers)
    The seeking and receipt of a specific outcome of a customer/user across a range of interactions and touchpoints over time. The value of the service is as much about the quality of the experience for all the people involved (customer, service provider) as it is about the resolution.
  • Service design (for other designers)
    The conscious & creative process of crafting meaningful connections (be they tangible touchpoints and interactions, or more intangible experiences) between customer, business/provider/government goals and outcomes (be they effective and efficient operations, social good/improvement, or positive profile).
  • Service design (for clients)
    It’s an approach that helps you understand if your services are working how you want them to; and how your potential/current customers want or need them to work or evolve. The approach, which is collaborative, iterative and focuses on what people actually think, do and use, means you can make decisions on opportunities for improvement, consider how your strategy and set-up drives your efforts, and consider the impacts of any decisions you make to change will have on services, staff and customer experience, and to the way your business works.
  • Service design (for our mums, friends and strangers at parties….prefaced by asking them to name a service experience they’ve recently had)
    We work out how all the bits you see (so all the online and paper stuff, and the lady at the counter) and bits you don’t see (so the processes that help that lady do her job, and systems that help everyone else do theirs) fit together so that when you use that service the experience is good for you (which may mean you don’t even notice it), and that it’s also good for the people and systems that need to work to deliver what you need (which means everything is doing what it’s supposed to).
  • Design management
    Understanding the world of the client from the client perspective in order to guide the design process to ensure the right people work together to get the best results applying the appropriate design approaches integrated with business practice.
  • Design thinking
    Puts people as sources of experience (as thinkers, doers, users) at the centre of the problem solving process, and then collaboratively visualises, iterates, prototypes and facilitates the conversation and action in order to identify the best possible solution for the system in focus.

So there you go. As always happy for feedback or critique. And see the film if you can ; ) It’s worldwide release is 6 March 2012!

Earning my money where my mouth is

14 February, 2012

Over the years on this blog I have banged on about some topics with some regularity:

So, it is with great excitement that I announce I am now a Principal at Design Managers Australia (DMA). DMA has been around since 2003, headed up by the design-talented, raconteurish, cycle-loving, connected-connector and motivational do-er Justin Barrie. We worked together during 2011 and the kindred-design-ship just plain stuck!

What matters to DMA is:

  • Making a difference to people’s lives through services that may or may not even be noticed by them – for all the right reasons
  • Creating change that is needed and that makes things better
  • Bringing together a range of voices and disciplines who can make things happen – not just talk about it, but do it

Which is a pretty good match to what matters to me. It means I now have a design collaborator in my desire to practice service design, and make a difference at community, government, and private sector levels and at design-specialist level.

And I can do cool things like this to celebrate!

DMA: Connecting Canberra, Wellington and Cool!

PS: The above pic is full of Canberran and Wellingtonian landmarks. The reference to ‘cool!’ in the tagline is a reference to our common adjectival refrain ; )

PPS: I’ll still be blogging here, but I’ll also be blogging at DMA: We Think able to talk about real case studies and our practical service design experiences.

Simple, elegant and dignified: my favourite service design

18 December, 2011

It is with much surpride (intentional portmanteau) that I share this blog has just passed 50,000 visits. Wow. Whodda thunk it?! In the web scheme of things I have no idea what that means but it means a lot to me that there is a design industry out there (especially in Europe me thinks from hits data) and I’m contributing to the dialogue in some small way.

I wanted to mark this amazing milestone in this repository of what inspires, inflames and resonates with me design-wise with my favourite piece of service design that I’ve wanted to capture since I started at the beginning of 2010.

It’s a simple, dignified, and elegant solution from Dusseldorf, Germany. It’s from 2008 and it’s a fake bus stop outside of a hospital that ‘catches’ Alzheimer’s patients. I think it is a beautiful testament to design’s ability and innate intent to humanise outcomes, let people be people from understanding and the power of conscious design to facilitate creative solutions to human problems.

The best telling of the story can be heard through RadioLab’s: A Bus to Nowhere with Lulu Miller. It’s 14 minutes and well-worth the listen.

But here’s a quick overview (although if you’ve read this blog before you know I don’t do anything quickly).

People with dementia often get disoriented and panic “Where am I? I have to get home!” so they do what you or I would – they try and get home. In the Dusseldorf story there were examples of people getting 20 miles away, dressed only in what they were wearing when the panic set in. From personal experience I had a grandmother who used to wander, and an old family friend who would escape from her locked ward.

You can lock people away, you can drug them into submission – but these are human beings. I always found it offensive when people would talk about ‘how crafty’ they were to ‘get out’. But I also felt helpless. These escapes are stressful not only to the patient, and their family, but also to the staff.

One of the characteristics of the disease is that while short-term memory is shot, long-term memory remains – people remember where home is (or was). So there came a suggestion at the Benrath Senior Center, that if the patients want to get home, why not provide them with a bus stop to do just that. Only no bus would ever come.

Initially the response from the nursing staff was cynical, dismissive and derisive. Until one patient in a panic was calmed by the simple act of leading her to the bus stop and sitting with her.

As the patients wait at the bus stop, their mood shifts from sadness and panic. They soon forget their urgency and simply sit and enjoy the outdoors. Sometimes with a nurse and cup of tea at their side. It’s been nearly three and a half years since the bus stop began. It is well frequented. Sometimes nurses will even direct people there. Sometimes, they don’t see escape occur, they just see the person waiting at the bus stop.

The intuitive existence and placement of the bus stop treats the patients with respect. Sure, the bus stop is a lie, but what’s the alternative? If the patient doesn’t accept rational arguments or the truth why not allow the world of their mind to be true, and when their urgency passes coax them back. The bus stop takes the feelings of the patients seriously – knowing that these feelings are short-term and will pass. As Lulu Miller puts it “the forgetting is the problem and the solution.”

So why is it my favourite piece of service design? There were conscious choices made based on evidence, this wasn’t a process re-engineering. Dementia has contributing factors that, quite frankly were leveraged. The solution took into account the dignity of human experience –the patient, medical staff and patient’s families.

It needed to understand a host of touchpoints and experiential elements (what people do, what they think about, what they use) and craft the experience in a realm of two dimensions – the reality of a mind with dementia and the reality of the ‘real’ world.

Maybe what I like about it most is that it doesn’t treat people like their components of a system. The experience of ‘going home,’ the levels of human interaction required, the dignity of allowing people to make and act on their decisions, these are the intangible yet oh-so-human elements of service; people seeking goals over a range of interactions over time. Just happens that time is distorted and the goals are unachievable. But this service supports those goals and interactions as very real, and very meaningful. It makes a difference to people’s lives in a unobtrusive and simple way – and that is why it is my favourite example of service design.

My Top Aspirational Design Companies

1 December, 2011

Emma Jefferies is an “an award winning researcher, designer, educator, writer and more recently filmmaker” according to her blog. She is also a very active and inspiring twitterer – which is how I ‘know’ her (or of her in the tweequaintance-sense).

Her site is a great resource and repository of curated design and research sources. She recently put out a call for people to share their new and untold stories of aspirational design companies. I was somewhat surprised that no agency/designer immediately came to mind. I mean, I think about and do this stuff all the time, but I had to mull a little (and chastise myself a little for being too self-referential in my influences). When I looked at my search history, my favorited tweets, my oft-thumbed articles it wasn’t necessarily the new that made me come over all aspirated. It was the focused, the people-centric, design-disciplined, change in the public and third sector organisations that inspire my desire to make a difference.

I’m not entirely sure I met the brief of new and untold because I chose three that I’m sure others will point to. But as I said in my contribution “These won’t be earth shatteringly new, but from a public sector design perspective (my field of interest) there are three agencies I regularly think WWTP/P/FGD”

ThinkPublic is focused on tackling societal challenges. They work with public sector agencies, third-party providers (social agencies, ‘not-for-profit’ or third-sector groups), and they just have a beautiful and accessible presence – in their work, in how they do work, in how they show what they do, and in how they champion outcomes. Helping getting people’s voices, citizens voices, is no mean feat, and using service design processes in such an engaging way is inspirational.


Pixar’s story is not so untold I suppose, but these guys and the way people work with people is inspiring. I think great collaboration is at the heart of great design – not just collaboration with users, but collaboration with designers/peers. Empowering the designers (there does still need to be a ‘Director’), engendering a peer culture, a safe place to tell the truth; it’s a focus on the outcomes that means no one person can achieve complex change alone.

I regularly read How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity (HBR) when hierarchy gets me down.


FutureGov is a ‘change consultancy for government and social innovation’ – Amen, because as designers we are change agents. In fact, they specifically focus at the local government level because that is where real change can and does occur. They create the means (through design activity, through leveraging web technology e.g. cofluence) to engage people and facilitate change – which means they sometimes build the tools and the means (e.g. Patchwork, Casserole) for communities to own, engage, make, re-make and self-regulate the change. And they just do it; idea, invite, innovate, iterate, implement. How wonderful to describe a project as ‘imagination capturing’!

These three all have a humble (in the ‘kind’ and ‘usually beautiful’ sense) collaborative style, a very definitive and direct outcome and a sense of humour. They all aim to transform lives in a practical way. And it doesn’t hurt that they all seem to be in love with their jobs and what they can achieve.

Creative Innovation conference (Melbourne 2011) – Highlights & Ruminations

20 November, 2011

It’s probably saying something that the above title is the most creative label I can think of inspired from my recent attendance at the two-day Creative Innovation: ‘The Challenges and Opportunities of a Super-connected World’ conference in Melbourne last week.

Let me be up-front and say my comparison point for conferences are the amazingly transcendent experiences I’ve had previously. Namely, Customer Experience and Innovation (I forget the actual title) in Sydney 2002 from which I still use my notes, and attendance at Webstock in 2009 and 2010 where every speaker and experience elevated inspiration in my discipline, and in the community of designers, developers, UXers, artists. So perhaps it’s fair to say my expectations were too high going in.

In reality, this post is more about my experience of attending this conference.

There were some good speakers and sessions. And there was a real effort made for the conference to be interconnected (no wifi or power-points, notwithstanding). Afterall, I do have a top 9 : ) But perhaps it was the combination of linked yet overwhelmingly conventional mix of IT, Gen Y, resource scarcity warnings, broad definitions of innovation and creativity not always fully expressed, disappointing superstars, flavoured with musical stylings of Potpourri, and tenuous bubbles reference, ultimately made stark by witnessing twitterfeeds in action from an obviously bored attendee tweeting the most exuberant verbatim insights. Superconnected indeed.

So fair warning, this post may not inspire or elucidate my thinking on the super connected world with a lens of creativity and innovation. Overall, I’d say the connection made between conference and topic was the warning/challenge to innovate creatively because we have the means (technology, emerging and emerged generation of new thinking brains) and it isn’t going anywhere, but let’s not lose our humanity in the bargain. The food was good, but : )

My top 9

Here are my Top 9 highlights in chronological order, and – as is this whole blog – seen through the lens of design, especially service design, and especially-specially design in the public sector context.

  • ONE: The ANZSOG Dean, Professor Allan Fels saying that creativity and innovation in government has never been more needed. But that the challenge is government is inherently hierarchical, and reliant on both predictability and order. He proposed the power of storytelling was essential if we are to change that because:

“A story is the way for people to imagine themselves in a new world.”

“Innovation starts with ‘why’, not ‘how’… [and means] collaborating with people [you’re] actually uncomfortable with”

Maybe it’s obvious about the ‘why’ not ‘how’ starting point, but later when I heard Edward de Bono lamented ‘crazytivity’ (see number 9) sometimes the ‘how’ takes over and the intent gets lost. The ‘why are we doing this’ part. Simon mentioning uncomfortable people is also extremely relevant. People, for the most part, just want to help solve the problem – from their perspective. The challenge of the designer is facilitating, mediating, and driving to an outcome (see number 7); an outcome that meets the ‘why’.

  • THREE: Dan Dennet, philosopher offered maybe one of my biggest highlights, because – as all good philosophers do – he characterised a dilemma I’ve been experiencing but have been unable to name. That is the guilt-filled divide between what we ‘can do’ thanks to technology and connectedness and what we do ‘do’. A divide technology can’t fill.

    Guilt Divide

    This feeling of guilt resonated on a personal level (I still haven’t bought a goat for a village – everyone else seems to have!), but as a designer it confirmed to me that valuable role we play in describing experience – that gap between ‘can do’ and ‘does’ – because we (are supposed to) understand and express the human aspects of services and strategy. For example, a customer can go online to complete an application for some service. All the Terms & Conditions can be there, all the instructions. And as service provider the organisation may expect that because it’s all there – the means are there to do everything right without generating the resource intense low-value phone call – the customer is ‘empowered to self-manage their experience’. But as Dan put it, “I can, but I don’t wanna, so I don’t” – which means the customer feel a little guilty all the time because they might not get it, and the organisation adds more information to help the customer self-manage better. But adding more information isn’t the point (see number 9).

    He wasn’t pessimistic about our lives tethered to electronic devices, but he did say we need to look at all the unintended consequences. Design anyone?

  • FOUR: James Moody, futurist talked about the Sixth Wave of Innovation). The two key points for me were in reference to his five ‘rules of thumb’ required for capabilities for the future:
      • ‘Sell the service, not the product’ (which he added ‘even think about selling the experience’) because today it’s about access not ownership. It’s a concept worth mulling because it’s nevermore true then today, but also because what does it mean for what we design. The notion of service is even more intangible when products aren’t necessarily touchable touchpoints.
      • The second ‘thumb-rule’ I liked was ‘Digital and nature converge’ – now I can’t recall exactly what it meant (yes, I know I could look it up, but I don’t wanna – I’m ok with the guilt I’ll feel – see number 3), what I did get from his explanation was that the source of information isn’t as important as the ability to synthesise from the myriad of sources. It’s not about finding an answer, it’s about choosing the right one for the desired outcome (see number 6).

My absolute favourite thing James said, which totally aligns to my design philosophy was in answer to a question about applied technology. He said:

“The measure of maturity of technology is when it becomes invisible”

Services people don’t even notice because they neither upset, nor necessarily delight, they simply work and work beautifully for all concerned – especially in the public sector context – ah, to dream.

  • FIVE: Stephen Heppell, an online education expert was a pretty engaging speaker, and his presentation as images and clips was a delightful illustrated conversation. I loved his use of language when he said:
      • Everything he had done had been ‘spectacularly affordable’ – we can apparently have a noble outcome within an achievable budget! Even with technology.
      • Sometime the most ‘gentle solution’ can be found – using the example of subtitling Bollywood songs so whenever songs came on tv the subtitles were there, and there was some phenomenal 40% or so increase in literary in the years since.
      • Labels don’t make things happen (even if you believe in nominative determinism – see number 6) setting up the right conditions and adding people makes things happen.

        Innovation Label vs Space set-up for innovation
  • SIX: Victor Finkel, Gen Y rep, was an articulate speaker (as one would expect from a World Champ debater). He was there to talk to us about Gen Y. Personally speaking, I hate the whole Gen [letter] labels. Like having a room labelled ‘innovation room’ (see number 5). I’m not sure Victor was so into the labels either when he used the nominative determinism and Thomas Crapper as inventor of the toilet to reflect on it, (Potsie). He spoke about the three questions Gen Y is thinking:
      • “Why am I doing this?”
      • “Why do things have to be this way?”
      • ”Why can’t I cite Wikipedia?” (Which is really about the ubiquity of information, and the need to challenge – not for ego’s sake, but to understand what’s really important; what really matters)

Cue drawdrop realisation: I am Gen Y, because as designer, service and or otherwise, I ask these things everyday! (See number 2 and 3)

  • SEVEN: I’m kinda obsessive about collaboration. Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley wrote As One: Individual Action. Collective Power and Mehrdad presented a superb breakdown of the different views and mental models of what it means to work together. I liked it so much I bought the book! (But it’s all available at the website AsOne). Highly recommended. Especially as a designer working with such a range of teams and people; it’s no good going in thinking ‘Architect and Builders’ when it’s really ‘Producer and Creative Team.’
  • EIGHT: Not a speaker per se but a general theme (besides the general theme of planet’s resources becoming scarce) raised by Hugh Mackay, psychologist, social researcher, was how IT, which enables ‘connection’ is not the same as ‘personal connectedness’.

    I have people with whom the link is 140 characters or a ‘like’ every now and then. These are not relationships, these are data exchanges. The data may be emotive, but the level of connection is not personal. While not quite an honorary Gen Y (see number 6), my devices and the internet, are not part of my humanity, but they are part of how I live. The internet is the room I spend a significant chunk of my time – happily. But there are unintended consequences to be aware of (see number 3). There are still some uniquely human emotions and experiences that will always be human. I hope. (there’s one there – hope is human ; )
  • NINE: Edward de Bono’s actual session at the end of the last day was phenomenally disappointing, and I feel very sorry for people that attended the conference looking forward to this session and who couldn’t attend the master class – for budget or timing reasons. Thank goodness a friend of mine went to the master class, where she shared these highlights:
    • For him ‘Innovation’ is doing something new to an organisation, but not new to the world; ‘Creativity’ is doing something new.
    • ‘Creativity’ is about logic, value, and benefit vs ‘Crazytivity’ which is about being different for the sake of it.
    • Challenge is essential to the creative process – even when everyone’s firing along on the same track. Challenge helps unblock ideas, and helps you see what’s behind a concept. You should actively create ‘barriers’ to disrupt thinking – what he calls ‘provocative thinking.’
    • The most resonant for me in my field was his view on change in organisations. He said organisations have things like legislation, policies, services, processes and think they can just add things to change what is there – add a new channel, a new policy. But you can’t just add something to change it – you have to re-look at the whole thing, re-design and change it. It’s like maths, if you have 200 and you add 20, you don’t have 200 + 20, you have 220 which is a completely new number.

Final reflection

I like the idea of conferences as inspirational. I’m selfish that way. I like ideas, I like new thinking or ways of seeing things. But I appreciate conferences are part idea sharing, part networking, part catering.

Then I attended this conference and TedX in Canberra recently, and read this blog post ‘A Tale of Two Conferences’ by Paul Wallbank, about a traditional conference vs an un-conference, and I’m rethinking things.

How do ideas get shared, people get inspired these days when I could probably have seen these speakers all on YouTube? Or simply bought de Bono’s books (as was his response to genuine questions at the final session). Maybe the notion of the conference being an idea-networking-fest isn’t enough. Maybe we need to make something and we need decision-makers there. Instead of spending time and money on getting millionaire big-name speakers, spend the time lobbying a politician or business person to commit to attending and accepting an outcome, crowdsourcing a solution that can go beyond the conference walls and timeframe.

I just want to know ‘why am I doing this’, ‘why does it have to be this way’ and I want to dull the guilt without resorting to crazytivity. I know it will be hard and we’d have to collaborate with people who may make us uncomfortable, but the stories we could create! We wouldn’t have to change the world; just make a difference.

Promised an experience; given a map: Filing a Tax Return Experience Map (Part B)

8 November, 2011

In my last post: Promised the world; given an atlas: A personal service experience (Part A) I shared my service experience as I attempted to file a tax return online in a new country. In this post I share how I captured that research as a Customer Experience Map.

Interestingly as I worked on the mapping, it emerged that this post and the experience of capturing the experience provided additional sub-parts that have occupied my thinking. Therefore Part B consists of two sub-parts:

  1. The presentation of a map of current state experience, fully prefaced with a raft of disclaimers to qualify its existence
  2. A postscript on the daily, sometimes hourly, round of inputs from other designers, design thinking, stimuli. Be it tweets, links, emails, thoughts, challenges, conversations. Sometimes they knock your thinking off its tracks in a good way, and sometimes they just get in the way.


Mapping the experience was (as it always is) challenging. Usually the research and mapping would be developed as part of a larger problem-solving/opportunity-leveraging activity. BAs, EAs, other change agents, would be performing corresponding requirement descriptors (process modeling, architecture maps, etc) and collaborative conversations would occur daily.

In that context here are some disclaimers to the map I’ve produced:

  • I did this map on my own – normally a team of designers would have conducted the research – background, field, other. They would have got in a room and gone through a series of analysis and synthesis activities. Frameworks would emerge, further investigation may ensue. While I did a version of these activities this map represents my unmediated, unchallenged view. I never recommend taking a single source as a definitive view – no one person can cover all the bases. In my opinion, design is always better done as a good or ‘bad’ collaboration.
  • There is only one source of data for this map – my experience of doing one thing (filing online). That fact alone means that the quality of the data should be questioned. I don’t even know if I’m an extreme or middle-ground user.
  • This map was not done for an organisation with a problem to solve or service to change, accordingly there is no corresponding service blueprint that provides a view of how the service works from an inside-out view. For any real change to occur, a map alone is not useful as the information is not qualified by the reality check of why certain things are the way they are.

I’m not going to describe what’s in the map and what it might mean because my intention in the final part of this three-part post (which may not occur too rapidly given the effort the first two posts took) will be applying the map information and research knowledge to a change activity. (Check out my post on Customer Experience Maps as a technique if you want ‘how to’ detail or this excellent Journey Map resources on the Web (and if your confused about maps vs journeys here’s my take on that too)).

If you’re new to maps, what I will say is the data from the research has been extrapolated out into a framework of the experience phases. These phases feature the elements of the experience (what is thought about, what is used, what is done). It’s a map so it doesn’t show you where you’re going – it shows you the landscape you’re travelling on and through – highlights and low lights. You can choose to bypass or take these into account when you’re planning a trip (or to change the landscape). That’s the theory (and practice) and I’ll do this in my next post.


In the time it has taken me to do the map I have been plagued by self-doubt – is this really saying anything? It started when I watched a TED video of Daniel Kahneman on The Riddle of Experience vs Memory last week. Does this mean even the process of interviewing is fraught with inaccuracy when the remembering-self can differ so greatly from the experiencing self?

Then this morning I looked at the most excellent Dan Saffer slide presso on The Complexity of Simplicity and I thought “Is this map providing a ‘Wow!’ or an ‘Of Course’?” (I aspire to the latter).

Even at work there are different conversations about visualising information and I’m reminded of the Louis CK, take on Twitter I watched the other day which resonated strongly with me because sometimes that’s how I feel and that maybe “everything that’s available to do isn’t a good idea.” I mean, I love the stimulus and the ideas and thinking flying around. But sometimes….sometimes, it’s enough already.

I’m a functional gal. I don’t want to change the world, I just want to make a difference (and thereby change bits of the world ; ). And I do question whether I’m just adding more ‘whatever’ to my discipline, or whether I am adding something of substance, or, if nothing else a useful point of view. I think it’s important to question yourself, your process, your faith in false gods/techniques. We do that as Designers all the time to services, experiences, strategies. We should do it to ourselves. Not for the answers, just for the questions. Not for more outputs, but for better outcomes.

Promised the world; given an atlas: A personal service experience (Part A)

30 October, 2011

I thought it was about time I did a post on service experience. Yeah, I talk a good rap about technique and philosophy, but how about capturing some (non-client) service experiences for dissection.

And so like Marie Curie exposing herself to radioactive material (albeit unknowingly) I chose the service experience of filing my tax return – online and in a new country. And like Madame Curie and her most likely uncomfortable yet inevitable death I too suffered the toils of hope (“Look at ze pretty bleu-verte glow of zis radio-active isotopes in my poche”) and the bowels of failure (“Perhaps ze radium has something to do wis zees troubles, but it cannot be affirmed wis certainty”). This is my service experience story, to be told in three parts:

  • Part A:The Experience – as an illustrated flow of what I went through (what I thought, did, used)
    • Phase 1: The Attempt
    • Phase 2: The Resolution
  • Part B: The mapped experience – taking the experience and extrapolating meaning for change
  • Part C: What could be done – focusing on one touchpoint (the atlas-like one) – I hereby reserve the right to bail on this one having looked at the source material again.

A few disclaimers:

  • This capture was done over a period of 10 hours – there’s other analytical and representational things I could have done given more time
  • This was just my experience – it doesn’t represent a body of research, or any background research. Just me, my experience, and my knowledge of services, (with a bit of tax service knowledge thrown in for good measure).
  • It was done on my own – no benefit from other voices, experience, bouncing around of ideas
  • I don’t purport to be a UXer, so any feedback on the online experience is only in relation to how that informs my service experience.

Here I go. Before I start I answer these questions:


How do I feel?


What’s my expectation?

I’ll get in, do the first screen and then realise I don’t have some vital piece of information.

I’ll feel relief that I can’t finish it because then I can put it off. The two rules of procrastination: 1) Do it today. 2) Tomorrow will be today tomorrow.

My fear

I’ll owe money – it’s happened before. And it was big –  it came down to a stupid bit of ignorance on my part, some poor information design on their part and an assumption that every person that earns income is interested and able to understand as a matter of daily routine tax regulations.

Disclaimer: I used to work in a tax authority so I have other fears – like, doing something wrong, not knowing how to answer something and not getting any sense from the provided information, having to read legalese, asking the tax authority for help and getting an officious “it’s so easy” response, things taking days longer than expected.

My hope

That I’ll get through it quickly – thinking 20 mins. That I have everything I need: Unique identifier (TFN), pay slips, bank details, etc.

My fantasy

That I’ll get a refund.


Warning: Expletives are contained in the following illustrated stream of consciousness dialogue. I’ve also chosen to use not-the-most-professional looking mood indicator to accompany the screens. Made me smile.

I’m in.

Instant panic – lodge it by 31 Oct!!! (It’s 24 Oct when I do this and I thought I had until February)

I click on to e-tax essentials because I’m determined to do this online. I choose to go straight to the demo (Key note here: I’m assuming, unless there’s flashing lights saying PC-ONLY I can complete my task ‘online.’) It takes four clicks but I finally get there.

I’m pumped.

  • Smart system because it picks up the financial data throughout the year.
  • I can save progress without lodging anything. Seems good. I can do this.
  • Pre-filling – nice. But she just said something about data pre-filled may not be available – what was that? Can’t rewind!? Have to replay the whole section.
  • Lots of recommendations to print. Ah, I don’t have a printer. So really you’re assuming I’m in a home setting that’s very much like an office.
  • Still – all seems like my panic over the deadline isn’t warranted.


‘Download’ – what?! Realisation it’s not an ‘online’ tool. I have to download software onto my machine. Still nothing about system requirements, assumption of hope exists. It’s still good. I progress to download.

Over six screens.

3 easy steps. Step 1. takes me to this part of the screen. My eyes are at the middle of the screen – I’m ready to download this mother.

Yup, I’m eligible, C’mon – let’s do this thing! OK, I’ll do one final check to see what downloading does seeing as it’s not online.

It’s bad.

Still, I delve into ‘information about other operating systems for e-tax users’ – only to realise it shouldn’t say ‘e-tax users’ BECAUSE YOU CAN’T BE IF YOU’RE NOT ON A PC SYSTEM!

[I shall now quote here directly from my notes]

FUUUUCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!!!! – I can’t do it from home!!!!!

Ok, ok. Don’t panic. Maybe I don’t actually have to do a tax return (I’ve moved swiftly from anger to bargaining…)

I step outside the system:

Nope. No hope. Took seven-screens to work it out – simple questions if a little too click-y.

So I have to do it manually. I go to the ‘Tax Pack’ – 130 page book I assume tells me how to do it. (…depression ensues, acceptance reluctantly murmurs…)

I scroll endlessly, hopelessly, there’s a chin shaped dent on my keyboard as my shoulders slump, my heart sinks and I realise I just can’t do this manually. I just have to find another way. What returns me to anger is this friendly green box that says ‘Helpful Hints.’ I know these types of boxes. I’ve suggested these types of boxes before. It may as well say ‘Helpful Hint, get a PC if you’re a Mac user’

I decide that I will download the software on my work PC. And now I quote again from my notes:

But even if it works, I now kind of hate you ATO.

Let’s examine where I am at the end of Phase 1. In the moments away from the service the experience still lives on, triggered by the unsatisfying interaction. As a Service Designer I can hear the voices of:

  • BAs, Marketers “the process is right there – all the information is only clicks away, and everything the user needs to do is written somewhere on-screen”
  • Managers “we must drive channel shifts to empower the customer to manage their own interactions”
  • Me, as customer: “Fuuuuuck – what do I do – I don’t have time tomorrow, I needed to do it tonight…..shit, I can try download it on my work machine – I. CANNOT. DO. THIS. ON. PAPER! Oh, god, what if I have to do it on paper. I’ll have to get a tax pack. I am not flicking through the PDF to do this. And I’m another day closer to the deadline!”

Rationally, I’ve made my decision, but subconsciously, the ‘think’ part of my experience (experience = think, do, use) trundles along in my head as I calculate and re-calculate options, remedies, blame underpinned by regulatory fear. All of this informs my level of trust with the organisation. It informs my expectations and how I think the next steps will go.

THE EXPERIENCE – PHASE 2: The Resolution

So, it’s the next morning. I have every paper with a dollar $ign on it with me – bank, employer, super, et al. I find e-tax. I download it – mere minutes. I get started.

First screen. Too much to read – I’m a skimmer for these sorts of things, because you’ve already put me off with the 130 page Tax Pack and even if e-tax is ‘part of a public ruling’ I just want to get this done, and if I break a law filling in something wrong, so be it.

What follows is a series of screens that may be information or transaction (all look the same) asking me to read technical language and agree or not, complete or not, verify or not.

Another way to put the experience would be to insert a video depicting a overwhelmed character walking down a darkened street as images of neon signs fly by that all have something to do with the plot – ‘deductions’ ‘one-third of actual expense’ ‘offsets”threshold’ ‘foreign source income’.

If this activity was intended to capture my user experience I’d describe my painful ‘Print’ experience, my confusion at where I was on the screens, my lack of understanding as to how to save my progress and come back to later. But that’s not what this is.

I get to the end, after 60 mins of clicking, seeking additional information online from my bank, my super, my Operations Manager.

And pleasantly see I’m entitled to a refund.

Until I then get stuck in a loop and can’t get out.

I simply close it all down. Waiting for final confirmation from the organisation. Remembering when I last thought I had a refund I discovered a massive tax bill. I wait. With no excitement, anticipation or delight.


So is the above what the service experience is like? No. Phase 1 and 2 simply captured one user’s thoughts, actions, tools. To leave it where it is is like presenting the powerful customer quote to an executive: un-mediated revelation is not meaningful extrapolation.  Sure, as customer I want filing a tax return to be ‘easy’ but this is a service experience – so I need to map it out. A service designer’s job is not to simply describe what happened (above) it’s to extrapolate that out into what it means from a service perspective; in order to ultimately examine what changes or impacts may look like from the customer and service perspective.

See next: Promised an experience; given a map: Filing a Tax Return Experience Map (Part B)

Schrödinger’s cat or: how observation causing nature to collapse is good information design

13 October, 2011

I just watched this video by Henry Reich from MinutePhysics* and:

  1. Discovered why I’ve struggled to write my all encompassing seminal infodesigngraphatainment post I’ve wanted to write ever since I started this blog
  2. Feel like Neo saying “I know kung fu” only I’d say “I know quantum physics” (and then I’d quickly qualify before someone said “show me” by following up with, “by which I mean I just get it better than I ever have before…or maybe I’m a me that gets it, and the me that doesn’t get it in a multiverse and by reading this sentence You, as observer, are forcing nature to collapse to one option or the other [insert sound of one-hand clapping]…”
  3. Realise what matters to me most about information being communicated visually and in a designed way is, harmonising clear purpose through a focus on content first and foremost, and representation last.


After I watched the video this was my thought process:

    • Do I want to share this video as vehicle of information?
    • You betcha!

  • Nope.

  • Why not? Is it because of how you’re feeling in response to observing the video?
  • I think it is! In fact, I think it’s because the content, the representation and the presentation helped me, relatively quickly, understand and learn something that’s making think about my relationship to the world!!

  • Humph, sounds kind of lofty and esoteric… [and the conversation goes on..but back to the post!]


This is what I got from the video:

  1. It starts with the content: Explaining what the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment is about.
  2. It simplifies complexity as a concept: pictures represent the cat, the bunker, the gunpowder, these are your visual cues. These players are introduced before the relative complexity of the quantum mechanics aspect is provided.
  3. It deploys a number of design devices because its purpose is to transfer information (awareness of facts) in such a way that the user can turn it into knowledge (understanding/cognition of information):
    • It built up learning through layering
    • It chunked messages and was subtly repetitious
    • It used both visual and verbal cues, that were clean and concise
    • It used humour (which is a bonus, not a pre-requisite – but it does serve to humanise the information)

There is real skill and practice in preparing information so that I, as user, can assess meaning and direction from the information presented (visually and verbally in this case).

The reason this resonated with me because it held up a mirror to all the ‘cool’ ‘cute’ ‘attractive’ imagery parading as ‘information design’ that just feels like noise. Pretty, ‘would-love-that-as-a-poster’ decoration. But not actually adding much to the world. So much of information design or the abundance of what parades as it, is form over function – feeling exactly like this image by Alberto Antoniazzi:

While I can concede a video may be stretching the boundaries of the traditional ‘graphical’ information design – so what. The power of great information design is its ability and intent to convey complex information quickly and in the most accessible way (not the most aesthetically pleasing way). Because humans design information for other humans to use, a human response like delight in understanding, or desire to share with other humans is perfectly appropriate; good information design gives people the opportunity to understand and ultimately, maybe, help people choose to make a difference in the world. I think i can has cheezburger now.

*Thanks to Vicky Teinaki for tweeting the original link to the video, and Stephanie Pride for tweeting the Alberto Antoniazzi image.