Building a shared language for design tools in the APS

[Originally published on Australian Government DesignGov under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

Is there a common language and shared process for doing design across the Australian Public Service (APS)? When a designer in one agency talks about a particular application of design, does the person in another agency think it means the same thing?

On 22 May the Australian Taxation Office and DesignGov ran the second of two workshops on the use of personas and pathways as design tools across the APS. The first focused on introducing these tools to people unfamiliar with them (and you can read Oliver’s post on that workshop). This second workshop was about bringing together people from across different agencies with existing experience and expertise in the use of these tools.

It was a great workshop (a huge thanks goes to our colleagues at the ATO who facilitated the day!) with 21 participants from 8 agencies with very diverse experiences.

The workshop tried to look at what was common between agencies in:

  • How to construct a persona
  • How to construct a journey map
  • How to construct a user pathway
  • How to construct scenarios
  • How to use all of these tools together.

We approached these tools through the lens of the cross-agency project looking at how to dramatically improve business and government interactions.

The discussion raised a number of points, but a key focus was the importance of data. Data analysis can help identify and distinguish between the relevant user groups and ensure that tools such as personas are not stereotypes, but useful abstractions of relevant characteristics. The discussion noted that there is often a lot of marketing research available to organisations that can help provide this data. Designers should draw on such existing research on the community in question.

Design can provide the richness of insight that you will not get from an analysis limited to facts and figures, but at the same time it is incumbent on the designer to ensure that every characteristic or detail that is included is representative in some way, and not specific to an individual. In this way design can help build empathy between decision makers who may be distanced from those being affected by their decisions. In this way, an emotional flavour is important, but it cannot be overwhelming or accidentally giving the decision maker an ‘insight’ that is actually irrelevant or tangential.

Another key point that was discussed was the importance of distinguishing journey maps from user pathways – that journeys are the common experience of a large segment of your target population (e.g. people who are going into business or people having a child). A journey is what people experience, independent of the (government) processes that they might interact with. User pathways are the ‘touch points’ of when an agency/processes intersect with citizens.

Our colleagues at the ATO have provided a first draft of the outcomes of the workshop [PDF 915KBPowerPoint 811 KB] which we will continue to refine with designers within the APS as we seek to develop the shared language for design tools.

If you would like to be a part of that discussion, or involved in the next workshops looking at other design tools, please get in contact with us.