Events Service design

Service Design Drinks 9: Lauren Tan on social design in the UK 22 March 2011

Guardian infographic on public expenditure. “For 670 billion pounds, there must be a space for design there” — Lauren Tan

Earlier this week Lauren Tan presented at Service Design Drinks on her university research paper. In it she looked at 2007 DOTT (Design of the Times, internet archive link, may not be complete site) design projects in the public and social space.

“This PhD programme aims to identify and understand how design methodology is used in the public and social sector and the contributions it can make to the broader context of sustainable development.”
— Lauren Tan.  Reference:

Tan researched the methodology of a number of agencies and within the context of service design found the role of the designer to be that of a:

  • creator
  • researcher
  • provocateur
  • facilitator
  • social entrepreneur
  • capability builder
  • strategist

Lauren’s talk gave everyone the opportunity to compare their work with what is being done overseas. Lauren ran us through 2 case studies.

Case study 1. Alzheimer 100

The agency: Thinkpublic

Design role: Designer as co-creator

The problem: The difficulty faced by those recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their support network of learning about the services available to them.

The challenge: Foreseeing the future of dementia services.

The approach: Co-design workshops with service provider stakeholders, researchers, carers and sufferers. These workshops were preceded by an extensive research phase that defined the themes of the design project.

The deliverable: Recommendations for a dementia adviser concierge service. A poster for carers to navigate the service network.

The outcome: Two years after the conclusion of the project the UK government published a strategy document. One recommendation, for a dementia advisor to facilitate easy access to care, support and advice following diagnosis, directly spoke to the research project i.e. the project was written into government policy. The Dementia Adviser Service is now being rolled out in the UK by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Case study 2. Low Carb lane

(internet archive link, may not be complete site)

The agency: Live|Work

Design role: Designer as provocateur

The problem: Reduce carbon footprints, while not compromising heating needs, and while tackling fuel poverty.

The challenge: By 2016 all homes to have a net zero carbon foot print with all carbon output offset by household activities.

The approach: Design research with residents of Castle Terrace.

The deliverable: A financial product concept articulated through a scenario. Called “Saverbox” it is an interest free energy loan for energy saving measures. Repayments are based on actual energy savings.

The outcome: Several years after the project a government agency released a similar product  for small business.

Ultimately what this talk spoke to was the growing scope of design. User experience design and strategy is slowly colonising problems belonging to other fields. It can do so effectively with the inclusion of the user in defining the problem and sometimes even helping to design the solution and through the use of design tools to communicate its outcomes.

Related links

The internet the world

Hungry Beast: Welcome to the new privacy

In case you missed it, watch this great essay on online privacy by Elmo Keep from Hungry Beast. Some snippets:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,”
— Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt

“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information, but more openly and with more people,”
— Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Events The internet the world

Sydney Institute: Political Abuse and the Web 15 March 2011

Tom Switzer addresses the audience at the Sydney Institute

While I found myself agreeing in small parts to the speakers at last week’s Sydney Institute, I could not agree with the pessimistic views on politics on the web. The Sydney Institute is a forum for discussion on politics and current affairs. Despite it’s decidedly conservative leanings efforts are usually made to present a somewhat balanced debate when a panel format is employed. Except in the case of last week’s selection of speakers.

, a freelance editor and writer mourned her loss of editorial clout because now anyone can publish. from The Spectator was rallying against the vitriolic comments on the blogosphere. Bernard Keane from Crikey was left to defend “the internet” which he did by unnerving the older audience with an argument that seemed to award credit for democracy but debits for insularity and fragmentation of debate once held by mainstream media.

All of the arguments made on the night have been made elsewhere with far more nuance. I have pointed to George Megalogenis’ assessment of the effects of the internet on politics by quoting relevant parts of his last Quarterly essay previously on this blog. In short the internet is quickening the news cycle, resulting in declining standards from an overworked journalistic corps. I have also pointed to discussion and essays on blogger’s snark, a topic of much discussion on the night. While one cannot argue that the internet is an idealist think space of well thought out arguments it is distorting to only point to those parts that are particularly nasty.

The discussion, or lack thereof was particularly unfocused with no one willing to define the terms clearly. There was no distinction in Tom Switzer’s assessment between amateur bloggers, blog commenters, writers and Wikileaks. The only thing they have in common is that they are distributed on the internet, and that was enough to attract Switzer’s ire. The definition of politics spanned the broad spectrum of the Marieke Hardy profile of Christopher Pyne on ABC’s The Drum to Wikileaks disclosing of Afghan nationals in leaked reports. One is commentary/satire, the other political activism (or journalism?). It was clear Tom Switzer disapproved of both with no debate from the other speakers about the merit of either.

Switzer conceded that blogger’s are changing the news landscape by creating greater scrutiny and accountability and even breaking news themselves. But his closing note was that “the voices of the sensationalists are louder than ever”. While I sat there, I couldn’t agree more.

Shelley Gare’s criticism of political debate online was confused in her own reflections on writing (one needs time away from the PC to process thoughts), and the diminishing role of the editor in the current media environment.  In her experience and opinion comments dwarfed articles, achieving nothing and contributing less. She decried the entire Q&A twitter stream, particular the contributions of well known journo @laurieoakes and @lesliecannold (Writer, Commentator, Ethicist, Researcher) and described the content and Twitter integration on Q&A as “facile and frivolous”. She wondered why anyone, let alone people of any repute would display such “random narcissism”.

Gare cited the site Larvatus Prodeo (and its comment policy) as a sole example of civility online amongst the “hate speak”. I think it was remiss that no one pointed to vibrant online communities that self moderate debate in the comments section as can be found on New Matilda. New Matilda was recently saved by crowd sourced funding. I was one such donator, and no doubt everyone involved in the effort values the publication’s independence, humour and provocative nature. If only the NM publisher’s were invited on the panel.

Lastly was Bernard Keane from Crikey describing that no one in the “ghettos of agreement” and “echo chambers” online, need come across divergent opinion. Interestingly he said that he has found his articles cut and paste onto football forums for debate. Surely this can only be a good thing as engagement with issues increases. Keane did speak well to the increased accountability that governments will face from audiences more informed of specialist issues.

I think that the more thoughtful political discussions will be had on specialist sites that attract loyal communities. The Q&A twitter stream is a mixed bag of thoughtful comments and heckling. Mainstream news sites struggle to balance focussed comment discussion with engagement when hate speech is only a field submission away. Any mainstream  site suffers quality  in the comments section. One need look no further afield than YouTube.

On the night I saw it fit to comment on the work of Open Australia—an initiative that opens political debate and awareness at a local and national level. Hopefully I did my bit to promote web virtue in a room of web cynics.


How to best use Facebook: Social Media Club 8 March 2011

Visualizing Friendships infographic by Paul Butler

The evening began with a video, then an infographic. The speaker, Facebook evangelist Paul Borrud awarded generous prizes to reinforce the stats:

  • 62% of users log in everyday
  • Average usage is 27 visits per user per month
  • 3 billion photos are uploaded per month globally

Then a history lesson:

  • The 90s web was organised around browsing
  • The 00s was the decade of search
  • The 10s sees the web organising around people, and industries organising around people, and shopping organising around people, and news and so on

This is all familiar stuff for anyone who has been following Google versus Facebook analysis. So perhaps the pitch of the night really was spend your ad dollars here, with us, not there, with them.

The evening was a sales pitch delivered to a room of mostly marketers who already know the proposition:

  • Marketing is a mix of paid (print, TV), owned (web, store front) and earned (PR, word of mouth).
  • Facebook lets you create earned at an unprecedented rate
  • Scale marketing efforts with the social graph
  • The targeted ads are deliberately simple
  • The algorithms display those friends closest to you (e.g. with “like” endorsement pages)

Social hooks: Running Facebook campaigns

I’m pretty sure everyone has clients that its almost impossible to sell a Facebook campaign too. Everyone in the large room needed to give up their seats for those for whom the social web has passed them by so they could hear the social web mantra that Facebook is not a traditional micro-site (30% of content is created by brands; 70% of content is created by users). Some choice quotes from the evening:

“You don’t have to respond to everything”

“Listen without fear. Have big ears”

These points were illustrated with a number of case studies: Toyota’s Erica’s Surprise, Old Spice, Vitamin Water. The most interesting case studies were from Chase Bank and Nike.

Chase Bank social product design and community giving

An example of product design through social networks, Chase asked US college students what they wanted from a credit card. Students wanted something that looked exclusive (black plastic) but offered a way to leverage modest points. This resulted in “karma” points that could be pooled together and shared with friends.

Students did of course pool their points together for collective reward and to help each other out. There were also 9 million recommendations to donate to charity. The product was iterated as a result to make it even easier to be philanthropic with reward points. Chase gave 5 million dollars to 200 local charities nominated by Fans as a result.

Nike World Cup Facebook campaign

The Nike World Cup campaign demonstrated that Facebook is the new terrain for guerrilla marketing. Adidas had the official sponsor status, and Nike went to Facebook advertising simultaneously across 24 countries over 1 day and became the unofficial official sponsor or sports brand of the event as a result.

New Facebook product announcements: engagement ads

Joining the Facebook product suite of like ads, video ads, polling ads and sampling ads will be:

  • Sponsored stories – “a new product to drive word of mouth at scale”; and
  • Deals  – Facebook leveraging Places for Groupon style group purchasing with more of a  flash mob feel i.e. check in and score a deal.

There were no details as to how “Sponsored Stories” would actually function. Deals seems pretty self evident. H&M, Starbucks and The Gap have trialled it and the product will launch soon in Australia.


Paul Borrud threaded authenticity as a theme for the evening. He noted that the days of kooky email addresses are gone and that:

“Its pretty unimaginable to not put your real ID online.”

Before there was no driver to update personal information, but the web has moved from the anonymous web to the authentic web. This is all true of course, but it is also priming businesses for the chaos that is social networks and a more important message that if they want to play in the space, they can’t hope to control it. The theme of authenticity went only so far though. Of course there was no discussion of vanity status updates, or other more unpleasant social phenomena on Facebook and the audience question of why there was no Dislike button was managed rather clumsily. But this is Social Media Club, not a sociology class. So on that note I will leave you with the video that began the evening.


Usability in mainstream news

Usability war stories hit the news twice yesterday. The first report detailed a software project gone bad in NSW hospital emergency departments. Its worth reading for its examples of non-existent user research practices, and the clear failing to gather the requirements and define the business rules specific to the audience and environment the software was designed to operate in. One can only assume there was no quality assurance testing to boot.

The project … had proceeded too fast – apparently because of contractual obligations – for clinicians’ feedback to influence it, Dr McCarthy said.

FirstNet, commissioned in 2008 from the US health computing giant Cerner in Missouri, insisted on redundant information, such as confirmation that male patients were not pregnant, Professor Patrick found. But it obscured essential information, forcing users to click through six screens to find the phone number of a patient’s GP. Excessive system downtime led one department to revert to a whiteboard to ensure basic patient information was accessible.

— Julie Robotham, 7 March 2011,

Worryingly this project is “part of a 10-year electronic medical records plan”. Hopefully lessons have been learned that will be carried across the programme.

In other news MediaWatch outed itself and other television stations for badly designed closed captioning. I occasionally put on teletext when the house mates are too noisy but the footage illustrates just how frustrating it must be to be hearing impaired and watch television.

MediaWatch do close the story with an example of closed captioning done well on Channel 7. Closed captions, like IT software design projects can be done well. All that is required it seems is a will and a budget to deliver a satisfactory experience.