Posts tagged ‘Design’

As the end of 2016 rolls around we wanted to leave this globally tumultuous year, albeit a professionally landmark year for us, with four major learnings from us; as designers, collaborators, practitioners and passionate pragmatists. It’s not earth shattering, but they’re things we want to remember, and might be of use to our clients, our industry and maybe even contribute to world peace!

 

 

1. Being true to your design approach differentiates you

The service design (or actually more broadly design) market has become exceptionally broad from the one or two companies that existed when we were founded in 2003. In 2016 there was no shortage of new start ups, agencies getting acquired by big players and our usual list of collaborators and competitors. This vibrancy in the market is great, it ensures there’s competition and keeps us on our toes and fresh.

It has also taught us this year that it means we can be MORE true to ourselves, not less. When there are different players in the market you can really differentiate yourself and ensure what makes you different as a design agency comes to the fore. We have some little markers that we set prospective clients – will we actually get to their users? Are they willing to collaborate not just “buy our outputs”? and Are they happy with a small agency that doesn’t embed? (because we don’t think embedding works).

This year we’ve been able to respond to requests for quote and be quite strong on these markers – not just chase work that’s called ‘design’ but doesn’t actually fit our definition of design to fill our pipeline.

And the result when we are clear to prospective clients about our approach is that they get results. Their investment in us is rewarded with disciplined and focused design processes and our very approach means we are highly aligned with those clients who engage us – it’s a win-win!

 

 

2. Interdisciplinary works and is much more rewarding

This year yet again proved to us that there’s no room in our world for discipline snobbery. We often tell clients that being design-led is a great position to be in, but that design alone isn’t the only discipline they should be relying on.

Increasingly the mantra of the ‘interdisciplinary dance’ (thanks long-time mentor Jim Faris) becomes more and more real for us.

We’ve worked with teachers, architects (both landscape and IT), telcos, developers, project managers and program offices, specialist consultants, contract managers, social workers, children, parents, and many others this year; and each time we rely on these subject matter experts to bring the best out of us and help in the creation of meaningful design insights and solutions.

The more other disciplines are our collaborators and the less they are ‘participants in a design workshop’ the better our work becomes.

 

 

3. The Power of the well-made but not exact prototype
Sometimes the small things help big shifts. When a client was struggling to be on the same page about a conceptual shift to how they delivered services we decided it was time to mock-up a traditional A4 tri-fold brochure. We put stock photos with smiling faces articulating earnest but authentic customer needs. We plotted a service offering with different with icons and colours. We presented the brochure without preamble or comment to a team of strategic leaders.

It immediately got people talking about the right things, debating the real business problems, and enjoying the potential for solving their problems. It shifted people’s thinking from hypotheticals, to a shared understanding and a way forward.

Sketches are fantastic for most prototypes, but every now and then you need to call on the powers of being a designer and having access to graphic design, communication and copywriting skills and make a client see a possible future.

 

 

4. Designers need to get something made sometimes, to reality check good design
We were lucky enough to win an Australian Good Design Award this year in the Service Design Education Category and for Best Overall Service Design for our work with Macquarie Primary School. The project involved simultaneously working with a team of little designers and big educators on service design in practice in order to redesign the School car park.

The car park was designed and it was implemented. Every aspect of the Design Specification was put into practice. That doesn’t often happen in the design business (and with 13 years of DMA, and collectively, 34 years of design practice under our belts, we know). The win was truly fabulous for our team. But the car park getting made was equally so because you don’t always get to see how your design plays out when it hits the reality of a complex organisation – and a public school with its multi-user environment is an extremely complex environment.

But we had another win in this area when the work we’ve been doing with a major federal agency designing their operating model reached its conclusion with the final enabling area being designed – bringing an entire group, normally focused on ICT as a black box, into a more service-oriented mindset and practice. Designs that we, and other people have undertaken over the years have been tested, re-evaluated, diagnosed, re-diagnosed, adjusted, and as a design program, they all still fit together with core service principles and business intent remaining flexibly steadfast.

It’s brave of any large Agency to invest in a small company like ours – instead of a large Consultancy that ultimately might not deliver a bespoke, integrated solution, but instead offer a “proven” one. That’s the best thing about what our design partners demand of us, and what they allow us to challenge them to achieve. This connects us back to our first learning – being true to our design approach, but respecting and supporting the courage our clients/design partners make to invest in success.

It gives us faith in the system when we, and the people we’re fortunate enough to work with, truly want to make a difference to, and for people.

So, 2016, in many ways you were perplexing, but for us – you weren’t so bad ;)

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LittleDesigners

There is an increasing focus in the design and innovation world on design education beyond the traditional university level to younger and younger students.

In Australia for example, as part of the Federal Government’s ‘Ideas Boom’, there has been a formal focus on STEM and innovation approaches as part of everyday learning in primary and secondary schools.

Whilst completely respecting these approaches (we think investment in STEM is critical for building the capability of all people in modern economies) the missing link for us has been the layer of design – thinking creatively to solve problems from a collaborative and human-centred position.

So we were somewhat excited in late 2015 when we were approached by one of Canberra’s most outstanding local government schools – Macquarie Primary School – to develop and implement a program with their little people we have called Design In Schools 2015 (#DiS15 on the socials).

A Design Partnership Born out of Mutual Respect

In early 2015 DMA was engaged by ACT Health to undertake research into the parental/carer preferences for encouraging active travel within their households. Macquarie Primary School was a pilot school for the project. During the short piece of research we realised we’d been introduced to a pretty special teaching and learning group at Macquarie and we set about building a strong  relationship with the Principal, Wendy Cave and her Executive Team including Deputy Principal Brendan Briggs.

In November 2015 an opportunity arose to explore, with students at Macquarie, design as a problem-solving discipline and how it can act as an extension of their education focus on research as a viable career path. This was to build on the school focus of inquiry-based learning and research, and to show that these are skills and approaches that have ‘real world’ application.

Having seen us in action on the Active Travel project, Wendy asked us to present to the kids about what we do, as service designers, ‘for a living’. But we wanted more. Talking to kids (‘little people’ in Macquarie vernacular) would be good, but we reasoned working with them to actually undertake some service design would be great.

So rather than presenting to the students about DMA as a company or service design as a discipline, it was decided that a collaborative design project be developed so that the ‘little people’ at Macquarie, could practice being designers.

  • For Macquarie, the students would learn how to apply their existing research skills into a new approach or methodology (Service Design) and school management would get a focused, professional piece of design work undertaken around a key school issue – the experience of their school car park.
  • For DMA, the project would be a chance to see how ‘little people’ think and work through a formal design process.

For the school community, a detailed design specification with recommendations on how to address car park safety and enhancing the experience of the car park for users would be delivered.

The desire to undertake the project was both to satisfy an interest we have as designers in how younger people think about and interact with design concepts before having any formal design training and to also engage with a teaching cohort who are outstanding educators and researchers in their own right.

The Design Project – A Better Car Park Experience

We’ll write more about the approach and methodology later, but we essentially introduced a group of 11 year olds to being part of a service design team over six project sessions moving from intent through to design research, analysis, prototyping, prototype testing and solution development. The topic was a real problem in the school – the perception that the school had a dangerous car park and the intent of the approach to problem solving was that we lead the process, but the students led the solutioning, not the adults (despite some voices of protest from a couple of adults).

The sessions were split between the end of 2015 when the little people were in Year 5, and the start of 2016 when they had come back to school to be in their final year as Year 6s. The same group of 18 + their amazing teacher Faith Bentley stayed with us for the life of the project.

As well as trying to solve a serious issue for the school, we were interested in exploring some key themes as we moved through the project:

  • Would ‘little people’ take to purposeful play, rather than just play?
  • Would theory through practice, rather than ‘teaching design skills’ be a successful model?
  • How would ‘little people’ think and cope with formal methodological processes?
  • How would ‘little people’ cope with being expected to act as collaborators – organising to work as much as being ‘led and taught’?

We were also interested in seeing first hand, whether the oft quoted reflection ‘if only we could be as creative and open thinking as children’ was actually a real concept. Would we see floods of openness creativity and innovation, just because this was a group of young people? For guidance and inspirations we found ourselves referring to Sir Ken Robsinon’s Changing Education Paradigms talk.

Initial Reflections

We are going to talk and write about this a lot more once we are done (we delivered the draft design specification to Wendy this week), but after interviewing some of the little people (our team) and their teacher Faith (our design partner) towards the end of the project, we wanted to share their responses to design.

The sound is ordinary but the reflections are extraordinary ;)

  • Listen to some of the little people talk about design (2.39)

  • Listen to our design partner Faith Bentley talk about design (4.05)


Enjoy! There’s lots more reflection to come on this project that we were delighted and in the end honoured to be part of.

You can see our reflections from the field on this project by checking out #DiS15 on Instagram or Twitter

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Another working year comes to a close at DMA HQ.

Christmas Greetings!

Christmas Greetings!

This year we have applied our service design skills to the worlds of ICT, taxation, biosecurity, domestic violence, community co-design of services, working with little designers, homelessness, the service experience of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities, Justice Reinvestment, the future of travel, active travel for school children and many other areas along the way.

It’s time for these service designers to take a breath and re-charge after an amazing year of creation, collaboration and making.

To all of our partners, in particular the countless front line service deliverers who gave us their time this year (and for whom there is no real ‘down time’), thank you and we look forward to seeing you in January!

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DMASnookIt seems like just a last week, but was in fact about 18 months ago, when we found out that one of our favourite designers, Sarah Drummond from Snook was visiting Oz.

After a catch up in Melbourne where we talked all things service design, it became clear that though our approaches and backgrounds might be different, our experiences of designing for the public sector had a lot of common themes – despite practicing in different hemispheres.

We decided immediately to define what these themes were, and started working on a collaborative Think Piece,

Service Design Principles for Working with the Public Sector

Which we are proudly releasing here in Australia today!

The Think Piece explores design approaches, models for design project and capability delivery, case studies on design work, our thoughts about the future of public sector design, and importantly, our joint Four Principles For Embedding Design in the Public Sector.

For both Snook and DMA it became clear that context is everything in public sector design, so things like hierarchy, procurement and the complexity of the public sector organisation itself directly affect the way you can embed design in the sector.

Accordingly, the principles are pretty simple to describe, but a challenge to implement:

  1. Apply design consciously.
  2. Recognise that the public sector is in the service business.
  3. Ensure the public sector has the capacity for design.
  4. Don’t let solutions overtake politics and policy.

The Think Piece is both an attempt to draw a line in the sand on what we know now and a call to arms, from private sector designers to and with our public sector collaborators.

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CommSector

“Co-design is the new buzzword – can you help our members work out what it means?”

And so began our happily evolving journey with a number of community sector organisations such as Youth Coalition of the ACT and ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS), to name just two.

By coincidence, while recently reviewing our website content for a refresh we realised that our desire to be practitioners first was increasingly backed-up by our active role in empowering clients, and potential clients, to understand their role in a co-design process through preserving their own expertise, and drawing on practitioners and the process to facilitate desired outcomes and real change.

 

Our position on “Co-Design”

Co-design is the process of deliberately engaging users of the system, deliverers of services and other experts, being led by experts such as designers, to actively understand, explore and ultimately change a system together.

Our motivation for engaging with groups like ACTCOSS and YouthCoACT and their member organisations is to provide an environment which prepares them with a view of what co-design means from a very practical point of view. In our case that means how co-design as an approach links with our more defined view of service design – but regardless of your design discipline, we are keen to make the point with the sector that design is, just that, a discipline.

Late last year when we saw that the respected ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) newsletter had decided to publish an edition with the title: “Co-Design: Improving Policy and Service Development and Implementation Seeing consumers as active participants and assets”. As we’d just been asked by the Youth Coalition of the ACT to present at their annual conference on a similar topic, and knew interest in the topic was at an all time high in the sector, we approached the Council to ask if we could submit an article.

The article was published in December and provides a short summary of the messages and content we delivered in full at the ACT Youth Affairs Conference.

Our preference for transferring knowledge has always been a “theory through practice” model. This has meant creating material for the sector that seeks to support their aims, and to engage in a meaningful way in an attempt to improve the capability of the sector. Consequently, our desire to educate the sector in a collaborative way has been proven to be a welcome approach. Our slideshow from the Youth Coalition Conference gained views on slideshare faster than any other presentation we’ve done. The article for ACTCOSS has received positive feedback from the sector. And the conversations we are having with a range of community peak bodies and service organisations now are based on a more mature understanding of what a co-design approach involves.

 

The challenge of the community sector

We find that too often the desire for co-designed solutions in the public and community sector leads to processes that are more about consultation than co-design, and rely on generic “design thinking” and business management tools than design discipline. As the funding bodies for community organisations start demanding “co-design” as an approach, we believe empowering organisations with a point of reference for what that actually means ensures they retain their expertise, whilst understanding and having respect for the discipline itself.

We have no doubt the drive for co-design will continue, particularly as funding bodies move more to outcome rather than output measures, and this excites us. We look forward to continuing our relationship with peak bodies like ACTCOSS and YouthCoACT to continue supporting their growing understanding of what co-design is and what it can bring.

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“It’s not faddish to try to get policies and services right for the communities that rely on them”

Article: In Defence of Design: far more than jargon (2MB)

Our Article: In Defence of Design: far more than jargon (2MB)

In our recent post Six thoughts for the Centre for Public Sector Design’s future CEO we put forth our advice to the incoming CEO of the Centre for Public Design. At the time we also reflected briefly on academic J.R. Nethercote’s ‘Recruiting the ‘charisma’ to innovate‘ – 7 February 2012. Following this, the Public Sector Informant (Canberra Times) took us up on our offer to respond in print.

Here is the article ‘In Defence of Design: far more than jargon‘. We hope our thoughts add to the thinking on design and innovation in the public sector.

Thanks to Markus Mannheim, Editor of the Public Sector Informant, for this opportunity.

 

Update: Here’s a link to an online version of the article.



There was big news in the public sector design space a couple of weeks ago when the Acting Deputy Secretary for Industry and Innovation Ken Pettifer, announced plans to hire a CEO of the Centre for Public Design (the actual Department and Centre names are more wordy but we’ve shortened them here).

We noted a number of references in the broader service design community. People in our network – both local and international – have also been in touch with us for our take on the Centre.

We think the idea of setting up such a Centre is important in terms of placing design thinking at the forefront of public services. We’ve all seen enough poor examples of administrative, legislative, policy and technical implementations to prove the need. But we also think that there are some lessons that should be learnt from those who have gone before, or the whole Centre could end up a well meaning white elephant!

So, as designers who have been involved in the development of public sector design in theory and practice for over a decade, we thought we’d capture what our advice would be to the incoming CEO. Here’s our top six thoughts:

  1. The methodology is NOT the most important thing – it is important but the Centre will also need to get in there and do stuff early.
  2. Don’t move slowly – don’t let the phrase ‘capability building’ be an excuse not to act.
  3. Measure EVERYTHING that you do – build the case and make sure when people are doing conference presentations about their wonderful design project it actually made a difference for the community.
  4. Do more than ‘assure’. After a few months you’ll realise the job is really really hard. If you hear yourself say “I think we are just going to focus on best practice models and assure other Departments’ work” you’ve failed. Assurance is a vital component but nowhere near as vital as actually supplying resources and collaborating on actual design projects.
  5. Do what is right for you. We understand the relevance of the Mindlab approach, but we also love lots of international and Australian design consultancy models (and there are plenty). So don’t just pick one up and try and implement it. Be clear about what you are trying to achieve and what outcomes you are seeking and then deliver it yourself. Sure – learn from others, but OWN your process and practice.
  6. Don’t limit your network. Sure there are rules and processes for appointing and engaging with people but get out and about in our service design community. Be at the drinks, be at the conferences, but most importantly come and see how we and plenty of others work – we are all really good sharers ;)

As a post-script, the excellent Public Sector Informant (now a part of the Canberra Times) has published a stirring critique of the concept of the Centre by academic J.R. Nethercote ‘Recruiting the ‘charisma’ to innovate‘ – 7 February 2012.

Nethercote has some legitimate concerns about what might happen with the Centre (many of which are echoed in our thoughts above) but he seriously underestimates the importance and need for the Centre itself. The vocabulary of the Department may be a bit waffly in the advertisement for the CEO, but in our minds the need for design (and in particular service design) thinking to permeate every element of policy design and administrative implementations of that policy is absolutely non-negotiable.

We’ve approached the Informant to present a response to Professor Nethercote’s skepticism, we look forward to the opportunity.

Postscript: We were taken up on our offer and here is the article ‘In Defence of Design: far more than jargon



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