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Making is as valuable as what is made: design thinking at Link Festival 2015

If ever there was a conference that was my happy place, Link Festival is it. In spades. Link Festival is organised by Engineers Without Borders, and this year by Wildwon as well. Earlier this year, over 450 of Australia’s current and emerging leaders came together to work on applying design and technology to social change. See? Three pet topics, right there!

I was fortunate enough to speak on bringing out your inner design thinker: crafting your own tools for change (over on Slideshare), followed by a highly animated workshop.

Let me give you a quick rundown.

We’re not making anymore. This is a problem.

Here’s the thing: as knowledge workers, I think we’ve been conned. Over the eons, we’ve gradually outsourced the making of everything to others. No matter whether you’re in software, finance, health… any domain at all, other people now do the making for us. This sounds acceptable; I mean, we should be paid to think and not do the drudgy menial manufacturing work, right?

But what this has done is, it’s gradually removed one of the greatest means of solving complex problems we have in our toolkit: using our hands to make things — prototypes, real working things — and make things together. And we need to get it back.

Design thinking engages the head, heart and hands

See, I believe people change when they’re engaged in all 3 areas: the head (facts and figures), the heart (the feels, the stories), and the hands (doing and making things, not just talking). Design thinking as a way of solving problems in teams employs all three areas.

So what this means is that if you give people ways of making stuff together, it expands the language that they can use, it helps them to come with more ideas (and riff off each others’ ideas), and to iterate and improve on those ideas. Something else happens too: people experience this making together, and share of themselves more for mutual benefit, in ways that they never would if they just sat around talking and pontificating.

In other words: making is as valuable as what is made.

Solving the ‘blank tool’ problem

Many people will give a nod to this, but often they get stuck in going from principle to practice. It’s easy to read articles online about brainstorming and the like…. but how to start? And what makes for better brainstorming?

Here’s where I find some templated design tools can help people kick-start their problem-solving:

  1. Canvases
  2. Scorecards
  3. Posters
  4. Playing cards

My talk goes into detail about each of these 4. We also did a workshop straight after the talk, so that people got to open a pre-fab prototyping kit and make their choice of one of these problem-solving templates.





Here’s a great write-up of the 2 days as well, by Wildwon’s Sally Hill. Can’t wait for Link Festival 2016!

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Sketchnoting the brand experience

Portion of the sketchnote for TheConnectedBrand

Well wouldn’t you know it: it turns out sketchnoting isn’t just something to do at conferences, but works just as well at communicating a company’s proposition on its own website.

Stand around me long enough and you’ll know I’m a big fan of sketching in general, and sketchnoting in particular. I’ve taken to sketchnoting more at work these days, graphically facilitating on behalf of a speaker, or even just as a way of scribing a workshop discussion. It’s fun, and it generates something that people find useful to read afterwards, rather than stodgy old workshop notes.

I was approached recently by the lovely folks at The Connected Brand, to turn their proposition deck explaining the value of their brand consultancy, into a sketchnote. And it worked really well. Which should come as no surprise; they had already done a great job crafting a set of messages about how they help their clients and their brands, so it made my job all the more easy and fun to convert this into pictures (and a few words).

You can see the final result on their home page.


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Parliament (website) for the people

New Parliament website home pageThe Parliament of Australia has just released the new version of its website, and finally access to Parliamentary business and politicians has really opened up online.

‘Punter-centred’ design

Of course we’ve had online access to information about bills, committees and politicians’ speeches and so on for a long time now, through Hansard, XML feeds, and various pages throughout the old website. It’s just that it’s been so hard to find, for your average punter who doesn’t have an ‘inside view’ on how Parliament works.

But now you don’t have to go trawling through loads of search records and acres of text to find what’s actually important to you. The new website has been designed from an ‘outside-in’ approach, i.e. through the eyes and minds of the general public, rather than just those who are ‘on the inside’: politicians and their staff, media, and public service staff who really know their Senate Estimates from their Tariff Proposals.

Opening access to our taxes at work

A big focus of the new design is also about opening up access to politicians and their activities, which demonstrates the sort of mandated responsibility that Parliament has to the public:

  • You can track what your Member of Parliament (and state Senators) is up to, with access to their speeches, and which committees in which they have representation. You can also set email alerts, so you know their latest activities.
  • Don’t know who your Member is? It’s OK, most people don’t, but now it’s much easier to find out, with a handy location-based search.
  • You can easily see what bills are going through Parliament at any given time, and track updates to bills activity with email alerts.
  • A full list of Members or Senators, with their contact details, is only two clicks away from anywhere in the website. Plus each politicians’ profile page has their website links, twitter links, etc

Bringing an experience of the real building online

Love it or hate it, the Parliament House building is a grand statement in the Canberra landscape, and a visit to see the building, to walk its halls, is an experience I think everyone should have. The new website visually threads the presence of the building throughout the website, not only its appearance but the people who use the spaces inside.

The home page creates a dominating centrepiece for the building’s facade, in effect mimicking the experience you have when you first front up to the real thing. The architect Romaldo Giurgola had a finely honed sense of scale and substance for the building, and used surfaces of various types of stone, glass and metal to work with Canberra’s ever-changing light conditions. This is reflected in a little piece of eye-candy for the website: the background image changes depending on the time of day/night.

Other features use the virtual space to welcome people to the physical space:

An experience more than screen-deep

And why am I bothering to write this? I was fortunate enough to be involved in the research, concept and design of the new website, and I’m proud of the efforts of so many people involved in completing such a gargantuan project. It wasn’t the smoothest overhaul by any stretch, but it’s been fulfilling to have worked on something to do proper justice to Parliament and to its elected officials, as well as the building itself.


Something in Common
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New websites to get us talking about human rights

Something in CommonTwo new websites have just been launched by the Australian Human Rights Commission. Both websites work together to help educate the community about human rights issues in Australia, and to open up non-confrontational conversation:

Something in Common:

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know:

I’m very happy to have been part of these websites, and very proud of the team who put them together, both at the Commission, and at Digital Eskimo.

The research we conducted showed that most people considered human rights to be an overseas problem, a ‘poor people’ problem. And it’s true, you don’t have to look far across the water to see human rights abuses and atrocities going on. But right here in Australia we have our own issues of concern. The primary issue that came up was Australia’s handling of asylum seekers, which gets a fair bit of airplay on Something in Common.

But there are many other issues going on that a lot of people don’t see as ‘human rights’ issues, but still affect them. Things like unequal pay, bullying, discrimination, and the plight some elderly find themselves in.

These websites aren’t meant to be table-bashing, furrowed-eyebrowed polemics. They show real people’s inspiring stories about what they’re doing about these sorts of issues. And hopefully those stories will encourage and motivate us to think about what we can do too.


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Mobile website concept for Tourism Australia

This is a mobile/handset interface design concept I created for Tourism Australia.

The brief was to reach potential tourists, mainly in the UK, and lead them on a three-step journey: inspiration, exploration, then conviction to book a holiday… all through the vehicle of shared photos.

The concept trades off the power of shared experiences, and the more luscious the photos — and the more they’re shared — the better.

Single photo, with links for photo information The same single photo, but 'turned around' to display details and calls to action A location screen, with links relating to the location for planning a visit

Single photo, with links for photo information, and forward/next icons

The same single photo, but ‘turned around’ to display details, and calls to action

A location screen, with links relating the location to planning a visit

Photos can be uploaded, downloaded, tagged, and shared. Each photo, as well having social tagging, is tagged with one or more evocative ‘experience’ categories, such as plunge, savour, indulge, and so on. The interface design rationalises away many of the elements that can occupy the space in a regular browser window, yet retains all the elements needed for people to save photos, destinations and itineraries online, moving them towards the point of booking a holiday.

I also packaged these designs into a presentation board, with a storyboard-style sketch to show context, and the progression from a typical rainy London working day to what a sun-soaked holiday in Australia could be like (click for larger version):

Small view - storyboard of iPhone app concept

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Love Food Hate Waste website design

Love Food Hate Waste website

Love Food Hate Waste website

Food waste is the largest single component of our garbage, and reducing food waste is good for the environment and good for the wallet. These were some of the key facts that the interface design process kept returning to as drivers for the Love Food Hate Waste website. It was also driven by weighty business goals: the program is to help NSW meet its municipal waste reduction target of 66% and commercial and industrial waste reduction target of 63% by 2014.

The website is to contribute to that by highlighting the issue to online visitors, educating them about food waste, the benefits of reducing food waste, and how to do it.

This project included hefty amounts of digital strategy, to conceive the best user experience features to have on a government website within very tight time constraints, NSW GCIO guidelines, accessibility standards, and limited content resources. It also involved the information architecture, user interface design (but not visual design), as well as end-to-end project management, and contractor management with the visual design and development teams.

During the interface design process, I got to trial some new ideas and approaches to prototyping the interfaces. Some of the features — especially the asynchronous recipe search results returns and portion calculator — came alive as clickable demonstrations, rather than being limited to static designs.

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TAFE Northern Sydney Institute website redesign

TAFE Northern Sydney Institute website

TAFE Northern Sydney Institute website

The brief to redesign the website for TAFE Northern Sydney Institute was essentially to connect students with the right courses at the right campuses, and to promote the business services that TAFE NSI has to offer. Results of requirements workshops clearly indicated the search and browse paths that people preferred, as well as the various scenarios that are in place when they are looking for courses and campuses.

These lessons helped me and others at PTG Global to redesign the search and browse workflows and all page wireframes, so that they would display the right information on the right pages, to make course information as clear as possible to find, read and respond to.

There were several challenges in the interaction design. The main one was trying to unite all the different ways that people searched for course information in a clear, consistent pattern. This was overcome by organising an ‘advanced search’ (at the time titled more options) as a dynamically overlaid panel with options separated as course details, location details, and course delivery. Having in-page tabs for several column panels allowed us to stick to client’s requirements of including access to a lot of information in a relatively small space. Including a ‘super footer’ in the design was also a good opportunity to re-cut the content and functionality available on the website in ways not otherwise available through the navigation.

The information architecture schema, screenflows, wireframes and technical specification were then handed over for another company to create the visual design.

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Create Conference 2009 website

Create Conference 2009 website

Create Conference 2009 website

This is the new design I created for the website for 2009, updating the design that I did last year. The brand had to still clearly focus on the airship, but FEVA was very keen to have a new look and feel, to emphasise the strong drive of creativity.

Last year’s vintage neo-Victorian ‘look’ was a big success, so this year I pursued the theme by exposing more of the pop-art illustrations, and less of the grungy weathered feel. I also wanted to use more white and blue to be more vibrant and to complement the deep red in the palette, moving away from the ‘tea-soaked’ age of the previous look.

The result was a lighter, airier feel, giving more space to the sky around the airship and dirigible. The 2009 topical ‘theme’ for the Create Conference was also ‘collaboration’, so I demonstrated this in the design by focusing on the ‘team at work’ inside the dirigible. Who knows what they’re really doing in there… the point is, there’s many complementary tasks going on to keep the airship going.

My illustrations went to Andrew Nobbs over at Barton Design, who put together an amazing brochure for the event. His exploration of sky and clouds and bold typography was then included in the website design.

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LivingGreener website home page home page centralises a lot of knowledge available on living more sustainably, especially government information about rebates, grants and loans available. Although there are many websites out there that tackle various aspects of sustainability and what we can do about it, this website’s unique strategic goal is to centralise lots of disparate informatio, encourage further activity, and increase the community’s awareness and uptake of rebates and grants available from the government.

I and other consultants were involved at PTG Global with the user experience design for LivingGreener, including:

  • Personas and want maps design based on user research, website traffic analysis and statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Information architecture, including an overall conceptual model based on leading people at whatever point they were at, on a journey towards being more active to live more sustainably
  • User interface design, with wireframes and prototypes and working with content writers to structure content to integrate action points throughout the website

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