Posts tagged ‘service 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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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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Generally in our work we focus on delivering results ‘in spite’ of the organisational hierarchy; building compelling design cases for focusing on service and delivering quality services. We aren’t naive about the importance and role of hierarchy, it’s just that with a sound evidence base, multi-disciplinary team and meaningful insights we are generally lucky enough to have decision-makers at the highest level tell us that we should “do whatever we need to do with structure to get the service delivered”.

But what about when the key outcomes of the design work affect the lead decision-makers themselves and not their teams?

Just over two years ago we published a series of posts about the evolved notions of service and organisation within the new digital reality. One of our reflections in that series was about the evolution of CIOs from Information to Investment Officers. Those posts were in response to recognising that digital had more of an influence than just with the client experience – if organisations were serious about service it had a direct influence on their ‘E’ roles and structures.

We’ve been thinking about the issue again as over the past year we’ve had a range of work that culminated in a challenging of the very lead decision-making structure of a number of our clients – primarily within the Public Sector, so we thought we’d take a moment to reflect on what the uneasy tension is and how it can be addressed.


Tension 1: It can be is difficult for lead decision-makers to see service delivery models without seeing structure

Public Sector Executives work hard to get to a level. They strive to be ‘Band 1s’ or ‘Band 2s’ so it’s only natural that level becomes a determinant of influence and position. In a traditional organisational hierarchy (leaving aside personal influence and relationships) the ‘level’ is seen as the determinant of position and equity.

But that doesn’t necessarily work in a service focused organisation. If you have five Band 1 positions delivering a public service, they represent a range of capabilities and outputs. There is no way their work is ‘flat’ or ‘even’. Some are accountable for front-facing services, some for enabling services, some for expert capability. But often when you visualise how services are actually delivered and how this should be influencing decision-making, scope and work programs, they only see structure. “I’m not delivering to my peer – they are at my level.”

Part of this phenomenon is a result of the gradual movement of rewarding administrative skill over technical expertise or specialisation that we have seen over the last 20 years. As the seeming rejection of expertise continues, lead decision-makers with the same administration skills expect hierarchy only exists above or below them – not at their level where ‘everything is even’.

We try and counter this by continuing to re-draw organisational structures as living service delivery organisations. Pointing out that there must be a co-relationship between deliverables at the level of the lead decision-makers that focuses on the service and the service recipient – not the structure they happen to have been appointed within.


Tension 2: Lead decision-makers can tend to focus on ownership rather than outcomes when they see a work program

Work programs are (sadly) rarely an investment and value-based view of the total outputs of a particular public sector organisation. Though valiant efforts are made to apply value-based measures and prioritisation processes, the work program as we know it is largely what we call ‘a candidate list’.

This concept of candidate list is driven by whether or not the ‘work owner’ has funding, resources, people and a deadline. Multi-million dollar departmental budgets are run based on this notion of approving ‘candidates’, not integrated outcomes. What this means is that a tension arises around ownership of work rather than outcomes for lead decision-makers.

In fact, the ‘outcome’ often becomes the delivery of the work, not the value it is creating for people. Lead decision-makers have often gotten to their current position because ‘they deliver’ and that can breed a singular view of delivering what they are accountable for, whether it fits with the rest of the organisation or users or not.

We try and counter this tension by constantly drawing the lead decsion-makers we work with back to their strategic, operating and service intent. By articulating and sharing an intent that goes beyond the strict deliverable of the work item, we create a platform for being measured by outcomes not just outputs. Nuances can be interpreted by the decision-maker that accords with their business or policy drivers, but they also get a language to situate their position in the context of other decision-makers in the organsiation.


Tension 3: The industry of the public sector allows some lead decision-makers to forget that the main reason they have a job is, in the end, to deliver services

Three words keep coming up in the work that we do. Governance, Risk and Strategy. Increasingly, these words are used to create an ‘industry’ in their own right rather than to make services better. The Public Service is just that; a sector created and running in order to deliver services to the community. Whether those services are wanted, desirable, positive or not doesn’t matter. They are still services – at base, an exchange of something for something between multiple parties

So when service design and delivery is encumbered by business management processes – risk management, governance processes and multiple levels of strategy – becoming larger than the service themselves (problems arise.

We try and counter this by demystifying business management processes so lead decision-makers can be focused on the delivery of services. We work with clients to ensure risk management is inherent in all aspects of the service rather than a separate process in its own right. We work with them to pull apart what they call governance and see if (as it is in many cases) the forums, groups and acronyms in the process are just there because decision-makers (lead and otherwise) aren’t enabled to make accountable decisions. And we work to define what people mean by ‘strategy’ and at what level they are using the term. It doesn’t hurt to just call something an operating procedure or run plan rather than everything being a strategy.


We know the public sector operating environment in many ways is getting more complex – even the recent rise of potential pandemics means years of hypothetical planning must now turn into the delivery of actual services and human responses. But releasing the tension of complexity and freeing up lead decision-makers to look beyond hierarchy and focus on service can help everyone with accountability to live that accountability.


For more of our thoughts in this space, see also: Forget Wicked Problems – Wicked Decision Making is what matters most.


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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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For the past year we have been working closely with a multi-disciplinary health team made up or academics, researchers, health service deliverers and health promotion experts from the Inner West of Sydney, to co-design a program encouraging an active and healthy lifestyle for young people with young people.
And now, after presenting the outcome of the project to our team of health professionals in early November, we can share the work so that others might be able to build on the knowledge we’ve created with them.
The report is a powerful tool for change for 13-17 year olds establishing a healthy and active lifestyle. Real change will be possible in the SLHD and the next phase will involve other groups like schools and Councils to implement.
The team is focused on delivering services within what is known as the Sydney Local Health District – a geographic area that stretches from Lakemba and Belmore in the West to Newtown, Marrickville and Glebe near the city and out to Canada Bay on the inner harbour.
Our co-design process moved through all of the normal phases of intent, research, field work and collaborative prototyping and solution development. Young people are SO busy that at one stage we wondered if there would be a program that would fit into their hectic lifestyles at all!
As well as a clear and detailed position on what might constitute an integrated program(s) we also learnt some amazing things about young people who are 13-17 now:
  • The desire to be activists is strong in this group. They understand that there are significant structural reasons why their lifestyles might not be as healthy and active as they should be and they are willing to try and change that.
  • They are experts at multi-modal text analysis. They switch between channels, formats, products and platforms and curate meaning from a range of inputs that many adults can’t even comprehend.
  • They do want to be active – but in many cases their age group is effectively ‘locked out’ of public spaces – if you’re under 12 or over 18 you have a lot more options.
  • They understand WHY they need to be healthy and active, they just need help with why.

During our report presentation and debrief, the team described the co-design process as ‘delightful’ ‘incredible’ and ‘it gave us freedom in a refreshing, liberating, motivating way’ We found that too and are so happy to share these results!

As always, our design projects are collaborative efforts and the full list of collaborators are in the report, but we’d like to call out some particular peers.

  • Renee Morton from the SLHD and Professor Chris Rissel from the Office of Preventative Health who were instrumental in championing and investing in a co-design approach. They were wonderful Project Sponsors and put together a great team for us.
  • We’ve wanted to work on a project with Natalie Rowland from Red Rollers for some time, so it was great to be able to do that with this one. Nat provided outstanding insight and support into the approach we might take with the young people.
  • Youthblock is an outstanding service based in Redfern and Nigel and the team there went above and beyond to support us on the project.

And finally, of course, the 40+ young people who spent time designing with us through interviews, observation and workshops – a diverse and representative group who were motivated to make a difference – we hope we gave your ‘voice’ AGENCY!

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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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Since commencing our respective design journey’s almost 20 years ago, the importance of ‘intent’ has always been front and centre.

Defining, articulating and sharing intent is key to the commencement of any design project we work on – it is the focal point that all subsequent design and design research activity derives from and the source of the design question itself.

For DMA, articulating intent with our design partners (the people or organisations that engage us) is a formal first step. We don’t embark on designing our research or co-design approach until we have a signed-off a Design Intent statement – it’s a critical part of our engagement approach. It’s usually incorporated into the overall design project as a couple of up-front days.

But two recent projects have allowed us to move beyond using intent articulation as the ‘kick-off’ to the project, to thinking about the articulation of intent as the initial design project itself.


Project 1: Co-designing a health program(s) with, and for 13-16 year olds

Starting Point for the Client Three sponsoring organisations (a University, a State Health Department and a local Health District) with an initial goal wanted to immediately undertake a range of co-design activities with a ‘cohort’ of 13-16 year olds.
The Intent Challenge The three organisations had very different language and goals for the work itself, and we’re new (but extremely keen) to the concept of service and co-design.
Our Approach Instead of pitching the full potential design project we asked the group to invest up-front in a phase of work where we would co-design the intent with them BEFORE we embarked on the co-design project with the cohort they had in mind.

Through a series of facilitated conversations and the use of co-design techniques with our partners we collectively shared and merged the intents of health professionals, bureaucrats, academics and research specialists.

The result
  • The creation of a shared language between three organisations
  • A refinement of the concept of who the co-design would take place with (much broader than an age group)
  • A visualisation of the service system so that we knew what connected and associated work must be taken into account.

And from a business perspective for the client, the artefact produced gives them communication messages, a range of descriptions to explain, engage and get endorsement for progressing within the reality of their business processes.

Now we can embark on the co-design process with a clarity and focus that might have taken time out of the design project itself, because intent was invested in up front.

Project 2: Co-designing support the formal process of ‘identification’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Starting Point for the Client A Federal agency looking for solutions to improve services and results based around identification activity.
The Intent Challenge The junction of identity and identification is complex and detailed and jumping straight to ‘co-design’ as a kind of discovery tool was not the right course to take with a cohort who are the ‘most researched group in the world’. (Aboriginal Research Institute (ARI), 1993, p. 2; Smith, 1999, p. 3)
Our Approach Drawing on the advice and support of our established cultural advisors we set about working with the team to invest in intent up front so that when an effort is made to co-design solutions the Agency can work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities directly knowing that they have already made sense of all of the research and work that has taken place around the topic.
The result A series of thinking tools and insights developed from existing knowledge and lived experience from our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collaborators (who helped us shape the tools), so that now the organisation can embark on a broader co-design project from a position of shared and articulated intent.
For this project is was critical that co-design wasn’t only seen as ‘discovery’ and that the community were suddenly asked to be part of a design process that didn’t acknowledge what was already known.


The reflection that articulating intent is a necessary discipline when engaging on a design journey or project (no matter how big or small) is increasingly important as the language and currency of co-design in the public sector takes firmer hold.

Without intent as an anchor, co-design (as described in an excellent recent article in The Mandarin about findings by the University of Melbourne Policy Lab) risks becoming a roll-out of techniques that Departments think they ‘should do’ with no real depth to the actual design question the techniques are seen to be answering.

This investment in intent is actually part of co-design itself. There is no distinction for us between the articulation of intent and what is increasingly being seen as co-design – the workshop or interview or journey map.

Having design partners who are happy to invest in intent up front bodes well for design outcomes and builds real capability in organisations as they understand they need to agree on the question and understand its importance for them, not just put it to the community to answer in creative workshops (no matter how well they might be delivered).

Imagine if every future design request for tender had a component of articulating intent with designers, rather than simply listing the perceived co-design activities that the client thinks should happen and asking designers to ‘quote on that’.

Intent pinpoints what really matters. While the challenge of intent is making sure you are not trying to decide what the problem is too early, the design, business, collaborative and creative outcomes of a defined intent phase is borne out in real practice. And in real design results.

Intent means design starts with ‘why we want to change something’ not ‘what we want to change is…’

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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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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: