Telling a story

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In my experience, service design is mostly about telling – and selling – stories.

Telling the stories of people we’ve met through user research. Understanding what makes life difficult for them, and adjusting our approach to accommodate what they need.

Telling these stories helps us make sure our UX designers and developers and content designers can update our services in ways that accommodate those needs. And mostly, that works out fine.

But sometimes, we have to sell a story.

Selling a story

When we sell stories, we’re talking about the future. Where we want to be in 6-12-18 months. A possible future.

That’s where storyboards are useful.

Storyboards

A storyboard looks like this.

A 3x2 storyboard illustrating the steps set out below. The frames mix real photographic backgrounds with illustrated simple figures overlaid on top.
Storyboards illustrate a story and bring it to life for stakeholders.
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How to create inclusive personas, without creating inclusive personas

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I watched a webinar earlier today about creating inclusive personas to encourage accessible, human-centred design. The instructors talked about the disabilities people have, the assistive technologies they use, and how to create inclusive personas that describe those needs.

A young man with brown skin and dark, cropped hair. He is wearing glasses, and a navy blue jacket over a grey t-shirt. His hands are held in front of his body in a pose that suggest he is in the middle of explaining something.
A portrait we used in one of our personas. This is a real person, who we’ve supported. No AI, no stock images.

And that’s all great, and laudable. But, with all my experience, I am not convinced it’s always the right approach.

Let me explain.

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Go with the flow

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I’ve been working on a project lately with a small team and a similarly select group of Scottish Enterprise account managers to create a slicker way of bringing businesses into their portfolio.

It’s a bit of a pathfinder project, to figure out how we might use Microsoft Power Platform technologies to deliver new services at scale and at speed.

So we settled on this one aspect of our High Growth account managers’ service to start with: getting new clients onto their portfolio.

The solution we’ve developed involves Power Pages (client-facing) and Power Apps (backend) developments, both reading from and writing to the same database, and all of this data is ultimately available in our CRM system.

All of which is fine. But, as a Service Designer, I instinctively want to be open and transparent about the data we gather. And the Digital Service Standard kinda demands that we are.

I struggled with this for a while. I wrestled in the swamps of the Dataverse against PowerBI, and the best I could come up with was this:

Power BI dashboard with a mix of graphs and tables - click to open full size.
Figure 1: screenshot of a Power Bi dashboard taken on 4 April 2024

(Actual people’s actual names have been scrubbed out in this screenshot because they’re actual people. But all the data is real, and right now.)

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Joining the dots from intent to outcome

An intent to outcome diagram for the findbusinesssupport.gov.scot
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As a service designer, a large part of my job is making sure everyone on the project sees and understands the same picture.

We all need to have a shared understanding of:

  • why we’re here
  • what we’re trying to do
  • the outcomes (changes in the real world) we want to see

That sounds easy, but in reality it’s not. Everyone has their own perspective: designers, developers, content designers, architects, security people, product owners … everybody comes at the problem with their own priorities and experiences, their own preferences, language, biases and assumptions.

We can have hours of discussions and endless workshops to thrash these conflicting worldviews and languages out. Thousands of unmourned post-its may be lost in the process.

So one day, back in 2019, when I was working on the very early days of findbusinesssupport.gov.scot I decided we needed an authoritative way to describe and demonstrate our purpose.

In my experience at that time, it really helps to have a big reminder of “this is why you’re here” every time you enter the workplace. (It was ‘real’ then, it’s (mostly) virtual now.)

So I came up with this:

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Operating in the open

Reading Time: < 1 minute

I’m not actively involved with the findbusinesssupport.gov.scot team any more. But it’s still a service close to my heart.

I was part of the team that designed and built it in the midst of a global pandemic. And which suddenly learned, unwarned, that we would be the primary vehicle for the Scottish Government’s response to the emergency for businesses.

We were still in Beta in March 2020, so we were just routinely publishing all the data we had about usage. But, as we – de facto, if not officially – became a production service due to necessity, we just continued to do so.

Screenshot of search and filter data from findbusinesssupport.gov.scot from Sep-Oct 2023.
Screenshot of search and filter data from findbusinesssupport.gov.scot from Sep-Oct 2023
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Joining the Federation

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The Federation log from the original Star Trek

I’ve updated this blog to use the ActivityPub protocol.

ActivityPub is the decentralized networking protocol that powers social networks including Mastodon, NextCloud and PixelFed.

If you are a user on any of these platforms, you can follow this blog at @blog@design.scotentblog.co.uk

The Pitch

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Polish your elevator pitch because it is more needed today than ever before.

How often do you talk to peers who just can’t tell you what their project exists to do. They can only tell you what they do on the project.

A friend of mine took on a new role at a finance company. When he started there were 40,000 defects in Jira.

When he left 2 years later….there were 40,000 defects in Jira..

He couldn’t tell what his project actually did.

So what was their team actually meant to do?

If you don’t know the Pitch then why is your company funding your project?

A good pitch is a way of telling your story that rolls together:

  • Problem statements
  • Solution Statements
  • A Hypothesis
  • Future state/vision

It does this in a No-Nonsense, Plain English manner.

So how do I create this magical Pitch you speak of

There are lots of ways to create a Pitch, but one that has never failed me in workshops is the Pixar Pitch. This is the structure that ALL Pixar movies use and to date they have raked in over 15 BILLION DOLLARS. So obviously not a bad approach to story telling.

The key elements are:

  • Once upon a time (This is the context)
  • Every Day (This is the problem)
  • One Day (This is the solution)
  • Because of that (This is the outcome)
  • Until Finally (This is the future state)

I use a fun Pitch Canvas that looks like this:

Pitch Canvas
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Running an asynchronous retrospective

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The good, the bad, and the ugly

I seem to have been running a lot of retrospectives lately. And yes, I just used an Oxford comma. Get over it.

A simple, childlike image of a sailing boat on a choppy sea. The boat is held by an anchor hooked on rocks beneath the waves. There are wind puffs behind it and rocks in front of it. To the right of the images an island with a palm tree, with the sun overhead.
In the sailboat retrospective format, the boat represents the project or work we are doing; the wind is what is pushing us forward, the anchor what is holding us back. The rocks are dangers/risks we face, and the island is the goal or destination. I created this template in Miro.

In case you don’t know what that means, a retrospective (or a ‘retro’ for short) is a meeting-come-workshop where you look back on work you’ve done, as a team, and try to identify ways you could be better in future.

In agile methodologies, you can hold retros pretty regularly. With Scrum, you’d hold one at the end of every sprint – typically every 2 weeks – so you can get feedback quickly and adjust course immediately.

Think guiding a canoe through rapids; if you can’t change course quickly, you are going to hit a rock (a fairly common metaphor for retros uses a sailboat, as above) pretty soon, and pretty fatally.

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The Scottish Enterprise recruitment experience – from recruiting manager to applicant

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The SE recruitment experience

Applying for a job seems simple enough, right? Set out your own expectations on a job and employer, find something that meets your expectation and apply! However, in the 6 months I have spent with the service design team at Scottish Enterprise (pretty new right!) I have learned that very few things are as simple as we say or think.

Following several queries and concerns relating to our Current vacancies page on Scottish-enterprise.com, the team kicked off a project to research, understand and act on the needs of our customers (potential applicants) and colleagues (those involved in recruitment).

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Service landscape maps: seeing the bigger picture

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This is a service landscape map.

A service landscape map -click the link for full-size version.
Service landscape maps depict the different stages users go through when accessing a service as connected blobs, with the activities they do as circles within those blobs. It also captures who the external users are – the end users of the service and those who act in their support – the things users do to achieve their goals, the teams of people who deliver the service and are granted some power or authority within the system, and supporting organisations that also have a role to play in meeting user needs.

Services rarely, if ever, exist in a void. They exist within a context. A landscape.

Service landscape maps capture and illustrate that wider context and allow us to see the complexity at play, and to develop a better understanding of the user’s whole experience.

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10 things that staff consistently tell us

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  • When we do user research with businesses about our Services, we also talk to our staff that are delivering them.
  • Just like customers, we often hear the same things from staff, over and over again, regardless of which design, platform or web page we’re testing.
  • These issues are not aimed upwards at management, but represent the lived reality of everyone in the organisation, and are there for all of us to fix
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The places and people we remember

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What do we take from those we have worked for, and with? What do we take from each role we do into the next?

I’ve blogged before about my career journey. The best of times has been when I’ve worked for someone who has understood me as a whole person and believed in me. Here’s some thoughts about my journey over 35 years

An image of my tricolour border collie called Angus lying in some bluebells
My whole me now includes Angus. Here he is in the bluebells
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The silver bullet

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Anyone who’s worked on iterative design projects – sometimes called ‘agile’ projects, although that term itself often hinders understanding, rather than helping it – will know that reflection is a key part of the journey. We’ve been doing a lot of reflection lately, and it’s prompted me to reflect on what digital transformation is – or perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t.

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User experience begins long before someone reaches your website

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COVID-19. Collective sigh. If you’re not jaded by it all yet then your reserves of positivity surely know no bounds.

The winds of change that have blown across our world as a result of this surreal event are quite incredible. And many things will never be the same again.

Small town centres, previously peppered with empty shops, are bustling. Employers are embracing remote working like never before. Deserted city centre scenes, previously only featured in apocalyptic movies, have graced the evening news.

But some things haven’t changed.

Many organisations continue to create policy, advice, products and services in complete ignorance of how user behaviour in the modern age will define their effectiveness.

There’s been no more perfect example of this than the four corners of the UK all having different and, in many cases, contradictory rules and advice for citizens to follow during this pandemic.

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How many people does it take to design and build a service?

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Scottish Enterprise is changing. We are delivering services to customers and stakeholders in new ways, this gives us a fabulous opportunity but also presents some challenges.

As the team leader for the user centered design team at Scottish Enterprise I hear comments such as ‘What do you mean when you say service’, ‘We don’t really know what you do or who you are’ and also ‘But don’t you just build websites? Why do you care about all this other stuff that’s not digital?’

It prompted me to think what was causing this perception and how I felt four years ago when I joined the digital team at Scottish Enterprise. I was struck by how many people are involved and therefore how confusing it can be.

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How we improved the exporting user journey on the Scottish Enterprise website

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We recently redesigned the exports and international markets section of the Scottish Enterprise website. 

Our goals

  • Raise awareness of our exporting expertise and support – in order to help more businesses, we needed them to be aware of what support they can access through us
  • Create content that is relevant and useful to exporters and potential exporters – we wanted to ensure that content on our website was meeting user needs
  • Get more enquiries for exporting services and events – we wanted to get more people asking us about the services and events that we offer
  • Help users self-serve – we wanted to help people self-serve where possible, or signpost them to other help and support, at the right point in the customer journey
  • Get more users taking advantage of market opportunities – we wanted to help businesses understand what opportunities exist in overseas markets and how they can access them
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From service designer to user researcher

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I started my career at Scottish Enterprise as a content designer. Actually, we were called ‘web content developers’ back then, before we really embraced the idea that there is more to content than just words on a web page. Then I joined the service design team as a service designer, and over the past few months, I’ve been doing a dual role as a service designer and user researcher.  

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How capabilities mapping helped us see the bigger picture

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The problem

We have a transformation programme underway across Scottish Enterprise. It was getting harder to see what needed to be done to deliver the bigger picture – rather than just bits of the jigsaw. In addition, many people were focusing solely on ‘the bit you need to build’, rather than seeing the whole service – end to end, online and offline.

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How we made it easier for businesses to find coronavirus funding

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The problem

The FindBusinessSupport.gov.scot (FBS) website had to adapt quickly when the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic hit to ensure that businesses could access up-to-date information about what they needed to do and what support they could get.

Because new funds were constantly being offered, and guidance kept changing as we moved in and out of lockdown, we just added new content when changes were announced by the Scottish Government. We never had time to step back and think about the complete customer journey, and the coronavirus advice page had become very long and complex.

The challenge

The Scottish Government asked us to make it easier for businesses to access information about coronavirus funding and support on the FBS website, and they gave us two weeks to do it.

screenshots of heat maps for the desktop and mobile version of the coronavirus advice page
Heat maps are one of the tools we use to research how people use our website
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