I work in education… Why do I have to use tools from Service Design, UX and Agile?


Thank you, I understand. Welcome to the Brave New World.

Your job and mine now require new kinds of tools and approaches. These tools and approaches aren’t part of the regular toolbox of tools most of us are familiar with in academic work.

I’m talking about education but the same could equally apply to other areas.

The reason is that everything is different now except oftentimes we find ourselves hallucinating a different reality to the one we actually live in.

In the new reality, the user is at the centre. For those of us in education, this is just an extension of what how we’ve been operating for a while. At least in theory.

The toolkit that comes from the field of service design and user experience (UX) contains practical tools and approaches that allow us to work in ways that leverage this user-centredness.

There’s also user interface (UI) but that’s another story again.

Historically (meaning the last few internet years), this work has usually been associated with digital domains such as web design and online services. Education is moving in this direction with speed.

The best educators are already multi-media personalities. This is a fact. However, they are sometimes disguised as other things.

I have been thinking about using tools from Service Design and UX since November last year when I had both an emergency and an epiphany.

So, some quick whakapapa (history) regarding my use of personas for context:

Tools from the Service Design toolbox were instrumental in helping me complete a tricky project earlier this year.

This was after needing to do a massive pivot mid-development to swing things very quickly towards what the client was then starting to articulate they needed.

This immediately illustrated how the tools helped solve problems stemming from a vague project scope and shifting goalposts.

Using service design persona methodology allowed me to pull together and communicate a lot of nuanced information from educators and others very quickly.

Personas are also part of the suite of tools and case studies recommended as best practice by the NZ government for the design of new services or when analysing existing service provision.

Services here include everything from education to health care. This includes the use of personas in the design and testing phase for a new service.

There are better summaries elsewhere, but the NZ govt link is here:

For more than 10 years, I have watched a number of products and services get rolled out poorly in education.  Part of the problem is a disconnect between the groups rolling out the services and the end users (e.g. educators).

There is a multitude of reasons for this, and I’m not assigning blame because I’ve also been caught up in the process. I’ve tried to make things better, but I’m sure I’ve also made things worse at times.

However, the point is that just like we want to maintain a learner-centred approach to our teaching, we need to advocate for a similar kind of human-centred approach to the design of the new education and related services.

It’s in this human-centred approach that you find the connection to the fields of service design and user experience (UX).

There are strong links from here to Agile and Lean methodologies as well – another personal blindspot I’m addressing through my own professional development.

Because of recent history that I’ve been part of, I’m keenly aware of the need for tools to use that are simple, effective and that communicate directly with our, largely non-academic, suspicious and often disengaged target groups.

I’ve seen personas engage this kind of crowd in the facilitated workshops I’ve run.

However, I’m happy to look at the evidence why we should avoid using tools like these as well.

Let’s talk about personas again though as there may be valid reasons to avoid using them.

For example, personas fail to work as a design tool when they are misunderstood, not used correctly or if we don’t have buy-in from leadership regarding the process.

Also, following the design and user testing phase, we need to shift from the archetypes in the personas to real users in terms of using real data to keep iterating what we are working on.

Failure here would give us more static tools and resources. I can think of a few like this that are now starting to feel a little dated and have no mechanism to evolve beyond their current formats.

It’s understandable that these kinds of new tools and approaches make us feel nervous. However, my recommendation is that what we should be doing is embracing and doubling down.

For example, there are other tools in the Service Design and UX toolboxes that we should also be using.

One of these is called customer journey mapping, or for us – Practitioner Journey Mapping.

The basic idea is that following the design and testing stage, we track real-life stories from our users as we roll out the new education service.

This would allow us to track the real and perceived highs and lows of someone’s experience through the rollout of a new education service.

Journey Mapping is an excellent tool to use for a new service that’s just getting underway, or for an existing service that needs renovating.

The user (let’s just say learner) experience with some of our existing education services would feel quite different if this approach was taken during rollout or subsequent upgrades.

None of this though is what really compels me to write such a long essay about these kinds of tools.

There’s another reason.


Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

Leave a Reply