The 'How to' of Design

At the Australian Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Design we are seeking to understand what is the nature of the design eco-system and the tools and methodologies being used. In this post I thought I would share with you the results of some of that work and to seek your help.

What I have found is that there isn’t a definitive single approach, however all the approaches employed by the various players in the design eco-system seek to give effect to the following five credos (adapted from the Christian Bason’s (CEO of MindLab in Denmark) book ‘Leading Public Sector Innovation: Co-creating for a better society’):

  • Value the citizen (the real user) and look at and define the problem from their point of view. Create and deliver solutions with people and for people

  • Appreciate the context, national identity, social and economic drivers, organisational culture, policy environments, legislation, governance, financial and incentives structures

  • Challenge the status quo to reframe the problem in terms of positive and measurable outcomes and illuminate how these might be achieved in a different way. Question ‘what is’ and ask ‘what if’ and ‘why’ (‘whydeology’) to surface assumptions, constraints and human behavioural insights

  • Experiment with the possibilities and options, prototype ‘rough and ready’ early and rapidly without fear of failure. Break away from desk bound perfectionism

  • Be concrete in the representations of the problem and potential better solutions. Design to visualize, make real and try out. Tell a compelling story.

The following are some examples of representations of the design methodologies currently employed across the eco-system.

Australian Taxation Office

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

Department of Human Services


A strategic design consultancy located in Canberra.

Tough Problem

An innovative strategy and design consultancy located in Brisbane.

Second Road

A strategy and innovation firm located in Sydney.


A Danish cross-ministerial (Business, Taxation and Employment) innovation unit, a neutral zone for creativity, innovation and collaboration.

A not for profit offshoot of IDEO, a global design consultancy.

Blue Sky

A multidisciplinary design firm located in Sydney.

A feature of the design process which is difficult to convey without making the diagrammatic representation look like a bowl of spaghetti is its organic nature, with lots of iterations and overlapping of the various steps.

One element of the Centre’s value proposition is to work within the ‘white space’ of existing APS design capability, which is at various levels of maturity in a range of departments including Taxation, Customs, Human Services, Employment, Attorney General’s and Immigration. In other words we seek to augment existing capability and to catalyze and help build design capability more broadly across the APS. To make that possible we think that a shared language and concepts would be useful and we would like you to help us design this. To kick-start the development of such we would like your design input on the following prototype including your views on how the design approach should complement or integrate with project and program management:

[1. The five phases are: Seeking to understand the present and identify the problem through re-framing, challenging the status quo, ‘disruptive hypothesis’, empathy and quantitative, qualitative and ethnographic research.  Understanding the outcome sought and gaining ownership of the shared intent through strategic conversations. Analysing knowledge and identifying insights from a ‘citizen point of view’ in memorable and engaging ways, including stories, scenarios, visualisations, enactments and descriptive frameworks. Synthesising and generating new ideas (ideation), concepts and possibilities by brainstorming, rehearsing potential new futures and concept selection. Creating prototypes and trialing the new ideas that are likely to achieve the desired user experience and outcome. Evaluating the trial outcomes and refining through learning by doing and failing early so as to succeed sooner. Scaling, adapting and spreading the selected and prototyped approach in order to create value.]