Inside the head of a designer

An Assets Alliance Scotland
Coproduction challenge

Coproduction challenge

This morning Snook were kindly invited to take part in Assets Alliance Scotland, an event being jointly held by the Scottish Government, Scottish Community Development Centre and the Long Term Conditions Alliance Scotland.

“We in Scotland should be proud of our tradition of community involvement and community action and public service delivery’s role in supporting this activity to flourish. However, in the last few years we have developed a model of public service delivery based on a ‘treatment’ or ‘doing to’ approach, which often fails to recognise communities’ and service users’ own strengths and assets and which instead engenders a culture of dependency that, in turn, stimulates demand.”

Before attending the event, I had made a clear connection in my head about how closely this aligned with the work of Liz Sanders.

“Designers will no longer only design for people, they will learn
to design with people. Co-designing will require new forms of
communication to support the collective creativity that arises between
designers and everyday people.”

Working with frontline staff and users as the experts in their own eco-systems/services is a big part of the work I am doing right now. I bring their thoughts and imaginings to life.  We take the most optimistic stance we can; an issue can always be solved, there are assets all around us that help to solve a problem or build a brighter future.

The morning was kicked off with Harry Burns, who a participant described his delivery as ‘not usual for a Scottish gov type’.  Perhaps, he was right.  It was fantastic and inspiring to hear someone talk about a ‘social movement’ rather than a new set of targets or paper/policy being delivered from the government.  What really caught my attention was Dr Burn’s citing of the great union activist, Jimmy Reid.  Reid’s inaugural speech as rector of Glasgow University in 1972, has really influenced Snook, ( hat tip to Mike Press who highlighted this speech during his keynote at Create Debate.

“A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.

This is how it starts, and, before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat pack. The price is too high”

“It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.”

Interestingly Dr Burns steered clear of the Big Society agenda and favored the words of Jimmy Reid.  This line always brings it home for me;

“A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings”

Sometimes I feel a deep sigh coming on as I soldier through different public sector systems, hoops, and documents.  I think sometimes we forget, at the end of the day, we’re all people.

On the people side, after the keynote, participants were invited to browse projects which linked with an asset based approach.  I showcased the Getgo Glasgow project and how we mobilised a community to see past their issues and ‘obvious’ solutions to problems in their community.  I talked to participants about the power of visualisation and an optimistic mindset. I also showcased other pieces of work such as the Future Library Project and the Innovation Cards.

To add more detail to the visionary approach of Dr Burns, Andrew Lyon of the International Futures Forum set the task of imagining what Scotland’s Asset Alliance priorities should be – what actions need to be taken and what are matters of urgency.


Asset Alliance Scotland as a centre point

Asset Alliance Scotland as a centre point

It was an interesting discussion. Andrew graciously let everyone voice their opinion at the end of the event.  The discussions taught me that we need a framework to house some of this work and break it down into how to ‘do asset based work’.  It was obvious that there is already a huge amount of asset based work being done, and it has a history. Perhaps, it’s not always under the label of an ‘asset based approach’ but known as ‘community development’.  I’m not saying we ‘teach a granny to suck eggs’ as one participant in my group warned against, but we create a menu of options which breaks down an asset based approach, a framework to house the knowledge gathered through the AAS which is easy to access, understand, share, and importantly learn from and put into practice.  For example, a range of options on how to engage with people in communities and connections to people who are experts in this field would be beneficial.

The group deliberated between a top down approach, and whilst I agreed that you need government buy in, I think the last thing that is needed is another strategy/policy document on an asset approach that promotes meaningless, tick box targets.  If we’re going to talk targets under the assets agenda, then I think we need to think really carefully how that is conveyed.

Technology curve of adoption

Technology curve of adoption

I felt that we could look at the curve of adoption for technology and think about how ‘early adopters’ are the users who begin to write the ‘playbooks’ and ‘how to guides’.  Perhaps the AAS would take this role on board and begin pulling together existing networks and organising information.

I noticed the Alliance pulling together ongoing work, and past work, branding it as ‘Assets based’ to build a community of practitioners in Scotland, and develop a framework to house this knowledge. However,  I did mention there is a huge need for more interaction across different sectors.  Some of the conversations around ‘person-centeredness’, ‘co-creation’ and ‘assets’ are not only relevant to health but to everyone.  Our lives are are a holistic combination of services and complex interactions that  overlap different sectors on a daily basis.

Importantly, as a chameleon amongst different sectors, this kind of work and demand-led idea is appearing across all sectors, not just health.  Take Skills Development Scotland 2010-2011 Corporate strategy, an organisation I worked alongside last year.  They talk multiple times over about co-creation and demand-led services, which I think align closely with asset based and coproduction movements and murmurs going on around our country.

Snook competition on assets

Snook competition on assets

The most poignant thought for me at the end was about listening.  A participant talked about asking others what assets mean to them and learning from this feedback.  This struck a chord with me and I was happy that Snook had given out a small task for participants to capture assets in their community and email the photos back to us.  We’re looking forward to peering through them and posting them online, feel free to get involved even if you didn’t pick up a leaflet.

Finally, the reason for this task, and what gets me every time at events like this is the need for a vision.  Andrew Lyons had asked us what the AAS will ‘look’ like, yet I saw no hint of visual thinking or communication.  This goes deeper than graphically facilitating the discussions that were taking place but the way in which we go forward in discussing the future of the AAS, and the approach we use in the future for the development of our public sector and country.

We need to share projects, the how to, and do it visually. A picture speaks a thousand words and breeds a common understanding which if applied in context of the AAS could mean a shared vision for the meaning of assets, the alliance, and perhaps as Pat Kane called for at Political Innovation camp a few weeks ago, a shared vision for our country.  Big talking, but, something keeps hitting a nerve of late at discussions like this.  Words like transformation seem to be super seeding ‘change’, ‘improvement’, ‘efficiency’, It feels there are some big ‘shake ups’ that need to happen. With Andrew asking us about urgency today for the AAS, something niggles me even more.  I have a feeling the time is now, we need to move fast.

Servdes, Snook and snowballs
Snook in Sweden

Snook in Sweden


Another Snook adventure under our belt ; this time in Linkoping, Sweden.  The occasion? Servdes.  Traveling through some thick snow I made it to the conference, this time under the theme of Exchanging Knowledge.

“The Nordic Conference on Service Design and Service Innovation, ServDes, is the premier research conference for exchanging knowledge within service design and service innovation…Service design as a field has established itself as a strong discipline, through efforts in practice and academia. However, publications have mainly focused on establishing service design. There is a growing need for original research on service design. The ServDes conference is an answer to this call…”

In short, it was in-depth and fun. Making it the best event I have taken part in this year.  However, I struggled with the delicate balance between practitioners and researchers.  This was a recurring theme in some of the discussions I had about academia and practice can can link up and communicate better.  As an active practitioner, I’ve just left academia ; finishing a Masters on Embedding design in the public sector which was more action research and reflection than it was academic.  For me, this works, because at the end of the day, I want to make change happen.  Personally, I’d rather work with academics to document and theorise the work I do on the ground.  I’m wondering if Servdes will become the catalyst for making this connection smoother?

Snook were invited to present the case Service Design: social innovation is our motivation’.  The presentation reflected on a project, Getgo Glasgow, undertaken last year at the Glasgow School of Art. It depicts some of the issues the design community is facing when undertaking social design/innovation projects within design education. My presentation considered some of the shortfalls in the project ; time frames, delivery and ethics. How do designers leave a project like this ethically? Have we considered the consequences of sending young designers out to engage with communities/users.  A film is on the way but for now, you can view the presentation.

The presentation aligned with Don Norman’s views published on Core 77: ‘Why Design Education Must Change‘.

“Many problems involve complex social and political issues. As a result, designers have become applied behavioral scientists, but they are woefully undereducated for the task”

This brilliant yet critical article picks on design education for producing undereducated designers who are ‘woefully ignorant of the deep complexity of social and organizational problems.’ In the case of GetGo, the community now have money in the bank and the project is really happening. Wyndford, where the project took place, is small area that are now mobilised as a community. We designed a process not necessarily a designed solution. The result ; Green Gorillaz wasn’t really designed, it was a half baked idea which was the bi-product of design methods and skills being used to work co-creatively with a community.

My presentation actually sparked some interesting conversations about interdisciplinary work, collaboration and the reality that designers are not experts in everything. It pays to know when and how to ask for help. The question and answer session revealed that students struggle with some elements of this type of project. For example, being equipped with the skills and know how to create intangible outcomes that are implementable. This is something we are aiming to get to grips with through our venture: Making Service Sense.

Highlights for me included Daniela Sangiorgi’s talk(s) on Transformative Services and Transformation Designbuilding‘.  It looked at building capabilities inside organisations to use and understand design to produce better services.  This was an area I felt was overlooked in Berlin at the SDN10 conference and was only just touched upon by Philips.  It mimics efforts made by Engine in their Hoop model and echoes sentiments from Martin Neumier’s Designful company which I reflected on for the last 12 months with a public body in Scotland on how to really use design thinking to create better services for the people of Scotland and more informed, people centered policy.

What Daniela put forward echoed closely with some discussions from the workshop run by Anna Serevalli and Anders Emilson.  They held a workshop on Social Innovation which looked at the criticisms and plaudits by Geoff Mulgan of design in social innovation.  Some of the points our group discussed were;

  • Design(ers) should be a-political
  • We need to create designful organisations and transform thinking
  • We should look to open source community for inspiration
  • We should be pushing for delivery and implementation
  • Designers are facilitators not experts

Eva-Maria Hempe followed some of the capabilities discussion with, Health and social care services for people with complex needs: The role of contextual knowledge for the design process’ and showcased a really interesting project.  More interestingly for me, was the pyramid at the end of her slides on Design capacity versus Design obstacles which I’d like to look more into and see designers considering this.

There were other really good presentations, far too many to mention, in short, a couple more were Marc Stickdorn’s presentation on students and tourism, showcasing how quick and effective service design can be. Also, Simon Clatworthy’s talk on Touchpoint cards was to the point and got some cogs turning about how we could use the template as a basic model to create our own more personalised cards for say tourism, or methods in Service design.

Finally, to end the conference, Global Service Jam was launched by Markus Edgar and Adam St john.  It will bring together different countries from all over the world next year to develop new services in under 48 hours and then share them online.  They’ve had a fantastic response already and if you want your country to be part of it, then I suggest you get in touch with them.

And not forgetting the unconference day, organised by Design thinkers ; an impromptu, insightful and busy day of talking, doing, and drinking coffee.

I ran a workshop called #swesno, which looked at using design thinking and methods to tackle social issues caused by Snow in Sweden.  Wearing santa hats, to get us all in the mood, one group tackled loneliness and isolation with the opportuniy of untapped engergy of kids playing outside in the snow, whilst the other group looked at the issue of ambulances getting stuck in the snow.  There will be a another blog post to follow on the outcomes of the workshop. The storyboarding method and pushing people as a vehicle through a new service design worked incredibly well, and took a group of participants 3 hours. They started from scratch, developing and blueprinting new service concepts which the Swedish authorities could implement.

The day capped off with the launch of This is Service Design Thinking.  If you haven’t purchased it, do it.  It is a very comprehensive textbook which has been co-created by the design community.  I am very happy for the authors and am sure both Jakob Schneider and Marc Stickdorn are relieved to see their hard work come to fruition.

To wrap up, these conferences aren’t always just about the learning but are also about the friends you make.  It was lovely to make some new European and continental friends and catch up with old ones. It never ceases to amaze me how friendly, open and collaborative the Service Design community can be. Snook are humbled to be part of it.

Huge thanks to Fabian and the rest of the Serv Des team for making this event possible.

Here’s to next year and bigger and better snowball fights...

Create Debate


I’ve been putting together a final show for the Masters in Design Innovation I have just about finished.  On Monday I handed in my thesis and this Monday I will be presenting the work to examiners.  It has been a really tough year balancing everything and I’m really happy to invite you all to Create Debate: A design Innovation symposium at the Glasgow School of Art.  You can sign up here.


Professor Irene Mcara Mcwilliams will open with an introduction
Professor Mike Press, Associate Dean of Design, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee, will discuss ‘Design as an affirmation of values’
Jim Fleming, Director at Wider Aspect Innovation ltd, will discuss Some learnings on Innovation Best Practice
David Hicks,
Managing Director of Border Crossing will discuss The new economic context – from resources to resourcefulness’
Stuart Bailey, Product Design tutor at the Glasgow School of art will discuss changes in design education

Innovative Idea Generation:mixing user value,design and higher education by Joe Slavick
Intergeneration and technology by Basako Okay
Listening to locals: A user centered approach to rural retailing by Laura Franzini
Brand DNA – Does employing social media tactics enhance or risk brand development by Amy Marsh
Effective Collaboration in Multi-disciplinary Teams by Angela Fernandez Orviz
Follow Me!: Mapping the city with user generated contents by Heji Jeong
Improving connections in textile recycling by Sara Pateraki
Embedding design in the public sector and changing our thinking by Sarah Drummond

Nesta’s Coproduction event
 Nesta right here right now launch
Nesta right here right now launch

Last week, I found time to go to the NESTA Right here Right now Launch: Taking Coproduction into the mainstream.  The event, focusing on taking coproduction as a marginal idea into the mainstream is the third of a three part series of reports from a collaboration between the New Economics Foundation and Nesta.

Re-reading NEF’s coproduction pamphlet, published two years ago I was struck by Edgar Cahn’s words on the term being hot on the lips of politicians, on both sides of the atlantic.  Now more than ever, with our ‘big society’ and having to do ‘more for less’ it’s time to push Co-production in the mainstream.  If you’re not sure what Coproduction is I suggest mulling over the three Nesta reports but for a summary of it’s inception;

“The term ‘co-production’ was coined originally at the University of Indiana in the 1970s when Professor Elinor Ostrom was asked to explain to the Chicago police why the crime rate went up when the police came off the beat and into patrol cars. She used the term as a way of explaining why the police need the community as much as the community need the police.”

Going back to Nef’s publication, this is a stand out for me;

“Neither markets nor centralised bureaucracies are effective models for delivering public services based on relationships. The author of System Failure, Jake Chapman, explains why, with market systems, ‘you can deliver pizza but you can’t deliver public services’.  Market logic applies to narrow deliverables, but misses out the crucial dimension that allows doctors to heal, teachers to teach and carers to care: the relationship with patient, pupil or client. Centralised bureaucracies, public and private, find it equally hard to grasp these essentials.”

Following the discussion after the launch of the final Nesta Paper, the above quote from 2008 is very poignant.  Designers ask three questions.  What, how and why and what I’m experiencing from many of these co-design publications is people asking the how?

I often see elements of design as the process to drive this ideology.  To me, the design process seems like the glue that will hold these together, and as a way of driving a co-production manifesto.

The question and answer session showed that this how question is where we get stuck.  Garath Symonds who works at Surrey County Council sat on the panel as someone who has pushed this way of working on a local level.  Questions were fired at him and his reply was,

“Just do it”

If the audience could have clapped, I feel there may have been a small ripple of applause.  Gareth was someone that takes risks and gets this.  I have always seen so many parallels between what I’ve done as a service designer and coproduction.  Putting users (n.b users also mean staff) at the centre of service design and delivery.  The mindset of co-creation (often seen in work I’ve been part of) as a vehicle to develop services and push towards co-production.  Co-production is not just a design process and I would never say design is the panacea, but I believe expert facilitation attributed with a design process and involving different experts and frameworks at different stages, would be a good way of driving this process.  I’ve seen services and social enterprises produced by designers that embody much of what co-production is about and reach a stage of dellivery.  I’ll talk about some other points but Nick Marsh of Sidekick picked up on a great ‘that’s a thing’ point about the dependency of users on public services.

Nesta Co Production
Nesta Co Production

The publication had quite a few recommendations for taking co-production into the main stream.

1. Build the key features of co-production into existing services

2. Change the systems and structures that underpin public services

3. Make it everybody’s business

4. Shift the role of frontline staff

5. Get the best out of ‘personalised’ services

6. Put the right incentives in place

7. Build co-production into the commissioning framework

8. Give priority to prevention

9. Encourage flexibility and collaborative working

10. Measure what matters

11. Launch more prototypes in new sectors

12. Embed co-production as the ‘default’ model through a ‘Co-production Guarantee’

Some tough challenges, co-production works as a small scale project, and something very local, but public services face huge challenges, not just in the way an organisation is structured but in their processes and mindset they will need if they want to adopt co-production as a way of doing.

The publication summarises with future thinking moving away from tick box processes to a more human way forward.  The big question is, who is going to take this forward?

“This is a new kind of public sector, with complex relationships rather than complex metrics at its heart.”

And how the hell are we going to measure this?   Some of the final words of the event focused on co-production being an inherent value, and to me this rings a bell for something I’ve been considering for a long time…that it’s perhaps not a way of doing, it’s not a process, it’s a way of being.

The idea does perplex me (in a good way) but it’s something I want to be involved in, and I believe in it, it’s just finding a language that can dilute it into a process that will aim to achieve the outcomes it strives to deliver.  To finish with the final words of the event,

“Perhaps this is not a policy, but a movement”

Embedding design interviews

Embedding design interviews

Embedding design interviews

I’ve been a bit quiet as I’m blogging away on a closed platform, I’m not allowed to share everything I’m up to, but I can cross post occasionally.

I’ve been doing a round of interviews/chats with some fantastic people and just wanted to summarise who I’ve met so far.  This is a thank you from me for all your time and knowledge!

The topics ranged from how to embed design in organisations, how project teams might work, encouraging a culture of innovation, systems thinking, meta design, and reflection on what makes up a designer, to name but a few.

Below is a selection of interviews completed so far;

Dr Anne Marie Mcewan (The Smart Work Company)

Nick Marsh (Side Kick studios)

John Wood (Goldsmiths, Meta Design)

Joel Bailey (Capita)

Ruth Kennedy (professional agitator of too many things to mention, but all great)

Ingrid Koeler (IDeA)

Tess Raine (Design Council)

Emily Campbell (RSA)

Matt Currie (Divergent)

I will be disseminating these over the coming week and pulling out useful case studies and advice for how to embed design in organisations.  And meeting some new (and old) faces next week in London.

I’m free (ish) next Monday to Wednesday if anyone is around for a drink.

Embedding design (why don’t you have a go?)



There’s an event taking place as I write this, from my ‘borrowed’ desk at Skills Development Scotland, that I rather wish I’d been able to attend.  Snook received an email last month inviting us to an expert seminar being held by RSA Design & Society, unfortunately we can’t make it because of work commitments.

They are bringing together experts and people who have experience in design management, service design, and people working from the inside.  Speakers include Ben Reason from Live Work, Lucy Kimbell who writes the excellent blog, Design leads us where exactly?  and Simon Roberts of Intel and the Ideas Bazaar on embedded anthropology and social science.  Not to mention my boss here at SDS, Tony Coultas, commenting on our experiences so far.

Emily Campbell, who heads up the design and society team wrote a blog post on ‘In-house or out: embedding design’, summing up many of my thoughts.

It is time we see designers switching from outside consultancy to in-house design team, and I don’t just mean a team that designs the company’s ‘look’.  It’s time we saw design teams operating at the heart of organisations.

I’ve been working with Skills Development Scotland since September and am about to embark on a larger piece of work for them, designing a toolkit for frontline staff.  But it’s the structure of the organisation that needs to be designed in tangent.  If you supply people with a design toolkit to ‘see’ things differently and start generating ideas for frontline service delivery and internal operations, you need to support this.

Since being here, I’ve noticed a need for everything to be designed, even down to the last word on a project initiation document.  For example, I recall reading a document that used terms like, ‘how can we mitigate this circumstance’ and ‘how can we terminate this operation without lasting damage’?   

Through some research I did at the beginning of September last year, I found a majority of service designers turning out to be ENFJs.

ENFJ (Extraversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Judgment) is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of sixteen personality types.[1] The MBTI assessment was developed from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl G. Jung in his book Psychological Types. Jung proposed a psychological typology based on the theories of cognitive functions that he developed through his clinical observations.”

This is research at some stage I’d like to push further into, I’ve always been fascinated a bit by the way we are, our personalities and the choices we make, and a book I dabbled in recently, ‘The challenge of change in organisations’, has spurred this interest even further.


In short, designers are ‘positive optimists’, I found myself (an ENFJ incase you’re wondering) asking, could we change, ‘how can we mitigate this circumstance’ to ‘can we find a way to solve this wicked problem?’.  Witnessing a lecture last year by John Wood from Goldsmiths, I was fascinated by his description of designers being able to make the ‘unimaginable possible’ and working towards ‘attainable utopias’.  I will save all this for another blog post, but google meta design and go exploring, I’m still trying to get my head round it all.

In an organisation of over 1300 people, change in an organisation is going to be a massive challenge, and you need a positive mindset to want to tackle it.  I’m looking forward to my next batch of work kicking off and dealing with the small and larger picture of SDS.  How can you embed design thinking into an organisation so large?  How can you envisage and implement new processes and ways of doing things?

As Emily points out, this new type of embedded design teams have been described as Service Designers.  Why?  My take is that service designers have the skills and tools necessary to bring the intangible to life.

Like myself, Emily asks some key questions, the language barrier I feel to be the most critical,

“In practical terms, what is the job description for an in-house designer with a holistic brief? How does an organisation intent on embedding design go about recruiting designers? How is the effectiveness of staff designers paid for their holistic view to be measured? How does the design of services, structures and strategy respond to cost-benefit analysis? How is the language barrier between designers and other specialists to be overcome? How are creativity and innovation to be managed within large and often cautious or risk-averse organisations?”

In practical terms for Skills Development Scotland, it’s a ‘service designer’ and I dare you to take up the challenge.

They are advertising for a 10 month position to join the service innovation team, go on, try something new and get in touch.

Getgo wins Audi competition

Getgo Probe Tools

Well what an exciting week!

Getgoglasgow, which is the design collective of the two Masters courses at the Glasgow school of art (Design Innovation and European design) won the Audi Sustain our Nation competition and £10000 for the community we worked with.

We’ve been working with an area in Maryhill Glasgow called Wyndford to develop a sustainable social enterprise for their community.  The project has been tough, with some great highs, and almighty lows.

For the group, it was a challenging project.  This demanded a new role of the designer away from the solo author to the co-creator.  We made it really clear at the beginning of the project to work with people rather than for them.

View this document on Scribd

The winning project was Green Gorillaz, a way to bring back community spirit and the community voice, using offline and online message boards, linked up  by residents.  We created some seed groups which will house events and see knowledge transferred across generations.  It stems from the closure of their primary schools last year, and a real loss of community.  They had come together to fight the decision, so we knew there were passionate local champs.  We wanted to harness this and turn that energy into something positive.

But credit should go to everyone involved in the project, there were three projects developed from the same process. We held co-creation workshops with residents and stakeholders to generate ideas to take forward, but made sure at all points we were transparent and open about our process, returning to the community regularly to work with them again and develop proposals.

If design education should learn anything from this, is that building relationships takes time, and if projects like this are to be handed to students, proper training in community work, sustainable thinking and an understanding of ethics should be taught.  We’ve struggled with the competition and institute deadlines.  For example, after handing in the first three projects, we had to wait to see whether any had made it through to the regional finals.  At this point, we decided as a collective to carry all of them on anyway, even though none might be taken forward.

Anyway, we’re down at the RSA on the 17th February to represent a ‘developed’ concept (we’re working to make it real and it starts tomorrow with a football pitch party at 10am where we’ll be feeding back to the community), and hopefully we can win another £10000 for Wyndford.

In the words of John Gray yesterday,

“bloody good for u……bunnets in the air !……mon the weegies :-)”

Designing Dublin

Designing for Dublin

This project, Design for Dublin, only came to my attention yesterday through the ‘Designing for the public sector’ group on Wenovski.

Brian Gough, a member of the team says,

“Designing Dublin was a pilot project that ran in conjunction with Dublin City council. For three very intense months, a team of 17 of us worked on a project called finding the hidden potential of place.

The focus of this project was Clongriffin, an unfinished building development in Dublin north. Leading the team was Vannesa Ahuactzin, whose background includes working with Bruce Mau on the project Massive Change. Through her, we were exposed to various tools normally associated with Design Thinking.”

Engaging Individuals in a design process

It’s worth having a good look through their project blog from start to finish to see how the project progressed.  The idea was to grow a culture of learning, that could help ‘ provide a new generation of entrepreneurs with the tools to design inventive solutions to the new global challenges and encourage people to understand how they can contribute purposefully to the future of their country and to the world in the 21st Century.

Their website says,

“We believe that there is no perfect answer when defining this new learning system. We have decided to begin anywhere by running the Designing Dublin: Learning to Learn pilot. Our intention is to test Design Thinking as a tool to empower learning that generates solutions through proposals, ideation, prototyping, testing and iteration.”

The Irish times wrote an interesting take on it, and it’s probably what I find most interesting about the project is that the team was made up of half council members and half citizens,

“The outcome was Designing Dublin: learning to learn , a pilot project to show how it’s possible to bring together people from different backgrounds to work together intensively for three months – an experience that would be transformational for them and “could transform this country in the next five years”

It links up with some of the work I’ve been doing with getgoglasgow.  We’ve been working in a community for the last couple of months to create sustainable solutions which allow people to grow and develop ideas themselves, meaning our solutions will last long into the future.  In this way, we have become the designers of tools.  One of the groups work is a project called listen up (2.36 into video) which is to create a set of tools allowing residents to have a better say in how funds are spent on new developments for their area;

“This specific Wyndford project will be used to prototype tools that involve the community in the co-creation process for the old school-site regeneration, to which a possible £3 million development fund will be allocated in April 2010. Following on from Wyndford, the tools will be reviewed and made available on an online platform that facilitates collaboration in further community consultation schemes, empowering communities to have a say in how their taxes are spent.”

You can find out more about the work we’ve been doing from our blog or follow us on twitter

Co-design isn’t really that new

Co-Design: Stanley King

I’ve been wanting to blog about this for a good couple of months, a diamond find in my library at the Glasgow School of Art.  The book Co-design: A process of Design Participation discusses the early work of Stanley King and the Co-design group providing an in depth and concise description to the work of community architects and the workshops they facilitated from the 1970s.

The book is so concise in it’s description it provides task by task instructions to organising, facilitating and disseminating workshops, I think this is a must read for designers who undertake design workshops.  I was listening to a podcast from the Emergence 07 conference, where Oliver King of Engine was holding an open discussion about the changing role of the designer, largely focusing on the concept of designer as facilitator.  Something that stood out for me was a participant’s opinion on design education;

“…facilitation is not taught in universities and not every designer is a good facilitator”

For me, design education needs to change to accomodate the changing role of the designer.  Texts like this clearly demonstrate the complex nature of this type of work, covering organisation, skills, mindset, generative tools and more that is needed to successfully conduct a workshop.  In context of the architects here, drawing people’s ideas in real time, there is a clear skill and process to doing this, covered in chapters like, ‘Anatomy of a Co-design drawing’.

Activity timeline (after Le Corbusier)

There is also a fantastic diagram and images from the 70s showing the co-design group using an Activity Time Line (after Le Cobusier) where the artists indicates the helix of a rising and setting sun and marks off the hours of the day and the night.  The participating audience then shout out tasks they would do during the time period, which is marked onto the diagram.  They then group off and choose an activity to work on with an artist, and start building ideas based around it.  Reminds me alot of journey mapping, just in a 24 hour community sense sort of way.

How to organise and facilitate a co-design workshop

Why do I think this book is so important?  It shows there is so much more to the co-design workshop than meets the eye, and whilst, we do only learn through practice, I think methods like this, which are so common in our current design practice should be taught in  a more in depth and pragmatic way, with a focus on the mindset ideally put on for this process.

Below are two excerpts from an initial think piece I’ve been working on about design education, the changing role of the designer and the challenges this poses to design students;

Texts like Co-design[1] are comprehensive in their descriptions of how to facilitate correctly in the context of workshops, and are incredibly detailed about the way a facilitator draws people’s ideas, how to deal with overpowering participants and how to correctly note take, to name but a few considerations.  These details are important and without proper training in this domain, results of a workshop can be tainted.

“The public needs a language that can give its creativity a focus and help individuals turn their intuition and knowledge into a workable idea.  That language must also be able to bridge the gap between the vision of the common resident and the technical thinking and jargon of the architects”[2]

This role of facilitation is about relinquishing control, and the tools of designer, namely their ability to give ideas form through drawing or model making must be carefully considered.  Designers can be incredibly influential in what they choose to make tangible, by making something real, it can sway the whole group’s opinion one way without considering other possibilities.  Therefore the designer must act impartial, and drive the group through the creative process rather than own it.

[1] King S, Conley M, Latimer B and Ferrari D, Co-design: A process of design to participation
[2] McDowell LN cited from King S, Conley M, Latimer B and Ferrari D, Co-design: A process of design to participation, p45

the above was in response to this;


“The move towards co-design, where the designer takes on the role of facilitator as well as form-giver, gives even greater weight to the significance of how user research and engagement is taught on design courses. Practising co-designers do not simply see people as research subjects, but as active participants in the design process, whose time and contributions need to be recognised and honoured.  Conducting this kind of participative user research and inquiry on social issues presented students with a new set of challenges, both practical and ethical.” [1]

In the last twenty years the role of the designer has changed from solo author to co-creator.  In a move away from the modernist conception of designer as individual expert, design thinkers have adopted a participatory approach, involving users directly in the development of new products/services/systems throughout the design process.

This can largely be seen in the emergence of the Service Design discipline throughout the last decade,[2] which has been highlighted and catapulted into the hands of students, business and governments worldwide by the internet’s coverage and sharing of methodologies[3].

Service design leans heavily on the principles and methods of participatory design, a practice with roots in the Scandinavian workplace and trade unions.  The discipline is predominately co-creative, user-centric and adopts a holistic approach to design, including insights from, and direct engagement throughout the design process with a range of stakeholders and user groups in the development of new service offerings.

“…there are professions more harmful than industrial design – but only a few” [4]

“The time has come to review Papanek… from a new perspective, which reduces the distance between market-based and socially oriented initiatives”. [5]

Victor Papanek in 1971, suggested that designers take stock of what they’re doing, suggesting that designers who engaged with the market should spend one tenth of their time or money towards socially responsible projects.  Nicola Morelli argued in 2007 that Papanek provides a ‘triple bottom line’ for considering new design proposals, merging towards a basic definition of sustainability and a new model for the design process that considers environmental, social and economic impact. (figure 1)

In recent developments, encouraged perhaps by some of these older texts asking us to take responsibility for what we design[6] and a recognition by the public sector and government in design thinking[7], several of the world’s leading design and service design consultancies have began to tackle complex social issues[8], moving away from the business and management foundations the discipline was built on. This area of work has been spearheaded by initiatives such as Dott 07[9] and Public services by design[10].  Publications like, Wouldn’t it be great if?[11], highlight design as being able to,

“…help us in the public services to be more innovative. We need to be conscious that today’s problems are just not going to be addressed by yesterday’s ideas and yesterday’s solutions” [12]

It seems a natural progression for the design community and in particular the service design discipline to move into this territory due to its user-centred nature and holistic approach to problem solving.  In recent years, new branches of design thinking have stretched the field further, like transformation[13] and social design with supporting initiatives like red appearing[14].  This all comes at a particularly convenient time with a rising focus in the hyperlocal and community driven delivery of services by government and an emphasis on ‘citizen and community engagement.’[15]

“If thirty years in politics – as a local councillor, MP and cabinet minister – have taught me one thing, it is that government and public services depend on a partnership with citizens to make things work.”[16]

In light of this emerging domain and a steady influx of socially motivated projects being introduced into design courses at undergraduate level, [17] design educators must reflect on the changing role of the designer and the new landscapes they are operating in, developing new frameworks to accommodate the need for new mindsets and skills.

This initial think piece will reference throughout a recent project undertaken by the students of a new postgraduate Masters course, Design Innovation at the Glasgow School of Art. It will highlight issues that will need to be taken into consideration surrounding this type of participatory work, in particular the effect of designers engagement with people and a consideration of a new design philosophy that focuses on promoting a sustainable approach to community and participatory design work.

[1] The RSA Website, Six challenges for design education [04/01/10]
[2] The discipline has emerged in response to a global shift towards a service based economy
Vargo, S. L. and Lusch, R. F., Service-Dominant Logic: Continuing the Evolution: Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 1-10
[3] Service Design Tools, Homepage, [04/01/10]
[4] Papanek V, Design for the real world, p14 cited from Thackara J, In the bubble: Designing in a complex world, p7
[5] Sustain our Nation Site, Approaches and exemplars, [04/01/10] citing Nicola Morelli (2007)
[6] “The context of industrial mechanisation has changed, but 100 years later and in our times, the sociologist Richard Sennett presses for debate about the consequences of what we make” Parker S, Social Animals: tomorrow’s designers in today’s world, p 21 citing R Sennet, The Craftsman
[7] Partners can be noted in the publication by the Design Council, Public Services by design, A new route to public sector innovation, p15
[8] Burns C, Cottam H, Vanstone C, Winhall J, RED Paper 02: Transformation Design
[9] Dott 07 (Designs of the time 2007), a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North East England, explored what life in a sustainable region could be like – and how design could help us get there.
Cited from Design of the times website, What was Dott07, [04/01/10]
[10]Public Services by Design is a new programme to inspire and enable design innovation in public services. It helps public sector managers build awareness and understanding of how design can help in the process of developing and delivering better public services.
Cited from Design Council Website, Public Services by Design page, [04/01/10]
[11] Design Council and Thackara J, Wouldn’t it be great if
[12] Birchard M (Sir), Public Services by Design, p5
[13] Burns C, Cottam H, Vanstone C, Winhall J, RED Paper 02: Transformation Design
[14] RED was set up in 2004 by the Design Council to tackle social and economic issues through design led innovation, RED website, homepage, [04/01/10]
[15] Blunkett D (MP), A People’s Police Force
[16] Blunkett D (MP), Touching the State
[17] The RSA Design Directions programme is a competition aimed at undergraduate and recent graduates from design courses around the UK cited from Campbell E, You know more than you think you do: design as resourcefulness & self reliance

Choruses from the rock

Ramsay as design thinker

Last night I realised the reason I don’t own a tv is the fact that I be likely to waste hours in a trance watching ‘rubbish’.  I also never really have time to, but in a rare ‘evening off’ I found myself plonked in front of the tv and accidentally happening upon Gordon Ramsay’s ‘F Word’.

What caught my attention (apart from the fact I enjoy culinary topics) was some of Gordon Ramsay’s comments to restaurant owners during his visits to judge them for ‘local’ restaurant of the year.  Ramsay for me was just hitting the nail on the head.  He comments to staff,

“It’s not just the food, it’s the service”

Ramsay was talking about the service and the experience throughout, not just the ‘goods’, something that Pine and Gilmore discuss and separate in their book, The Experience Economy, which Jeff Howard articulately discusses here, (saving me repeating his thoughts, and a must read for service designers)

Recently inspired from a publication to search out T.S Eliot’s poem, Choruses from the Rock , the last line from this excerpt stood out for me.

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?

Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”

What will you answer? “We all dwell together

To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.

Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

And so, in my mind, Ramsay was the stranger, and reflects elements of a design thinkist. He states to staff,

“I’ll be upstairs and downstairs”

This echoes the frontstage and backstage fundamentals of service design.  He interacts with everyone, frontline staff (waiters), backstage staff (chefs) and the customers, gaining opinions from all sides to build a holistic picture of the restaurant, focusing on the product, the service, the experience.

The comments that really stopped me were Ramsay erratically stating what the ordering system was and trying to comprehend why it was so difficult for an order to be passed from the waiters to the chefs,

“I can tell straight away the ordering system is far too complicated”

“If he’s entering the computer, and they’re entering the order, and he makes a mistakes…then it’s already going through two people…then it’s printed out downstairs…they take the order, then it is in another waiters hand…”

In an old post Lauren  Currie wrote,

“David described Jamie Oliver as a design thinkist…an opinion I completely agree with. The way he engages with people, integrates himself into their lifestyle etc. is admirable.”

And so I saw Ramsay as a bit of a design thinkist.  I sadly marvelled at his almost erratic behaviour trying to understand why no one was questioning  the ordering system of the restaurant or why the chefs weren’t questioning why the plates were coming back with half eaten food or sauce on the plates.

“Do the customers say anything when we clear this away.  Is anyone telling the chef?…does anyone give constructive feedback to the chef downstairs.  Why is this not eaten, and why is the sauce still there, surely you would want to know!”

As part of my Masters in Design Innovation I’ve been doing work in the public sector, looking at how design skills and ways of thinking can be transferred to front line staff to think about the user experience and innovate at a grassroots level.  I began with quite an open mind about this being possible, and I still believe it is, Ramsay has reignited my beliefs a little.  I do believe however that design is a vocational profession and I believe that the way Ramsay excelled at noticing details is because he was in environment he knows well, and is top of his game in.  In addition though he was taking on the role of investigator, and this is something to take stock of.  In the book Simplicity, Edward De Bono says,

“If you are too good at adjusting to the current system you may never realise the system needs changing.”

Staff learning how to Customer Journey Map

Staff learning to customer journey map

And so if we take the task of passing the skills and tools of service design to ‘non’ designers, perhaps to think of it like the role of investigator is the way forward.  By giving people new skills and tools to think in the ‘customer’s’ shoes and like a designer, they will be able to see ways the front line service can be changed.  This does however require a level of autonomy to be allowed to do this.  I will categorically say that currently in the public sector this is very difficult and comes down to many things like the risk averse mentality and management structures.

There is hope though.  And something I want to believe is discussed in Thackara’s opening to his book, In the Bubble: Designing for a complex world.

“Everyone designs,” wrote scientist Herb Simon, “who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations, into preferred ones.” For Victor Papanek, too, “design is basic to all human activities – the placing and patterning of any act towards a desired goal constitutes a design process.”  Designing is what human beings do.”

I am troubled that it takes a certain type of person and mindset to think and question scenarios like a designer and soon I hope to publish a recent piece of writing on this topic which elaborates on my thoughts.  In no way am I set in any way on my opinions, the next nine months or so I will be investigating this through practical work with frontline staff in the public sector with a clear goal on a sustainable implementation, so when designer’s are out the picture, staff have the relevant support and skills to use the designer’s toolkit and thinking.  In essence, it will have to be a transformative process, and if you haven’t already, pick up Tim Brown’s ‘Change by Design’ I suggest you do.

“The designer is no longer defining a finished result, but is creating the conditions for, or catalysing an emergent system that will change and re-configure after they have left the scene”

Those who know me personally may remind me that I did state not everyone can be a designer but at the very least I’d like to think that others can harness aspects of design thinking to start asking questions about the services they deliver and designers can start to work on ways of sustainably changing cultures in new domains.

My mind is entirely open again. Cheers Ramsay!

I would be interested to get thoughts on the subject of ‘Everyone as designer’ and from people who have worked on similar projects to hand over design skills.