Posts tagged ‘public sector design’

We were beyond proud to be one of 14 shortlisted projects in the global Service Design Network Awards 2017 for our work with Macquarie Primary School: Design In Schools. We’re even prouder when we won.

SDN said:

We are delighted to announce this year’s Service Design Award 2017 Finalists selected by our international jury of Service Design experts. These shortlisted projects are internationally recognised as benchmarks of world class Service Design. Congratulations to the nine Professionals and five Students for their fantastic work and the contribution they have made to the field of Service Design.

It was great to meet our fellow finalists and designers and share the experiences of outstanding service design projects and achievements.

Our trip to Madrid with our Macquarie partners, Wendy Cave and Sophie Mendick, (our dedicated Teacher Partner, Faith Bentley, the brilliant 18 little designers, and Executive teacher Brendan Briggs will be there in more than spirit) in November for Service Design Global Conference SDGC17 for our nominated category: professional, non-profit / public sector was capped off with our winners presentation on Day 2.



For a history of the work see our previous posts:



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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We’ve been busy at DMA with some amazing projects over the past couple of months. This period has seen us covering topics as wide ranging as domestic violence, homelessness, biosecurity and ICT as service.

The one thing the projects have had in common is the label and intent of ‘co-design’.

We usually don’t use the term ‘co-design’. We do service design, we collaborate, iterate, navigate, all the -ates! We help work out how things are, how things could and should change, and then we define and describe that change. But ‘co-design’ as a term is hot (or, at least, back). For the most part, when we’re approached for some co-design it’s totally appropriate, but we’ve definitely been learning some new lessons and firming up some truths.


Lesson 1: A workshop alone is not co-design

For us the process of design involves deep research (desk and in the field), observation, collaboration, analysis and synthesis. A technique within collaboration is developing and delivering a workshop, but the workshop itself, on its own, is not co-design.

We’ve been faced with requests for co-design processes where we, as the design leads, have had no opportunity to do background research, no influence over attendees, and been required to prepare ‘co-design templates’ for use but no further involvement – that is not ‘co-design’. It disrespects the discipline, but worse, it disrespects the people you want to co-design with; from recipient to deliverer.

In fact, when offered a project like this recently, we said no.

Luckily with our clients, and our appreciation of the constraints of community organisations and some Departments, when faced with only limited opportunity to do background research and a requirement of a workshop-only approach we’ve been able to set the activity to work optimally by:

  1. Talking directly with subject matter experts in order to design the workshop with respect to known and shared knowledge.
  2. Describe to the client the types of people who NEED to be invited to make a working session buzz.

The resulting and hard-earned “we trust you” in the development of material means we’ve pulled off some amazing (but tight) co-design processes. It can be done lean, but the workshop isn’t enough.

That brings us to our next lesson…


Lesson 2: Co-design must be a led process

We define co-design as:

The process of deliberately engaging users of the system, deliverers of services and other experts, being led by experts such as designers, to actively understand, explore and ultimately change a system together.

In practice what this means is that just because you have an activity to elicit collaborative development of services as a designer, you do more than facilitate. You lead. You challenge. You push. You set up design activities that take the pressure off participants to begin with a blank page, and instead start with a framework for people to collaboratively fill in as a prompt for conversation.

People are there because they know their stuff or have lived experience, that means designers must provide the freedom to explore with focus, within intent.

The wonderful result we’ve experienced is skeptics of the process turning around, quiet voices turning vocal, and insight and content developing that has moved change agents from discussion to action.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and sunshine…


Lesson 3: Sometimes empathy means you just have to shut up

We recently ran a series of workshops to explore the service needs and expectations of a number of different cultural groups and demographic cohorts in identified geographic areas of need. These have had to be repeatable and scalable and result in content that turned into practical information. Two workshops stand out where with all the background research, preparation of the event for participants, and all the ‘design professionalism’ in the world meant almost nothing when faced with very justifiably angry people – not with us personally, but with the agent we represented, and the system they are, by their reckoning, ‘forced’ to operate under.

As much as we wanted the participants to “just work with us to get what we needed for our design-led process”, we realised we had to just shut up. Just listen and make sure to listen to understand, not to get ready to respond.

What we were doing made sense, and worked for 90% of the audiences we’d engaged, but design is about people, and experiences, and empathy. And sometimes letting people just ‘be’ is important in terms of creating community (not just design outcomes).

Related to understanding before responding is…


Lesson 4: Analysing and creating are different processes

So don’t try and do them at the same time. This especially matters when you’re dealing with multiple projects, not to mention multiple topics.

Analysis gives you focus. You must develop understanding of what you have before moving too quickly to what it means. It helps the people you’re co-designing with. It helps to be more effective when multiple artefacts for multiple audiences are required. That means sometimes you have to demand this time and focus of the client, of participants in a workshop.

When you do this, then you can really create something together.

Which brings us to our final lesson…


Lesson 5: There is no co-design without people

No matter how ideal or not a co-design process is, they don’t happen at all without agencies willing to think differently, and uncover possibility. In all five projects, the agencies we worked with were willing to open up their traditional decision-making process to the sometimes difficult and confronting process of co-design (even when they asked for it).

And for every great agency you need willing participants. To get true lived experience of service systems and deep insights about service delivery, you need experienced and willing service deliverers and users. And this means taking them away from their day jobs. It was a shock for us to realise that many of the participants in our processes not only had to do the day job but were also called upon to go to so many co-design activities some barely have time to do their work; so you need to respect that.


Postscript: participants, service delivers and agency representatives have sought us out to express their appreciation of the co-design experience and it makes it all worthwhile:

  • “I truly believe that for the first time we have been able to talk about what’s important in a way that embraces the expertise and experiences of the sector. Thank you for designing a process that has enabled us to talk about the important things in a non-threatening way.”
  • “[the] design work is really connected to the experience of people and workers. It matters, and it makes a difference.”
  • “[the experience was] very genuine, and created a space for the sector to have conversation that it doesn’t always have – and it was good being pushed by knowledgeable outsiders.”
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We try our hardest to reflect on our work professionally, but it’s not often that we have to explain what we’ve done and how we’ve done it to a broader audience. Recently we chose to enter our ground-breaking strategic service design project with the ACT Government – in the Good Design Awards Australia. As part of that process we took time out to create a video about the project with our mates at Newcast Studios here in Canberra.

Service ACT transforms the strategic approach to the delivery of services for an entire government. With Chief Minister and Treasury, DMA re-framed what ‘one-Government’ means in the ACT by collaboratively developing a suite of strategic frameworks and conceptual models to support service delivery across the many arms of government.

The work focused on defining service and user types, visualising an entire Government service system from a user perspective and provided a principle framework for the design and delivery of current and future services, resulting in a shared language for decision-making on service design and delivery across Government and an agreed and shared philosophy on user experience.

We hope the video gives an insight into why we think this is such important work.

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This week we spent time in the field – ostensibly to research specific experiences of a service touchpoint. As always, while it’s hard work getting out there – recruitment, maps, research design, not to mention a 40 degree heatwave – and engaging with multiple people in multiple environments over days can be tiring but it is always ALWAYS worthwhile when you get the gems, nuggets, clues and insights you can only get from engaging in conversation and exploration with actual and potential users.

All that said, the most delightful aspect from a broader service design perspective was the realisation and confirmation of the service maturity of citizens (as opposed to “customers” as we tend to explore experiences with government services).

Case in point was a self-proclaimed “typical Gen-Yer” who gave us the most fantastic and articulate insights into attitudes towards service, expectations of government service, trade-offs expected, capability of providers required, level of innovation assumed – and all in describing the experience of buying kebabs through PayPal! When the field was quickly followed by work on another job we’re doing in the strategic space of service design at the corporate level, we were able to directly share the experience of the Gen-Y Kebaber with our client, a senior government representative, to help them understand what they are actually trying to achieve by influencing their organisation to design services with users in mind, not just develop them.

In this strategic project we’ve been asked define a whole Government’s strategic intent for its entire service offering to the public (individuals and business where that government delivers both municipal and State level services).

In working on the early stages of a Service Intent Framework the thing that stood out to us was how much work is already done that just requires cut-through from a different perspective (in our case, the perspective of service design). We presented our client with an intent framework largely made up of their words (everything from large scale reviews to individual Departmental Strategic and Business plans) balanced by some reality around the operating environment they work in, and containing some of our key service design tools like a formal value proposition.

And it hit the mark, as the client said “these things have been around us the whole time, we just couldn’t see the forest for the trees – and this framework gives us what we were after”.

From our point of view it proves once again the opportunity of service design to practically bridge the experience of the user and the strategic goals of a complex service provider.

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FutureGov is a UK-based social innovation and change Agency that we’ve been following and been friends with for a while now. After catching up with Dominic Campbell on one of his trips to Oz in 2011 we discovered a shared approach and goals, even if our technical disciplines were quite different.

So we’re pretty excited about the public announcement of the global expansion of one of their key innovation products, Patchwork, to be piloted in Victoria, and our role as FutureGov’s design partners on the project.

Working with the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and a consortium of local councils, we will be supporting FutureGov and Patchwork as they seek to transform the way governments interact with vulnerable families in maternal and child health (M&CH), and youth services through this pilot. One of key areas of our focus in the collaboration will be mapping out where technology and service change could help a rethink in how M&CH practitioners are supported to do their job.

We have had a long personal and professional interest in the vulnerable families and children space – including working with the ACT Public and Child Advocate as far back as 2008. At a time when Governments can think the solution to better client care is to implement large enterprise systems, we can’t wait to see how the pilot of this eloquent technical solution, founded in a service approach, will fundamentally and quickly help practitioners in the space and in the end, support vulnerable families and children themselves.

So thanks for having us on board Dom, Kirsty and the Patchwork team – we can’t wait!

You can keep up to date with the pilot progress at the Patchwork blog.

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The furore created by the release this week of the joint report by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) into corruption and potential corruption in sport has been fascinating from the perspective of being both sports fans, and practitioners who work in the design of regulatory and compliance systems.


We say the furore has been fascinating because in the days following the release of information about Essendon Football Club and then the ACC report, it strikes us that commentators in mainstream media, social media and everyday conversation are at risk of retreating to entrenched code-defensive views.

There have been two sorts of cheating identified this week – the administering, or consumption, of performance enhancing drugs (PEDS) either at an individual or systemic level; and the corruption of a sport through match fixing.

In both cases, drivers such as gambling, organised crime, government funding and pure desire to win have been mixed together and discussed interchangeably – for us they are distinct though related elements of a complex problem.

The question of match fixing and formal corruption of a sport is in some ways easier to tackle because of the clear criminal nature and the entrance of gambling and organised crime, the more complex issue for sports is the use of PEDs and as-yet-unrecognised substances and approaches.

The much-promoted concept that athletes are somehow heroes or inherently models of morality as well as physical role models conveniently overlooks that these people are, well, people.

From our work across a range of compliance regimes we know that demographics, gender and occupation – though important factors – are not determinants alone of who will consider or may actually behave dishonestly in order to gain an advantage. What is more important is the psycho-social position of the individual and what we call ‘typologies’ that people can be categorised into based on understanding their experience (i.e. what they think, do and use).

In reality there are a number of stages a person may move through, such as:

  • Fully compliant and willing
  • Fully compliant but unwilling
  • Partially compliant and game playing
  • Partially compliant and planning aggressively
  • Non-compliant and naive
  • Non-compliant and game playing
  • Non-compliant and criminal

The critical question we consider is, what are the behaviours, networks and patterns that lead people to move through these levels. For example, a strain on cashflow in a small business might see a stand-up guy start moving into non-compliant territory in order to pay the bills. Similarly, in the sports arena, the pressure on a fringe player to secure a contract, coupled with the motivation by the team structure to excel could see a young talent moving towards illegal and non-compliant behaviour.

In both cases, being educated on what is right and wrong in the regulatory system is not enough to deal with the complexity of the mental processes, belief structures, relationships and environments that people operate within.

Many regulators have worked on the premise for at least the last decade that a ‘zero tolerance’ ‘right or wrong’ approach to compliance defies the true nature of how people think and act. On the face of it, this is no different to the position of athletes. It’s exactly why the user typology and mapping work we do as designers in complex systems is complementary to and used extensively in mature compliance approaches.

This week has been a wake up call for industry sectors who fall outside of the ‘traditional’ regulatory environments. The actions and language of the ACC and ASADA have been straight out of the enforcement of compliance system textbook – find, prosecute, ban. It will be interesting to see if behind this (necessary rhetoric) there is an intelligent and thoughtful compliance strategy that actually reflects the humans in this regulatory system called sport.

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The focus of this post is some recent service prototyping activity we did with a public sector client; to share what we did, how we did it and what we got out of it.

Workshop Prototyping

10 minutes of sketching service concepts, participants critiquing, then creating their own.

Unfortunately, we can’t share what the topic was about (public sector budget sensitive), but we can share that it was a rare case (when we talk to other designers in the service space) of service design not concerned with improving an existing service, but designing a new service. Blank page territory and a fantastic opportunity with a keen public sector client.

We can also share that the timeframe for the entire project was extremely tight – five weeks from kick-off to full service design specification. We’ve done tight before but this was extreme. It meant there was some documentation compromise in terms of depth, but in terms of breadth it was still collaborative intent > research > analyse/synthesise <> prototype/iterate > define. It also meant working closely with the team and their trust in us was critical to get to the right outcome all round – a service design that represented the users, and a service design they could use.

The opportunity for the nitty-gritty of service prototyping occurred about Day 12 – Day 15. We had done the background research, and field research with actual and potential users in one-on-one interviews and exercises. Up to Day 11 we formulated with the client representatives (our team) emerging insights – both from the internal and external view, emerging design principles and a value proposition for our component of the service within a broader service program context. And we had design features we knew would and wouldn’t work for users based on considering existing ‘like’ services.


Working up the service prototypes

On Day 13 we worked up the service prototypes for the workshop to be held on Day 15. They had to be paper-based and mobile because the workshop was going to be interstate, and in a room we where we knew we couldn’t stick stuff on walls. Sidenote: why do so many event facilities not allow you to use the walls!?

We started with all the information in our heads, a wall full of the refined insights, what we knew were key design features, the design principles and value proposition. We talked a bit about what we knew, and what knew we wanted to explore. And what we knew was likely to be the shape of the service.

And then we gave ourselves 10 minutes to sketch out how the service might work.

A bit of this, a bit of that, a bit of interpretation, a bit of personal perspective, some sacrificial red herrings, but mostly a lot of evidence. We named our concepts, and then we told them as a story – drawing out how the concept illustrated the pertinent points we wanted to learn more from. They worked! We then spent the next three hours working them into presentable component versions that we could put in front of people in a workshop. These components would also give the participants the means to work up their own versions during the workshop.


Workshopping the service prototypes

The workshop itself was half a day. Deliberately short for the participants who were a 2:1 mix of real users and business team representatives. The tight time also meant we could focus the thinking and activity; this was to be divergent and blue sky, but blue sky with feet firmly on the ground. After some scene-setting and informal validation of our findings so far using brainstorming and discussion we introduced the service prototypes. Telling them as a story the same way we’d done in the office. The energy of the participants was palpable as you could see they were naturally were inclined to particular prototypes they wanted to explore. To do this we asked them to capture on the prototypes themselves:

  • What worked
  • What didn’t work
  • What would they change or add

This quickly helped us test the basic precepts of the design principles and validate or discard key design elements.

After this first round we gave the participants the pens, paper and scissors and tape and asked them to design the service themselves. As designers it was a delight to see. Having had their appetite whetted with the ‘review’ and the means made accessible with the basic service component representations the participants weren’t intimidated. They were inspired!

Using the components from the original prototypes they built on them, coming up with their own user whose journey they plotted – exploring who might be involved, what tools they’d use, even giving themselves boundaries of service because it was a government service. To bring their prototypes together we asked them to:

  • Name their service – which helps drill down into what it is at essence
  • Describe it’s key features or benefits in their own language
  • Describe what they thought might be some of the challenges – especially fruitful for their take on government service boundaries.

At the end, the participants had not only given us feedback, but had also seen and felt like they had been an active part of designing a service they would one day use themselves (hopefully soon).


The value of service prototyping

Prototyping workshops can be exhausting, thrilling, difficult (add in any number of adjectives) and this project was tight (have we made this point enough ;). But that meant it was critical to not compromise on what can sometimes look to the client like ‘play’. The value of the service prototyping enabled us as the designers, with the business team, to rapidly, roughly, and cheaply; propose, make, explore, discard, enhance, learn, and extract solution options in a few hours better than any individual crafting could have achieved.

Because the team representing the business and technology sides of the service were in the room and working with the users they were part of the conversation and saw how users interacted and talked and felt about the potential service experience. This gave them a better perspective of what was to be built. Not just what policy initiative or CabSub (that’s a cabinet submission for those of you outside of the public sector) needed to be met.

At a practical level, the service prototyping gave us and the client clues and direction to the ultimate service design in a very short amount of time.

At a client and service capability level, the service prototyping activities gave the client an exposure to the type of design thinking and practice that will help them approach their work differently because now they are thinking about humans using their service, not as use cases interacting with a system. This is perhaps best captured by a comment from the IT Project Manager in our project closure meeting:

“I came into this being very skeptical about service design, now I get the value of it.” We’ll take that!


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We’ve been busy – which is nice, just not for the timely capturing of what we’ve been thinking. But busy times mean busy minds and we’ve managed to reflect and capture a theme that has emerged across all of our recent experiences. Namely; battling, defending, immersing and reflecting in between the black and white into the most useful, dare we say it, nifty shades of grey.

(See, the title isn’t just a play on the literary zeitgeist : )



As revelation often does, its inception began when we weren’t thinking about anything in particular except workshopping with clients to get to the heart of the problem we’re trying to solve. Drawing out from them in conversation, in diagrams, in hand movements, what they know they know, but also what they don’t know they know. We talked about what people firmly believe, the models that have such resonance, that even if they’re wrong they just won’t budge. We covered the practitioners comfortable dealing in ambiguity and those firmly ensconced in rules, process and XXBOKs. We talked about the influence of the theoreticians who prefer conceptual discussion and strategic musings, and the realists who favoured discipline, certainty and pragmatism. But these divides were only useful for drawing out difference.

In practice, we all knew we just couldn’t accept this black and white view. And then Justin drew up the following:

If he was better at writing sideways you’d see the middle connector word says ‘anecdote’. It’s anecdote, and myth, and conversation, and misinterpretation, and informality, and dialogue that connects (and separates) the abstract from the concrete; the divergent and the convergent. The black and the white. It represents the grey.

Whether it’s about services, about strategy, about (little-p) policy, about direction, it’s that middle bit (in whatever informal way) that helps you get into understanding the hearts and minds required for change to stick and, effectively for design and innovation to occur.

For us it means that without critical thinking, without the challenging questions that designers are so good at posing, these anecdotes can become powerful, and even true, if not for the balance they can also create. It was also a turning point in our workshop because we knew we now had a language for the design team to reflect in the messy middle, and be okay with the grey.



Not long after this Justin was asked to MC and Moderate AIESEC’s Leadership and Convergence Conference at ANU. AIESEC is a fascinating university student association – placing students in work experience situations all over the world through reciprocal placements with sister clubs. The Leadership Conference was a way of generating some excitement within the membership group and the student body more widely. It was an “…attempt to make sense of the complexity in the modern world by exploring the connections between economic, social, scientific, environmental and moral dimensions of issues affecting Australia.”

The speakers were as diverse as you could imagine. Everything from Global Peace Index and foreign aid, mixed up with Neuro-linguistic Programming and surveys on CEO behaviour. The conference finished with a panel featuring six members with a potential for wide divergence. Amazingly, despite vastly different experiences and subject expertise the panel members dove into the grey; exploring the similarities, themes and patterns that were relevant not only to them but to their audience of aspiring leaders. What black and white there may have been on paper disappeared in genuine critical ‘thinking out loud’.



Now we’re pretty keen social media users – we love twitter. We watch and occasionally engage, but as avid tweeters we’ve viewed with interest some of the black and white ‘discussions’ on service design, and on the state of government (and indeed design in government) in Australia.

More and more we struggle with black and white being the dominant (expected) behaviour on Twitter. It manifests in people feeling comfortable making sweeping statements on behalf of a discipline; in ‘conversations’ that are little more than artificial debates designed to present a personal ‘brand’; and hasty judgements about anyone who dares question or explore the concepts being discussed rather than simply agreeing or disagreeing.

It’s certainly a big ask to make a case for or against important ideas in only 140 characters or even in a series of tweets. Crazy idea but perhaps twitter isn’t the place for case-making at all! That said, while important ideas are being thrown out there – especially about a practice and profession we care about – we feel ok about occasionally grey-ing up the black and white rhetoric.



Speaking of important ideas, we were recently introduced to the notion of ‘design for services’ when we spoke on a DESIS panel, by Cameron Tonkinwise down in Melbourne.

The diagram we used when we were talking with Yoko. Our scribbles, our take, Mel’s hand.

The concept came up again later in a conversation with Yoko Akama from RMIT and DESIS.

While we’re still mulling what our view is on the concept (immersed in the grey) of ‘design for services’ v ‘service design’. Our anecdotal response is that both approaches may in fact have the same risk. The theory of design for services that we’ve dipped into takes the refreshing view that design can be for a noble outcome of ‘enabling’ the service, not ‘engineering’ it. The service design theory we know well dictates that process and discipline are important and a vital differentiator between service design and simply ‘design thinking’.

In design for services, from what we understand, there runs a real risk that the designer is seen as an experimenter – a dabbler who possesses some gift for insight that isn’t necessarily connected to rigor or may in fact be disconnected from the people who are utilising the outcome for the design, or that the services that are designed require a level of capability that just doesn’t exist yet. In the social outcome business all of the above would very quickly see practitioners not invited back.

We’re still mulling in a state of grey, and our thoughts are definitely not trying to fan some faux ‘practitioner v academic’ debate. We do not favor one view over the other but continue to critically think about both. It occurs to us that those who may evolve both of these fields – who choose to talk not do, who pose and don’t get their hands dirty, and those who will always think their black or white should be everyone’s run the biggest risk of us seeing more articles entitled “X Design is Dead – Long Live Y Design!”.

Indeed, in the evolution of the service design discourse we are seeing a drive towards commoditisation and methodology. The risk we see is that the process becomes the obsession – that designers try and package themselves as the guardians of some ‘magic’ methodology that has everyone’s answers – and that more effort is put into trademarking terms like ‘Intent’ than being true to it.



Finally, a quick reflection on the DESIS panel itself. If ever there was a positive, shining example of the niftiness of grey this was it. We were chuffed to be asked to mix it with a range of academics – Yoko Akama, Cameron Tonkinwise (Parsons New School for Design and Carnegie Mellon University), practitioners (us) and social innovators – Kate Archdeacon (VEIL) and David Hood (Doing Something Good) and the content and vibe was more than worth the trip to Melbourne. We hope to keep up contact with the panel members and audience and making many similar trips into the future.


So it’s been a big couple of months. In amongst all of this navel gazing we’ve continued on our ‘sticky step’ way with some great clients. We’ve been lucky enough to create some seriously good service design outcomes that had the added bonus of starting to change the culture at one client in a way that we are particularly proud of. And we get some pretty fantastic opportunities with some pretty fantastic people. Our job is to ensure that in these interactions we stay ‘nifty’ and keep the ole grey matter in working order.

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