By: Fellows in Residence

In this post I share with you my learnings as a teaching fellow at Stanford This is a story of my progression told through behind-the-scene ‘a-ha’ moments that I had whilst designing classes on design thinking.

Learn from others first, but don’t forget to rely on your own toolkit

I trained as a service designer at the Royal College of Art in London, and had been a practicing service designer and strategist for a few years before coming to Stanford. When I started the teaching fellowship back in August last year (2016), I was new to teaching and I subconsciously followed the lead of others. This enabled me to grow and develop through learning new methods rather than staying within my comfort zone. Part way through the class, a couple of questions emerged. What is in my toolkit and skill base that I can incorporate into these new methods? Why hadn’t I applied service design tools to the teaching of design? To execute this, it was helpful for me to reframe the way I saw and understood teaching, and think about education as a service. Using this mindset, teachers are creating and delivering the service to their students in the form of an experience, and the students are the ‘end-users’ of the service.

Applying service design tools to class planning

Using this new approach of education as a service when planning a learning experience, it made sense to break down the elements of a class using a service design tool known as a ‘service blueprint’. A service blueprint is a map that shows the end-to-end of a user’s experience across the top, and then breaks down all the components that support that experience – such as backstage processes, people, and systems. In the context of a class, the user experience relates to the student and the backstage processes are the responsibility of the teachers.

For the planning our pop-out class Design for Civic Engagement, Megan Miller and I applied our service design skills to the design of the class. We began by building out the student experience across the top line (or swim lane) of the blueprint – and this was the ideal experience that we wanted to create. We sketched each ‘scene’ of the class – like a storyboard for a film – the sketches included furniture, technology, and of course, people (participants and facilitators).This became the prompts for us to build the rest of our blueprint.

Class blueprint

Class blueprint

The swim lanes were (top to bottom):

  • Class steps (overall) – the “blocking” of the curriculum and activities we would cover in the class
  • Class step (detail)
  • What this looks like (image)
  • Details/room format
  • What we’re saying as teachers/facilitators
  • Tools (to create)
  • Notes/Questions/Thoughts
  • Time
Details of blueprint

Details of blueprint

The experience is as important as the content

One of my biggest learnings is that the experience of your class is as important as the content itself. Of course your class content is crucial, but it’s the experience that makes a class truly work for your students on a much deeper level. ‘Experience’ is actually the seemingly little things that need to be fully considered, for example the furniture, classroom layout, music, lighting, design of worksheets and slides, the snacks. It’s these experiential elements that come together and result in a certain vibe or energy within your ‘classroom’ that transforms it from being not just a class, but a learning experience.

Start basic, iterate to higher fidelity

‘Iteration’ is a classic term used within design that means creating versions upon versions of an idea, each time testing and progressing it further based on user feedback. We progressed in the same way with our class blueprint. We started with pen and paper. Post-its worked wonders – our thoughts were visualized in front of us and were easily moved around. In this form, the class blueprint was the perfect scrappy tool for us to play around with in our working sessions. As the project evolved, Megan and I needed to work remotely, so we used a digital collaboration tool called Mural. Translating the blueprint to a digital format brought a level of robustness that enabled us to move forward. We iterated the Mural blueprint several times.

Mural digital template 

Mural digital template 

Be open to moving between analog and digital

It’s good to remember: Digital is not always final. There came a point in time where the Mural digital board felt very constrained by the screen size. I decided to print it out full-scale so I could scribble on it and mark things up. Putting it out there in this format also drew attention from colleagues at the and enabled engagement with the work which would have been much slower and harder had it remained in digital form.

Move between macro and micro

Having the blueprint created, we realized that we needed to get more granular and dive into the details in order to fully flesh out the content. I introduced Megan to the ‘tick-tock’ tool – essentially a detailed class agenda (credit to Stephanie Szabo). We fleshed out the minute-by-minute agenda of how we would move participants through the experience of the class. We switched between the macro view of the class in the blueprint and the micro view within the tick-tock, both of which were crucial to have on hand at all times.

Class tick-tock

Class tick-tock

Prototype and test before you teach

Prototyping and testing our class was imperative to our success – despite a pop-out class being intentionally experimental, many of our tools were new and therefore un-tested, as well as this being the first time Megan and I would co-teach. For these prototyping sessions, choosing the audience was a key factor. We prototyped with colleagues that were familiar and unfamiliar with service design. These tests were invaluable and we tweaked our language, tools and process according to these experiences. When it came time to teach the class, we were able to teach with confidence in our tools, in our process, and perhaps most importantly, in each other.

Prototyping our service blueprint tool at the 

Prototyping our service blueprint tool at the 

The meta learning

The Ego says ‘Once everything falls into place, I’ll feel peace’. The Spirit says, ‘Find your peace, and then everything will fall into place’.
— Marianne Williamson

My biggest learning from my time here in the bay area (both professionally and personally) is the importance of trust – the trust I needed to have in my team, and ultimately in myself, that we would deliver, even when times were hard and I had little faith I would get to the other side. As I move forward and face these challenges again, I now know to nurture a sense of compassion and positivity, and trust in the fact that – to quote my favorite piece of writing – ‘no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should’.

If you’re curious…

In the course mentioned above we taught an end-to-end service design process around the theme of civic engagement. Below is the complete list of activities we designed and taught in the class, and the tools we used to do that.

We led students through from broad themes to developing service concepts, and covered the following tools:

  • Opportunity statements (“How might we enable _______ through civic engagement?”)
  • Ideation
  • Clustering
  • Dot voting
  • Service impact framework (Idea evaluation)
  • Service concept canvas (Fleshing out an idea)
  • Journey mapping
  • Future-state service blueprinting

Digital tools used for class design:

  • Mural (remote collaborative planning)
  • Slack (thought sharing and file exchange)
  • Google suite (worksheets, tick-tock, etc)

If you’d like to learn more about service blueprinting, check out this online course by Megan Miller and Erik Flowers.

I will be running courses at the Design Thinkers Academy in London – my new home from September 2017. 

Follow my thoughts on Twitter @hollymaymahoney and get in touch here.


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