Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Touchpoint (service design journal) and other service design knowledge disseminations

The Service Design Network has just released Touchpoint, a journal about service design. Some of the content reviews the Service Design Conference held in Amsterdam last year.

If you are looking for other (more academic) reading on service design....
  • The Service Design Network provides a neat list here.
  • Service designer and long-time service design blogger, Jeff Howard, also compiled a great collection of service design-related articles, mostly from business and marketing journals here.
  • In 2006-7, Lucy Kimbell and Victor Seidel, set up an academic research project called, Designing for Services, which looked at observing and understanding service design in science and technology SMEs. Live|work, IDEO and Radarstation were the design consultancies who participated in the project. I blogged the event on my travel blog here.

    D4S produced a blog, short film and publication which brings together multi-disciplinary perspectives on service design (highly recommended alongside Jeff's website to get a good grasped of the state of service design).

Some service design researcher blogs I know of include:
Some service designer blogs I know of include:
Finally don't forget previous postings on this blog:

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Communicating to the Public: Vitae Poster Competition

Last week I visited a sun-drenched Leeds University for a poster competition to communicate PhD research to the public. The event was organised by Vitae an organisation funded by the Research Councils UK (a partnership between 7 UK Research Councils) to help bring commercial skills to postgraduate researchers to increase their employability to industry. If you are a PhDer they have a great site of resources.

Vitae called for submissions of abstracts, which were proposals for our posters. From this, 100 PhD students were selected to design a poster in jargon-free language that a non-subject specialist could read in 5 minutes. This was the key judging criteria.

There were 5 Northumbria PhD students selected to submit posters. I met them and two staff from the Graduate School to spend the day viewing posters, having conversations about research and attending two very interesting presentations.

The first presentation was on opening us up to taking our research out in the public media space. Some ideas were to:
  • Make a documentary
  • Design a children's storybook
  • Approach newspapers and magazines (as journalists are always looking for news)
  • Use the internet
  • Approach the University press office
The second presentation was about commercialising scientific research. The research was on the ability of our ear to detect the location of sound. The research found that while the ear was good at detecting the location of sound, it could not detect the location of sirens due to their frequency. In times of crisis, we need to be directed by our senses. Fires are the worst because in low visibility, we cannot see green exit lights nor can the ear detect the location of the siren.

This research went on to develop a low frequency siren that could direct people in low visibility. The siren has since been adopted by ships, universities and in vehicular tunnels. The key message here was to encourage us to seek a connection in our research to real-life situations.

But back to the posters... I found the poster exercise and event really valuable. The process of designing the poster meant I had to try and put the bulk of my PhD on one page. Here's a photo of my poster

The poster submissions were very impressive and there was great variety. From seeing others and the winning posters, I definitely got a good feel for what I could do next time to better engage the general public in my research.

At the event I also found it really valuable to have a conversation about my poster. I had a few requests to talk through the poster and this helped me see that some of my language use could be improved.

If you are a PhD researcher, I would really encourage designing posters to communicate research. Throughout my PhD I have been doing 'one-pagers' to quickly disseminate and share ideas.
It's a fun process, it makes you think and it allows people to have a conversation with you about your research which helps refine language and clarify thinking.

A PhD friend of mine once said she felt "really uninspired" sitting infront of a blank Word document
. I think we would be less inclined to feel uninspired infront of Indesign or a blank sheet of paper with a pen- ready to sketch, map, draw or even write.

I found a paper recently which assembled An Evolving Map of Design Research and Design Practice of which the author visually mapped design research and then wrote an accompanying narrative. I think this is a great technique to employ and the Dubberly Design Office (where I found the paper) presents some excellent and engaging examples of concept maps to get one started.

At the end of the Vitae event, most of us didn't walk away with prizes (there could only be 3 winners- 1st, 2nd and 3rd!). But we did walk away with exposure to loads of other PhD research and more ideas to better communication our research to the public.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Cornwall, the next region to host Dott

I thought you'd appreciate some lovely photos from Cornwall, the next region where Dott will take place. I was down in Falmouth other week to give a presentation on my research and stayed at the very nice Greenbank Hotel.

I didn't know what I to expect but Cornwall was stunning. And a stark contrast to the city. I love the seaside towns, tiny streets and the surf shops dotted along the High Street which reminded me of Australia.

View from a room

The houses on North Parade

High Street, Falmouth

Cornwall fish and chips

Friday, 24 April 2009

Design in Alternative Futures at the Design Council

It has been at least 6 months since the design community I know convened as we did at the Design Council last night.

The design and public sector community came together at the Design Council to attend an event called Design in Alternative Futures. The invited presenter was Dr Alex King from the Horizon Scanning Centre, a Government department that research, among other things, future scenarios to inform policy.

King’s presentation was interesting for a few reasons but mostly (for me, especially in consideration of my research) for the methodological side. King presented and characterized 4 future scenarios of where society could go (if not already there):
  • Perpetual Motion: An open and individualist society contextualized by free markets;
  • Shaken Open: An open and collective society, such as those common to Europe;
  • Self-service: A closed and individualistic society which perpetuates a focus inwards and toward family;
  • Protective Collective: A closed but collective society which advocates national identity.
Scenarios were certainly talked of in the Dott 07 projects. A regular question asked throughout the programme was ‘how do you want to live?’ and many of the projects proposed new and different scenarios dealing with issues in health, education, food, mobility and energy.

Designers commonly research, project and communicate future scenarios. Consultancies such as Sense Worldwide forecast trends using design-led research tools and my PhD buddy Ben is currently undertaking research that deals with future scenarios in post-crash worlds.

Skills and tools possessed by designers can help inform strategy, policy, planning, brands… and it was interesting to see King’s approach to such research and extrapolations. King’s scenarios work was undertaken over an 8-month period and included:
  • workshops
  • interviews
  • online brainstorms
  • stakeholder meetings
  • research (am guessing desk and literature) and
  • expert meetings
We had a great Q&A session afterward. You can always bank on designers to ask the good questions. Some asked: How were the scenarios presented to Government? How much impact did the research really have on policy development? Was the research used as reflective and learning tools in Government? And how do we, as designers, use this kind of research in our own work?

The last question I felt was probably the missing link for most of the audience and I wondered if King’s work, which intervenes and informs at the policy level, was a mismatch to the level most designers currently intervene in business, society and Government?

King presented fascinating and well-delivered research on future scenarios that got most of us thinking- what and how could designers contribute here? I don’t know if we are quite at the stage of informing policy yet. Though I suspect we should be in the future.

Here are some other reflections on last night's event:
We are: blogging

London / Service / Design / Drinks

If you're interested in service designing, design thinking and drinking, tonight the third London / Service / Design /Drinks will be held in Clerkenwell.

If you would like more info and/or to join, please RSVP Nick at

No worries if you can't make tonight- There will be others to follow! Watch this space.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Reflections on Writing Across Boundaries, 30-31 March 2009

The focal point of the Writing Across Boundaries project is an annual workshop held in Durham. The workshop is aimed at third year doctoral students who are completing theses based on qualitative data and explores the relationship between data collection, analysis, and interpretation in the act of writing. Students are invited to reflect on the writing process itself as a form of social science thinking. Writing up from qualitative data can be a challenging but rewarding experience, and Writing Across Boundaries provides the forum for students to explore the theory and practice while still under the expert guidance of their supervisors.


Early Monday morning I set off north to the pretty town of Durham for a two day residential to attend the Writing Across Boundaries (WaB) 2009 workshop. The workshop intended to bridge that “scary gap” from one's PhD data collection to writing up the thesis. It also had a secondary aim to be a time of reflection on our PhDs and on writing.

Bob Simpson (Durham University) and Robin Humphrey (Newcastle University) were the conveners and accommodating hosts to some-45 students over two days and one night at Durham University’s Holgate House, nestled in the countryside among gentle hills and lofty trees of Durham county.

In the workshops, we formed a few friendships, enjoyed loads of food and coffee, talked about writing and listened to an interesting mix of presentations on writing. The presentations came from many different perspectives such as:
  • How creative writing techniques can help in PhD writing;
  • The use of digital technologies as a possibility to go beyond writing;
  • How the act of writing helps one theorise;
  • The concept of the audience and the author’s standpoint.
But the most valuable (and I think much of the group would agree) was the opening panel of past PhDers who had attended WaB before completing the write-up of their theses. The past PhDers had all recently completed and passed their viva (an oral defense of one’s PhD). They spoke candidly about their PhD experience- previous and post-WaB workshop- and how the workshop contributed to the writing of their theses. There was a great Q&A session after the panel spoke, illuminating some of the most critical issues among the WaB group including:
  • The final thesis looks nothing like the initial proposal: All PhDers submit a proposal before starting their PhD to let their sponsors and/or Universities know what they are looking to find out. These proposals are quite specific and often throughout the research process many PhD’s end looking very different to the initial proposal. One person at the workshop put it well by saying that all proposal's should just state: “give me time and money and I’ll tell you something interesting.”
  • The “circulatory” of the PhD process: There seemed to be a consensus among the WaB group that a PhD is not a linear process, but a circular one. Some of us have found that we cannot retrofit existing theories to our research. This has required us to go back to discover, think and reflect more on what our research is telling us. Presenter Jennifer Mason actually said that a very few of us would be able to fit an existing theory neatly on top of our research and that most, would probably draw from many theories (ditto for me);
  • The issue of honesty: This “circularity” can be an issue in a PhD, especially in terms of how honest one should about finding out that your initial hypothesis is disproved by the qualitative data. The panel advised to be honest. They had been and it added value to their research analysis.
  • Kick starting confidence: The panel said the word “kick start” a lot i.e. that the workshop kick started their write up phase. It gave them a “permission” and confidence to go ahead a write up;
  • The idea of two theses: We talked a lot about the idea of having 2 theses. The first being the focused and “polished" one we submit, and the second being the one that pays homage to all dimensions of our research (the successes, the failures, the off-in-a-tangent thoughts etc). Bob mentioned that these dimensions were really important, and that through writing we could “rehearse and exhaust them.” Personally, I think it'd be great if PhDers could write a book as their second PhD;
  • The 'so what?' question: The 'so what' and the 'why' of one’s research is so important to remember- Why we are doing the research? What value is it contributing? Answering these reminds us of all the reasons for our commitment, of 3 or more years, to one piece of work.

Some practical steps toward writing

As well as workshop reflections, I also wanted to share here some practical steps for getting over the 'writer’s block' we all meet at some stage in the process. Here are some practical steps I noted down during the workshop that might help kick start the writing:
  • If you are not doing well to engage with reams of transcripts from interviews, one of the PhDers at WaB suggested picking up a transcript, picking an issue you see within it and writing about it. He mentioned one thing just lead to another...;
  • Ask a question, then write a response to it;
  • Jot down notes of thoughts about your research. Then write in examples and explain them;
  • Think less academic-speak and start writing things as you would say them. Think about how you would want it to be heard and received by someone;
  • Just do it: easy to say, but not so easy to do. One key reflection I took away from WaB was that writing-up was about confidence. WaB was about sharing all our issues and finding out that others experience and think in the same way too. For me, I know I always struggle with wondering if I am doing the right thing or not, and this can be a huge time waster. Now I would say- just do it, because all my doubts and questions, in terms of what I have been doing, were more than validated at WaB.

Some things to consider when writing up the thesis:

So we're over the writing block, but WaB pointed out some important things to consider:
  • Audience: Who is your audience will tell you a lot about how you should write, what you should write and what language to use;
  • Situating yourself in the thesis: How do you bring yourself into the thesis? After all, we all had a story and a reason for doing the research in the first place;
  • Keep the passion in the text: Don’t detach yourself too much in the write up;
  • Voice: Consider who’s perspective you tell the story from. One exercise we did was to write about someone irritating we knew from a first person, second person and third person perspective.
  • “The fine line”: In our last activity we got into groups to discuss some pieces of literature that we read before the workshop. We had to collectively list 5 reflections on the literature. My group talked and questioned a lot about how far we go on each side of the “fine line”. This is in terms of writing as:
Objective <----> emotive
(Where do we situate our viewpoint?
Taking into consideration that we are writing an academic thesis
but also want to engage the reader?)

Formal <----> informal
(How specifically do we quote people speaking in the thesis?)

Theory <----> narrative
(Could we weave theory and narrative together as well as Bryon Good did in his book, Medicine, rationality, and experience: An Anthropological Perspective)

Absent <----> reflexive
(Where do we situate ourselves in the thesis?)

Sensitive <----> literal
(How do we deal with ethics in qualitative research?)

There are so many more smaller reflections and notes I have from the workshop, but this is not the space for it all so I am going to finish up here. I thought WaB was a really valuable time of reflection in the middle of one’s PhD. The workshops brought a heightened sense of awareness to, and consideration of, one of the most important communication devices in human life- writing.

Walking to the train station, towards Durham Cathedral, after the WaB workshop