' '

Design thinking and learning: Learning experiences from a service design viewpoint, with Simon Goodrich

With this series we didn’t just want to talk with L&D people about design thinking. Half of the interviews are with design thinking leaders outside of L&D. In this episode, we’re talking with Simon Goodrich from Portable Studios. It’s interesting to hear an outsider's viewpoint on learning systems such as learning management systems and his thoughts on more lightweight approaches to learning systems. One of Simon’s most powerful insights is that design thinking can be used to harness energy for change, and that it’s important to act when the health of a project is strong.

Download the Design thinking and learning eBook

To go along with the podcast we have released an eBook with all transcripts of the interviews.  

The interviews are: 

  • Why is design thinking important to L&D, with Arun Pradhan
  • Learning experiences from a service design viewpoint, with Simon Goodrich
  • Designing thinking and instructional design, with Connie Malamed
  • The mindsets needed for design thinking, with Huddle

The introduction to the eBook gives an overview of design thinking and demystifies some of the terms used in the podcast, like ‘ideation’.  

 

Subscribe using your favourite podcast player or RSS

Subscribe on iTunesSubscribe on Google PodcastsSubscribe on Android | Subscribe on StitcherSubscribe on Spotify | RSS

Useful links

Transcript: Design thinking and learning: Learning experiences from a service design viewpoint, with Simon Goodrich

Robin:

What is Portable?

Simon:

We're a design and innovation company. We work a lot with full-purpose clients. So, a lot of work we do is with government, and not-for-profits or organisations that we see are trying to make change. We bring our team of designers, researchers and developers to solve tricky problems. Things that keep us all up at night. We use different tools to do that, but the main work that we do is trying to improve the services that we would expect in an advanced democracy like Australia.

Design thinking – solving the right problems

Robin:

So how did you come to using design thinking as a process in that work?

Simon:

Well, we started originally as a mobile film festival in 2005 and 2006, and we were interested in innovative delivery of services. At the time, this is pre the iPhone, we're talking Sony Playstations, early mobile phones, and it was quite an interesting and diverse space at that point. I think with the adoption of the iPhone and YouTube in the few years after, it became relatively standardised, so, a lot of that innovation piece had moved on.

The business is always sort of maintained at innovation zeal. And for us, design thinking, service design is a really core component that we use to help bring those concepts to life. We were established primarily as a technology company, as a service technology services company, and relatively early on identified that we may be able to build things beautifully, but that doesn't mean that we will be engaging with people, or necessarily solving the right problem. So, for us that adoption of service design, design thinking more broadly, led us to being able to ensure that we're hitting that target more. That it was part of that tool kit for us to give a grounding if we were providing focus in an area that we're more likely to be able to resonate in with an endpoint.

Robin:

So for you it’s about using design thinking to go beyond the spot of just inventing a solution, to actually making sure it's innovative and meeting the need for your end users?

Simon:

Yes, I think when I talk to innovation, it's probably been the genesis of what we as a business get attracted to. So, what started off in film has now shifted over the years into a variety of different verticals. And we've spent probably the last four to five years focused how can we transform services and large complex and bureaucratic organisations. So, government fits that bill, large corporations also fit that bill, as well as full-purpose organisations looking to work in a branded system.

What is service design? Designing the ecosystem

Robin:

Now, I've just realised that we're talking about service design, and service design might be a really new term to an L&D audience. What do you mean by service design?

Simon:

I think it's being able to provide more of a helicopter view of recognising the work that you're doing. How does it fit into a broader ecosystem. So for instance, if you are developing a learning and development tool, what are the steps that someone would approach before they enter that tool, or afterwards? We do a lot of work, for instance, in trying to improve services that citizens get offered, especially around legal and justice.

So, in that scenario the service design piece is – if someone's going to court, how is their experience being shaped at the outset? What does their journey look like? What are their pain points? I think it's important through broader co-design, service design, to have a good understanding of being empathetic to the uses that you're designing for, and through that is having a better understanding and appreciation of the other factors that are having a knock-on effect, before they're actually utilising your specific service or tool.

Robin:

Yes, and it's interesting you've used the word we use at Sprout Labs, which is ‘ecosystem’. It's really fascinating for me that in some ways, design thinking came out of what designers do, especially product designers. And then, expanded into experience designs, but the term service design is actually a much better way of thinking about it. I think that services is a really nice way of just framing a lot of what you're talking about as well.

Simon:

Yes, learning and development is a service. I think even the technology work we've done is a service. In the past, we might be developing an app or a website, but if you look at them in pure isolation you're missing, we believe, the majority of the other touch points that are required for something like that to be successful and utilised.

Robin:

Yes, and that is a really interesting way of thinking about it – that you might have a product, but then you got other multiple touch points that you need to think about around the edge of it as well.

L&D and design thinking – focusing on what the user needs

Now, you've done a bit of work with learning and development people to help them really think through innovations. As you've come into that area, what have been your feelings and impressions about the way that L&D normally designs?

Simon:

What we've seen within learning and development – it's a space that we've been working in and around for a lot of the journey of our time at Portable. Many years ago, I was on a federal government advisory board about the delivery of elearning. This would've been I think towards the tail end of a committee that had since got subsumed in itself, and we actually worked to develop learning tools in the community broadcasting sector, back in 2006 and 2007. So as a space we'd always, been skirting around the edges.

I think with the opportunities that we've had to dive in, we've been partly selective and worked on the projects where we can add most value, I guess the development of some core ecosystems and core platforms. And for us, it's positioning of that role of these learning and development platforms to more like content management systems, and which content management systems someone might choose, and the ability for people to want to have a level of customisation versus what they can actually do within that system. I think it covers a lot of this 80-20 of – know, you get 80 per cent of what you want done quite well. It's really that 20 per cent piece that you really want it to do, that it may not be able to do. And, I think it's important to get an understanding between yourself and the client if that is just their own interpretation of their own unique needs. Learning and development, as you would know better than I, is relatively consistent.

So, is it partly about educating the end user? Or is it also about being able to look at what are the different options that you could use? So for instance, when we look at a lot of LMSs, from the outset we tend to see them as quite bloated and not necessarily putting the user in the centre. The systems and the design of those systems becomes around how to integrate within that system, as opposed to what the user specifically needs. You know, that criticism can be put to any software as a service, or product that operates currently. So, I don't think that's necessarily consistent to the learning and development sector, but it's just the lens that we provide, and that sort of interrogation of the task.

I guess in our team, which is made up of researches, designers, and developers, we're also interested in how do you create lightweight solutions that you may be able to bolt on to some of these existing systems, to provide that enhanced user experience that people are seeking? I think a broad brush that I’m painting with, is that we've found in our experience that a lot of their systems are made around what the system needs rather than the user. So, we'll always advocate for the user, the end user, not clients or the people that the clients are serving in how their needs can be met through any future system.

Lightweight approaches to learning technologies

Robin:

Yes, I think that's a really nice word you used there – lightweight, user centred. It might not be about replacing a learning management system, but it’s about adding to the edges of the LMS.

I’m thinking about a client. They're really wrestling with the reporting in the LMS and thinking, maybe you just need a really lightweight dashboard. It's the ecosystem approach as well, putting in things that are maybe smaller, little components that slot in. It's interesting, in terms of learning tech. A lot of learning tech is very monolithic, whereas in a lot of other areas there are small things that are chained together.

Simon:

That's right, and I think it's that sort of bigger bulkiness or the idea that you’re develop a learning system for one entity, and then that gets shifted and shoved into another. It's still really common in all verticals, you've got a lot of systems that we feel are bloated. Most software that's available is bloated. It's trying to do many things sort of well, rather than one thing really, really well. And I think, the opportunity that the modern internet provides is that there are a number of systems that are best of breed and how do you then work to make those elements available to users? So for instance, you might work to stitch them together in APIs, or work with a variety of different systems rather than necessarily one that's sort of good at all of them, when you could have a series of interlocking systems that are actually fantastic at each of those components.

Robin:

Yes, and each of those components being more user centred.

Simon:

Correct.

What is your favourite design thinking tool?

Robin:

To drag myself back to the design thinking for a moment Simon, what’s your personal favourite tool in design thinking?

Simon:

I don’t know if I have a favourite. I like any tool that encourages people to think differently, or that can get people off their feet to consider the views of others. So for instance, empathy mapping, I like because it provides that opportunity for people to try and put themselves in someone else's shoes. That's an exercise that can be run relatively quickly. I recently did that for a conference with 140 participants in half an hour. It was just nice to see that sort of self-reflection on how they're viewing services. There are others that we've done that for that we're really interested in.

Robin:

Yes, there was an interesting moment where I sorted through the IDEO method cards one day.

Simon:

Yes, they're fantastic.

Robin:

Yes, they're fantastic. Eighty per cent of them were really around the understanding and empathy stage of design thinking.

Simon:

Yes, very much. IDEO has been pivotal to design thinking, and a key component is that empathetic view. The other part that they have there is optimism, which is something that we adhere to and is one of our end values at Portable. I think they're really key and it’s important to be able to provide both of those tools, when getting a solid awareness of who you're designing for.

Opening the black box of change in organisations

Robin:

One of the challenges, I think, of design thinking and L&D is that design thinking is a series of tools, but it's also a mindset. It's a mindset of being a designer, and then openness is actually one of the things that is really core to that. Presumably you do a fair bit of co-design work. What sort of ways do you work with people to help develop the mindset of design thinking?

Simon:

I think winning over key decision makers in that team. We start off with the define phase. You use that as a core. I think it's discovery. I think the other thing that we recognise is that in 2018, rarely if ever will this be the first time that someone has attempted a transformational change within their organisation. They may or my not have used design thinking, but everybody has at least considered this as a tool, or considered tools that they could use to improve services, and are probably somewhat sceptical that this one's going to work as the others haven't. So, I think it's important to get a solid understanding of what hasn't worked in the past. A view we've got is that we've all had six or seven horrible digital or learning experiences. We don't want to be the seventh.

It's important to know where the bodies are buried. It's important to know the reasons why things didn't work. Was it that the technology was bad? Was it that there was a personality clash? What are the internal organisation divisions? What are the power plays? So, I think a lot of those are really important to ensure that you can create the right format and environment. That when you do go down this path, that you've at least engaged the management team, or been aware of how to best propel and get through.

I mean if anything, we're just providing tools to allow us to get to the broader vision. Just as we talk about having empathy and understanding around the end user, I think there needs to be an empathy and understanding of where this work might fit within an organisation. I mentioned at the outset, Robin, a lot of our work is with large and complex organisations. We like being able to unpack that black box, unpeel that onion to really determine how do we really get that broader changer within these organisations?

Robin:

The way I personally think about it is that essentially we have the learner, the person, the learner working together in the context of organisation – which I was thinking while you were talking about it, it's actually the landscape – and then the business outcome as well.

Simon:

Correct. It's all of those things. The external people now are helping you to enact that vision, how do you ensure that you use that window? Because it is a window. It's a small window in any organisation to ensure that you can create some change before that door inevitably will shut, and to try and move it forward in that right direction. Especially, within a large organisation where you've got movement of people, revolving doors, and opportunities where things are going to work and things don't, to just really ensure that you're using the best use of that time.

Prototyping L&D services – blurring the physical and virtual

Robin:

I hinted before that design thinking really comes from product design. Product design has a whole series of powerful tools for prototyping. Things like building paper prototypes and 3D models. I think service design in the L&D spot has a different set of challenges around prototyping. I think there's a lot that learning and development can learn from service prototyping.

Simon:

Yes, I agree. I don't think it's as different as you're making out. I don't envisage that they're vastly different. I think if you can break them down into smaller components as we spoke to at the outset, then there are a lot of similarities in the way that the service is delivered. So, I think it's probably the mindset of understanding when looking at learning and development that how do you break it beyond that particular module or a particular system? So, I think that's probably the first one.

I also think that being able to go back to physical is important. I think that physical and digital worlds are so blurred these days, and that's a good thing. So, I don't envisage that they're necessarily in silos. There's certainly been times when we've leveraged off physical products to drive our digital products, and vice versa. So, I think there's a great palette of information available to us now to be able to draw upon for that.

Robin:

Yes, and a really good example of that is something like an onboarding program that is designed to be mobile based actually mocking up interfaces and experiences on paper, and then taking them out to a group of people to play test them, prototype them.

Simon:

Correct, and I think the best thing is that fail fast or learn early. I think that the worst thing that can happen is you end up making technical decisions that are quite difficult to change, or you make a lot of upfront investment. Again, when project health is high, and then invariably your well-formed views of things will change, but the decisions that you've already made at the outset make it quite difficult to make that change. It becomes inflexible and then you've got risk of project health. You've then got a risk of products that aren't going to meet the mark of what people are seeking to do, and especially if you think of learning and development and that essentialness to engage people. Whether it's provided as a carrot to get people to learn or whether it's depth that people have to do, it's really essential to put the user in first, and put yourself in their shoes, and understanding their own experiences before you spend the majority of the effort in building the infrastructure around where that final learning piece is going to live.

Harnessing good project health

Robin:

That's a really nice sentiment to start our wrap up, but I just want to pick up on a very nice term there, Simon: project health, and that sense that quite often at the beginning of something there's a whole lot of energy.

Simon:

Correct. It's really good.

Robin:

Yes, and if you can harness that energy for that sort of understanding, designing and prototyping phase together rather than separating out the prototype phase.

Simon:

One hundred per cent. I think you're right. Even if your people are saying, ‘These ideas are new and a bit out there,’ that’s when to do it. That's when you've got the most opportunity with the people that you're working with to trial and test those components. Even while they might not necessarily agree or think it's smart, or that's it the way they've done before, it invariably will lead to new insights, new learnings and a better service that you're going to do at the end. So, I think even if the view that people have is, ‘We need something built for this particular LMS or this particular CMS,’ we don't tend to go for that work or, if we do, we always go, ‘Ask a question of why? What is informing your decision here?’ And sometimes, it can be really practical. It's like, ‘We've invested millions of dollars and we have to.’ So it's like, ‘Okay, that's cool,’ but other times again, people are putting the technology at the centre, and not the user. We are of the view now that the technology is interchangeable. Everything can be linked to everything else, really. It's about ensuring the user is in the centre of it to ensure that you're meeting their needs, and then thinking about what the technology or design requirements may be.

Robin:

That's a nice sentiment to wrap on. Just one last question, Simon. What's your advice to somebody thinking about getting started in design thinking?

Simon:

My advice would be do some searching. Read Design Kit by IDEO. Probably realise that you're further along the service design journey than you think you are. If you're an interface designer, re-badge yourself as a service designer. There's a myriad courses, short courses in most capital cities in Australia that you can get down to. Reach out to companies like our own and start talking to people. Re-frame your experience and your interests within that range, and there you’ll just open up a world of opportunity to help get to that broader goal of creating more movement and greater engagement.