Written in collaboration with Zaffreen Akhtar
At HM Land Registry, we have two practices fully focussed on user centered design, those are the Design practice, and User Research practice. Despite working closely together on various projects, we realised that designers and researchers weren’t getting many opportunities to work with others outside of their project team. We spotted a huge opportunity to bring both communities together and share knowledge and skills, so we decided to run a joint away day, face to face in Bristol. It was also my first time as the head of the design practice to meet everyone in one go — due to the pandemic and our range of locations this has been tricky to orchestrate so far.
We currently have TPXImpact on board as our capability partner, and they kindly offered to sponsor this event and provide us with a conference room in the Watershed, Bristol and some refreshments throughout the day. The room was a great size — although it was noted just how big the practices have grown over the last 3 years as we comfortably filled the room.
We also decided that given the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was important to cater for those that were not comfortable coming along to an in person an event. This meant providing a remote way of accessing the event, and tailored activities to include those who were joining from their home. This worked really well, and we even had a short reading from our senior designer Andy Porter from the Agile Comms Handbook while we all got settled in our seats!
We kicked off the day with our organisers opening the event — the wonderful Tricia Lee, Alex Torrance, Adam Flay and Alex Slowman. As heads of practice, Zaffreen Akhtar and I also set the theme for the day: Collaboration. It’s a key theme for us as two separate practices that have a natural overlap and are aiming for similar objectives and outcomes, especially when our people are spread across projects that head into double figures. We were keen for this day to be a chance to forge new relationships, connections and collaborations.
We dipped our toes in with a rather fun icebreaker from Tricia, writing our names on paper planes to fly, which gave us the opportunity to pick up a plane and speak to the name we received on it. This was a great way to open up conversations with others you hadn’t met before, because to find out who the name was you had to ask other people which direction to point you in — it amplified the number of people you got to meet and introduce yourself too without you even realising it!
Next up was our keynote speaker Ben Holliday, Chief Designer at TPXImpact talking about the theme of his new book Multiplied (Which I am currently half way through and can highly recommend for anyone working in transformational public sector projects).
“We dare not look under the hoodinto the big deep problems, we build digital garnish to distract from the problems” — Tom Goodwin
My biggest take away from Ben’s talk was the biggest difference between “digitisation” and “digitialisation” — they sound the same but are very different. Digitisation is a shallow, one dimensional activity (eg: making a paper form an online digital one) but that change doesn’t go far enough to be transformational, and there is a lot of “invisible” design work to be done to ensure the organisation supports these changes behind the scenes. It’s all well and good to change a form to be digital, but what if this gets converted into a PDF and still has to be manually entered into a system by a human? Digitisation is not revolutionary, but digitalisation is, and looks across the entire organisational landscape to drive impactful change. This is a service organisation approach, and something I am keen to promote and drive at HM Land Registry.
We had a variety of prepared team sessions that were voted on prior to the day, with a focus on researchers and designers pairing up to deliver them. These were:
- How we collaborate — our citizen services UCD team on how they have formed a strong collaborative team in this area of HM Land Registry. A great example of how user researcher Sophie works with Erin and Rosie in the Design practice to share insights and inform design work.
- Listening Exercise — User Researcher Matthew Clarke gave a highly practical and impactful workshop on active listening, an important skill not just for UR’s!
- Outcomes mapping — our TPX Impact senior service designer Joe Bramall led us in a deep dive into outcomes mapping, with teams working in groups to map out desired short and long term outcomes for the work they are doing. As heads of practice, myself and Zaffreen did the same activity with a focus on community which was interesting and revealing.
External DesignOps Talk
We were so lucky to have Laurence Piercy from the Home Office come to talk to us about how they approach Design Operations in their team. Being much bigger and further along in their design maturity journey, it was fascinating to learn about their challenges and progress in this space.
In January we hired our first DesignOps Manager Adam, which has made a significant difference to the velocity and breadth of things we can achieve in the practice. At the end of the day, we want to create a space where designers can do what they do best: design! Adam is absolutely crucial to this initiative.
After an intensive day of learning and networking between the two teams, we ended the day with a lightning quiz from the one and only Andy Carr, quiz master extraordinaire! It contained the usual red herrings and outlandish shenanigans we have come to expect, but was a fantastic way to close the day and relax our brains after working hard all day and the journey back home.
What comes next
Speaking with Ben in a quiet moment during the day, we mused on “look what’s happening here”, and I’ve heard similar comments since returning back to the home office, mostly along the lines of “Something special is happening here”. Watching people connect and a community emerge even stronger from what has been a really tough few years is what drives me as a head of practice, so for me the day was a resounding success. It did exactly what it said on the tin: Collaboration.
“Something special is happening here”.
We’ve pledged to meet back up again in another 6 months to build on what we started at this away day. I think there is also scope for including more UCD-adjacent practices from HM Land Registry in future — I always say that design is mostly about the relationships you build, and the trust and credibility you can form as a designer with other people you work with. What better way to do this than to share the day together, working on those connections.
A huge thank you to TPXImpact for making the day happen, and to everyone in both practices that travelled and contributed to the day. 😍