Design Courses

If you are looking for a simple way to deepen or broaden your design skills across service design and design thinking, UX, and UI, then I would highly recommend the Interaction Design Foundation courses.

They would also be great for anyone who wants to know more about design thinking, UX, and UI for personal or professional interest.

I did my first IDF course in late 2018 and have now done four courses covering design thinking, UX, UI, and information visualisation. All of the courses are helping me become a better service designer by more deeply understanding the design process and learning new techniques, which I am using every day. There are plenty of downloadable templates too, so I have been able to build up a collection of templates that can guide me on different design projects. 

The courses are also enabling me to work more effectively with UX/UI designers now that I understand more of their world and the way they work.

The Design Thinking course takes you through the human-centred design process. It gives an overview of the end-to-end process, and then goes through each of the empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test stages, covering the principles and the methods and techniques for each. I have been a service designer for about four years, so much of it was not new but it was a useful refresher on the methods for each stage, and when and why to use them. I found the session on alternatives to brainstorming really useful, and am now running more effective workshops not only for ideation, but also customer journey mapping.  

In the UX course, I learnt more about the business benefits and the return on investment, of UX, as well as how to design experiences that satisfy emotional as well as functional needs for users. These principles are important for all designers, not just UX designers. And learning about benefits to be able to sell the value of design is very useful. 

In some respects, I found the UI Design Patterns course even more helpful as it taught me about visual hierarchy, visual design principles, what users are typically trying to achieve on websites, as well as common design patterns. I am only partway through this course, so am looking forward to learning more…. I have been applying the principles to designing powerpoint presentations, which is working well, and i have had some really good feedback on my presentations.

I did the Information Visualisation course mostly for general interest. I have always been interested in how to present information in a way that is easily understood by viewers, and even better, is scannable so a user can understand and get meaning from a visualisation, even if they only skim it. Like all the courses, it gave a good framework for how to design a good visualisation, and questions at the end of each lesson that made you apply what you had learnt in a practical scenario. Some of the software mentioned is possibly a bit dated, but the principles about how humans ‘see’ information are still relevant. 

The good news is the courses are very cost-effective. The IDF is a not-for-profit foundation and the price is $14 per month in Australia (about US$10) for unlimited courses. It is also credible. Don Norman, the UX pioneer and author of The Design of Everyday Things, sits on their advisory board. 

The courses are online so you can do them at your own pace. Each course has about 8 lessons, and each lesson takes about 2 hours. I do them on Saturday mornings with the dog and a coffee!

Interaction Design Foundation logo

Why Service Design Is So Relevant

Service design is a core skill of any successful business. This might seem a surprising statement, but put it another way it will actually seem pretty obvious. That is, to be successful a business must know who its target customers are, what value it is delivering, and why customers choose its products and services rather than those of competitors. And to survive over time, the business must also be able to respond to external trends and changes in customer needs; and be able to make enough money to survive on the way through. This goes right back to Michael Porter who said the fundamental role of a business is to find and satisfy customers.

So how do businesses find and satisfy customers and keep doing so over time? Especially now, with new businesses much faster and cheaper to launch than ever before.

The answer is to ensure your business can answer the following questions, and to regularly test whether yesterday’s answers to the questions are still relevant today. The questions can be grouped under three headings – Why, How, and Wow:


Why does your business exist

  1. What customer need does your business address, or in service design terms, what problem does your business solve?
  2. Who has that problem?
  3. Is the pain of the problem bad enough for target customers to seek a solution or a new solution?


  1. How are customers solving the problem now?
  2. How will your products or services solve the problem?


  1. Are your products and services so compellingly better than the alternatives they will motivate customers to change and be loyal to your product or service?

The first question is what ‘problem’ are you trying to solve. In other words, what is happening in customers’ lives that your product and service will help with. This can be an ‘opportunity’ or an ‘unmet need’ rather than a ‘problem’, or a combination. Some ‘problems’ are functional, e.g. how do I get my tax return done. Others are emotional, e.g. many luxury goods are about increasing users’ sense of self-worth. Some are social like Facebook; and others fit across all of these dimensions. By the way, ‘problem’ may not be a word you use directly with customers – they may not appreciate being told they have a problem! – but is still a useful way of framing the search for an opportunity that has inherent motivation for customers to act.

The question ‘who has the problem’ will enable you to identify your target market. This means your target market should be defined in terms that are relevant to the problem. It’s always tempting to use easily identifiable things like demographics (age, gender, education, income, etc.), but this often includes lots of assumptions and is an easy way to miss opportunities. Supermarkets used to think their target market was people (usually women) doing a large weekly shop, then realised it was also busy career professionals who want to pick something up to eat on the way home (so now there are small ‘metro’ supermarkets). The practical goal of targeting is to maximise the return on investment of marketing budgets. It might be easy to think of a target market as being all women but advertising that aims to reach ‘Australian women’ would be expensive and likely to waste money promoting your product to people who have no need or interest.

Is the pain bad enough to change – is a check on how motivated are potential customers to change their current behaviour. Buying a new product or service always involves some level of behaviour change so your target customers need to be motivated to make the change. Startups often look for those who feel the pain the worst and so are the most motivated.

How are customers solving the problem now – will identify your competitors. A competitor is anything currently used to solve the problem and often includes ‘do nothing’ or ‘D.I.Y’ if some customers currently solve the problem themselves.

Asking ‘how will your products and services solve the problem’ is a check that what your business does actually matches the problem. Its also useful to identify ‘friction points’, actions that customers have to take and which don’t add value or might make the customer think ‘I will do this later’ (which is usually code for ‘won’t get around to it ever’!).

The last question is probably the most critical – how likely is your business to get how many customers, and how long can it expect to keep those customers. This goes to the size of your potential customer base and customer lifetime value.

Startups refer to answering the above questions as finding ‘product-market fit’ – finding a product that has a market of people willing to buy it.

Once you have answers to the core questions, marketing techniques become relevant – growth hacking, pirate metrics, social and content marketing, customer success, and so on – but none of these techniques will be of much help if your business hasn’t answer the core questions.


How To Build A Successful Innovation Function

Digital and innovation are getting lots of attention from public servants for good reason. Public servants work within structures and institutions that were designed years or decades or even longer ago, and which have often not evolved as the world around them has changed.

While the potential for transformation is large – there are many areas in which public services haven’t been able to deliver optimal outcomes – some of the reasons the potential exists are quite subtle.

One example is the economics of the digital era are different from the economics of the industrial era. Cost-effective delivery of services to large numbers of users in the industrial era was based on economies of scale. The economics of the digital era make mass personalisation possible – the Amazon bookstore that I see is not the same as the Amazon bookstore that you see – social media is based on communities taking a single construct and turning it into something meaningful for themselves (my Facebook community is different from the Facebook communities created by the NSW Police).

The opportunity is for public servants to create new public services that deliver better outcomes either to existing users or beneficiaries, or users who previously couldn’t or didn’t access the services.

A starting point to address this to create a digital innovation capability, and below is a checklist of the ingredients of such a capability.

1. Define the goal. Why are you innovating, what is the service or policy outcome you want to improve. An approach which starts from ‘we want to be innovative’ or ‘we need to become a more innovation culture’ is too vague. Better goals offer a clearer picture of the future. Some say the starting point is culture (‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’). Actually, the starting point is purpose. JF Kennedy didn’t declare he wanted to develop a space exploration oriented culture, he declared he wanted to send an American safely to the Moon before the end of the 1960s. A purpose provides the necessary focus for efforts, and enables measurement of whether progress is being made (and learning and iterating).

2. Define the remit. How radical is innovation allowed to be. The choices are: (a) sustaining innovation to make the existing services more convenient, faster, or cheaper focussing on process, or how the services are delivered or by who; (b) breakthrough innovation to deliver better outcomes that are potentially radically cheaper through redesigning the services themselves; or (c) transformational innovation, which involves redesigning services plus the supporting business model.

2. Senior level sponsorship and leadership. Innovation requires the support to do things differently, which may not be welcomed by all stakeholders, and ‘air cover’ to allow a process of discovery-testing-iterating (experimentation) where things will not always work or may happen more slowly (require more cycles) than expected.

3. Money or a mandate. There needs to be a reason (and permission) why people would want to work with you. One reason is there is an ‘authorising environment’ that allows the work to happen. The other is there is money – seed funding – for public servants to come forward with problems they want to see solved.

4. Process and metrics. Innovation doesn’t happen because of good intentions. And innovation isn’t just about producing ideas. Innovation happens only when an idea (actually a hypothesis) has been through a process of testing, iterating, scaling, can be used by the target audience, and the outcomes can be measured and compared against the previous service. This requires a process and metrics.

5. Capability.  There will be many people in your organisation who can become skilled at digital innovation. However as that suggests, digital innovation is a skill requiring experience and expertise. A good approach to capability building is a ‘master-apprentice’ model where you hire people with digital innovation expertise and experience who can work collaboratively with subject matter experts and others. That process not only enables innovation, but trains the next group of innovators. This also enables digital innovation efforts to scale across your organisation, rather than rely on a single team whose expertise will necessarily need to be rationed.

Now go forth and innovate. And remember you have a responsibility to those that come after. We are all at the early stages of this exciting journey. Share your learnings.

What If We Innovate Public Services

This post first appeared on Criterion Conferences blog:

What if public services were available and delivered where and when you needed them? What if some longstanding and complex public policy problems were able to be reduced or even solved? What if far fewer people ‘fell through the cracks’ between health, education, welfare, and justice public services? What if public services could be customised to your individual needs?

While these questions are not necessarily new, what is new is that the digital economy provides new tools and methodologies that offer new answers to old questions. And to new and relevant questions like ‘what if communities were able to design and deliver their own services’.

The tools of the digital economy start with people, rather than technology, so services can be designed around user needs and underlying problems. The tools include:

  • methodologies for deep understanding of and insight into users, including design thinking and co-design
  • ways of working based on testing and learning, the idea being to lower risk by progressively testing potential solutions so it’s possible to change direction (or stop) before much time and money is spent
  • technology which is radically faster and cheaper to deploy (for a very basic example – I can and have launched a website in an afternoon with no coding experience)
  • new digital business models including crowdsourcing and platforms

Because the key to success is starting with citizens – understanding the real problem we are trying to solve and what else is happening in the citizen’s life around the service or problem – collaborating across agency boundaries is critical. Government agencies have long understood the answer to many issues crossing agency boundaries – think about a youth offender or a mentally ill elderly person in public housing to name just two of dozens of potential examples.

By the way, it’s also important we build a community of people across Australia and even globally who are working in this area. Digital government is very new, there are no natively digital governments and globally digital government is still in the early stages, although we can see some signposts of how to approach the opportunity.

The key question is ‘how’ – how do we get started, and then how do we scale our efforts? The NSW government has already begun to innovate public services – both within agencies, and on a cross agency basis. This will be supported by an Innovation Policy, including digital government, recently announced by the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, the Hon Victor Dominiello MP, which is currently in development.

It’s an exciting time to be in the public service, we have real opportunities to deliver positive change for the citizens and states.

Customer Service or Hostage Situation?

There is an odd wrinkle in the digital era which is that companies continue to offer customer service like a kind of hostage situation where they won’t take action unless you, the customer, sit and watch while it happens. 

I have just spent 40 minutes in a live chat session with my mobile phone provider to cancel a data plan which has appeared on my account, which had me tethered to my desk because I started the chat session on my PC.

Many years ago, you could post a letter to a service provider making some request about your account, and when they got your letter they would make it happen, while you went about your daily life untroubled by any need to go and stand next to the person undertaking the work and make bright conversation while they actioned your request.

Then the contact centre made it was necessary sit on the telephone while your request was carried out. It was never an option to describe the request and have them call back when they were done. I think this was because contact centres saw themselves as a more convenient alternative to a customer visiting a store, when a better framing of the opportunity would have been to compare it against the customer, you know, doing something else.

Which brings us to live chat. It should be like instant messaging but it’s not.

Live chat is essentially a telephone call with the sound turned off. It is still involves waiting in a queue, getting connected, explaining what you want, standing by and wait until everything is actioned, then being disconnected at the end of the chat.

Real instant messaging really would enable the customer to do something else at the same time because iM doesn’t involve an expectation of an instant reply. And an IM conversation will follow the participants across devices. So if I want to head out to go to the movies, I won’t be ‘disconnected’ if I don’t reply to a question instantly, and the conversation can seamlessly shift from PC to mobile.

This is the kind of missed opportunity that happens when companies start with solutions (‘lets get live chat’) instead of starting with customer problems (‘how can we make routine service interactions easier and frictionless’).

As for me, I am off to the movies at last….