The Scottish Design Summit 2014

The Scottish Design Summit last week In Dundee organised by Design in Action was less useful than I thought it would be. We had many stories during the day, and some short workshops too. However, it was mostly a chance for us to hear what others wanted to tell us about their experience and not enough space for us to meet new people and exchange our experiences with each other.

I like the idea of Design in Action and how it pulls together the Scottish design schools in order to help businesses through academic work and participation. It’s a good example of creative enterprise and showing how design can help business. It was odd though that we never heard from one of the businesses who’ve received help in one of the talks during the day. That would’ve been useful.

The biggest surprise was that for a ‘design summit’ and speakers repeatedly extolling the value of design in business we had the usual round of presentations that present ‘facts’ as uninspiring lists with no application of design to improve the message delivery. I had looked forward to seeing inspiring ‘designedly’ infographics and diagrams explaining the lessons learned by the different organisations presenting their stories of using design to improve their business. This did not happen. We saw powerpointy slides. But don’t just take my word for it, see what others talked about at #scotdesign14.

Scottish Design Summit

Only a handful offered designerly presentations. Stanley Wood from Spotify presented a smoothly integrated presentation with movies and stills seamlessly telling the Spotity story of integrating design into their app. Richard Hewitt from Taylor Haig offered stories around the slides he presented and Mark Hogart from Harris Tweed Hebrides mixed slides and movies together to support the story of their transformation. These were memorable presentations illustrating the power of stories and how images support the stories more importantly than lists of statements as bulletpoints.

And the workshops were too short. We barely got started working on an idea and it was time to move onto the next workshop. A better solution would’ve been to either offer us only one workshop, or to cut down the speakers so that we could still have two workshops. The later would’ve been better as workshops offer chances to talk to people and learn new skills while hearing what others are doing and telling your story too.

My biggest take-away from the day was that I can keep following my current practice of focusing on where I’m currently at, and don’t always need to keep looking for what others have to offer. I have experience and skills in this area gained from reading, going to other workshops, and through organising service design events, and practicing what I learned with students. I already deploy this knowledge and skills in what I teach my students and in workshops I run. There was nothing new there except for stories to illustrate examples; the Spotify, Taylor Haig and Harris Tweed stories. The workshops offered interesting ways to present things I already did, so that was reassuring.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in this space in the future, as it was a useful day and I did learn things, but less useful than I hoped it would be. Maybe I’ve been going to too many agile events where open space is provided for participants to air their ideas too, and missed that opportunity too. Maybe next time.

Needless to say, it is also very useful to reconnect with friends at these events, which was an extra surprise.

Another Weekend of Fun with Global Service Jam

The weekend of 7-9 March saw us running the Aberdeen leg of the Global Service Jam with about 14 people. We had three teams ideating three main ideas over the weekend to good effect, and everyone had a good time and learned new prototyping and ideation skills. This time we had one team pushing out a possible deck of cards that can be used by teachers with pupils in schools. While we also hoped to run the the local edition of  National Hack the Government event too, we had too few people turn up for that, and those two people who did, decided to stay working on their GSJ project.

All of our teams did many iterations prototyping their ideas on paper, with models, and with Lego bricks as you can see in the evolution of their ideas taken down via video commentary over the weekend. If you start on the last page and work forward, then you’ll see the ideas evolve. Sauron’s Box became One Box and Mad Box became EduPod. By constantly pushing the ideas further and refining them again and again over the weekend the ideas became better.

Teams used a number of tools and processes to improve their ideas. Many used journey maps, service blueprints and the Happy Startup Canvas as well as the Strikingly Idea Chain cards and Constraints cards too and prototyping ideas with Lego and other tools to hand. Most of these tools are familiar to us, and others were new ones to try and explore their potential.

Several things stand out for this year. First, we couldn’t do this without our great sponsors. The University of Aberdeen, and the Robert Gordon University for hosting our event. Fifth Ring and Neo for providing funding to feed our participants. And lastly, Stattys for providing us with their wonderful sliding products to use. Thanks to all of you, who help make this happen.

Secondly, the teams formed automagically on the Friday as people gravitated towards the ideas that appealed to them and didn’t need any encouragement to coalesce. Third, you can form a team based on a random group of people, who don’t know each other. This works perfectly fine, and as one regular said “[he’d] formed businesses with family and friends, and they didn’t work so great, so why not strangers?”. Fourth, the new Idea Chain cards were useful, and fun for ideation and we’ll need to build a better deck or two of those. Lastly, Skype chats work great as long as people focus on the key issues as time can be a factor, but it works real well to get feedback when you can’t otherwise reach your target audience.

All of these are lessons to bring back to the classroom and show that the random mix of people you find at these events  shows that a change of pace and people is a good way to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. We’ll definitely be organising this again next year.

You can also find another write up of the event by the co-organiser Steve Milne, and collection of links at http://stevenmilne.com/blog/global-service-jam-14.

GSJ and NHTG event in March

Two events we like to support are both happening on the weekend of 7-9 March. Both of these events centre on helping people envision apps and services, which they’d like to see. Both events are there to inspire participants by what they learn and see happening at the events. These are events to explore and rapidly prototype ideas to see what’s possible and to put ideas out there to get feedback from people. These are places to come and hang out and try things with people. Yes, you might get an idea for a startup, and you might be able to spin out an idea trailed at the events into a real business, but that is not the goal of the weekend. The goal is to have creative fun with like-minded folks and explore the possibilities. It’s training for innovation.

GSJ Aberdeen 2013

This is the second time we’re running the Global Service Jam, and the third time it’s been held in Aberdeen. The goal of this event is to have people come together to share their skills and rapidly prototype new services. The event theme is revealed on Friday evening, and after brainstorming service ideas we’ll form teams around this theme to develop services over the Saturday and Sunday. These ideas should be rapidly prototyped and taken to the streets to show to people and then revised based on what you learn. This is all about learning front of house skills as it were. If you’re normally someone who works in the back office and never meets customers, then this is your chance to get out there and see what the others do. This is your chance to better understand what they do and to help develop new ideas and try them out with people.
Aberdeen Culture Hack 2013

The National Hack the Government events run by Rewired State are efforts to help the people build a better government by coming together with others to inspire and build the apps they’d like to see using government open data sources. You can get an idea of what others have done in the past by looking at the projects that came out of previous NHTG events. We had a small version of this in Aberdeen in 2011 when it was a one-day event. This year it will run over the Saturday and Sunday with us offering remote teams who can report back to the main group of folks in London. We’re hoping that some of the ideas gathered from the GSJ folks on Friday night will lend themselves to app ideas for the Saturday and Sunday.
This event will be a good mixture of service design, some agile development and a hack event where the focus is on ‘seeing what works’
Go signup and follow @GSJAberdeen for updates