Posts tagged ‘canberra’


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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Thursday saw the start of something big (we hope) for Canberra – the launch of a local edition of Service Design Think and Drinks Australia, presented by Service Designing Australia.

Service Designing Australia is coordinated by Damian Kernahan and Suze Ingram and is a home for information about service design community events in Australia. The get-together we had was part of a series of informal events the guys run for anyone interested in service design to meet up and share idea, stories and thoughts.

Damien from Proto Partners did a great job of gathering local service designers together (no mean feat from his Sydney base) and also bringing the author of ‘This is Service Design Thinking’ – Marc Stickdorn to town as a guest speaker.

We had an interesting mix of service design consultants (such as ourselves) and public servants from some key agencies at different stages of embedding design in some form.

Marc Stickdorn's book

We were also joined by Dominic Campbell from FutureGov who made it along after appearing earlier in the day at the Web 3.0 conference (and braved a trademark Justin Barrie mini-tour of Canberra in the family wagon).

The event was a pretty free-ranging couple of hours of conversation. Here’s some of Justin’s reflections:

• Service design, and designers in general should embrace other disciplines.

Marcus in particular was very strong (and I agree completely) on the fact that often designers can get defensive of their own discipline and as a result ignore the masses of knowledge that exists in others such as marketing, sociology and research. We should be looking to utilise, link with and collaborate with all of these professions.

• In Canberra we are a little obsessed with influence and hierarchy.

It’s really common for service design discussions in Canberra (due to the large amount of public sector design) to come around to design’s lack of influence over the hierarchy of Departments and Minister’s ‘not getting’ design. Firstly – I don’t buy the Minister line. Unlike Department Secretaries politicians actually have to face up to the public to get their job back and I’ve always found them to have an innate understanding of the importance of customer focused design (and service design).

In terms of the hierarchy issue I simply say, you can spend as long as you want trying to evangelise to senior bureaucrats or you can just make difference at a project level and not worry about it. I know which approach I prefer. And if you get it right people at all levels will listen!

• Designers aren’t resilient enough to force change.

This was a reflection from Dominic on the difference between Change Managers (which he identifies himself as) and Designers. He bravely opined that very few designers have the resilience to force change and revert to an ‘if it’s not perfect it can’t work’ position (my words not his).

This was a interesting take on the discipline, particularly as we had been discussing iteration and collaboration as designer strengths, but in some ways I agree with him. Of course if depends a lot on personality and clearly there are some amazing designers who support and drive change but I think Dom is right that some designers can be guilty of wanting ‘the perfect methodology’, or ‘the perfect design outcome’ and this simply doesn’t reflect the reality of the operating environments of our clients and ourselves.

It also reinforced for me the point about needing to collaborate with a range of disciplines to deliver quality service design outcomes, which is exactly what we set out to do at DMA.

As well as these larger points of reflection, I’d also add these highlights as things I will definitely follow up:

• The use of ‘investigative rehearsal’ as a technique to discuss the heart of a design ‘problem’ sounds fascinating
• The discussion of linking with Universities in Canberra for Service Design networks is very much worth following up
• The discussion once again proved to me, through the examples people gave, that visualisation is a key tool to quickly engage decision makers
• The fact that Marc sees Asia and the Asia Pacific as the real growth market for service design and pointed out Korea as a nation getting it right (time to do some market research)

It was also a highlight seeing a visiting Brit and Austrian seeing their first ever ‘cook your own steak’ indoor bbq ;)

So – some challenging conversation and lots of things to think about. From that point of view, the drinks served their purpose and then some.

Thanks again to the organisers and particularly Marc for leading of the discussion. Looking forward to the next one!

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