Pound of Obscure

Service Design Network STL Meetup – some notes

Notes from the June 2016 meetup of the SDN STL chapter.


Behind the Federal Front Door: Citizen-Centered Service Design (Brad Nunnally)


Ninety-four percent of federal IT projects are over budget / schedule. Huge budget (in the $Bs), most of maintenance and legacy.

Brad is from 18F. All products they create are open source (free as in beer), they provide services to other federal agencies. Has grown quite a bit over last year or so, up to 190 people. Many on “temporary” assignment while on sabbatical from their regular job.

Brad is currently working on the Federal Front Door.

Contrary to what many think, the Federal government is not a monolithic organization, it is made up of many (many) independent organizations, each with their own “CEO”, “CTO”, etc. How do you design a consistent experience across all of government?

“It’s too good to be a Government website”, some people’s reactions, so they need to to put in a bit of artificial friction to make it easier to accept.

Met with people in different areas around the country. Conducted interviews and diary studies. Focused on life events with general users. Diary study with librarians. (Librarians can’t help people on the web, just point them to the computers?)

They’ve learned a lot, not many answers yet. Three main problems:

  • Capacity – not enough workforce to cover all citizen needs
  • Digital infrastructure – it sucks (OK, Brad said, “It’s bad”)
    • much of it doesn’t even have https yet
    • it is bad in large part due to the procurement process
    • launched this week, agile bpa
  • One-sizefits-all approach –
    • privacy, for example, is diverse not cookie cutter

Other considerations

  • digital literacy
  • digital access
    • a lot of mobile, drives design
  • English fluency


  • Personal – what’s happening in your life
  • Governmental – what gov’t is doing to you

nts: the problem is much much larger than the digital front door; the actual citizen facing services need significant work.

People don’t trust the government with their information. But the government already has all of your information. Why do they keep asking you for the same information over and over?  FAFSA is a good example of one org sharing / pulling with another.

Front door:

  • Web standards
    • 508 compliant
    • design standards web site, on github
    • Verterans, USAJobs are starting to use these standards
    • Open Opps
    • Local gov’ts
  • Sharing data between silos
    • Import
    • Share,,

How to design a service – Intro to Service Design (Nathan Lucy)

sdnstl_nl.jpgWhat is a service: the use of one’s competences for the benefit of another. (from the body of knowledge known as “common sense”.) The fundamental basis of exchange, the foundation of economics.

Money is a medium for exchanage (see “Google bus”). A means of transaction, not storage.

Beneficiary is always a co-creator of value. There is no value without a consumer, and they always determine the value.

No one wants a 1/4″ drill, they want a 1/4″ hole. Many ways to get a hole, to deliver that service. Buy the drill, HILTI, use a knife, etc.

Research. Synthesis. Ideation. Prototyping. Testing.


We used as a way to share part of the presentation, need to learn more about that.

Next meetup – 6 October.

Ounce of Perception

Fourth and inches

Chances are you’ve heard the saying, “Won the battle but lost the war.” While it is hard to willingly accept defeat or failure, sometimes your best strategy in a given situation is to not give it your all. To not try your absolute hardest to be successful. To not try to win at the specific task at hand. To lose a battle so you can win the war.

In baseball, a manager may have a batter sacrifice (bunt or fly) themselves to advance another runner. Or have a pitcher intentionally walk a good batter to get to a relatively weaker batter. In American football, most teams choose to kick – either a punt or field goal – on fourth down instead of going for it. In basketball, coaches may call for intentional fouls late in a game to prevent a sure two by the opponent and risk a 1-and-1 foul shot situation. In chess, a player will intentionally sacrifice pieces to improve board position. You get the idea.

What each of these situations have in common, of course, is that the goal is not to get an individual hit, or out, or touchdown. The goal is to win the game, and ultimately a tournament or season. You weigh the risk of doing what is typical against the potential benefit or cost in terms of that goal of winning. You may not “go for it” on fourth and inches early in the game deep in your own half of the field, but you probably will if it is late in the game deep in your opponent’s end and you’re down by four points. Context is key.

Of course, no one would ever intentionally lose an actual game. Or would they? Depends on the context.

During the 2012 Summer Olympics several teams were disqualified and removed from the Badminton competition for deliberately trying to lose a game. From the outside this seemed crazy, and the crowds at the games were rightfully angry at what they were seeing. Did I mention that these teams were playing against each other, both of them intentionally trying to lose.

But for the teams at the time the strategy made perfect sense in the context of their ultimate objective – Olympic gold. For various reasons, the rules for the badminton tournament were changed going into the Olympics. The teams who wanted to lose games on purpose were simply adjusting their strategy on the court to increase their chances to win gold based on these new rules.

I say “simply”, but the whole situation was anything but simple. The rule-makers had failed to consider this second order effect of changing the rules, and the athletes had failed to take into account the reactions of the fans and officials at their blatantly unsportsmanlike conduct. And so they were disqualified, even though they hadn’t technically broken any rules.

They won the battle, but lost the war.