Design Research Strategy

Resource list



Reflecting on work

  • An incredibly rich source of career and management advice vitamins. The podcast series on how to write your resume is both instructive and hilarious.
  • Bob Sutton is the Professor of Management Science at the Stanford Engineering School and author of The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss Bad Boss. His writing on organisations is evidence-based so the next time some fad comes your way, check-in with Bob’s articles and blog.


Design practice

Remote research

Technology opinion

Human directory

  • Directories crafted and curated by actual humans used to be a big thing, and was a reason why Yahoo! was a thing before Google. While they may seem anachronistic compared to search they can uncover gold hard to find in your personalised search echo chamber.

For design and product inspiration and curiosities


Do you have a trusty go-to resource? Let me know what it is in the comments.

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):

Design The Work Experience

Rewarding exploration over exploitation

How HR can influence an innovative culture through selection and rewarding exploration over exploitation: Roger Martin talks ‘design thinking’

[tentblogger-youtube ZTgVYjp98Zk]

Events Service design

Service design drinks 12 with Marc Stickdorn

Marc Stickdorn is an academic and author of This is Service Design Thinking so we were more than lucky to have him address the group. Stickdorn teaches to both design and business students.

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

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.