I spent the most time on Project MT (I think a few people know I am working with/for Pilot Works, Placecube and Kit at the Royal Borough of Greenwich council), doing service design work for two days overall. We ended the week having a chat about a couple of journeys and how we name things shapes our perception of the journey. The journey work we have done is actually good, in that we’ve tested it, got some feedback, done some changes, feel confident it’s in a solid enough shape (as much as you can be in the land of Always Learning). It’s how we frame it to everyone else causing the issues. We were calling the journeys “logged in” and “logged out”. We took a step back and considered the situations you’d be in for those journeys. So we reframed them. We design with what we know at the time, hey. And someone might say “You’ve just renamed it!” But naming things is hard: You give things a name and that tends to stick. Renaming makes the journeys more self explanatory to all. It was a useful exercise.
I had some time preparing for a new project I am joining, which will be coded MM. There are lots of things I like about working in local gov. Working with/for Kit has nudged me to think of other digital/experience bosses like Ben, Emma, Neil and Paul, who believe in services that are people focused and have a good feel how places and teams should go about this (half, it feels, because they have Been There And Done That and not just rolled in off an MBA background). I spent a while in national gov and public departments and the ones where the digital head was involved were the most rewarding. The ones where the digital head just seemed of another culture altogether weren’t the most rewarding. This has played a big factor shaping what I choose to do next, with a few nudges from people to make best use of my skills. The train only comes once, eh. I start properly the week after next on 1 December. It is going to take up most if not all of my working week for the coming months.
I spent a day overall helping out on project MC, most of that time spent pairing with another designer, supporting them, something I don’t do much these days. It’s unknotting several things. If we had a solid day at it we’d make a huge chunk of progress, but we’re fitting it in around other stuff. I really like the designer too — they’re made of the right stuff.
I had a day working on project MA, a small team of multi-disciplinaries, using our skills to full use. I have been called an “agilista” in the past and my personal response was… to tone done my “agilista” tendancies. But here there’s a team of four of us and we’re all quite good at what we do, to be honest. And we’re all agilistas, which helps set the tone of how we go about work so much easier. I am mainly doing the product owner duties, the “people facing” design (and by that I mean the user facing stuff, like the web interface, emails and letters, but also making our maps more easily digestible for the team and other interested parties) and research planning. We’re all doing delivery manager stuff, cutting how we work to be reguarly delivering but with some clear quality indicators. This is really good working and work.
I published some blogs posts, on the typeface Papyrus and how I plan my day. Both exercises in writing for just half an hour and putting them out there, a knack I’d fallen out of touch with, and a little out of love to be honest.
The rest of the week was helping others out, quite a few chats with other designers helping them, from team issues to better ways of working to exploring design options to second eyeing stuff. When you get a few designers spread around public services telling you about team and culture issues it gets dispiriting. I enjoy having the chats, I just don’t like seeing the wider pattern. People say stuff like how user centred design is well established in government now, but especially after this week I still feel the struggle is real. Some days I feel it’s easier just to gut some teams and start again. Sorry to the people in those teams.
Some commoner issues:
- How design has to fit into the development process rather than the overall software/service making process. Designing is a process too and should work with development into the overall software/service making process.
- In story writing or stand ups designers asked to provide a solution to something not so straightforward from developers on the spot has popped up a few times over the last couple of months. My tip here: Just ask if you can take the problem away, and you’ll look at it as soon as you can. Buy yourself your space. Do devs code a solution on the spot in reviews?
- Product owners that provide project management thinking not product thinking.
- Teams overriding or ignoring the guidance of designers (dot voting is a fucking charade sometimes, a good example of passive aggression in some teams).
- Bad behaviours. What happened to team orders or working principles, that the teams created and followed? (To be honest I’ve not been in that many teams that did this or had these.) Get these down, make them explicit, make them accountable.
- Interaction designers and content designers: co-work more! Find some time, the same time!, to work together, less doing your task/s in the chain and passing it on. Work it through, work it out, work on it. Also the more designers that can communicate the design consistently and together, well, it’s a numbers game sometimes isn’t it, eh dot voting.
I said it on Twitter yesterday but I’ll repeat it here. Whether you’re “full time”, a direct freelancer or at an agency know you’re not alone. The problems you face - whether they are about design, a team, the org you are in - are replicated around. When you’re struggling reach out to someone. (And on the flip side if you’re in a leadership or management position and someone reaches out to you find the time for even a little chat. And if you can’t try to direct them to someone who can. Hanging is the worst feeling for people who are struggling. People centred and all that.) My messages - DMs on Twitter, SMS, WhatsApp, Signal - are always open if you’re a designer who needs someone to talk to.
I learned more than I planned about what people think about me. I was reminded by several I can be seen as a “leader” and I was reminded on a couple of occasions of the responsibilities people can expect from people in those positions. I want to be a better ally, especially for under-represented communities, so appreciated the feedback. Note: I am not doing this to be a better leader, I just want to do this to be a better person, a better person to work with, a better person doing work. I have been looking forward to post-March (when project MC ends) and wondering if I can go back to a “managing role” just bringing along How I Do Things. Not so sure and probably why I’ll keep doing “my own thing”.
I kept half an eye on all the US election recounts and political moves, and wondered deeper in the system what chance there are data issues, especially interoperability across channels.
We — a few of the UK’s jam runners — had a chat about jams in the UK in the future. Gov Jams are being planned for next month and we had a little heads-together to see if we could pull something together by then. To be honest some of feel smashed. Finding the time and space to plan one on top of our existing commitments with about a month’s notice isn’t easy. Also, how do other people who feel? We decided we’re going to look at March 2021. If you’re interested in helping form whatever this jam is, drop me a line.
Service Lab London’s gig this week was pretty great. I nodded a lot, I made some notes, it prompted me to get round to writing down what I mean by the terribleness of data and I also disagreed with some stuff, which is a pretty healthy outcome for a couple of hours.
I went to another service design event (which was generally very good) and observed how few people wanted to understand more a very vague problem they were presented with and defaulted to throwing ideas against a wall. Understanding is as valuable as ideas. Ideas are cheap and all that.
Too many friends have suddenly got Playstation 5s and I have a little tech envy. But — and big but — I have a PS4, I have games yet to play on it, so I am fine with my PS4 right now. Honestly.
I found myself fading fast after 4pm, only happening the last month or so. I wondered about a SAD lamp and asked on Twitter. I am now going to buy a SAD lamp for my working environment. (It’s OK to fall asleep on the sofa on a Saturday and Sunday late afternoon.)
This week was assisted by
- I need to send out a date picker for the local gov playbook analysis session
- I need to plan in the next local gov research and design meet, for the week commencing 14 December (likely to be the Tuesday or Wednesday).
- Finish packaging the “vanilla” in-browser prototype kit
- More project MT
- Product in the A(ether)
- Annie Heath’s return to weeknoting was quite the thing. (For the record: I have a lot of time for Annie.)
- Video gaming can benefit mental health, find Oxford academics - but only Animal Crossing, as well as EA’s shooter Plants vs. Zombies
- Self-care in User Research