Jas is a designer. She has fifteen years experience working with digital products and services. She's worked in e-commerce, finance, and now the public sector. Jas has transitioned into design leadership. She's experimenting with a range of leadership techniques to build a community of practice. Jas likes to think big and find small lean ways to move forwards.
Jas is head of design responsible for the service and interaction design professions at the Department for Education.
She’s aiming to create the right conditions for design to thrive. Building, collaborating and sharing as one strong community. It's helping each designer, the profession, and the department deliver better outcomes for the people we serve.
Design imperatives at Department for Education
Head of Design at Department for Education Jas Kang is joined by designers Laura Leahy, Jude Web and Victor Ivan to explore the DfE's three design imperatives, and why their backlog format is as OKRs (Objectives and key results). The team discuss how they're experimenting and maturing their profession, and aiming to deliver better outcomes for end users.
Hello? Can you hear me? Yeah. Yeah. So we have got a bit of a speaker issue because there's only one speaker, so that's why we're standing in the way that we are. But we'll pass the baton on because that's what it's about. Welcome, everyone. Thanks for coming. We're from the Department for Education, as you saw. And we're going to be talking about design imperatives and community objectives.
This is a subject that I really care about. Hopefully you'll like it. Let us know. So, hello. I'm Jaskiran Kang, and I'm the Head of Design at Department for Education. And in our talk today, we're going to be talking about design imperatives and community objectives. And we're going to do three things for you today.
We're going to share what we did. How we do it at the department, and we'll share an example. But there's loads more that we can't possibly show you today, but they're available if you want it. And we'll also reflect on what we've achieved over the last year of experimenting. And the key word is experimenting, because it's all about learning and developing, which is what our profession is about.
Throughout this talk, we're going to be sharing things that you might want to take pictures of because you might want to reuse some of the stuff that we've done over the year. So do feel welcome to do that. It's all open source, which is what we're trying to do. And if you do resuse, if you find anything that you want to use in your work, let us know because we'll probably want to copy what you've done as well. So it's a two way thing. And so I'm standing here with Laura, Victor and Jude. But we are just four of us, part of a bigger community. And whilst we share all the work that we do today, every single person here is a core part of the work that we've done.
These are all civil servants. This is this is a carrot that I'm actually trying to create for civil servants within the department. And this work that we share is the work that we've done in the past year. And we're very fortunate to have a community team who work in the background, who really support our professional growth. So thanks to every single person over here, because we wouldn't have done this work without them.
So before I start, I'd like to set the scene for those of you that don't know what the Department for Education is. Department for Education is a huge organisation. And we have a vast range of services that are including lots of services. And these services are for children and learners, teachers, schools and school staff, young people over 16, vulnerable children and families.
And we also have services for people who might need help and guidance. We might have services for giving funding and grants to people. And we have designers working individually in one of these services on a day to day basis. And in fact, they spend 80% of their working time in one of these services. So the work I show you today is just 10% of professional time, which is outside of the 80%. Need to make that really clear because that 10% is what we're working with.
And alongside all this, we have designers working in internal services such as platforms that help all of these services. Design is also integral to the work that we do in data science to help our departments use data and intelligence to automate where we can. And here's an example of one of those services, and this is a service to get into teaching and the intent for this service is to help aspiring teachers to go through the journey of becoming one.
So that's that's just one example of some of the complexity that we're dealing with. So why do we need imperatives and community objectives? I'm going to go on and share that with you. So as individual designers working within services, we all strive to design services that work. Lou Downe is my inspiration for why I'm a civil servant.
So I joined the public sector to become a civil servant being inspired by Lou when Lou was speaking at a conference like this. And Lou said, "We need amazing, talented designers to help us design services at work". I've been here for about four years, and last year I decided to transition into design leadership. So pre-warning. I'm new to design leadership.
So I'm here to experiment and learn, just as lots of other people here. And this is an image by Tim Paul from GDS. Tim's amazing. And this image does exactly I need to explain, but I'm going to have to read because I could talk about this topic and this complexity in so much detail. Must be careful with the words I use because it goes very political very quickly.
So this this is Tim's words. It's a diagram illustrating how an organisation forms are just the tip of a much larger structure. The service, most of which is buried inside the organisation itself. And these were tips you could swap out to represent anything. So, for example, I shared earlier, get into the teaching service. This could be one of those red tips, just one red tip.
And we have lots of features and products which are also part of a suite of services for teachers. For example, apply for teacher training is another tip. Teacher vacancies is another tip. And as I said earlier, we have designers working individually in one of those tips. And so there's a challenge there. And so I'm actively working on this at the moment as head of design which is we're reviewing where service design fits in that whole organisational structure. Not service structure, but organisational structure.
Sarah Drummond talks about full stack service design. And I believe that's where we need to be with our thinking in our delivery of services. And you can read up on it, I'm not going to go into that theory. And also practical thinking. We have plenty of work to do in this space when we consider the whole service and the whole organisation.
And I think we need to get closer to org design rethinking, and we need to understand how to improve things. And I think working together to take friction away, to create efficiencies and to really improve the user experience. And I think the earlier talk about environment, that's another thing that we should be considering as well. And there's a famous quote, used by so many. Steve Jobs says "start small, think big."
Seth Godin says, "think big, start small" And start small has been my design strategy when I transitioned into design leadership. And for me, it's about people first. And so I started with my profession. The people that I feel care just as I care. And so tackling big problems alone is really difficult. In fact, it might seem impossible.
And doing it together is still hard, but we can make it fun and it makes it feel like the impossible can be possible And so that's the hope that I go in with as a design leader. And again, we're not in a sprint, we're in a relay, and we're here to pass the baton on.
And so while one person alone can't get into that complexity, incrementally as a profession, we most certainly can. So this is where the power of a profession and a community really kicks in for me. And that's what I believe as a design leader is so powerful. And I think the talk by Rachel this morning really resonated with me because that's exactly what Rachel was saying.
So hopefully this might be something that works. Well I think we're all trying, we're all part of the same community, aren't we? And starting small in order to get to the big picture is essentially what I'm trying to do. I want a small and growing design profession. So the design community at DfE, we've had design in the organisation for all the years, but a head of design only really existed when I took on the role. A DD in design and communications only came six months ago,
so while design has been a thing, it's really immature. So we need to see that maturity curve go up so that we can actually be part of that complexity. That whole service diagram that I showed you earlier by Tim. So one of the key things I needed to do when I came into my role was I need to bring a siloed, fragmented community together where we knew one another.
People didn't know each other, they were just part the red tip and they would never talk between the different tips. And so that was one of the challenges that we needed to do. And in order to do that, people need to feel safe. And safe to share challenges and share the challenges of the problems that are sometimes really difficult to share in the open.
And so having that space to do that was important and sharing successes as well, because when things are tough, it's really important to recognise the incremental movement that we are making and nurturing good behaviors. And that's also really important. So forming a culture where experimentation within our safe space is the norm is ultimately the outcome that I'm trying to get to.
And building trust and confidence takes a lot of time. It's not something you just have because you say it. It's through behaviors. And so aligning on what good looks like as a profession is so important and defining our standards. So we've got GDS standards, but what does it mean for DfE? How do we actually deliver to those standards? Working to best practices.
So designers who are really good and motivated and happy when we are working to best practices, because as individuals we just want to do our best work. And so I wanted to see individual growth and development for my profession because when I see that, I know that they're gonna be happier, more motivated and they will deliver better services, I think.
And so I want growth for our profession. And that was one of the things that's keeping me going. Capability growth is an important value that I want to have. And so as a profession, we need shared purposes and we need to be strong as a community. So coming together, creating some consistency, working to best practices, defining what good looks like, training, upskilling, sharing knowledge within our profession is a difficult task to have and it's going to take time.
And so as the previous keynote speaker said, doing it alone is hard. Doing it together gets a tad bit easier, so that is important. And so finding a suitable path to get to our outcome, well, we need to be united as a profession first. So personally, which is just that beginning stage, we've got a whole journey to go on before we get to where we need to get to.
Or we could do it alone. That's fine, but it's better if we do it together. So our design culture was led by the needs of the community, and I hope our designers here will be advocating and reflecting that is what we're doing. So how? I'm going to pass you over to Laura.
Let's just check this is working. It is, great. Hi, everyone. I'm Laura, I'm a member of the design community. I'm a service designer. I work alongside Jas, and Jude and Victor and then all of those faces of people you saw this morning. And the how is basically where we all come into the equation. So Jas has started with kind of this design leadership challenge.
And she basically got everyone involved in the community, which is what I'm about to talk about. So we were looking at what does actually a mature design profession look like, and how do we start building one? So Jas is inspired by the book what was it called? The first 90 days, I knew I would get it wrong, by Michael Watkins.
So she set up a plan to firstly understand the problem. What does the current community look like? Does one even exist? How are people linking together? Are we sitting in peaks like we showed in the diagram earlier? Are we a bit more linked? Then to define the define what actually we should be doing to join those peaks together and then finally to explore how we can kind of go about building that mature profession. So firstly, to understand the problem, what the current community looks like and how people are already working together. Jas realised she would need to speak to the community So she conducted interviews with 14 designers, heads of professions basically to understand what the current barriers were
how people were working, why the problems that existed were there. So she kind of brought together all of this insight, started condensing it into some imperatives and found quite a lot of basic barriers, such as problems with tools and equipment, just not having enough time to deliver and spending time on admin and things like that.
So from that Jas built a backlog which started very rough and ready, and kind of distilled that insight and she realised that she couldn't distill that further or define it further alone. So she brought all of us together into a working group, and we met once a week. Firstly, to distill those insights into imperatives and secondly just to actually get to know each other.
I was in quite a separate team to everyone else, so I didn't know the rest of my community when I started. So this is an amazing opportunity for me to actually meet the designers in the Department for Education. And that was the first time I'd really seen the service designers working there, which was amazing. And Jas set us the task of putting creative icebreakers together every week.
So we took it in turns, and this really kind of created a really open environment for us to talk openly, open dialogue and also really it did break the ice, and I think it brought us closer together. This is one of the more tame exercises that's in the background. So next once we had the community, we wanted to define what our imperatives should be.
And this is what we came up with. So we found three main themes and they were to firstly grow the design capability. Don't worry about the small print because I am going to read out. So keeping knowledge and skills to build long-lived teams which are hoping to help us build and run services, portfolios and departments. Secondly, to create visible design standards. So understanding, using and developing design standards that are inclusive, accessible and ethical.
And the idea of these is to guide us to deliver our best work because we want our designers to thrive. And lastly, to talk about the work we deliver. So advocating for the user, sharing our outcomes across the department, sharing the tools and the processes so we can help other teams deliver, and then also increase awareness of the community, increase awareness of design within the department, and also raise credibility as well.
So this was us getting together. We kind of had all of our imperatives ready and we'd been working over lockdown. So a lot of us hadn't met in person. So firstly, we were looking for an opportunity to find a way to share these imperatives with the community, with everyone else in the department. And secondly, we really just wanted an excuse to get together and see each other.
So we went up to the Leicester print workshop and we had a go at screen printing and put these imperatives into print, which are now spread around all of the offices in the UK. And it is really lovely to kind of walk into an office and see something you've printed by hand. So I'm going to hand over to Jude.
Hi, I'm Jude and I'm a senior service designer at Department for Education working with these folks. And it was at this point when it was starting to explore that I joined in with the community imperatives, because I was part of that wider community that the working group wanted to reach out to. So you can see here that these are stages that we went through.
So it started with planning, and you've heard quite a bit from Laura about the planning that gone into building the backlog, etc. And then there was a kick off with the wider design community. Then every group that took on an objective was encouraged to review how the how they were getting on with that objective. And then there's an end of quarter playback.
So when I first joined, and I know you can't read this, but this is how Jas and the working group had visualised the the backlog to start with. It was in Figma because we were all familiar with Figma, and it was a way of getting us into a virtual space together. So what you can see is that each imperative had its own board and then under there's the epics, and then underneath that the white boxes represent the objectives.
So those are packages of work that a small team can come together and pick up and move forward in a quarter. And it was really organic the way that people were allowed to just choose, choose an objective that you're interested in, follow your passion. But one of the rules was that there has to be a lead, someone who is prepared to lead that objective for this quarter. You could also be an observer, you could also be a contributor, but to be taken forward in that quarter there had to be a lead, but that was nonhierarchical. It didn't have to be that someone in a senior position was the leader. Anyone could take the opportunity to lead an objective. And in the meeting, the culture of how we were encouraged to take these objectives forward was really, really important.
Jas did a lot of work in the working group that thought about how they wanted us to feel as we took these objectives on. So the first one, Jas said again and again in that meeting, be kind to yourself. So, as Jas says, we're all working in those individual tips and this is just 10% of our work is working on improving the design community.
So don't, don't take on too much, don't overcommit, just choose one objective and work on that one. And don't be overambitious that you're going to create stress for yourself. Be ambitious. Absolutely. We want to move things forward. We want to make our community better and how we work better, but be kind to ourselves. And then enjoy working with new people.
This is my favourite. As others, like Laura said, a lot of us had joined in lockdown. I'd not met any designers outside of my service before. So getting to meet up with another group of designers just to get to know them to start with, and then to have something practical to work on with them and feel like we were creating our own momentum.
I really felt like I was getting to know the community and hearing different voices and reminding myself what it's like to talk to other designers, rather than necessarily talking to the stakeholders. I'm talking to day to day in my service. But it wasn't just designers inside of DfE, we also looked outside because the objective I've worked on, I tweeted something and someone at DWP said, "Oh, what are you doing,
can we talk?" So we talked. For another one I was working on, we knew DEFRA were ahead of us, so we reached out to DEFRA and said, What are you doing? What can we learn from you? What can we bring back to the DfE to speed these things up? And then celebrating success. This is a big thing that we're trying to do.
We have to celebrate all the small steps that we're taking, so that was absolutely baked into it. So that's the culture that was set. We had the board, we were all looking at those objectives and we put our names next to them and chose them. And then in that same meeting, we broke out into our breakout rooms of our newly formed groups to set up how we were going to achieve it.
And we used this OKR framework. I know you probably can't read it. And if you want a copy of it, feel free to DM any of us and we'll send it to you. But at the top we set out a time frame so we always work in quarters. So which quarter, which three months are we working on this objective, what's the objective?
And then the key results. We're encouraged to think of three or four key things that we're going to deliver that prove that we've achieved that objective. How does this objective break down into tangible bits of work that we can do this quarter? And we also used this template to review our progress. So we'd come back to it and say throughout the quarter, how are we getting on with achieving that?
And then at the end of the quarter, we'd have playback or show and tell, where Jas would do an intro to the imperatives because it wasn't just the design community coming along, it was also we'd invite anyone who was interested to come along and see what we're getting up to. And then each imperative gets a timeslot where they celebrate and show what they've achieved in the quarter and then a wrap up and questions.
But it doesn't end there. Obviously, it's not just a quarter's worth of work. There's still more to do. So we have our backlog, and if you want, you can have a look at what's on our backlog. But be kind, we've only just moved it onto GitHub from the Figma board that you saw earlier. See on there, you can see what we have done, what objectives we've worked on, what we're currently working on, and the ones still to do. And in the spirit of sharing and being in the open, Victor is going to share some work that he's done on one particular objective that he and a team took forward.
Thank you, June. Hello, everyone. My name is Victor. I'm an interaction designer with the apprenticeship service at DfE, and I'm a proud member of the DfE design community. And the community objective that resonated with me the most has been about growing our design crits. And if you're not familiar with design crits or design critique, they're basically an opportunity to review or analyse a piece of work in a group setting.
And the purpose is to give or receive feedback to improve that set piece of work.
So we approach this objective like we approach any new project. We had a look at what's already out and what's already been done, and we narrowed it down to four frameworks for running design crits, three of them close to home within DfE, and then one of them cross-government. And in doing so, we condensed those to define what best practices looks like.
And ironically, the first thing we found out about design crits is that we should probably call them something else.
We found out the participant services may find them quite intimidating or even off-putting. So something that we're currently considering calling them is a collaborative design review, which sounds a lot less scary. But other principles we need for running design crits that we found that should be implemented are to keep it to six to eight people.
We want to keep it about giving and receiving valuable feedback rather than presenting. We don't want it to become another show and tell. Other things, it should have easy to follow guidance. So anyone without prior experience can pick it up and use it right away. It should be accessible in both online and offline format.
We're still working on this, so it's not completely laid out. And last but not least, keep it simple. Like I said, people should be able to use it out of the box with no prior experience. So we then took these learnings really, and we created a prototype template on how to run a design for it. And when I say we, that wasn't just myself.
Obviously, I have a lot of help from our very own service designer locally here behind me. And build in a prototype framework, a template of how to run these design crits. And we did what we do best as designers. We took it out and we tested it with a variety of people from different backgrounds like content production and service throughout the year, and refined it. This will eventually be part of the backlog that we share with you today.
So please don't strain your eyes trying to make sense of the faded images behind me. Instead, today, I'll take you through what the design crit template looks like and the way it works. We structure it kind of like a good story, so it has a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning, we tell you what it is and why you should care about it.
And then we also give a few suggestions on icebreakers. And I know not everyone loves icebreakers, but they do work, which is why we included them. And then in the middle, this is the meat of it all. This is where we ask the presenter or whoever is looking for feedback to answer a few questions that will give us the content and the context you need to understand what they're working on.
And then we also give them the option to drop in some screenshots of their work or share the screen to go through their work. We also give them examples of good and bad feedback. What does that look like? And we've divided potential feedback into three parts. So green means great. This is great. Red means this needs improvement, and yellow for ideas or suggestions that you might want to try out. And then the last part is optional.
It's about prioritising what's been suggested in the previous part. And it can be done then and there if you have time. Otherwise, it can be taken by whoever's presenting. So the person looking for feedback to do in their own time with their own delivery team. In terms of what's next. So what we want really is to make design crits part and parcel of the process in which we deliver digital services.
We're currently leaning on product and delivery leads to find the best way to achieve this. And some of the learnings, really some of the things that we have seen since we picked up this objective has been increased collaboration across professions and not just across professions, but across departments as well. We've learned from each other and not just about the great work that's going on outside the spectrum of our own services, but also learning about what's working and what isn't.
And that's been paramount in shaping the template itself. And last but not least, being sure the work is joined up and this ties into one of the core tenets of the government design principles, which is about making things open. And I believe we owe it to ourselves and to the services that we build to work in the open, because when we do, we're both better for it.
But yeah, that's it for me. Thank you for listening. I'm going to pass that over back over to Jas.
Thank you, Victor.
This particular objective, I can't wait for it to be a standard. That is the way that we work at DfE where it becomes the norm. It's not a thing on the side, but it's part of delivering. It's just part of the cycle of sprints. So the thing that I'm really looking forward to is baking that into SOWs because we work with partners and suppliers all the time.
And so it's just how we work is what I'm aiming for. It's not a thing that we do when we feel like doing, it's just what we should be doing if we want to deliver to best practices and actually integrate it within sprint activity. So delivery managers, product owners, etc. should be expecting this to happen.
So what we achieved. And so while Victor talked about one single objective achievement, I'm just going to bring it back to the overarching objective and imperatives achievements, as what we've done as a community. So these are some of the key outcomes that we've managed to achieve over the last year of experimenting with firstly, a design strategy that has three clear imperatives that are clear for the profession, clear for the organisation and clear for anyone else that wants to know what we're doing as a profession.
So yeah, building trust and confidence, that's been a key thing because if you don't have trust and confidence, you're not going to have knowledge sharing and the sharing of challenges. And this is the first outcome that I needed because without this we can't really move forward. And I've seen first hand and hopefully you've heard from the designers who've maybe said that, which is relationships being formed. Because in order to get that, you need relationships and open dialog. Creating safe space to experiment.
So we spend 80% of our delivery time in delivery, and sometimes we're very lucky that we'll have problems to solve. But sometimes we have been fed solutions So if that becomes the norm of working, how do you get out that? And so that 10% time is space to actually solve problems because those junior designers or designers that perhaps haven't had that exposure don't know what good looks like and how do you get out of that space.
So that space, that 10% time is experimentation. If things don't go well, it's okay because we've learned from it. So that is so important. Empowering designers. So empowering designers to know what good is so that they can go into those complex spaces and feel the confidence because they've got the support, the profession to know and nurture what good is. So they can go and do the upskilling or working together to get to better outcomes for the department and services that we need to build. And demonstrating collaboration by doing.
One of the key things that we're doing in our profession is not telling, not doing any of that, but we do first, then share. And regardless of the result, regardless of progress, we share progress. So some people, we were hemming and hawing about, I think the co- design work that we did over one quarter. We hadn't moved as fast as we wanted to, but we decided we are going to share that because some of these things are hard and difficult.
And it's important to share with stakeholders that this stuff needs prioritising, it needs resource, it needs money, it needs attention if you want things to move. So we can either go slow or fast, but we need support. So sharing that progress regardless of how much you've moved is important because you might get support if things are not going as fast as you want to.
So this quote from Dominique Sherwood, who is our Senior Interaction Designer who isn't here, but she's here in spirit. And what Dom says, I thought this was really powerful. "Starting in lockdown, I struggled to feel part of the DfE. Meeting and spending time with the other designers has positively impacted my wellbeing." That for me, was a great outcome.
I want to improve wellbeing, it's so important that people feel healthy, ready to deliver their best work. Because if that wellbeing is not there, how can they do their best work? So that's important. "I've gained confidence along the way and learned from other great designers.", and that is great because we want more great designers. So takeaways. So if there was anything that I want you as an audience to take away, what things could I share with you?
Self organising, small teams work, and actually they're empowered to self organise. I don't stand behind anyone's shoulder each quarter. In fact, when we do a show and tell, it's a surprise to me what the teams have delivered. And that's so nice because no one's watching anyone because they're all self orientated objectives while we've got a backlog, no one's telling people what they should and what they shouldn't pick. It's based on their own interests, their own development, their own learning and their own interests.
And I'm not going to lie to you, time is a challenge. That 10% time that we have protected at DfE was great because Emma Stace was our director at the time. She did a great job protecting that time for us, and it's still a challenge to protect. Thursday afternoons at DfE, pne to four, I block it out for every single designer so no one can like take that time.
But it does happen. And every time a designer tells me I really wanted to come, but I can't. I'm straight to the DD and saying no, don't do it again. So to get time is a challenge and protecting that time is so important, so we wouldn't be able to do this work if we didn't have that. And design is being noticed in the organisation, I'm hoping it's going to be noticed. Hopefully more people will want to come work for DfE maybe, because it's hard to find talented people and I'm after those people.
But also it's okay if you're not there. We want to start bringing in apprentices and juniors so that we can take them on that journey. But we need to build our capability first and get our ducks in a row first so that we can start nurturing that talent from whichever route we go. Yes, I'm going to leave you there.