As I type this the 2015 Leeds GovJam is about to kick off. A quick note.

Let’s jump back a couple of weeks. I talked at NUX in Leeds, a talk that covered a lot of bases.

The crux though was how, in 2003, I actually enjoyed my switch from digital (well, web) to a good six years focused on (non-digital) design and ads.

In short, that time I loved: A problem/brief would surface Monday morning and a new ad concept could in the printed press on Friday. That quick turnaround was such a kick!

In “that world” there was a nimbleness to the design and ad work that I felt was missing from the digital stuff I’d worked in. There was a looser way of exploring ideas that wasn’t just about loads of computer finished visuals. There was a focus on the idea, and the content.

We used our minds, our creativity, paper, pens, more paper, rationalisation, even more paper, and a (usually) quick bit of Mac work to work through the problems, our ideas, and what “worked” before despatching it to be printed. And ads we usually measured response, learned what was “effective”.

Exploring through understanding what needed to be done through research and ideas and looping that back in were the done thing. My point about George Gallop at NUX: If he could do that in the 1930s what is stopping you understanding your audience’s reaction/response now?

There was also a greater respect for the production process and time needed for production. If an annual report needed a week to artwork it got a week to artwork. On web stuff that time was frequently chipped away.

(An aside: The quality of the newspaper print we couldn’t control and this was accepted by clients, which always seems a fun comparison for modern front-end realisation through whatever browser/device combo, but another tale for another day).

I made the flip back to being digitally focused when I left Brahm in 2009, with the hope of creating things the way I’d seen in “ad world”.

In short: we can these days thanks to frameworks, not just in front-end and back-end build, but also the way can design.

Over the past few years the most visibly open design “thing” in Leeds - for me - has been SDLeeds, from the little get-togethers Kathryn and Matt organised to the culmination of bigger events, like jams. The best thing is the focus of the chats is about design - design needing to be around users, audiences, and the like, so we create things that work for people - and doing.

It seems obvious to say it. Design for people, and test that design. But how often are designs based on an individual’s assumptions, and escalate from there? Getting the focus on the user from the off, taking an assumption, recognising it as an assumption, testing it, and then validating/learning? Not so. (This was another point at NUX.)

There are also so many layers and levels of structure, of design - not just the pictures, fonts, colours, and layout. I’ve never hung my hat on a particular design peg, other than focusing on coming up with things that are actually usable and effective. That’s something I like about service design (and user-centred design).

The service design focused get-togethers in Leeds means we have some great explorations of users and ideas. I was at last year’s GovJam (as part of the organising team) and a room full of people who are focused on designing for people is just awesome to see. It’s also a warm welcoming environment to learn in, whether you’re a designer or not. And it’s not about “digital” and “non-digital” (one of my top peeves). It’s just about stuff, about things, and trying those ideas, those assumptions out. It reminds me of being at school, which all the best “working environments” are to me. (Again, another point I made at NUX.)

If you are involved maker of things are you going to GovJam? Good stuff! You’re not? You should do something about that. It’s not too late to get down to GovJam in Leeds. And if it that isn’t possible, follow the event on Twitter. Or think about going to NUX Camp on Monday 22 June.

Two great design events. Two great design events in Leeds. Two great events focused on designing for users and both events will need your participation. Great to see.


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