Inside the head of a designer

Bethnal Green ventures
August 11, 2010, 1:52 pm
Filed under: interesting, social innovation | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Bethnal Green ventures

Bethnal Green ventures

Got an idea that’s sort of social innovation?  Think you can make a difference?

The folks over at social innovation camp are starting a new project called Bethnal Green ventures. They say,

Social Innovation Camp is all about taking a back-of-the-envelope idea and working out how to make it real. We’ve learnt a huge amount about what makes an idea fly or flounder as we’ve watched projects develop after Social Innovation Camp and now we want to build a new way of helping people grow an idea that one stage further: from prototype idea to social start-up.

Bethnal Green Ventures Nightschool is the first step in doing that.”

Over a year ago I took part in social innovation camp, and won it with a fantastic bunch of people and the project Mypolice. It’s been such slow going with the project and we’ve had some great highs so far with it and some incredible lows.  Something like Bethnal Green ventures could have really helped us in the stage from great idea to getting funding to launching.

So if you’re in London, give them a shout.

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”

Undercover Boss
July 26, 2010, 8:38 am
Filed under: interesting | Tags: , , ,
channel four - undercover boss

channel four - undercover boss

Anyone who is looking to do ‘more for less’ should be taking a leaf out of CH4’s Undercover boss series.  I’m not saying that we take every CEO of a company and put them on the frontline undercover, but that we do learn from the knowledge at the frontline.

The one that interested me the most was the Tower Hamlets episode.

For me, Tim, part of the pest control service summed it up for me.

“we’re not there to make a profit, we’re here to run a service”

For anyone who is not familiar with the series, a ‘top dog’ of a company will go into the ‘coal face’ and spend time with staff understanding what their job is like.  In this episode, Kevin Collins the chief exec of Tower Hamlets council spent time with the meals on wheels service, pest control, the homeless office and other much needed local services.

Kevin hits the nail on the head about this being different to private services,

“being the chief executive of a public company is different to a private one, the people are my shareholders.”

Before leaving for the front line Kevin talked about the council needing to take risks to improve their services, which, in our current economic climate, is a difficult thing to stand up and say.

“I’m sure there is going to be an absolute wealth of information…I’m going to understand the organisation better, get to know the staff, and tell people how we can do our job better”

His first stop was with meals on wheels.  Experiencing the service as a front line staff member showed Kevin that decisions made were more than just numbers.  The people receiving the service were often elderly, vulnerable or living with a disability and the visit was their only point of contact in a day.

The next stop was a council office providing vital services to people who were homeless.  Kevin commented,

“having the right temperament at the first moment you’re met, sets the right tone”

Malakay, the receptionist was highly commended by Kevin, and the way he discussed the young man, was like that of a touchpoint.  By experiencing first hand the centre, Kevin could see that this is not a service that can be cut but other improvements could make the service more efficient and save money.

“There were questions though, like could the computer system be better.  It could be slicker and faster”

Tom, from pest control, for me, summed up something I’ve been struggling with to understand is why design, or what the value is for public services.  Tom showed the Kevin the extra mile he went to in finding the root of a pest problem.  Kevin compared to how an outsourced company may just treat the problem.   In a private world, creating additional value is all about increasing profits.  In the public sector world, it’s almost about ‘throttling’ numbers, it’s about the prevention of foot fall not just the treatment.  An interesting thought for what ‘added value’ might mean in the design context.

“what we run is a kind of a whole service, which allows us to get to the causes rather than just the symptoms, I’ve got to think whether you’d get such a whole service if you farmed  it out”

The programme ends with Kevin inviting the people he met to his office, unveiling the fact he is not ‘Colin’ (his undercover name) but their boss.  What I really appreciated here was that he then invited the staff members to become involved in projects, which sums up for me, an integral part of any embedding design work in the public sector.  Harness the knowledge your staff have.  Secondly,they felt valued, with one staff member commenting that they, ‘finally felt listened to’.

The video above is a previous ‘star’ of Under Cover Boss who discusses how the show helped him to see what elements of their service needs improved by experiencing the service from the staff’s point of view.  You could liken this to Shadowing, an ethnographic technique often used in Service Design.

For example, the company ditched a monthly newsletter which was costing them money, but no one was reading it.  They have now opted for more regular news in short snippets.  Experiencing a service first hand, always makes you understand more emphatically what it feels like, both for the customer and the staff who deliver it.  This is far more powerful and rich than any survey could achieve.  While numbers are not to be sniffed at, these qualitative methods should go hand in hand with quantitative analysis.  As Stephen Martin, CEO of Clugston Group says above,

“Information is filtered through at least a dozen levels, by the time it reaches the CEO you’re not getting the real heart felt emotions from the workforce”

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.

Books for service designers
June 21, 2010, 10:37 am
Filed under: inspiration, interesting, service design | Tags: , , , ,
Service Design Books

Service Design Books

Jeff Howard has released a great new ‘wee’ project.  I received an email from him a while back asking for some book titles that sit on the Snook shelf which perhaps are not directly related to service design but are of interest.  There had been some lists floating around the internet in the last 12 months but Jeff’s list make’s it rather easy to navigate.

Jeff says,

“Good books on service design are few and far between. I’ve put together lists in the past and so have other designers but unless you’ve actually read the books it’s tough to see the connections sometimes. Service designers draw inspiration from across disciplines and that means that a raw list isn’t always enough of a roadmap for people to triage unfamiliar reading.”

It was a difficult question because I gather influences from a huge variety of sources but I’ve popped a couple on like Co-design, Simplicity and the Design of Business, and will probably be adding a few more titles soon.

Take a look, it’s looking like a good collection.

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Coten Project

Snook are talking about service design and education as special guests this week on the Coten Project.  Andy Polaine asked myself and Lauren as both service design practitioners and myself still being a student to give our perspective on service design education.

The Coten project is a collborative online research activity exploring service design in higher education for 2010 and will see a whole range of different special guests writing essays/creating podcasts/being interviewed and discussing this topic.  The guests are then to answer a week’s worth of questions and engage in discussion with the 100 participants.

Looking forward to the questions and hopefully you enjoy the video, let us know what you think.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.

In the Guardian
May 2, 2010, 12:18 pm
Filed under: interesting, work | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
guardian media

guardian media paper sarah drummond

Funny old thing, media.  The last year has seen me and various projects/partner in crime feature in articles amongst some pretty big names like the BBC, Herald, Guardian.  On Wednesday this week, nothing could quite prepare me for the shock I got when I opened the Society pages of the Guardian and saw my face (a very large face) looking back at me.

Thanks to Gordon Cairns who wrote it, I was pleased with it and picked up on all the right things I wanted to get across about Mypolice.  However, I have learned to not let your friends govern your ‘interests’ but for the record I am actually fascinated by zombies and romero classics, and through being featured here have made friends with zombie escape plan on twitter.

You can read the article online here.

“A career in product design may not seem an obvious choice for someone who wants to do something for the benefit of others – “to make a dent in the world, to make things a little better”. She admits that it wasn’t even clear to herself why she should have chosen design rather than, say, education, law or politics, until a recent conversation with a student. “She said that to do a degree in politics and economics was just regurgitating theory, but by going into the creative industries you are allowed to be creative about your solutions to these problems,” Drummond recalls.”

I’d like to thank Lori Smyth for the above as we shared this thought over coffee in Dundee last month when I was there giving a studio unbound talk.

If you can get hold of Wednesday’s paper, do, it will make you chuckle.  I am sultry, I am pensive and I am, in the words of Mike Press, somewhat alike to the Nescafe Gold woman.

Sports relief research internship
May 1, 2010, 3:39 pm
Filed under: studiounbound | Tags: , , , , , ,

Unltd sport relief

This just popped into my inbox yesterday from the brilliant people at firstport/scotland unltd.  They are a funding body and we were lucky enough this year over at Mypolice HQ to get the social entrepreneurs funding from them.  They’ve got the fingers in lots of great tasting pies, and unltd sport relief is one of them.  Now they have a fantastic opportunity to get involved, and really think designers with their great research skills would be very good at this.  If you want a form, download it from here.

The UnLtd Sport Relief Research Internship UnLtd Research is conducting a youth-led research project with UnLtd Sport Relief (Make It Happen), a UK wide funding programme for 11-21 year olds who bring communities together, help promote understanding and solve problems through sport, arts and recreational activities.

This research will involve visiting a small number of projects funded by the Make It Happen Programme to find out about what problems they are addressing, how their activities are helping tackle these problems and the impact they are having. We are looking for 6 research interns (aged 18-25) from each of our UnLtd office regions; Bradford, Birmingham, London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh who can commit to 30 days work (2-4 days per week) from June 21st to September 21st 2010. These positions will be paid at £85 per day (plus any additional travel and accommodation expenses incurred) and will include attending an induction, regular training meetings and undertaking project visits to conduct research. This is an exciting opportunity to gain extensive research training and practical experience planning, designing and carrying out a research project.

No formal research skills or experience are necessary for this position. However, we do ask that you bring a number of qualities to this role, including an ability to work independently and within a small team, openness to learning new approaches and excellent inter-personal skills.  For more details/application form email