Posts tagged ‘creative boost’


Like any regular use of a technique it’s good to mix it up to shake-up the monotony (or complacency). Observation is a regular part of our research process so as a creative boost we decided to use the technique in a deliberately under-engineered way.


The challenge

We chose a telco, and a rapid informal observation approach. There’s three reasons why we chose to observe the service in the retail outlet of a telco:

  1. Telcos are interesting. They’re part utility, part service, part product. You can get technical and service advice for home, for office, for mobility, for local use, for overseas use.
  2. There’s been recent marketing and PR around being more customer-centric by some of the telcos.
  3. We’re a customer of a telco (obviously) and a recent experience as customer’s had us thinking as designer/customer in terms of the experience.

The set-up was no prep, no specific service design outcome, no interaction with participants in the service system itself. We just wanted to literally observe, take notes and photos over a 10 minute period and then share our observations (ie.. not a deep, contextually driven systemic view of current and possible retail opportunities faced by retail outlets in the telecommunications industry).

To undertake the observation we set ourselves up for 10 minutes each between 10.30 and 11.00 on a Friday morning. We were opposite a single retailer, in a mall concourse which included five direct competitors and an accessories/repairer store.

The Observation Zone

The Observation Zone


What we observed – Our telco retail observations

Physical environment

  • Apart from the retail floor space, there was a clear “back-of-house” obvious to the public.
  • A space we assume to be set-up for customer comfort, looks like and was used as “staff space”.
  • Product accessories (e.g. phone covers) were prominent in the store due to their placement at the front near the counter (and in the way of some exiting customers).
  • The generic layout didn’t seem to take into account the surroundings (i.e. a phone accessories store was next door).
  • While there was a lot of movement on advertising screens the environment itself appeared static.
  • The people observed passing by didn’t glance at or into the store. Only those who entered did.
  • The physical environment didn’t support the staff to carry out some tasks (e.g. the folders that carried forms were bigger than the tables they rested on).

The role of the service agent

  • All three staff looked like they were “working on something” and that you would interrupt them if you entered.
  • You could not tell the roles or expertise of the three different agents but they were wearing different coloured t-shirts with current advertising slogans.
  • There seemed to be a considerable volume of paper-based activity which was transferred to the customer.

In-store messaging

  • The messaging was focused on technology features or service components, rather than user-specific outcomes (e.g. “amazing network” more prominent then what that actually means to a customer).
  • The most prominent message was about the NBN, but this seemed out of date given current NBN rollback decisions.
  • The only apparent attempt at service segmentation was the split between “on the move” and “at home/office”.
  • Two of the four advertising screens in-store we’re not working.


What could that mean – Interpretation of our observations

  • The store itself is apparently set-up for quick transactional interactions with customers at the front, and more detailed interaction at the back.
  • The design of the environment seems to support a transactional visit rather than a retail experience, or trusted and ongoing service relationship visit.
  • For a retail space to be customer-centric it still needs to cater for the service agents place. Otherwise, as we observed, they will make the space their own,  which may not be ideal for a retail transaction as it can be intimidating to entering customers.
  • While we’re sure that the client breakdown of the telco we observed is sophisticated we didn’t see anything that would support specific types of interaction we are aware of such as: tech support, tyre kickers, browsers, contract hunters, contract support, etc.
An observing designer

An observing designer


What did we learn – Our observations on observation

  • Having no focusing question meant the observations were wide-ranging and not purposeful towards answering a design question.
  • Designers think similarly – we had similar themes when we debriefed – meaning we had a natural service expectation bias. With more focused prep and background research this would have been balanced, however, as would have been involving an actual user in the observation.
  • There’s a difference between observation and interpretation and it reminded us to make sure when we do observe, as we were taught, we split the notes into “Observation” and “Commentary” for later reflection outside of the observation itself.

The boost was good for our creativity but also to allow us to step out of our usual public sector focus (for just a short time). We’d be keen to hear what private sector or retail designers think of our observations.

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Recently, after finishing a major piece of work, we took some time out for a creative design exercise. Similar to our previous #100 Shots experiment, we again challenged ourselves to think from a different discipline point of view, and a different topic all together from what we usually spend our days thinking about. We knew we wanted to do physical prototyping, we wanted it to be quick and we wanted it to feel like purposeful play (so not just “fun”).

We were prompted by the CAPITheticAL exhibition currently on at the Gallery of Australian Design. The exhibition shows the entries to the competition to design a hypothetical Australian capital city.

Our challenge: Design a civic square in a capital city in three hours!

We chose not to do any pre-research on urban design and town planning – except for the exhibition and our own experience and exposure to cities around the world.

Our approach
1.    Taking a small burst of inspiration/research move quickly from
2.    Concept and sketching, to
3.    Three dimensional prototype.

Bonus incidental activities also occurred such as sharing travel stories of favourite cities, scalpeling fingers, discussions about the amount of static electricity generated when cutting into Styrofoam.

The result
The People Mega-vista                                                                                             The Nation’s House




What did we learn

  • We are not urban designers.

Physical prototyping

  • Having a concept is critical – regardless of the type of design. It meant that the design could change during implementation (i.e. as we prototyped) but the intent remained true.
  • Making is dictated by the level of skill with material or knowledge – which means unfamiliarity with materials or the subject can end up dictating a design because you do what you can with what you know.
  • Scale is hard – when you’re drawing a building in relation to a lake, and then you try and do that in three-dimensions, it’s a particular skill.

Design is design is design (but it’s still a skill)

  • Thinking in physical dimensions is challenging. While we think it is learnable with study, practice and a design mindset, it is not instinctive (like we’d expect of visualising being a design skill across the board).
  • No research means you spend time changing as you build/prototype because you have no rationale to back you up or give you direction.
  • Where you position your concept informs the build – too much detail too soon may mean you may miss the big picture (because you’re focused on details like getting the little tram right) or miss the concept intent (because you forget that the environment needs to cater for people living nearby).


So what did we learn from all that

Amongst the obvious (such as concept is king in design, prototyping is a way to learn how to make the design better because you understand and can solve implementation challenges quickly) the overwhelming feeling we had was that experimenting with technique is fun for learning, but when something is on the line – like a real outcome or generating a real solution is sought – experienced professionals leading the application of tools and techniques means you will get a better result.

We reckon this is pretty relevant when we go into organisations who question the value of design and have tried to do it themselves without experience or aptitude towards design as a discipline. It makes demonstrating practical design over theory or espousing “design thinking” without contextualising it to actual human and business outcomes even more important.

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