Saturday, 5 March 2011

Letters from Australia

If you weren't already aware, I recently moved back to my home city Sydney, Australia.

Sydney skyline sunset. Photo by Sophie G.

Having been away for 3.5 years it has been a major transition to assimilate (someone said to me that moving back is like having a 'reverse culture shock.' I have to admit that comes pretty close to what I have been feeling). While I ride out the transition, I have also been exploring design here in an Australian context.

The namesake of this post is with thanks to Nick, who asked before I left London if I could begin another blog called 'Letters from Australia.' While not the name, I have begun a new blog. It's called designsydney and looks at design in an Australian context, with a particular focus on design for services, public services and positive social change.

So please visit and join my continuing adventures to explore innovative uses of design in an Australian context. I shall continue to complete my PhD research from Australia, which also means I'll continue my investigations into the changing role of the designer, with a more focused look at the value of the designer in addressing social, economic and environmental issues.

Hope to see you soon at designsydney. Otherwise please get in touch via Twitter, LinkedIn or

Monday, 6 December 2010

TEDx: Design for Health

In October this year, I attended and spoke at TEDx Design for Health conference in Montreal. The talks were broad in scope, discussing how design and designers have been making contributions in areas of health research, products, environments, services and care.

I was invited to TEDx to speak about thinkpublic's project, Alzheimer100 which formed part of Dott 07 and has also had a lasting legacy which thinkpublic Founder, Deborah Szebeko and I wrote about in our 2009 paper, Co-designing for dementia: The Alzheimer100 project.

The conference organisers asked if I could speak about the project, its approach of co-designing the future of dementia care and the impact the project has had on national UK policy. One of the key ideas to emerge from Alzheimer100 was outlined as a recommendation in the UK government's National Dementia Strategy (2009).

To give a bit of background to the event, TED is a series of talks by inspiring people who have 'ideas worth spreading' (as per TED's strapline). All the talks are accessible on the TED website and TED presents people such as Bono, Richard Branson, Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Malcolm Gladwell, Alain de Botton and the list goes on. One of my favourite talks is by Sir Ken Robinson on how school's kill creativity and I have been to the TED website countless times when I've looked to be inspired.

TEDx uses the same concept and principles of TED, only the TED brand is licensed out to organisations and institutions who can independently organise their own events. Having been a fan of TED, TEDx Montreal made me quite nervous. I was also battling jet lag (having arrived the night before the conference) and was one of the last talks of the day. But in short, the presentation, with help from thinkpublic, went well.

As mentioned, I spoke about thinkpublic's Alzheimer100 project. The project occurred in 2007 under the Dott 07 programme. thinkpublic used the approach of co-design to create ideas for what the future of dementia care could look like. A key part of the process was to create these ideas with people most affected by the disease ie. people with dementia and their carers (both formal and informal). The project resulted in a suite of innovative ideas, with a key idea being a signposting service to help people access local dementia support and services.

Presenting the Signposting Service idea at the Dott 07 Festival, 2007

It was this Signposting Service idea that inspired national UK policy recommendations to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their carers. My talk covered both the co-design process led by thinkpublic, and the legacy of the project which saw the signposting service, since renamed Dementia Advisors, be implemented in a number of sites across the UK in 2010 (at this moment in time, the Dementia Advisors service is now being evaluated by the UK Government). thinkpublic also kindly provided this 3-minute film to bring life to my talk and provide an neat overview of the project.

A100 (3 minute) from thinkpublic on Vimeo.

I always think how timely the Alzheimer100 project in 2007 was. Dementia is set to be one of the biggest social challenges of our time and a week before I left for Montreal, the World Alzheimer's Report was launched calling for all nations to make dementia a top priority. The report outlined key issues such as estimating that worldwide, the costs of dementia could top US$604 billion in 2010 and that currently, there are 35.6 million people living with dementia. The costs and number of people living with dementia are so phenomenal that there is no doubt we'll be hearing a lot more of this issue in the coming years. It'll be interesting to see where else designers can create a positive impact in helping address the challenges of dementia.

After the conference I had a lovely few days to explore Montreal. It's quite a European city, with strong French influences and very friendly people. The Latin Quarter, where I stayed and where TEDx was held, was very creative and dotted with wonderful eating places and shops. During my time in Montreal, I made the trip up to Mont Royal, with its expansive views over the city, and also went downtown, which was like a typical city of high rise buildings, shopping, museums and lots of tourists. It was a great time to be in the city as the leaves were turning colour for Autumn. As a final part of this post, here are some travel snaps.

The Hotel de I'Institut in the Latin Quarter where I stayed

The view from my room, looking toward Mont Royal and the Autumn coloured city

On the streets of the Latin Quarter (just up the road from the hotel)

On the streets of the Latin Quarter (just up the road from the hotel)

Downtown Montreal

The Plateau, which is heading uptown and toward Mont Royal

A view from Mont Royal

The Twin 6' Hearts sculpture by by Jim Dine (1999) outside the Montreal Museum of Fine Art (which had free entry to the permanent exhibition)

Chocolate fondue at Juliette et Chocolat

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

London Service Design Christmas Drinks

Since 2008, London has been host to the service design community almost every month with Service Design Drinks nights at various locations around the city.

What started off a small gathering of service designers a few years ago has grown to monthly drinks nights, a handful of Service Design Thinks events, having its own website and now 14 (and growing) international cities in different countries all over the world doing the same thing.

On 3 December 2010 we'll be celebrating a special London Service Design Christmas Drinks.

It will be my last in London, as I head back to Australia to live in December this year. So if you're free this Friday and interested in service design and having a drink with the community please join us at the Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell to say 'hello' and also 'goodbye' (until I'm back to visit London in the future).

The Slaughtered Lamb has been one of our favourite locations for drinks. It can get pretty busy on Fridays so if you're coming along, it'd be great if you could wear something red so we can spot you in the crowd.

While I am sad to leave the London service design community, I look forward to connecting with the Sydney service design community, who were actually the first city to sign onto There's no doubt there's lots to discover, exchange and share back in my home city.

On the note of leaving London, this blog will still continue until I come to the end of my PhD. I have a few other plans in the works, so watch this space for updates. Till then, hope to see you at Service Design Drinks!

Friday, 19 November 2010

The different roles of the designer and their value

The annual bbetween journal was published by Billy Blue College of Design and 2nd Road (both in Australia) in August this year. The topic was 'the value of design (thinking)' and there were many great contributors (check out the list here).

This year's bbetween journal cover

I submitted a paper about three (of the seven) roles of the designer I have been exploring in my PhD research. These roles were the designer as strategist, researcher and facilitator. The Dott 07 projects of Urban Farming, Design and Sexual Health (DaSH) and OurNewSchool were used to illustrate these roles of the designer and their value. If you'd like a read, download the bbetween paper here. Otherwise the key points were that:
  • The designer as researcher: Uses design research for inspiration, not only information, to inspire new ideas and opportunities;

  • The designer as strategist: Connects organisations to the real-life experiences of people to inform and influence strategic decision-making; and

  • The designer as facilitator: Adds tools to the facilitator’s toolbox to engage stakeholders and inspire their creativity to understand challenges and create innovative responses to them.
Having almost completed my PhD, I have seen that when we take a detailed look at the roles of the designer and compare and contrast these to roles in other professions, it becomes clearer where designers add value and have synergy to work collaboratively with other disciplines to tackle society’s most challenging issues.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Co-designing for Society (journal paper)

This year the Australasian Medical Journal (AMJ) ran another special Design + Health edition to explore ideas in designing for health. Deborah Szebeko, founder of social design agency thinkpublic and I followed up our previous year's Co-designing for Dementia: The Alzheimer100 Project (2009) paper with this new one called, Co-designing for Society (2010).

In this paper, we elaborate more on co-design, its approach, tools, processes and practices using several of thinkpublic's projects. At the end of the paper we also touch on what next for co-design, especially in line with the political climate here in the UK where the Coalition advocates Building Big Society which sees “a society where the leading force for progress is social responsibility, not state control.”

The Design Council have also been actively exploring co-design and organising discussions among the design community to understand the practice better. Check out their published summary here.

Monday, 25 October 2010

'Personal projects'

It's been a long time since I have posted here, and I make no excuses except to say that finishing a PhD is the hardest and longest process ever! But more on that later...

Today, I felt compelled to post something after a Skype chat this morning with my friend Natalie's MA Design class. This post is not just for designers, but everyone, who seeks a space for themselves that is totally their own. It's not a physical space, but a mental one. This space lets you explore your own ideas, passion and interests. It's what Ji Lee (a Creative Director a Google) calls 'personal projects.'

I first encountered Ji and Ji's personal projects in 2008 at the Graphic Design Festival Breda in the Netherlands (an earlier blog post and some photos can be found here). I was struck by Ji's Bubble Project. And on many levels. The Bubble Project is about giving a voice to the public in the one-way communication culture of advertising and media that surrounds us. Empty white speech bubbles on ads invite the public to fill in their own commentary.

I love the idea for inspiring the creativity of people, of giving them a voice, and also for the fun it evokes (check out some bubbles here on Flickr). A lot of it was reminiscent of the Dott 07 projects and there was no doubt that Ji and his project would be appearing somewhere in my PhD thesis.

But there was another level of Ji's project that interested me. That was the idea of doing 'personal projects.' Those projects where you give yourself the space, time and permission to explore and pursue your passionate interests that exist outside of work. I can already hear questions such as, 'But what if I don't have the time?' so I'm going to leave you for 8 minutes with Ji, and let him tell you a bit about the Bubble Project and explain what he's learnt about doing personal projects, including some thoughts about the concept of time. I hope it helps inspire the creation of your own space to pursue and explore passionate interests, just like Ji did.

Ji Lee: The Transformative Power of Personal Projects from 99% on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Service Design Drinks, 30 April 2010

I've lost count of how many Service Design Drinks nights we've had here in London, and I'm also losing count of how many cities are joining the international network at! Awesome.

Last month, Service Design Drinks London happened on Friday 30 April on the top floor of the Old Crown.

This was a new venue for us and we had a private room, bar and DJ (thanks Jaimes!). The venue was a great size for the 60-something people who came along on the night (I did a head count based on the number of white name tags gave out that night).

I should also mention that in the room we had present city coordinators from four other international cities. These were Martin and Daniela, who host Berlin and Cologne (Germany); Re who hosts Dublin (Ireland); and Bas and Geke who host Amsterdam (Netherlands).

Top floor at the Old Crown (image from the Old Crown website)

Top floor at the Old Crown at Service Design Drinks London

You can probably just make out in the photo above, a projector screen in the background. In the week leading up Drinks, we put a call out for visuals of service design projects which would run as a slide show throughout the night. At such short notice, we received some really awesome visuals. Here's a taster below...

PhD researcher Dan Lockton (UK) sent us some of his work and research on Design with Intent: Using design to influence behaviour. If you are interested in exploring how design can shape human behaviour, Dan's website is definitely worth a visit.

The Design with Intent toolkit 1.0 by Dan Lockton

Interaction Designer, Roberta Tassi (Italy) sent us some visuals from the Service Design Tools website which she developed out of her university research in 2008. The visual map below shows and catergorises all the service design tools that feature on the website.

Roberta Tassi's Service Design Tools map

We also received service design work from as far abroad as Australia. Alex Cheek of 2nd Road (Australia) where I worked long ago, sent us 2nd Road's work on an Experience Portfolio which was done for a large service organisation. The Experience Portfolio is a loose-bound set of cards that shows photos, stories, needs and design principles that were used in the re-design of the organsiation's services.

Experience Portfolio by 2nd Road

Finally, thinkpublic (UK) sent us some visuals from two of their projects, one being You Can Kingston. This project looked at improving health services and activities of local communities in Kingston. Visit the website to find out more, or see the DesignWeek article 'Think Public battles health inequalities through design’ which profiled the project last year.

You Can Kingston project by thinkpublic

The slide show provided a colourful backdrop to the night. We also had a Twitter feed running at one point. After hours of drinking and talking about service designing, Service Design Drinks London came to a close for another month. It was a fantastic night and we're in planning mode for the next Drinks and Thinks in London, so keep an eye out at and/or join the mailing list here.

Hope that's enough of an insight for those who couldn't make it to the latest Service Design Drinks in London. For the contributors of our slideshow, it was fantastic you could have a presence on the night (especially those abroad). A big thank you to Dan, Roberta, Alex and Paul (of thinkpublic) and best wishes for forthcoming events in Berlin, Cologne, Dublin and Amsterdam!