Category Archives: Uncategorized

My Service Design origin story

My background is more technical than what is traditionally considered “creative”, having received my B.S. in Electrical Engineering and spent the bulk of my career as an Army communications officer or a systems engineer designing comms and network systems. What you could call “old school high tech.” Most of my work was in text or technical system diagrams; the most visual aspect of my work and thought processes were expressed through mind maps. I had never heard of journey maps or service blueprints, but I have come to realize that I was using mind maps to serve a similar purpose.

I learned to program with FORTRAN (on punch cards no less) and learned HTML in the late ’90s, but didn’t get involved with modern software development until 2014 when I participated in the inaugural Launchcode class with my son, Zeke. Which led me into my first hackathon (which we won :-), then a couple of start up weekends and a couple more hackathons. All of which coincided with my introduction to service design.

It was the fall of 2014 when a friend sent me an invitation to attend the kick-off meeting of the St. Louis Chapter of the Service Design Network (aka SDN). I had never heard of “service design”, much less the SDN, but the invitation came from someone whom I knew would not send me something frivolous or not worth my time. So I checked it out.

My first reaction when I read the definition of Service Design on the SDN site was, “That’s what I do.” Or, a bit more accurately, “That’s how I work.” Needless to say I was intrigued and hooked. (Unfortunately that definition is no longer on the SDN site, and I don’t believe I have it written down anywhere – I’ll dig through my notebook archives later and see if I can find it.) I don’t know that I consciously realized it at the time, but as I read that description of Service Design I had alternating thoughts of “that’s how I work” and “that sounds a lot like making a movie”. Which very quickly led me to that understanding that, even though I don’t make movies, I have brought approach of a film production to just about every major thing I’ve done. End-to-end, top-to-bottom.

If you had asked the teenage me, “What do you want to do when you grow up,” the most likely answer you would have received would have been along the lines of, “Make movies.” That’s a whole ‘nother blog post in itself (several probably), the tl;dr being that my understanding of the film making process – from preproduction through production and on to postproduction – greatly influenced my approach to the various jobs I have had through the year.

So, at that kick-off meeting of SDNSTL, when Sean Walsh asked everyone to introduce themselves and their experience with Service Design, I basically told the assembled crowd the story I recounted above.

IEP - A Service Design approach: a talk for World Usability Day 2017

And what a great crowd it was. In addition to Dave Gray, who had invited me, it was at this kickoff event that I first met Sean Walsh, Martha Valenta, Nathan Lucy, and many more. All of these people have continued to influence my learning and enhance my understanding of Service Design, along with Human Centered Design and UX design in general. I have also become more involved with the SD and UX community here in St. Louis, where I have met many more incredible people and have the opportunity to participate in several different events and activities.

As I have been learning more of the language, tools, and methods of service design I have started sketching out some journey maps and service blueprints from some of my past projects. Partly as a way to gain more fluency with the language and artifacts of Service Design, and partly as a way to build a portfolio to go along with my more traditional resume. I am also starting to incorporate service design more explicitly into the work I do now, partly as a way to improve what I create but also to start spreading the word among my teammates and customers about the value of this approach to developing solutions.

This is the first of what I plan to be a series of posts about my service design journey, including some about specific projects from my past and some documenting my current adventures in reading, learning, and doing service design. I hope you’ll join me.

Our causes can’t see their effects

Cynefin frameworkI’ve been interested in, and trying to understand, the Cynefin framework for many years. Without much success, I might add. However, I recently saw an Intro to Cynefin video from Dave Snowden at Cognitive Edge that has helped me put the final pieces of my understanding in place.

Actually, looking back at my first attempt to use the framework to look at an issue, back in a November 2008 look at the response to the global economic crisis, it looks like I may have understood it better than I thought I did. But then I started taking it places I don’t think it was ever meant to go. Continue reading

Learning s’more skills at Wordcamp St. Louis

Over the weekend I had the chance – the pleasure – to attend Wordcamp St. Louis 2012. I met some great people, doing incredible things with WordPress, and had a chance to learn and be inspired. Although the whole day was great, three of the talks stand out for me:

Most generally informative: Chris Miller (@iDoNotes) gave us the down and dirty on using WordPress as a podcasting/videocasting platform, blasting us with way more information than I thought could be squeezed into the 45 minute session. No doubt he had to leave some stuff out, but it was a comprehensive intro that put those interested on the right path for learning more. Especially if they remember to visit the resource bundle he put together for us.

Most specifically useful: Joshua Ray (@pdxOllo)  and Alex Rodriguez (@arod2634) presented Best Practices and Admin Customization, the latter which has been on my mind of late for a current project. Comprehensive coverage and plenty of code examples (I’ll post the links later, I seem to have misplaced them). Looking forward to digging in.

Most inspirational: Although the WordPress specific parts of Reshma Chamberlin’s (@reshmacc) talk on design were impressive themselves, what impressed – and inspired – me the most was her and her partner’s philosophy of design. And not just design, really, but how to chase your dreams, make a difference, and to do things right. (Sounds so easy, doesn’t it.) Check out the B&C Designers site to see for yourself. (And thanks, Reshma, for the book recommendation: Disciplined Dreaming is next up on my shelf!)

Living life for a living

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.

Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.

Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.

I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.

But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?

Continue reading

When “question everything” meets “question nothing”

This past weekend, the NPR program On the Media explored the question, “Does NPR have a liberal bias?” (I’ll let you listen for yourself to find the results.) Of course, the question of bias in the media is ever-present, never more so than during a Presidential election year. As acknowledged by the OTM piece, most charges of bias these days are expressed by conservatives against the mainstream (aka “corporate”) media, which the conservatives say have a “liberal bias”. Some, like Senator Rick Santorum, take it even further, proclaiming that “the media will never be on our side.”

But is it really bias that’s the issue? Or just a different approach to viewing, and discussing, the world.

Continue reading

The opportunity cost of “easy”

In his book Mastery, George Leonard talks about the “war on mastery”. This could just as easily be called a “war on hard”. Watch TV for just a couple of minutes and you will be bombarded with ads or talk shows or news stories that show you how do something in just a couple (if that many) steps. You never see something that promises to be hard.

And yet, nearly anything worth doing – that results in growth or learning – is hard. The best you can really hope for from “easy” is to maintain what you’ve already got. At worse, you will lose something.

Does Google – or technology in general – make us stupid? No. But by being “easy”, it removes the need, and possibly the ability, to learn. Which some might say is the same thing.

Expertise, opportunity, and legacy are key to success (a review of “Outliers”)


I had been meaning to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Successever since it was first published just over a year ago. Since a lot of the discussion of the book focused on the “10,000 hour rule” for achieving expertise, or mastery, it seemed a perfect fit for my interests. I’m still surprised that it took this long for me to get to it, but I have to say I’m glad that I waited. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I think I appreciate its message better now than I would have if I had read it a year ago.

My first impression on reading the book was along the lines of, “Wait a minute. This book isn’t about mastery.” True, Gladwell talks about the hard work that goes into becoming an expert in a given trade or profession, and includes this expertise as a prerequisite for achieving success. What comes out, or at least what I got out of it is: mastery is required, but not sufficient, to achieve success. (For the purposes of this review, I’ll leave a discussion of what constitutes success to another day.) Mastery is just one part of success, according to Gladwell, the other two being opportunity – and taking advantage of it – and legacy (your cultural background).

Of course, both opportunity and legacy definitely have an impact on your ability and desire to achieve mastery in a given topic.  Gladwell goes through a wide variety of examples of real people, showing these principles in action, including:

  • Bill Gates had an early interest in computers, and because of his cultural environment had the opportunity to use a nearly unlimited amount of free computer access at a time when that access was prohibitively expensive for everyone, much less a teenager.
  • A study of Canadian junior hockey players showed that because of the of the structure of seasons and age cut off dates,  those born early in the year were more likely to have success. He applies this same process to Jewish lawyers in New York and other groups.
  • In a chapter titled “Rice paddies and math tests”, Gladwell explores how the differences in agriculture between Asia and the US have contributed to the differences in education systems and the conventional wisdom (you could say stereotype) that “Asian kids are good at math.”
  • And more…

I enjoyed this book. I’m not sure I learned anything new in terms of “facts”, but I did come away with an understanding of a different way of looking at the stories of the people around me, successful or not. After reading the epilogue, in which Gladwell tells his family story applying the concepts in Outliers, I can’t help but look at every situation now and wonder, “What’s the real story behind how that person got to where they are?”

It has also encouraged me to look at my own past, to better understand my legacy and the opportunities that I’ve had along the way. And my future, to wonder what unique opportunity that my generation has been given and what I will have made of it when the time comes to look back on my life.

The evolution of a Mind Manager mind map – T&T parent’s guide

To help me plan out the direction and content for the Tramp and Tumble blog over the next couple of months I created a mind map to collect and sort the various topics that I want to discuss there. One of the things that I love about Mind Manager is that it has such a nice looking, and useful, final product that hides all the effort that actually goes into creating the map. After all, the “customer” doesn’t really want to see the sausage being made, do they?

Those who are familiar with mind maps know, though, that creating a good map takes a lot of work; planning, mapping, evaluation, re-arranging, etc. In many ways, this is no different than the process for any good writing: ideas, sketch outline, draft, revise, update outline, update draft, revise, etc.  For those less familiar with the process for mind maps, I thought I’d give a little insight into how the process works for me, at least in this case.

tnt-mind-map-notes

I’ve been accumulating the knowledge that went into this map for several years now, since Ian first started competing in 2005. My first step was to create a list of questions that many parents new to the sport have as they start.

(Side note:  Mind Manager does include a “brainstorming” mode, but I have to admit that for things like this I still prefer to use something a bit more “analog”, in this case my handy-dandy notebook and a set of Sharpie pens.)

The image to the right is a scan of my brainstorming list. I jotted down the main ideas, and sub-topics, as they occurred, going back later to mark them up with some ideas on what would make sense chronologically.

Having this list also gave me some ideas on how I could actually structure the topics in order to provide a somewhat consistent delivery of articles that make sense within a given time period; in this case, a week.

tnt-mind-map-draftThe next step was to convert these topics into a draft map. Again, Mind Manager provides excellent support for taking your brainstorming results and converting those into a draft map; again, I still prefer to do this part with good old pen and paper.

Pulling all of my topics and sub-topics together on this map further helped me find the ideas that should be kept together as part of a “weekly package”. The image on the left is (I’m sure you’ve figured out) my first draft.

From this draft I was able to easily create a map in Mind Manager, using the topics/subtopics in the draft as a guide. Once these were in Mind Manager, it was a simple matter to move the main ideas around to come up with the best organization and chronology. Here’s the final map, as posted on the Tramp and Tumble blog:

If you compare the two, you will see that there are many similarities but also some key differences. And just like any project, there are things from the initial idea that are not present and things in the final product that only showed up when the final draft was prepared.

Now all I have to do is fill in the details.

My new “wastebook”

I use the 600 page Infinity Journal as my primary day-to-day wastebook, so I don’t have to start a new book very often, maybe once every 12 – 18 months depending on what’s going on.  On the other hand, my digital wastebook(s) never run out of “pages” so I could keep using the same one forever.  I’ve found, though, the just the act of changing is a worthwhile process in and of itself.  Thus, my new digital wastebook.

This new blog actually represents the retirement of my two longstanding personal blogs:  No Straight Lines, dating from June 2003, started out as a blog about Knowledge Management; and 29 Marbles, dating from March 2005, presented a dad’s-eye view of autism.  I’ve found over the years that my many interests overlap, sometimes significantly and sometimes tangentially.  I keep everything together in a single paper notebook, why not keep it all together in a single blog?

When I start a new notebook, I typically fill up the first few pages with copies of what I think is important enough to carry over from the old book.  I expect that this blog will be no different.  So if you see something you’ve seen before, please accept it for what it is.  And please excuse the construction mess as I play around with this great WordPress.  (What’s the point of starting over if you can’t play around with it a bit?!?)