Posts tagged ‘Empathy’

We have had an amazing relationship with the education experts and leaders at local Primary School, Ainslie School, for many years. So when they were very suddenly immersed in a rapid shift from so-called ‘regular school’ to something altogether different in Home Learning, they knew they needed, amongst other things, an artefact that would support the shift in service expectations.

The importance of an artefact in design – or, as we often say ‘something real to point at for reference’ – is that it provides a key role in change. It may be a visualisation, information design, a ‘poster’, or a source of digital images that can be dropped into any channel, but the point of it is:

  1. It has a specific audience of service users – we are after all service designers, not communications experts or graphic designers.
  2. It provides a defining position by the Maker for a point in time – that position might be to guide, help users make decisions, or give people a visualisation of how things actually are (such as an experience map).
  3. It is relatable on an experiential and human level – it must be understood in ‘plain English’ or appropriate audience jargon, but also must reflect the voice and intent of the Maker.


In discussion with Principal, Wendy Cave and Deputy Principal – Pedagogical Transformation, Sophie Bissell there were three key messages they wanted to express:

  1. Define exactly what ‘home learning’ was in a simple way (and also what it wasn’t)
  2. Describe how teachers and parents/carers could expect to connect practically over time – daily, weekly, per term.
  3. Provide Ainslie’s clear strategic foundations that underpin, not just this Home Learning service, but all of their education service delivery and expertise.

This artefact was about providing a level of confidence in parents/carers in the continuity of their child’s learning. But we wanted to also give them some ‘relief’ from the perception of expectation in their communities.

  • Home Learning is the name of the service – not ‘Home Schooling’, not ‘Online Learning’, ‘Remote Learning’.
  • We explicitly empathised with service users who may all be moving through different levels of response to the COVID-19 public health emergency as parents/carers, employees, and possibly newly/unexpectedly unemployed. This was without judgement or expectation that there is a ‘place’ to get to – the deception of the ‘new normal’ when the reality is we are moving through ‘right now’; the difference for the adults between ‘Working from Home’ and ‘Working from Home During a Crisis, Trying to Work’1.
  • With the school approach to deliver ‘playful and sophisticated educations services’ this artefact must follow that with imagery and colours. Whether it was saved to the desktop of a computer or printed and put on the fridge, we wanted a lightness and ease of access about it.


Wendy and Sophie were able to consult with teachers and some parents before it was finalised. Since it’s distribution we’ve heard directly from teachers and parents:

“Love that poster – I have it over my computer right now”

“My parents love it – it’s really helped them”

And the Principal Association’s of South Australia and Victoria are sharing it with their members.


There are so many artefacts, messages, communications, all vying for our attention right now. But, success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.2 The measure of success for this artefact is:

  1. It has a specific audience of service users – So does it provide confidence to the primary audience?
  2. It provides a defining position by the Maker for a point in time – So does it support the Teacher relationship with their students, and their student’s Parent/Carer?
  3. It is relatable on an experiential and human level – Does it support people experiencing collective trauma to cope with the ‘now’?


1 and 2: Extract from a @ShaindelBeers tweet from her employer, Blue Mountain Community College, Oregon.

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Back in November we announced that we’d been chosen out of 11 ‘innovation’ teams to be a finalist in the Digital Canberra Challenge.

This week the competition ended with both finalists (ourselves and another local group of innovators DigiACTive) presenting their digital proof of concept to a judging panel and the winner being announced at an awards event / trade show.

We’ll get the bad news out of the way first. We didn’t win.

But that’s okay, because there is, as it turns out, lots of good news!

Bringing Service Design to new audiences

As we mentioned in our previous post on the Challenge we were really pleased to attack a digital product competition from a service design perspective. During the challenge we found that at all levels of interaction – with collaborators, clients, users, challenge judges and politicians – we were able to describe the benefits of a service design approach and the difference it can make to achieving both user and business outcomes.

Those who know us, know we are not evangelists for design. We rely on quality outcomes and the insights gathered and success for our clients. The opportunity to even use the language of service design with the Treasurer and Deputy Chief Minister, the nation’s largest ICT research group in NICTA and the Directorate we worked with on the challenge was a real buzz.

At the very least, we now know that our friends and collaborators in the Road User Services unit, when presented with complex business challenges, have the means to think about their business as a service and think about designing that service from the outside-in. That’s pleasing.

Building a killer product team and a killer product

The challenge gave us the space to set up a dream design team. Because of the digital focus, we looked to the local and global design community to pick out people that we thought would help us build a great product – it just so happened these were people we had wanted to work with for some time!

We contacted local designer-at-large David More to see if he’d be interested in brushing off his expert interaction design techniques; James Peek, who we’ve worked with in the past, stepped up as digital lead/developer and we reached across the Tasman to Empathy in Wellington to bring a broader ‘capital-city’ eye to the project.

The outcome was fantastic from a work and result point of view. Empathy gave us a perspective around the experience of booking a licence test that we hadn’t necessarily identified here in Canberra where the system is culturally and systemically quite different. David took the research findings and insights we had developed to design an interface and multiple product and service storyboards that really translated the IP into a functional and useable product. The design up-front meant James built in a relatively short space of time a functioning proof of concept that took all of our knowledge and delivered our multi-device platform, user-focused front-facing, back-end intergratable digital solution.

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 1.30.32 PMWe are really proud of the product and hope to commercialise it – not just with our ACT Government partners, but more broadly in the market.

More importantly though, we are really happy that we got to build and work with an expert collaborative design team.

Creating a new body of knowledge for local government

While the product was killer, one of our key aims within the necessary constraints of the competition was to ensure we left our government team members with much more than just a tech proof of concept. We treated the Challenge like any normal paid job, moving through our normal service design stages, we created a wealth of IP around the concept of online booking and payment. The insights guided the product development, but also were wrapped up in a full design specification that not only outlines the product but user typologies, design principles and other key service design outputs.

As we’d done similar research for AGIMO about online government services just a few years ago, we were really fascinated about the difference in user needs identified this time around. Some of the key insights were:

  • Email remains critical as a confirmation device and is expected as part of any digital service.
  • Eligibility and other complex concepts must be masked by the digital service.
  • Digital-first is a service, but it must remain part of a multi-channel approach for users.

Along with the insights, we were able to leave the RUS team with some guiding principles to take into their future projects as part of the full design spec:

  • The digital product and service is designed to enable users to successfully achieve THEIR outcome.
  • There must be reduced EFFORT to complete a task online.
  • The use of the digital channel should be REWARDED.
  • All common digital channels must be CONSISTENT across government.

If you’d like to see copy of the final Proof of Concept and Case Study just get in touch, we are happy to share what was a public project.

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