DMA Co-Principal Justin Barrie has a very intimate connection to the COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting everybody at the moment. His much loved father-in-law caught the virus and passed away just seven days later. Whilst the family is dealing with the grief of his passing, they are also at the centre of a range of government agencies trying to manage this catastrophe.

He sent this message as a reflection as a service user at this time.


Hi ya – I know we’re in the thick of this thing at the moment, but in spite of that I have a bit of time on my hands so I put together some words.

Before and since the passing of my wonderful father-in-law, our extended family has been in forms of both quarantine and isolation. We are also navigating the services, rules and protocols that govern us all in a unique way as the family of a ‘covid-19 victim’ as the media would call him. We are still unable to meet together as a family, hug and console as we wish we could. Even within our house, my wife is quarantined from the rest of us and we can’t enter her room or have physical contact.

I spend my days traveling to my mother-in-law’s house to keep her company through her window as she is also in complete isolation.

This post isn’t about us though, it’s about reflecting on the service deliverers we have been dealing with over the past couple of weeks. The care and attention from ACT Health, ACT Education and others has been extraordinary. This is at a time where much of how they work is being made up for them on an hourly or daily basis.

As a service designer who has worked in some of the most complex social situations imaginable, it has caused me to reflect on two things.


Firstly, experts are key.

Expert care, expert advice, expert delivery. We thank the experts. Now is not a time for anecdote, opinion and gut feels. And while some in politics and the media (including many delivering their hot takes on social media) can say what they are going to say, those of us at the centre of this thing, those of us directly affected, are relying on experts.

Secondly, humans are at the heart of great service.

Services in times of complexity take time to get right. Systems and processes have to be invented overnight. During these times it isn’t the design of the service that is key, it is the human delivering it.


The people we have dealt with who have been forced into an untenable situation, particularly in ACT Health, have been simply outstanding. Empathetic, professional, thorough – in times of exceptional uncertainty for them. These people are trying to create space for us to process and grieve whilst attempting to map and understand the impact of a pandemic. Their actions have been exemplary and the best service design in the world is nothing without humans, with a human touch delivering them.

So in amongst the commentary that is going on, the opinion and views and narrative and discussion – including many of my fellow designers talking up the wonders and ‘opportunity’ of the new zoom world – I’d just like people to remember those directly affected and the outstanding people doing their best to deliver services in this new context which we navigate.

To the Public Health, TCH and Communicable Disease team – our thanks.

To Rob, Jason and Ben and the rest of the team at LHS for delivering outstanding educational and pastoral support to our son in amongst this – our thanks.