The Adventure Continues.

The latest steps in my Snook adventure (which will be published in due time) have seen me crossing the line in to teaching.

I was invited by Stuart Bailey of the Product Design Engineering course at The Glasgow School of Art, to aid in the design and running of an afternoon workshop with service users.The 4th year student are embarking on a project with NHS Moray, looking at the telecare products supplied to elderly people living on their own. Stuart is keen for the PDE course to begin encouraging more user-centered thinking, and to begin introducing elements of Service Design into the practice of the students.

The workshop was to involve all 24 4th year students; who have never worked on a project with this kind of user-involvement, as well as current and future users of the product the students are focusing on: Community Alarm Buttons worn by independent elderly people living by themselves.

An initial meeting with Hugh Pizey, who is running the project with the students, saw us sketching up ideas for tools and templates for the students to fill during the workshop. The students will be working in groups for the next 10 weeks, although all information collected from the workshops is to be shared amongst the groups, so it was important for information and insights to be extracted and recorded in the same way.

A Skype meeting with the team at NHS Moray, based at Horizon Scotland in Forres allowed us to discuss the involvement of the service users, how the students would facilitate groups and the on-going contact and communication between users and students. I introduced the idea of cultural probes, using single use cameras, for the users to record their daily activities, routines, ways of using their devices – giving an insight into their lives which will be a huge benefit to the students once they are back designing in the studio and working in the workshop.

Time was tight, and so 3 days later Hugh and I briefed the students about the beginning of the project – running through the tools and templates (user personas, extended personal profiles, daily routine/user journey and a questionaire from NHS Moray). I explained what role each tool was to play in the collection of stories and insights, focusing the students on the ‘getting to know’ section of their workshop, and how each tool would allow them to piece together a better understanding of who they will be designing for. That getting out and talking to the experts in this field is far better that internet searching from the studio.

Group discussions follow, and I was on-hand to answer questions. The students were already beginning to come up with ideas for solutions before even speaking to their users! I was expecting a group who have never had this sort of experience with their projects before to seem daunted by being thrown into the deep end, but they seemed eager to find out who they would be working with and were asking me for further tips on engaging and the types of questions to ask.

The  next morning saw us up early, very early. A 4 hour bus trip up to Foress in Nairnshire was on the cards which allowed for further group planning, dividing of responsibilities, sleeping, a rare chance for me to see some beautiful Scottish countryside and for Hugh to quiz me on my Keylime Pie recipe – (he’d been doing some background searches on Snook.)

We arrived in expert time to the fantastic Horizon Scotland buildings, where the workshops were to be taking place. Name badges were collected, thick coats deposited (we were quite far up North, after all) and we were then invited to have lunch with our wonderful service users. Myself and Simon made friends with Norman, a Forres local who was intrigued to find out as many details as possible about the course Simon was on, as well as the timetable for the day.

An introduction from Lorna Bernard of Moray Gov and from Hugh followed, and then it was straight in to the workshops.

The students had discussed amongst themselves who within their groups would take the role of facilitator, and who would take charge of documenting (written, drawings, photographs). This meant that my role, as well as that of recent PDE graduate Lisa Wu was to float between groups, making sure student were on track.

What followed was 4 hours of story telling, sketching, model making and discussions. Students listening to users who are happy to put up with ‘bad design’ because they feel special to have been though of in the first place. It was wonderful to listen to the attitudes of the wartime generation, and how these ran against the students sometimes preconceived ideas (would an iPhone touch screen- style device fit into their routine?)

The students made quick, 1 minute Dragon’s Den – style presentations to show one concept they had been discussing and creating with their users, we said our thankyous and goodbyes and bundled back on the bus to Glasgow. We’ll be back in 4 weeks to talk through concept ideas and get feedback from our new friends.


The students did a fantastic job, they were indeed thrown into the deep end on this one. I think sometimes you have to strike a balance between over-preparing and rolling up your sleeves and going for it.

It made me realise elements of my own facilitation that I think I have been taking for granted; knowing how to position myself in a room with users – mixing up the them/us separation that can occur, allowing for stories to flow, knowing how to record them, and taking humor and giggles as a necessary part of the process of getting to know the wonderful people in front of you.

Workshops are fun, and I hope that the student took that with them as they tumble off the bus and into the Glasgow night.


more image available at


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