Research Side Projects

How are career pathways navigated by humanities graduates?

research participants banner

After initially thinking art school served no link to future work I found that it was the perfect education for a job that, at the time of my graduation, had not even been invented yet.

Twenty years later I’ve decided to revisit this question – with a potential project in mind – to help creative arts and humanities students and graduates explore career pathways.

I’m currently conducting research interviews and seeking participants for 45-60 minute conversation to explore the needs and experiences of students and graduates of creative arts, humanities, and related degrees in relation to career pathways.

This audience research will inform a concept for a potential new website. The website aims to share career journeys and stories of arts graduates who are advanced in their careers to help current students and graduates navigate their ambiguous futures.

If you would like to participate or have any comments or thoughts on the general concept please do comment here.


Exactly this

Is your team healthy?

Dave Malouf, design ops leader shared his expertise on understanding, measuring, and managing the health of design teams. The talk was focussed on design but the principles could be applied to any creative, marketing, development or consulting contexts, if not others.

The event held on May 15, was hosted by the Design Ops meetup crew and like many other meetups in these COVID lock-down times was held online. I’m sure I’ll return to these notes many times so I’ve taken the time to share the presentation and the Q&A in some detail here.



  • Serendipity, association by design
  • Formulation and processes that look at exploration
  • Critique
  • Storytelling – giving it place and purpose and understand to evaluate
    places to externalize work – compared not just by us and others

How to measure it? 

  • Ideas generated by rounds of work
  • How many critique sessions? Quality of critiques.
  • Can anyone show work at any time, ask for help at any time?



  • Bringing the outside world into the organisation
  • Synthesising to inform new ideas
  • Interacting with people (research subjects)

How to measure it? 

  • Insights that are usable
  • Do people understand your product/experience? Can it be found?
  • Using SUS, asking and measuring did we make it better, are we moving forward?
  • Is what we are creating valuable?
  • Is research or testing performed with a regular cadence?
  • Are stakeholders regularly in contact with end-customers (cited Jared Spool’s concept of regular contact hours – e.g. a regular cadence of 2 hrs every 6 weeks)



  • Co-creating with people in and out of the organisation

How to measure it? 

  • Looking at design-related user stories in backlog against what is output at the end of the sprint



  • Clear mission vision and goals
  • Clear roles and responsibilities for the design team, within and across teams, and further out in the organisation

How to measure it? 

  • Surveys and instruments to understand if the team is communicating well



  • Flow, team performance, a team that feels they are contributing
  • … as opposed to a team that is over-stressed, burnt out, doing more than they should be doing

How to measure it? 

  • Are the team providing referrals?
  • Surveys, does the team feel they are doing work they should not be doing?

The measures were both quantitative and qualitative. Dave Malouf described that some vital signs of team performance are clear and can be measured, instrumented, and quantified. Other signs are qualitative – looking at things that are observable and having things that can be compared against.

An interesting discussion followed, expertly facilitated by the hosts considering it was all online. Dave expanded on what he is doing with his relatively new team outlining that they are creating their own vital signs and measuring engagement via pulse surveys. This has included setting heuristic standards based on principles. I was particularly interested in this as while I’ve answered employee engagement survey questions about company values I’ve never thought to quantify what teams I’ve led thought of the culture in relation to principles we have agreed to.

Understanding of roles and confusing titles was another issue spoken about, which has impacted hiring through to promotion and giving feedback to people. This is being addressed by rebuilding the ladder and creating a new measurement based on that.

Engagement is so often tied to meaningful work. A solution to understanding the type of work being performed was to measure the proportion of time spent on value-adding strategic work versus time spent on operational tasks.

Other questions and answers were:

Audience Question: How do you tackle the challenges of remote asynchronous work versus real-time work?
Dave Malouf: What’s missing from distributed teams (and any team more than 100 designers is distributed) is passive transparency and being able to see externalised work.

Audience Question: How do you coach your team?
DM: Take interest in the individual goals of people, where they want to be in 5 years, and then figure out how to get them there. Dave added to this that he is “real” with people, work structures are pyramids and their goal might not be reached at that workplace. He asks them to find a job description that makes them hungry -which is used as a tool to identify gaps to fill.

Audience Question: How do you balance collaboration when you are dealing with an overly competitive coworker?
DM: Manages toxic personalities by using principles and values to help people make decisions — some of those decisions are around who does what when? Who speaks when? Competitive people often see themselves as hardworking, ambitious, confident not competitive. You need to step up and gain visibility of how to do that for the better

Also, recognise the nature of the situation — is it competitiveness? Refreshingly Dave Malouf recognised the privilege and “culture of patriarchy” and learning to recognise behaviour that wasn’t uninclusive – and calling each other out.

Audience Question: How can you ask for constructive feedback from clients?
DM: Often clients come back with recommendations not constructive feedback. Use retros during the project.

So many of the issues were all too familiar and it was energising and heartening for me that care for people and culture was the topic. This — if not anything else, proves the value of thinking about design ops and design leadership as disciplines in their own right. 

The Work Experience

Same page

Events Research

Conducting qualitative research during COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed everything in our lives. Dr Deborah Lupton asked how can fieldwork continue now that researchers cannot simply meet with participants? The responses from her Twitter and academic community resulted in a crowdsourced resource – Doing fieldwork in a pandemic which outlines alternative methods to qualitative research. She shared this in a fully subscribed webinar hosted by QRS international.

Digital and analogue methods featured heavily as alternatives to qualitative fieldwork. Expected alternatives included

  • Phone interviews
  • Online research platforms (that can be set up by a market research company)
    • see in real-time what people are typing online (and avoids transcription)
  • Apps and social media – public and private Facebook groups, Reddit, etc
  • Online surveys
  • Scanning social media

Dr Upton emphasised novel approaches – and made me reflect on whether my own research practice could do with reinjection of creative techniques. These included:

  • Photo and video voice elicitation
    • probes that can be shared via mobile phone
    • talking and messaging in real-time
  • Re-enactment videos followed up with discussion online
  • Story completion method where people are given the beginning of a story to complete
    • Can be done via pen and paper or online using survey platform
    • Helpful for researching sensitive or highly personal topics as participants can project their experience to a hypothetical third person.
  • Epistolary interviews asynchronous, one-to-one interviews mediated by technology.
    • e.g. using email, and/or Microsoft Word to go back and forth
    • Allows time to build a relationship with the participant

There was a big emphasis on diary studies and journaling, as an alternative to ethnographic field research and interviews with lots of questions. This included creative methods as prompts for future phone and online discussion

  • Paper diaries that can be mailed, online diary platforms, or simply emailing Word docs
  • Including creative exercises such as drawings, handwritten creative responses, mapping exercises, letters, cultural probes, zine-making and collages where images are taken from magazines and words added

Revisit ethics

Dr Lupton emphasised ethical considerations of remote research in the COVID-19 context

  • People may be experiencing additional anxiety
  • The privacy of conducting remote fieldwork in shared spaces – people are now stuck in their homes with family all around them
  • People may be experiencing disrupted family relationships, violence, may be unwell, have underlying chronic health issues
  • Digital data privacy management

In some contexts, including academic contexts, the response to these considerations will require new approvals by ethics committees. In all contexts, researchers need to build trust with participants and demonstrate an understanding of the difficulties that different people are experiencing.

Everything has changed

Dr Upton believes any research of any subject will now be in the context of COVID-19.  She argued we are all COVID researchers now. The social impact of this pandemic is unknown. Upton cautioned that now is not the right time to dive into research – there’s an adjustment period and people are feeling traumatised, worried and anxious, wondering what will be happening with their lives. As researchers, we need to pause, ‘read the room’ and understand the affective atmospheres of when to do applied research. We need to protect the wellbeing of participants and ourselves and consider the timeframes when we and participants will be ready.

Alongside the wonderfully nerdy method catalogue, Upton reminded us that “this will be a long moment.”

References and links:

Events Service design

Is good content service design? And how do you deliver it?

Thank you to everyone at IXDA Sydney — especially Joe and Lisa who were no sooner off the plane from the IXDA international conference in Milan, than they were hosting another event and sharing what they learned.

The Feb 20 IXDA gathering headline speaker was Mel Flanagan from Nook Studios who shared Nook’s case studies and approach. Check out Nook’s site for the government case studies outlined on the night.

Nook’s approach is content first, participatory, highly visual, and user-centred. The government case studies featured websites, brochures, and videos. Examples reimagined maps to overlay other information like policy data. Others included visual representations of process and legislation to show where people fit in. One such visualisation influenced the government department involved to create an extra step in their process for community consultation and outreach. This shows the power of reimagining and ‘evidencing’ experiences.

Here is what I took away and took notice of from the evening.

Reframing service design with content strategy

  • Services don’t work without content. Content is central to the experience
  • If you are not being content-first you are making transactions, not experiences
  • Get to know the policy, how the money flows, the time involved, the material flows – to then map and visualise a process that people can make sense of and use

“Content design is service design” Mel Flanagan, Nook Studios.

Content and information design is service design

  • Consider, what the user journey is and should be, and what the content experience should be to support it
  • What information do people need to know and understand across their journey? (Mel spoke of creating technical maps, story maps, and policy maps).
  • What decisions is the user informing?
  • Who do they need to go to? What are their rights?

“A lot of what we are doing is map making” Mel Flanagan, Nook Studios

Redesign the project

  • Gather data and content first
  • Have a content team from the start to avoid the ‘content crisis’ that occurs when project development and design streams progress too far without content. After all, what can you launch without content?
  • Rethink “discovery” phrase – include an explicit pre-design phase to understand objectives, audiences, stakeholders and importantly to also understand the context, data, and what content exists now
  • Include participation with stakeholders at every step
  • Optimise your workflow and design process to produce the digital experience with print artefacts

As always, be human-centred

  • Get to know your audience to give them what they need
  • Take a participatory approach with stakeholders
  • Test concepts with the target audience/end-users