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The roundup. January (and some of February) 2019

I’m going to keep writing monthly roundups again this year. Time is always tight, but it’s good to reflect and to be able to look back on what I’ve been working on, and the places I’ve visited.

It’s been a busy start to the year at FutureGov (FG) – I’m about to go away for a couple of days on a family break as we’ve reached school half-term. Yesterday was FG Camp, an all team gathering for the company. As I reflected last night on the way home, it was good to spend time with such talented, committed colleagues.

In my role as Chief Design Officer, my focus at the start of the year has been shaping the FG company offer, and working to develop our proposition. I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the company and the shape of our work – this has been especially focussed on how we work and why we do our work. The goal has been to create a platform that everyone at FutureGov can build from. A shared understanding of the DNA of the company, who we are and how we see the world. For example, when we talk about ‘change’, or being a ‘change organisation’, what do we mean by change?

I ran a session at yesterday’s event to take everyone in the company through this which seemed to be well received, it’s started some good conversations and I’m confident it will help us shape and build the work we do more consistently in a growing company of 80+ people.

Building the ‘ideas’ platform for a company is something I identified early on as a key focus for a Chief Design Officer role – I had a useful chat before Christmas with Mark Curtis, Chief Client Officer at Fjord which really helped firm up my thinking on this. Put simply, it’s keeping the needle aligned to a company mission and purpose, creating the narrative and positioning around the most important and valuable ideas that support and allow this to happen.

The role of Chief Design Officer is less about being the most creative person in the company, or the one with all the answers. It’s more being the person able to recognise and connect the strongest ideas and work across an organisation. This means defining and applying first principles, gradually moving the needle as the company grows and shapes what it does.

I plan to write a full blog post about the role and importance of a Chief Design Officer in organisations where I’ll expand more on these thoughts.

Day-to-day at FutureGov I’m enjoying getting to know and work with new colleagues. It’s been good to spend more time with Robbie this month, FutureGov’s Creative Director – I’m impressed by how he’s approaching and starting to establish the role in the team and building on some of the work we started last year. I’m also working closely with Mary our Design Director who is now building up DesignOps capabilities as part of her role running the day-to-day management and resourcing of our researchers and designers.

We’ve done a lot of work on progression frameworks over the past year, thinking about how to best mentor and support designers to progress in the company. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts off this when talking about ‘Seniority in Design’ at UX in the City, Manchester next month.

Travelling and events

Other highlights this month have involved more travel and some speaking at events.

Earlier in January I spoke at the Cambridge Usability Group, and the following day I made my way back to London’s Docklands to meet a delegation group from Israel as part of a panel on digital inclusion.

The following week I was in Dorset as part of GDS services week to run a session about the value of creativity and design with local council teams. Joanna joined me on the trip and ran a great follow up session about Health, and talked through a number of our FG case studies.

Another highlight of the past month, was meeting and hosting Japanese Government official Toshiyuki Zamma at FutureGov, as part of a series of meetings happening across UK government.

A particular (‘hands-on’ service design) work highlight was starting a mapping exercise to look at all the services, and common service patterns in Essex connected through Essex.gov.uk – more on this in the next few months, and good to be working more with Nic Ward in the team there.

And finally, it was great to have lunch and chat with Andy Budd (I think we’re averaging a catch up once a year over coffee now). I always enjoy our conversations and getting Andy’s perspective on the design industry more broadly, and the direction design leadership is taking in different organisations.

Writing

I published a blog post for FG exploring what we mean by design mindsets. I worked on this material as part of the session in Dorset – I think it’s a nice analogy and something designers need to be deliberate in thinking through.

A design state of mind: What it means to move to a design mindset.

Reading

Reading list coming soon (promise)!

See you for a shorter update at the end of February.

Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.