This was yet another dense and also fun week.
On Tuesday afternoon, the design and user-research team at DigitalService met for our annual end-of-year gathering. About 2/3 of us could make it. Getting closer to the evening, we had a gingerbread house crafting competition.
With Eva, Jo and Sami, we had a wonderfully articulate, eloquent, and critical jury who looked at the design and execution of 3 gingerbread houses. Ultimately, they awarded 3 prizes to 1 team each – honouring solid build quality, the most creative concept and the most user-centred design.
Recognising what a demanding year 2023 has been, we decided to have a portion of reflection during the discipline’s Christmas gathering and finish with something purely fun and silly.
Sonja started us with an M&M-powered conversational icebreaker that made us tell things from our childhood, things we are excited about or things we’d like to try. I led through a Zombie-themed retrospective, asking: “What keeps us as a discipline from researching and designing well and making good user-centred public services happen?”. As a third segment, Charlotte prepared a ‘Struggles and Learnings 2023’ canvas for us to work through in small teams. And, like last year, we collected anonymous personal appreciations from team members and shared them. Everyone in the room got a folded note with the name of another designer or user researcher. Once the person’s slide came up, they had to read out the appreciations this person had received. Charlotte coined the format ‘warm shower’, and it got a lot of claps and smiles.
Time and formats like these are vital for the discipline. This year, it grew by 29%, introducing user research as a dedicated role. The following 13% of growth is already given as 3 more future team members have their contracts for 2024 signed. By the end of 2024, the user-centred design team could reach 30 people. More people means more human connections, lowering the chance for more profound, meaningful exchanges between everyone. I have seen that at GDS and Nokia, and only a few focused efforts to mitigate that. I like to do better and try harder.
To recap the year, I made a slide show summarising what we did in the discipline – apart from everyone’s work in the teams. We did plenty of things, from crafting design principles to running training, unpacking strategy, launching new community events and formats, and having offsite and various public talks.
Talking and getting other people to talk to each other
It was the last week of public events, and Thursday was especially packed. Maria and I hosted the second regular NExT community event on user-centred design. We had some 30 people join us to look at and discuss ‘clear language, comprehensible government’ (the German title ‘Klare Sprache, verständliche Verwaltung’ is better). Participants came from all parts of government, including cities, municipalities, state-level and federal government.
We had 2 presentations this time. First, Elke Wildraut, an easy-read specialist in the IT unit of the City of Munich, gave an introduction to easy-read, what its specific rules are and how she works on service guidance and other information, including election guidance. English Wikipedia has a good explanation of German ‘Leichte Sprache’. Afterwards, my colleague Paul talked about clear language in the context of the ‘Get support with court fees’ he and his team are working on. His slides from the talk are on GitHub. Both speakers got plenty of questions, and attendees shared appreciation for their work. And despite a lower ‘return on invested time’ score of 4.1 out of 5 this time, we can finish our public sector-community work on a high.
Without a break, I moved on to a webinar that started 1 minute later: ‘Digitaler Staat Online’ invited Caro and me to talk about the Service Standard and its practical application in justice services. We promised to address 3 questions:
- How do we ensure that new digital, government services that we develop work well for all users?
- What really helps us with transformation at an operational level?
- What does it take to ensure that every development team works to comparable quality standards?
We iterated, refined and extended our November talk at ‘Smart Country Convention’ and added more tangible examples. Our input and the follow-up questions were recorded and are available on YouTube. We received some common and some odd questions. One comment I tried to unpick was: “Why are there 19 standard [point]s? Aren’t the standards set too high? Ultimately, isn’t it just about offering digital services in a user-friendly way?”. In my answer, I went back to various publicly documented service failures we talked about in the first part of our talk and highlighted many different areas of failure. Have a look at the YouTube recording if you speak some German and are interested.
On Wednesday evening, I also caught up with colleagues from the KERN Design System initiative. Isabell and Robin were curious to hear if, when and how the German Service Manual could come back after it was switched off without public notice some months ago. At the moment, it’s only accessible via the Internet Wayback Machine. That is damaging, and I find it unacceptable. In a hopeful twist, the Ministry of Justice’s National Regulatory Control Council suggests that Digital Service is helping to bring it back. So far, that’s merely wishful thinking and a vague intent. But hopefully, we can look into it in 2024 for real.
Looking at what’s next with justice services
Designing what digital justice services are, do, and feel like is what keeps a growing number of people at Digital Service busy – and that is great. So, I remain close to the work as a ‘sparring head of discipline’.
This week that included several things:
I participated in a fruitful design guidelines kick-off with all designers on the ‘access to justice’ workstream. It included short inputs on design components, plain language efforts, and other design and content work the Federal Ministry of Justice is doing.
I had a long-term service view session with designers Carina, Christin and product manager Felix for the small claims service. We looked at an existing service blueprint and discussed what levels of abstraction we need to capture, prioritise and communicate to stakeholders.
I participated in an extensive session with senior state-level justice colleagues looking at the future of justice portals and services.
I scoped additional design work for the new year to take a look at a service platform view. This is particularly exciting, and I want to be as involved as I can be.
Additionally, I helped get our first content designer role prepared, published and promoted for one of the justice workstreams. And I made a new graphic to promote the role on social media.
I have only 3 working days left in 2023. There are still some things to.
My colleague will be co-running a short session to wake up the accessibility ambassador group at Digital Service. With my colleagues Jutta and Stephie, I will host a lunch and learn session titled ‘End-to-end transformation and why we’ll never start with the right thing’.
I will also interview some more candidates for our open roles and review the applications we have received so far for the senior content design role.