Learning through making

Earlier in the year I had the good fortune of presenting to a class from the University of Technology, Sydney’s Interaction Design course. As someone who occasionally hires designers, experience in user testing and a sincere integration of users in the design process is what makes candidates stand out. Why? Because this is what reduces errors, minimizes IT and build change requests and helps ensure users can understand and use our products. It’s a mistake to think something has to be detailed and almost production-ready to be tested. Test ideas, test sketches, test digital, test services. Test early, iteratively and often.

Design Research

An entire design approach laid out

There are some  great UX/UCD resources online — my favourites to date have been Service Design Tools and more recently UX Mastery. But today I was knocked out by the phenomenal effort to define and encapsulate design research activities in a cohesive project framework. It was all revealed by a rather innocuous tweet that did not quite foretell the brilliance ahead.

"Produced by CFC Medialab as part of the IdeaBoost Accelerator in conjunction with Professor Suzanne Stein of OCAD University."
“Produced by CFC Medialab as part of the IdeaBoost Accelerator in conjunction with Professor Suzanne Stein of OCAD University.”


The CFC Medialab in conjunction with Professor Suzanne Stein of OCAD University have produced a comprehensive user research and design resource for the UCD community. Unsurprisingly hundreds of people were involved in the creation of this repository. Go check it out:

Events Service design

Co-design in the social sphere – Sydney Design Festival

If you’re interested in co-design you should look check out the “Designing With” event series which is being held as part of the Sydney Design Festival running 3-18th August 2013.

The first event will be an introduction to Social Design which promises case studies where design methods and co-design have been applied to such contexts as Corrective Services and aboriginal health on North Stradbroke Island. The second round covers co-design and local government and there is a wrap-up night as well.

Tickets are on sale at Eventbrite. For more information or to register
Check out the “Designing With” event page:
Designing with on Facebook:

Events Service design

Design Thinking Drinks with Chris Vanstone: Creating social start-ups

Design Thinking Drinks is an event organised by Deborah Kneeshaw and sponsored by Thoughtworks. It’s on every couple of months and last week’s event attracted a big and curious crowd for Chris Vanstone design co-lead of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) and one of the founders of agency In With For.

The speaker:

Chris Vanstone – previously a founding member of Participle and participant in the UK Design Council’s RED service design program which involved design agencies in social welfare, health and public housing design projects. The RED project provided some fascinating case studies and Chris has brought that experience to Australia. South Australian to be exact whose government provided seed funding for TASCI.

The model:

Develop “social start-ups” with design thinking methods:

  • Defining the problem/s with evidence based and participatory research. Conceive the solution from the problems evident in the data (from the ground up) as opposed to prescribing them with policy from the “top down”.
  • Prototyping and iterative stages to both service delivery and tools used e.g. test what training is required, prototype service interaction to develop service blueprints, test the skills and capabilities required for roles, test and iterate measurement tools
  • Follow various stages of incubation to launch fully fledged social services
  • Build teams around the solution that can keep iterating and developing the service

The projects:

Family by Family, A Bit Better, Weavers, Sharing Zone Co, Meals with Mates, The Opp Store and Care Reflect.

The tools of service design implementation

The hope:

That alternatives to government funding will provide resources for incubated services to continue and for the “business models” of the social start-ups to stand-up as self-sustaining and self-funding entities. It will be interesting to see what happens when the South Australian government seed funding ceases.

My take-aways:

This was an energising presentation and In With For’s model of mixing the expertise of design with business development and social science demonstrated compelling stories.

My main take-away from the night was to pursue methods of measurement for service design projects as a design challenge in their own right.

Read more about the talk and the case studies presented over at the official event blog (it has much nicer photos too):


Co-design with stakeholders and customers. Together. You say what?

Matt Hogdson, awsome conference speaker, and writer of things IA and UX, and agile posted a blog about UCD. Intrigued I asked a question in the comments, and got a whole blog post as a response on getting stakeholders and users together in a workshop for co-design magic! Wow!

It’s a good read to boot. If you haven’t been so inclined as to click on any of the other links referenced thus far check it out:

Design Events

Design Thinking: Penny Hagen, 2 February 2011

What are social technologies: Penny Hagen @ Design Thinking

Where have I been all this time that Design Thinking has been meeting? I have no context to this event, other than to say that more events were promised, which going by this week’s standard can only be an awesome thing.


  • Getting to sticky beak at Digital Eskimo’s oh so cute offices.
  • The Eskimos! Despite the mandatory photo on entrance (that was like a border crossing!) the Digital Eskimo guys were the most hospitable folks ever. Wine in hands, snacks in sight, they were ever so lovely and chatty hosts. The photos did come out nice though.
  • The suggestion that banks, who have to face the sensitive issue of money that no one likes to talk about, can learn from sexual health, something else people don’t like to talk about.

Now to the talk! Penny Hagen presented on her doctoral paper: Social technologies, participation, design methods. The central question being how to support and frame participation in the design process when using social technologies? The social technologies in question are the usual suspects: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc. And you can guess that if people are participating in the design and/or research process using these methods that the design process is in the “wild”, so to speak. The sticky issue is that design practice and research are public but the advantages are a “design that emerges through use, which is hard to simulate in the studio”.

Available examples of “design in the wild” exist: Threadless, the P&G open initiative, Crowdspring, 99 designs and more. But what of the crowd? How can it be harnessed so design by community doesn’t become design by committee? Penny outlined two models to describe this design process:

  1. iterative design
  2. emergent design

Iterative is what we have seen with the continuous Google beta launches and subsequent product improvements. Emergent is the evolution of the design through use and prototype. Interestingly the latter model was described as not necessarily having to illicit requirements at the start of the process. If I understood it correctly (please correct me if I am mistaken in the comments), the design process can begin by prototyping with an existing and available technology, to address the design problem and see how people use it.

Simultaneous design and use: Penny Hagen @ Design Thinking

Concurrent design, research and use: Penny Hagen @ Design Thinking

Keen to see how they could adopt a more experimental approach the audience discussion centred around how to convince clients to let them get away with an approach that, at the outset, may not have a defined process let alone a predictable outcome. Unfortunately I missed the second discussion and the playtime at the studio afterwards. Thankfully, another event is promised in April at the Arthouse.

Penny has presentations on participatory design practices on Slideshare, is published in industry mags, and chats on Twitter. The Moggill community digital noticeboard case study cited in the presentation is available online. A much better write up of the event was captured Sketch note style by Ben Crothers. And lastly, if one of the organisers can respond with how to get on their database for the April event announcement, that would be grand.