Posted on 30 November 2022
This being my last post for 2022! I’m celebrating myself for writing and reflecting regularly. And for choosing rest instead of squeezing a mid-December post into my busy schedule. Hitting that publish button still scares me, but I’m enjoying this a lot.
Working on my first HMRC client project for 3 months now! It’s been interesting to return to a team with a digital focus. I’m a firm believer in design, and especially service design, being much wider than this one channel. To build a good service, we need to work end-to-end and across channels and touchpoints. But I admit I have enjoyed coming back to the digital world. For better or worse, this is where change happens in organisations right now. Where people understand and support what I do the most. And where there is a lively design community who shares their knowledge and practice. These are important foundations to build on - which I wrote about here. You cannot do good work without this, and it is almost impossible to set this all up on your own and in isolation. This may be partly why so many designers feel most at home in digital. When we use this well, it can be a powerful place to be! Dan Hill outlined this idea so well in Dark Matter & Trojan Horses. This book massively shaped my thinking when I first came to design. It talks about strategic design - working on a specific thing and using this as a way to reshape the complex system around it. And learning about this system as you go, by doing and experimenting.
On that note, I’m celebrating my HMRC client team! Especially for how we practice strategic design. By recognising and being intentional about our work and the ripples it may create beyond a single specific context. And for connecting our digital work to processes, people, and opportunities beyond digital.
Getting lots of great feedback on the Barriers to Access work I did years ago. Here is a short write up if you are curious: uteschauberger.com/barrierstoaccess. It has been a delight to hear how people have used it in different ways and contexts since.
My fellow Opencast service designer Angela. She reminded me of the skills I admired designers for when I started out. Never afraid of the complexity or of entangled conversations. Just jumping in and listening. And emerging from it all with actions, with a bias towards making and creating. I can't wait to see her/our work on service design practice at Opencast progress. And feel super grateful for how Angela helped our growing team get this far!
The Opencast UCD community. I probably sound like a broken record by now. But I am beyond grateful to have fellow UCD people back in my professional life. The support, backup, knowledge, and community spirit is invaluable. Of course it helps that everyone here is amazing at what they do. While I always tried to find community and learn from others, design can be a lonely place depending on your job setup and role. I love how people at Opencast keep our community and culture active and awesome. It’s only been a couple of months, but I have no idea what I’d do without them. Especially when times are tough!
Delightful and surprised to hear people remember short interactions and conversations we had years ago. Top notch career advice we don’t hear enough: Relationships matter. Kindness matters. Lifting each other up matters. So let's all continue to do that!
I attended HmntyCntrd's Critical UX conference. It covered three themes: Ethic of imagination, ethic of solidarity, and ethic of care. One thing that stuck with me is the idea of ‘moral olympics’. It’s a close relative of ‘inclusion theatre’ which I wrote about last month. Ethics, accessibility, and inclusion have become huge buzzwords in the design community. That’s a good thing. But a lot of the work we need to do in this space is hard and slow. Excitedly picking out a catchphrase to write on your flag, and rolling with it, is not going to cut it. Co-design! Democratisation of User Research! Trauma Informed Design! These things aren’t “bad”, but they’re also not always universally “good” or workable. Moral olympics means frantically trying to outdo each other. Turning inclusion into a contest of choosing the right language, the right method, the right side of history. And policing or dismissing everyone else. I mentioned that I love designers’ bias towards action, and this is true. But not without understanding complexity. These questions and issues take time, effort, experience. We will have to think, decide, and work this out over and over again. And redo it for each new context or problem we find ourselves in. While looking after ourselves and each other. While cultivating wellbeing, joy, and resilience - another big topic of this conference. There’s no simple answer or catchphrase. And sometimes we may get it wrong. That’s how we move this practice forward.
The weird and wonderful relationship between design skill and context knowledge. I’m still on a journey with HMRC systems, processes, organisational structure, channels, and touchpoints. This month, I suddenly missed designing within NHS Scotland. Where I know every structure, system, IT oddity, outdated process, frequent pain point, job title, and relationship. As designers we are taught that our method works in every industry and for any problem. This may be true, but knowing your context can give depth to your process and improve your designs. They become more considered, insightful, and useful from the get go. And you know how to position them, how to describe them, so people understand and give them a chance. We underestimate the value of working within one context for a long time. The value of not just being a service designer, but a 'service designer in health' for example. However, there is a risk in becoming too immersed. Becoming 'in health' and at the expense of the designer part. You can become so wrapped up in your context that you feel as paralysed as everyone else by its complexity. Or start making assumptions rather than testing and iterating. There’s strength in both, context knowledge and a beginner’s mind. We should talk about them more and be deliberate in how we apply them!
I see lots of writing and thinking on managing time and productivity online. In reality, my challenge ends up being managing my energy. Creating space for the right things, for what energises me. And finding joy amongst it all, while limiting overwhelm. Especially when it comes to screen time, and balancing people time with alone time at work. I’d like to think and learn a lot more about this, figure out what works for me. And set boundaries that help me make the most of my efforts - and others make the most of me.
I’m struggling to organise my thoughts neatly into this format I have chosen! To the surprise of absolutely no one except myself, what I’m finding challenging are the things I’m then learning about! And both relate to what I’m celebrating. So lots of challenges are covered above, and I may need to rejig how I structure these posts. New year new bullet points? Let's see!
I care deeply about creativity, imagination, collaboration, and inclusive design. I have worked as a designer and researcher for startups, consultancies, charities, healthcare and social care organisations, and governments. Here I think, reflect, learn, and share what I have learnt about understanding humans and designing services over the years.
You can find more of my work at www.uteschauberger.com