Posts tagged ‘Design’

This week we were super excited to hear that a project we’ve worked on over the past couple of years received two important awards.

The Deadly Allstars Healing Garden Project, which we’ve posted about before, won a Good Design Award Gold Tick – awarded to just 145 of the 830 entries they receive.

On top of that we were absolutely over the moon that Sharon Williams and the Allstars team, made up of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 5 – 18, received the Indigenous Designers of the Year Award!

The project was set up in order to facilitate a process where service design set up the scaffold of inquiry, but the young people drove the process, decisions and outcomes through a focus on using service design as a support for self-determination.

Congrats Allstars – this award is yours and you deserve it!

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Yesterday we were headed to a meeting, as we walked towards the venue we were presented with a classic dirt ‘desire path’.

It got us talking and thinking about this concept that has become something of a design icon. In fact, for some time the notion of a desire path, and the ubiquitous image highlighting it as a metaphor for the difference between design and user experience has been part-and-parcel of the designer presentation toolkit. The slide goes up and people respond, naturally, with empathy and support for the desire path makers. It’s nice to think that the numbers of people who have created their own (collective) way based on their needs, not the supposed needs to the ‘machine’ that built the formal path in the first place get a voice.

But the notion that what a group of people ‘does’ should override other user needs as their desire is visibly less obvious, is a bit one note.

To us, the desire path isn’t some goal of ‘natural design selection’ – in fact, it can be an emblem of a number of things that don’t make things better in our society and our design community.

So here’s our three rules for not taking Desire Paths as a design goal:

1. Desire Paths may ignore expertise at the expense of a single ‘desire’

Let’s call the opposite of the desire path, the designed path. Of course the jury may be out on whether specific paths are designed well or not, but just because a group has decided to create their own desired solution doesn’t mean the intended design was necessarily wrong. The designed path has to take into account a range of factors in determining its solution: regulation, safety, biodiversity, erosion, population movement, just to name a few.

These factors mean a range of experts must balance the constraints and opportunities available to come up with the best possible solution. Do those creating the desire path know that whether where they are walking contains an under-threat species? Do they know that the rough path they are creating has led to a number of accidents? Do they know the path is driving a number of people into a place that is unsafe?

To take on questions like this experts are engaged. Town Planners, Tradespeople, Regulators, Environmental Scientists.

The designed path is a compromise, but it’s compromise based on expertise. Making the desire path is human nature, lauding it over the designed path risks celebrating ignoring necessary expertise.


2. Desire Paths can assume the intent of efficiency and speed trump all other intents

Most examples of desire paths (physical and digital) are driven by a singular intent – efficiency. That intent is often highlighted by the attribute of speed to complete a task. Speed may be critical for some but it’s not the only intent of a particular population. A desire path in this context may only represent an ableist route of a user with a specific need.

Defining the intent of a given design solution and the multiple users of that solution is critical to good design. With a clear intent the expertise mentioned above can be engaged. If we think that efficiency and speed are the only intent required for pathways (physical and metaphoric!) we dramatically underplay other possible experiences. We think intent more is layered and varied than that.

If efficiency and speed are the only goal then we can just start putting straight travelators through all National Parks now!

Again – there is absolutely no problem with a group of people having the efficiency as an intent, but as designers promoting that a singular intent should drive the solution and not pausing to consider user types and differing motivations is naive.


3. Desire Paths sometimes forget people built the designed path as well

There’s a curious way that the alternatives to desire paths are presented. The desire path is described as the way ‘people’ want to move. The ‘designed path’ is represented as some abstract thing that has just landed. ‘Put in by them’; ‘Delivered by machine’; ‘A result of bureaucracy’. It’s curious to us that these descriptions de-humanise the designed path. It’s a deliberate play on seeking empathy for the ‘human’ approach, but it says much about the willingness of designers to set aside what true service designs is – a multi-disciplinary process that seeks to ensure the people who deliver the service are as critical to its success as the people who use the service.

That for us is what’s at the heart of the desire path narrative. An inference that all design should match the needs and desires of a few (often an unmeasured few). Desire is great for design thinking, but expertise and a balance between delivery and user types is what is required for solid service design.

Desire paths can give you input; and understanding who uses them can give you insight; but thinking of them as a singular and correct indicator of better more humanistic answers to intentional design and decision expertise is a path to paradise that begins in hell.*

*DMA is not recommending all designers who talk about desire paths should be cast into Dante’s Inferno ;)

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A mantra at DMA is that we design to make, not just think. There can be a tendency in design approaches to focus on discovery. To learn, to understand, to research.

But unless you MAKE something, you may have built a lot of empathy for the user, you may have created outstanding IP, but you haven’t actually helped them directly with anything.

A great example of designing to make is some work we undertook with our technology collaborator, Graham at GMWEB. The client, Audi Australia, was moving its apprentice training in-house and wanted to digitise the experience for all of the users involved.

The collaboration saw a detailed service design front-end that seamlessly transitioned into a tech build that has offered immediate and lasting results for Audi.

We’ll be talking about the project at Acquia Engage Asia Pacific (Acquia Engage APAC) conference in Melbourne next week. As a lead in to that presentation, we developed a case study on the work with the Acquia team.

Read about the project here.

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DMA’s office and work takes place on the country of the Ngunnawal people, as such we acknowledge the Ngunnawal people who are the traditional custodians of this land on which we work and pay respect to the Elders of the Ngunnawal Nation both past and present and emerging.

A note: The following post is our way of describing a topic and spectrum of work that is extremely important to us as designers and people. But we are still learning. So if we use any language or description in the post that doesn’t work for any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, please reach out and let us know.

Back in 2015, DMA was working on an excellent project with a local Directorate mapping the ideal service journey of a range of service cohorts here in Canberra. The final workshop and map we were involved in was with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

The session turned out to be one of the most humbling, difficult and confronting workshops we have ever been involved in. As we endeavored to ‘move people through our service design methodology’ there was push back at every level. Participants told us we were trying to take their intellectual property and not listen to what they had to say in the way they wanted to say it.

There were elements of the workshop set-up that hadn’t sat well with us, but what we experienced that day wasn’t about logistics. The uncomfortable feeling we had as designers was what we should have felt, because those angry voices in the room were absolutely correct.

After the event we didn’t retreat into ourselves to try and work out what happened and ‘how we could fix it next time’. Instead, we licked our designer wounds, and fundamentally changed our approach to how we work with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, both in our local community and further afield.

With background experiences with indigenous-focused work from New Zealand and our existing connections to friends and peers in the community, we knew we had a platform to work from.

Connecting and Understanding

Designers pride themselves on empathy, it’s what makes us tick. So the first thing we thought about was why we had missed the mark at an empathy level with this work. We realised that so much of service design’s engagement with the community is on the terms of Federal and State departments and Agencies who come from a deficit point of view.

We’d only ever been asked to work with the community as an identified group of ‘vulnerable people’. We’d never once been asked to work with people to celebrate excellence or success.

So our first step was to move beyond ‘professional empathy’ to real understanding. We reached out. Connected. Listened. Learned. We still have a lot to learn, but we deliberately built a network of formal and informal advisors who started us on our journey to genuine engagement with the community.

Some of this network were already mates, some new to us – all are a critical part of how we shape our practice. As a deliberate business decision now, if approached by Government to work on a project involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we will not even commence a proposal until we have consulted and listened to our network – their advice drives our business decision-making in this area.

Three levels of activity

As well as this conscious decision to connect we also started thinking about how we can help make real change from a service design perspective.

Firstly, we recognised that all policy is political. That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact. That means that all services designed for and delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not politically agnostic – they are laden with political significance. With that as a foundation we decided to look at the issue from three levels where we thought we could drive action.

The three levels are:

1. Using service design to support direct community action

This level of activity is about us connecting with community and bringing our service design approach to specific projects that create real change. Not with service design as the answer, but as a support for our collaborators to navigate existing service systems and political realities. It’s service design as empowering self-determination as defined by our collaborators, not service design as the lead.

You can read about our first project which was driven by Justin below – we are really proud of it.

2. Using service design to demand self-determination in government service delivery

This level of activity is about DMA, as a service design agency, not only taking on the right work, but shaping the expectations of our client agencies and demanding a collaborative seat at the table for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

How this works in practice is that we will not take on work that has deficit language as a descriptive starting point, and we will tell the potential client why. In the preparation of proposals in how to deliver on the work, we will only do so once we have formally or informally discussed the intent with our network of advisors, this is essential as the method we outline in our proposals guide the whole project, so that advice and opportunities for collaboration must be up-front.

Finally, we recognise that the ‘service design market’ is large and extremely profitable for many design agencies. Therefore, at it’s most pragmatic level and beyond the outcomes being delivered, if there is money being made in this market then we must make actual meaningful steps and take responsibility to bring Indigenous Business into it.

Our first step in this direction has been our work with the Australian Bureau of Statistics on the Census. They approached us to work with them on the under-count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in urban locations. We only took on the work once we had consulted our network and built the proposal based on their advice. During the project we continued checking in with our mates to ensure we were on track. Importantly, once we delivered our outcomes and recognised there was more work to do, we insisted that an Indigenous Business be brought in to deliver the next phase. We are extremely proud that the procurement is now complete, and though we maintain a small role, the bulk of the work will be delivered by an Indigenous design capability.

3. The evolution of service design itself from design-led to design as supporting self-determination

This is the highest level of work. A recognition that our practice, our vocation – service design – is enmeshed and intertwined with the very structures that inhibit self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

Our goal with this work is to develop a methodology that brings current service design practice together with existing and successful indigenous practice. The outcome may well be that service design just disappears in this context and makes way, But we know that Departments, policy makers and service delivers increasingly use ‘design’ language and as such we think it’s important to actively think about how this bridge is built.

For the work we are driven by understanding what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service design might look like based on the Australian experience, but also what other First Nation Peoples design practice has worked – such as the Treaty of Waitangi design framework being worked on all the time by our great peers in NZ. Our colleagues in the education leadership space are also strong influencers, with Wendy Cave in particular directing us to thinking from Tyson Kaawoppa Yunkaporta, a Bama man of Nungar and Koori descent, and his 8 Ways of Learning in Aboriginal Languages and processes such as Engoori.

Results of our using service desing to support direct community action

Deadly All Stars Yarning Circle Design
The Deadly All Stars is a group that has been established to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care (kinship and other arrangements) to maintain links to their culture and community.

This award-winning group led a project in 2016 that designed, developed and placed a series of story poles in the front garden of Barnardos’ offices in Downer ACT.

The group was looking to expand this original project to develop more of the built environment around the office. The first goal is a yarning circle for the group itself to use.

Led by Wiradjuri woman Sharon Williams and Katie Martin from Barnardos, the All Stars are a tight knit and highly successful group. They reached out to Justin at DMA for design support.

Working with the group has led to the delivery of a professional quality design research report with you can read here. The following is from the introduction.

The team are now looking to raise $6,650.00 to make phase one of the garden become reality


In 2016 the Deadly Allstars created and built a series of Story Poles in the front garden of the Barnardos offices in Downer in the ACT. The project was empowering for the group, symbolic of their connection to culture and highly successful in terms of the support for and love of the poles by the community that uses the space (Barnardos staff, visiting families and local residents).

An opportunity arose in 2018 to think about what other features could be added to the space, with the primary driver the creation of a Yarning Circle. To support the boys in the group to experience a formal design process it was decided to commence a service design process, which they would lead, to come up with a design for the space.


The Deadly All Stars is a group that has been established to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care (kinship and other arrangements) to maintain links to their culture and community. In this project the group has become the Design Team.

A series of design activities have been set up for them to move through by Design Mentor Justin Barrie, but the team has delivered the design.

Key elements about the team include:

      • The team has been flexible to include anyone who is available at various times – it has been deliberately inclusive – though driven by a core group of around 5 – 7 young men.
      • The team has not been helped to generate content or insight – the results in the project are theirs.
      • The team is not just the young men – the group conveners Sharon Williams and Katie Martin and carers and family members have been active parts of the process as team members over the research phase.


Justin Barrie is the founder and a Principal Designer at Design Managers Australia and long-term volunteer and mentor in the ACT Community Sector.

Justin is a specialist in co-design techniques which seek to deliver projects that are designed along with the users of the service that is being built. His interest in supporting the project stems from a deep personal respect for the group conveners Sharon and Katie and what they are trying to achieve with the Allstars and a desire to support the wonderful young men in the group to work on and deliver a successful project in a context of excellence.


This research report contains a large amount of design-specific language. Readers of the report may (mistakenly) think that the Design Team hasn’t had this language used with them and that it just appears in this paper as the language of the ‘documenter’. This is by no means the case.

Justin has deliberately used this language at all times in the project. The Design Team is made up of capable, intelligent, thoughtful young men and adults.

In fact, a deliberate goal of the project is to equip the team with the language that is used currently by people and organisations that might make decisions FOR THEM, so that in the future they may harness the power of this language and approach to ensure decisions are made BY THEM or at the very least WITH THEM.

This sense of agency through language has been delivered through three key steps:

    1. Deliberate use of the design vocabulary – no simplification of language.
    2. Translation of the vocabulary – to be activity and age specific to provide context.
    3. Debriefing on the design language – when the group hung wall posters to tell the staff of the centre what they had done the previous week.

Not all of these steps, nor all of the language would have been consciously taken on by the whole team each week. Unsurprisingly this is true of adults collaborators we work with as well.

But the project is set up so that they might take away some of this design language and build on the bits that speak to them (and give them tangible results).

Read the report (PDF, 4MB)

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2017 saw the culmination of the delivery of our DesignInSchools pilot project with our trip with the team to the Service Design Network Global Conference where we picked up an award.

Lots of talk at the conference and since then was/is about design at scale, and we’ve been contacted and asked a number of times about how we were going to ‘scale’ DiS. With the word scale there is an immediate perception of increasing numbers – of moving more people through a program.

At DMA we are interested in impact and influence, not just volume, so we thought we would give you an update on what we have been up to.

The journey to deliver the first DiS was not just about the project at Macquarie Primary School itself. It was about the kids and the design problem, but it also became about building an ongoing and meaningful relationship with educators and thinking about influencing the education system in Australia at a systemic level.

Young People – Educators – Education

The more we thought about these three levels – capability of young people, education leadership and the service design of education itself – the more we realised that the type of scale we must focus on had to be across all three.

So, rather than scaling the product people know as DesignInSchools by running multiple projects, we’ve scaled by developing and delivering DesignInSchools approaches across three deliberate levels of collaboration with the education sector.



Level 1 – The Core DesignInSchool Project Approach

Student Capacity for Design as part of the Australian Curriculum.

The core and original intent of DesignInSchools was to work with young people (primary school age) to solve real design problems in their community, and that intent remains.

This level of the product involves DMA directly leading a specific design project in a school with a small group of students as the primary design team as we did with the Macquarie Primary School group. There are a number of prerequisites or conditions that must exist for us to take on a design team – in essence they form the guiding principles of the first level of DiS:

  1. There is an existing ‘real’ issue/problem that effects the school community – practical design is required.
  2. There is an intention and commitment from the Principal or Vice Principal to support the project and manage the school community expectations – the design project has a sponsor.
  3. There is an identified cohort of 10 to 20 Year 5 to Year 6 Students able to be committed to the process. Students don’t need to belong to the same class, but common teachers help – the team is right sized, multi disciplinary and diverse.
  4. There is professional Design Support in a leading, mentoring or validation role – professional designers lead.

The Level 1 product is still in the form of the original Macquarie project. It has a curriculum (three workbooks that fit neatly into the Australian Curriculum ‘technologies’ component) and template artefacts (intent documentation, design specification format).

We look forward to delivering more of these Level 1 projects directly with young people as they arise.



Level 2 – Mentoring Educators to Deliver Design

Educator Leadership through Teacher Capability Building

When delivering our core product the first time around with Macquarie, we were blown away by the feedback and reflection from our Educator-Partner Faith Bentley, about how much DiS had helped her as an educator. By exploring this concept we started to plan for this new level of delivery.

Level 2 of the product involves DMA tailoring the design project approach and materials to facilitate delivery in collaboration with a key educator at a mentoring level. In this level of the project the focus of DMA is on skilling the educator and supporting them, so that they can deliver the facilitation of the project in a way that builds their capability.

The conditions of Level 1 remain – real problems and real teams. The design led process becomes design mentoring. Our aims are pretty clear with this level of product – deliver DiS to many more places BUT only if and when it leads to direct teacher mentoring and capability building.

The Educator Leadership product is a ten session structure.

  • DMA leads a large-scale Design101 kick off and runs the process at the key ‘design-heavy’points (research, analysis, prototyping), but the teacher leads the project with the aim of a single composite workbook and session running sheets. The teacher can then be flexible in delivery depending on the availability of the student design team and their own confidence and strengths.

We are currently running a Level 2 project with local school Red Hill PS through Term 3 after being approached by Red Hill Principal, Louise Owens, about undertaking project focused on the design of an outdoor space at the school.

We were keen to work with Red Hill for a number of reasons, including the Red Hill philosophy which aims to create partnerships with parents and the community that assist students to be active compassionate, lifelong learners who are internationally minded global citizens. This commitment to partnership and compassion is an important value in DesignInSchools.

Also, delivery of DesignInSchools at Red Hill would be the first time it has been delivered in an International Baccalaureate setting. The IB Mission Statement, that it “aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect” fits directly into the aims of Design In Schools and DMA.

We have worked closely with our Educator-Partner, Helene Halliday, to structure the program to ensure it can be assessed in the IB context. Mentoring Helene has allowed us to translate key design approaches and language into her IB and artistic practice, ensuring she acquires new skills and approaches, but does so in a sustainable way for her work as an educator.

This alignment of DesignInSchools with the practical necessities of fitting curriculum requirements is essential for it to create an impact, rather than design being seen as a ‘fun, project based add on to the ‘real’ work of education’.


Level 3 – Supporting Education Leaders to Design their World

The Service Design of Education through Executive Leadership

The final level of scale is our focus on the design of education and education leadership. This level involves DMA directly mentoring school Principals and Executives to use service design to shape the school itself.

Our goal with this level is to move beyond ‘design as the education topic’ to ‘service design as the driver for strategic education decisions.’

The inspiration from our approach to this level of delivery came after a series of conference presentations to the Education Sector about DesignInSchools. We quickly realised that we weren’t simply reporting on the outcomes of DiS from the perspective of the young people involved, we were starting serious strategic design conversations with the audience about how service design could be used to organise and ‘design’ their education approach and community.

In working with a Principal we have regular catch-ups (generally an hour a week and a three hour per term intensive session) to define and deliver a clear educational intent for their school and school community. Through the regular mentoring sessions a design approach is brought to education management questions and the technique of visualisation is utilised to build a narrative for the principal around what they are trying to achieve.

We are delivering one Level 3 engagement at the moment, with one of Canberra’s oldest schools, Ainslie PS. 2018 saw the school appoint a new Principal (and old Collaborator, Wendy Cave) and we are working closely with her to build a service design approach into the journey she is taking the school on. The school’s emerging intent of ‘delivering sophisticated and playful education services’ is a result of our work with the school and service design is now influencing a range of pieces of work and decisions such as the school strategic plan and school improvement plan – with empathy and children at the centre.

The Level 3 approach now allows us to work with the Principal on what this emerging intent means, and we are supporting her to now design her education world. That includes student journeys, teacher capability and capacity, school improvements and engagement with community partners and stakeholders – all the kind of work that service design naturally supports.


Our Measures of Success

Working across three levels of the education system is an honour and a challenge. The shape of DesignInSchools has evolved in response to natural influencing opportunities that have emerged. These opportunities have come from listening to educators and education leaders about what might be missing from their current approaches and how service design can help.

DesignInSchools as a foundation, becomes a way for educators to think about approaches and thinking that go beyond their traditional pedagogy and practice and bring in whole of community and student agency concepts. Not as an add on but as an integral part of the education system within which they deliver.

Our success is predicated on making the delivery of education child-focused, building teacher capacity at a time when requirements on them are heavy and, in the end, supporting the goals of the Melbourne Declaration – which always sums up outcomes better than we ever could:

“That Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence. And that all young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.”

With this deliberate focus on influencing the system at these three levels, we feel strongly that the appropriate scale is not on growth in terms of numbers, but on depth in terms of making the changes and thinking stick.


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“We need design to tackle the world’s wicked problems!” is the familiar catch-cry that we are used to hearing from designers. It is a noble call to arms.

But what if we were at the point where Wicked Problems (as they have evolved in people’s approach to design thinking) ceased to be the issue that designers needed to grapple with?

What if the great challenge for designers wasn’t the Wicked Problem itself, but the desire for leaders to make Wicked Decisions?


Surely there are still problems?

We first heard about Wicked Problems in 2000 directly in relation to the work of Dr Richard Buchanan when he was a design mentor of the Integrated Tax Design Project in the Australian Taxation Office, of which Justin was a part, and a few years later in New Zealand’s IRD as Mel was involved in the journey to build professional service design capability there. The term Wicked Problem is older than this, of course, but Buchanan really brought it into focus for us in terms of applying design methodologies to address these problems.

As we learnt, and have been practicing for the following 18 years (15 of those across multiple service systems at DMA), the way we should strive to look at Wicked Problems is through a number of levels:

  • Take a systems thinking approach and deconstruct the ‘wickedness’ by defining and understanding the related systems at play.
  • When designing use a multi-disciplinary approach focused on facilitating a design-led dialogue about the problem and potential solutions.
  • Design the solution with a ‘fourth order design’ mindset – that is, don’t design products or services on their own, design the experience of service systems and their constituent parts.

Our work in this space has been predominantly and successfully focused on Wicked Problems in the public and community sectors. And as we move through our 18th year of practice, we have started to ask ourselves some critical questions about Wicked Problems.

From our point of view (public and community services in Australia) we and our peers now have 20 years of experience taking a systemic view of the problems that are presented to us – so why are a range the social outcomes within which we have been delivering excellent design not demonstrably better?

Continual reference – and sometimes reverence – to Wicked Problems suggests new problems emerging. But increasingly, though some elements might be new, the core systemic drivers of access, equity, resourcing, ownership and regulation in the public domain remain.

We (the design community, not just DMA) have established, built and evolved an expertise in diagnosing, researching, hypothesising and designing solutions for Wicked Problems. As experienced designers we can and do pull apart these problems quickly and expertly.


So why do Wicked Problems keep presenting themselves?

Firstly because the same ‘types’ of problems emerge but with new elements. AI as we know it now didn’t exist in 2000 – nor did digital for that matter. But we would contend the problems are no more ‘wicked’. The underlying design questions, needs and outcomes are the same.

Secondly, and most importantly, the Wicked Problems that we know about continue to present and emerge because of people. The greatest element of complexity in all Wicked Problems! And in this case, we don’t mean citizens, users, or consumers, we mean in terms of people who are supposed to lead and do the decision-making.

The most elegant design can present the most extraordinarily basic solutions to complex and so-called, Wicked Problems. We are then left with the question – why haven’t they been actioned?

We’re prepared to posit that at the same time we as an community have been evolving an expert capability in design’s response to Wicked Problems, the opposite is true in the field of leadership.

In the public sector people in leadership positions are still rewarded in the same way they were in 2000. The management constructs and hierarchies surrounding those making decisions has, if anything, become more narrow in the last 20 years.

Brave decisions to implement complex design responses that at their heart question and alter pre-conceived notions of ‘how things work’ are rare and generally result in ‘pilots’ or ‘trials’. Whilst the emergence of digital and technology solutions, as they always have, provide respite from the Wicked Problem, on their own they can’t and don’t address the underlying societal complexity of the problem itself.

So if the Wikipedia definition (yes, Wikipedia not Buchanan) of a Wicked Problem is a “problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize” then we have to ask ourselves:

how do we admit that maybe the Wicked is in the decision making and not the problem.

Otherwise – what have we been learning and achieving for the last 20 years…

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The only reason public service design takes place in the first place is because government has decided to offer a service. If there’s no government service, there’s no public sector service design. And at the heart of government services are rules and regulations. Even supportive services and information and education services have legislation or government ‘programs’ at their heart. And therefore the design is driven with wanting people to ‘comply’ with the core of the service offering.

We’ve recently completed a project with a client that had us re-engage with our regulatory compliance past. Helping the client design a multi-layered compliance strategy not only proved again to us the power of service design in normal project delivery processes, but reconnected and reminded us how critical ‘compliance’ is to the public service design work that we do.

DMA interpretation of the Triangle

For us, a critical and essential design tool has always been the compliance triangle. The triangle evolved from outstanding applied research work by Valerie and John Braithwaite at the ANU (and many others who worked on the associated projects). As part of the Centre for Tax System Integrity, their work developed what we all know today as the Compliance Triangle.

The triangle is a strikingly simple concept, underpinned by deep, complex bio-psycho-social theories. It was key to thinking about the range of options open to a regulator to support, direct and enforce compliance – with voluntary compliance as a key element of that support.

Any designer could read the theory of the triangle and understand immediately that it can be applied to any government created system. The more we think about, and reapply it, we think it may, inadvertently, be one of the great public sector design models.

If you think about this (almost) twenty year old model, you realise that service design projects aren’t only about doing research about the question at hand and then developing innovative solutions for the now. They are also about building in the knowledge of the past, understanding the key drivers and motivations that are inherent in the service system and the service deliverer and then researching the current and future states.

And so to the recent project.

Working with a federal agency that is implementing a new compliance approach to a critical environment means that the work results in real action and is managing real risk. This work isn’t a hypothesis, it requires definitive compliance approaches in order to minimise the ‘consequences’ of non-compliance (an understated description in this case).

The compliance work itself is asking the Agency to commit to a new model. One that broadens compliance from a narrow view of rule management to one where voluntary compliance, use of interventions across international borders and trade channels in different and new areas and collaboration within the Department are key.

The work requires us to co-design with our project team, not just a compliance approach, but a compliance posture for the Agency and the actual ability for the Agency to deliver on this posture (build the right capabilities, have the right people processes and systems).

In working with the team, we’ve brought out the triangle again. Luckily, in this case, the Department uses a version of the triangle itself, so in this case we are working with it to draw out what needs to be done. The triangle isn’t a ‘strategy’, it’s a thinking tool that allows the team to design what needs to be done to take the triangle from theory and model to practice in their very specific service system.

In working with the team, and bringing the triangle back out, we’ve been reminded of some key practices ourselves:

  • Mature compliance isn’t about rules (black and white), it’s about behaviour (decisions made in the grey).
  • In order to implement a modern compliance regime you must have knowledge:
    • Of the risk you are managing, of the service system in action (now and in the future).
    • Of the current and historical behaviour of all players within the service system. This takes data and intelligence.
  • Due to the structure of modern public sector organisations, data and intelligence is not the preserve of one team. Invariably it isn’t even managed by the team delivering the compliance strategy. So, implementing a compliance regime requires collaboration and integration of effort across the organisation, and increasingly connected agencies.
  • Integration, as a principle of compliance strategies, must be stratified across three levels or it undermines the outcomes immediately: strategic integration means the team’s strategy and approach must be in line with government and Departmental goals. Operational Integration means that the strategy must support and deliver on the departmental compliance posture and approaches. Delivery integration means that the strategy must acknowledge and design for the fact that a range of existing and new capabilities and processes will drive the strategy

These layers of integration (common to most new design efforts, not just compliance) show us how the triangle is still at the heart of the design work of the public sector. Without strategic, operational and delivery integration the department would be setting the public – the service receiver – for failure, for non-compliance.

Think of the triangle, think of the outcome of the interaction of the service receiver with the service, and invariably the triangle will inform how you design and support the right kind of service system.

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Having completed our DesignInSchools project over a year ago now (though the relationship with the wonderful Macquarie Primary School remains strong) we are using the 12 month anniversary of our win in the Good Design Awards to officially launch our paper about the project.

Co-authored with the outstanding educators we collaborated with on the project, Delivering Outcomes for People and People as Outcomes, (opens a PDF) explores the intent and outcomes of the project from the perspective of two methodologies and two practices – design and teaching.

During the project we learnt an amazing amount about the thinking that goes into constructing a context for literacy for young learners and how education leadership involves constant planning between inquiry based learning and instructive teaching practices.

We hope the paper helps build the case for inquiry-based learning, which we think is essential to helping build future generations of critical thinkers – we certainly need them!

The thinking that went into the paper is also particularly resonant for us now as we support the ACT Education Directorate as their design partner in the Future of Education conversation – a wide-ranging and ground breaking conversation between government and those interested in the experience and equity of education systems.

As always we look forward to reflections and thoughts about the work, and as always thanks to our Macquaire Primary School co-authors (and co-conspirators) Wendy Cave, Faith Bentley, Brendan Briggs and Sophie Mendick.

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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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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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