Category Archives: Design Inspiration

We are in a male paradigm. What would a female work paradigm look like?

For International Women’s Day a few weeks ago, I went to a women in business event organised by Wandsworth Council. Maria Kempinski (on the left in that photo) who founded the Jongleurs comedy club said in passing ‘we are in a male paradigm’ in terms of the working world we inhabit, and expressed that we as women ought to change this by celebrating our strengths rather than feeling we have to act like men.

People didn’t really pick up on her saying this – probably because she was so full of inspiring thoughts beyond this! – but I found it helpful to think about.

The world of professional work has been created and used almost exclusively by men for hundreds of years. We as women have been trying to fit in to it – when we could change the systems for our own benefit.

Watch this film to find out how working hours affect the gender pay gap:

The ‘work is a male paradigm’ thought has had a lasting impact on me. The world of work is a construct – man made – and so it has the potential to be challenged and redesigned. It’s so normal to us that it can be almost impossible to recognise the situation we’re in. It’s worth reminding ourselves that unspoken ongoing difficulties we have may be because the system we’re in is at fault, especially if we see that others are going through the same difficulties. 

I’d love to use the festival I run as an opportunity to innovate how workplaces can *be* in terms of equality, creativity, and collaboration. Perhaps the festival team and the community can demonstrate what an innovative female paradigm could look like. I don’t know what all the constructs are that need to be challenged, but perhaps some are: working hours, what is valued and worth paying for, relationship styles, org structures/hierarchy style, physical spaces, and the boundary between work and personal life. I’d love to learn from others that have thought about this and implemented revolutionary ways of working.

My sometimes poor health has forced me to be open about what I need as a colleague, and I’m progressively improving on not being ashamed of it. In the past, I’ve held an attitude that I ought to get well in order to work; that was unhealthy for me: humans are not work machines. I’m not sure if this idea genuinely stemmed from the male paradigm – perhaps it’s from the industrial age – but it’s said that women are supposedly more in touch with emotions. (Sweeping generalisations make me uncomfortable.) Can a female work paradigm help develop attitudes towards prioritising health and making adequate room for emotions? Might a female work paradigm be emotionally healthier for all, not just for women?

I urge you, dear reader, to consider what the world of work would be like if it was created by women.

What could the world of work be like in 50 years, with working hours set to work for women?
What management systems (if any) and values will work be based on?
What would the world be like if there was no gender pay gap, and equally accessible work constructs for all?
Might extreme examples of a female paradigm workplace help in eventually creating a balanced workplace for all genders?
Incidentally, what might an all-transgender workplace look like, if all the workplace constructs were challenged and changed to suit transpeople’s needs?

I’m excited by this line of questioning, but not very informed. Please send me any examples you’ve seen of female work paradigms, and revolutionary workplace ideas. Thanks!

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Inclusion at Work

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusion at work.

Last year at the festival I run, I saw only 5 BME people out of the roughly 1000 festival attendees, though we did alright for all other racial backgrounds. Along with the Trump election, this shocked me into gear – I realised that the festival needs to go out of its way to become more accessible. That’s the only way to be truly inclusive for the BME community.

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Why I’ll only ever work up to 4 days a week on any one project

Thanks ju5ti from Flickr.

I read ‘Why Time Management is Ruining Our Lives’ through The Week (a magazine covering an unbiased round up of the week’s news). It reassures me that it’s ok that I’m doing things my way, even when other people don’t approve.

I don’t sign up to any project for more than 4 days a week.
I’ve only ever been an ’employee’ for brief stints. Since graduating, I’ve been contracting.

I had a bar job in a theatre which I initially held down at the same time as contracting, in case I had a dry spell in contract work. I had to work part time as a contractor in order to keep the bar job. Eventually I got enough work to be able to quit that theatre bar job. This is quite a typical story for creative graduates – though it can often take a lot longer than a year or two to be able to financially rely on creative work.

But by the time I could quit the bar job, I was happy to continue working part time on contracts, and I didn’t want to pour all of myself into full time work.

What happens on the days I’m not working on a contract?
Starting out this way meant I had to spend lots of time building my brand and network at the beginning of my career. It worked out well to work on a project for three or four days, and spend a day or two investing in the future.

As time went on, and I got work more easily, I ended up using that day or two to make cool stuff happen. That cool stuff has turned into the Service Design Fringe Festival. Having time not working on projects creates a void that will eventually be filled.

Sometimes, if I’m exhausted from working on a very energy-consuming project, I’ll take day 5 as an extra day off. My days ‘off’ can be a bit like the kind of work I was doing at university: practicing drawing, going to a gallery, reading, and writing.

What I got up to one Thursday.

Which day is ‘off’? And why?
Lots of people take their day ‘off’ on Fridays to create long weekends. That doesn’t work so well for me.

I take my day ‘off’ on Thursdays. By breaking my work week into two chunks, I come back on Friday refreshed, rather than looking at my watch, waiting for the week to end. Additionally, I find that nothing much is booked on Thursdays typically in organisations, so it’s not too disruptive.

Having this day ‘off’ means I can bring much more energy to the project than if I didn’t have it. It makes me perform better during all the time that I am working.

I keep my Thursdays constant – whatever the project I’m on, I know that I can book an extracurricular coffee with anyone well in advance on any Thursday without it being inconvenient for the project I’m on.

London & tech culture can be crazy-making.
We’re always on. Amazing technology keeps us working 24/7. London contains many of the workaholics of the world, feeding into a culture where we’re expected to be perfect extra-human work performing whizz machines. I find that having the attitude to work part time keeps my work time boundaried, so I can stay sane; this is particularly important in order to maintain a balance in London.

This pattern of working is good for the soul.
Or whatever you’d rather call it – creative energy, or sense of self. I am not my job.

I have tried working full time on occasion and I found I got so attached to the work, that my identity merged with it too closely. I became too dependant on the job. It didn’t feel like there was any life outside of the job. It’s easy to get stuck in ways of thinking, and take on the fears from the organisation around you by osmosis, if you aren’t regularly faced with alternative ways of thinking and being.

Maybe this person was stuck in a way of thinking, that made them refuse to try something new?

By having space apart from one job, I can retreat into myself in order to be able to hear my own voice (which can be difficult when it’s drowned out by an organisation you’re part of), and expose myself to a variety of sources of inspiration, which I think of as ‘filling the well’.

I’m often cast as the source of inspiration and positive energy in a project – the one that will enthuse and excite people about service design and the project. Leading in this way can be draining if the positive energy is not returned by the people around me. Putting heart and soul into work means that I need more time off to replenish my energy.

When I come back to work, I come back with fresh alternative perspectives, fresh eyes, and extra contacts. This makes the work better.

Notes I wrote down about a contract, in a flash of clarity on a Thursday.

I know it’s a privilege.
I don’t think everyone should do this or that everyone can do this. I’m fortunate that I can earn enough money in 4 days rather than 5 days a week to get by. I’m fortunate that I have the confidence and ideas and determination to come up with useful things that fill the void I create on purpose.

I’m writing this post because I’ve seen people react badly to me doing this.
“You have Thursdays OFF?” – implying that I can’t be serious about the work to be done if I’m not full time.
“I can’t do that.” – said sadly, with guilt, perhaps because having a day off would seem too obscenely pleasurable and self indulgent.
“I know you don’t work on Thursdays, but can you come in/answer the phone?” – because it’s not common, colleagues have a fundamental expectation that my Thursdays are up for grabs if I can be persuaded. Sometimes I give in because I care about the projects I do, but I find that not having a complete mental break disadvantages me later.
“You’re not around enough. You’re not visible.” – valuing presenteeism is old fashioned. I’d rather be measured by the impact I create. Also, we need to do something about this attitude if we are to make the workplace fairer for caregivers.

I feel more ok to be me when I see that other people are doing things I’m doing. I hope by sharing this, I can help validate others who have chosen a similar work pattern. I don’t hear enough people being open about choosing to working part time and talking about the benefits of it.

Semi-retired people and caregivers have to work part time – but I have the choice to work part time. And this is a valid choice, even if it’s not mainstream (yet!)

And if you need any more inspiration, here’s Stefan Sagmeister’s talk about how he takes off one year out of every seven.

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Tax Return: the freelance designer’s nightmare

Literally. I have had nightmares about my tax return through the years. We’re in January, and you’ve only got 21 days left to complete your tax return. Cue panicked weekend meeting scheduling with friends of friends who are accountants and can help you out.

Not this year, for me. I’ve finally graduated to having an accountant. No more tax return panic for me. I’ve done four years of self-assessed tax returns now. It was one of the most stressful parts of being a freelance designer, for me. So, here are some notes for creatives who have just become freelance. (I’m not a finance person so take what I say with a pinch of salt – this is just a starter for ten from a designer’s point of view.)

How I feel when I’m avoiding doing my tax return.


You’ve put in time at design school, and you’re getting work as a designer. You are awesome. You’re living the dream! Maybe with a bit less cash than you imagined you’d have, but still. You get to do cool projects occasionally at least. Continue reading

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A Framework for Creating Thriving New Communities: Social Life


Social Life wrote this report ‘Design for Social Sustainability‘ in 2012.

I’ve taken out key pages – the ones with the really helpful diagrams – to make it quicker for you to get the useful bits. Read the report for contextual insights.

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Reference 39 is: Mulgan, G. (January 2009) Feedback and belonging: Explaining the dynamics of diversity Continue reading

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Jay Doblin: A Short Grandiose Theory of Design

I totally recommend this read! A Short, Grandiose Theory Of Design by Jay Doblin.

It starts by breaking down design into the definitions: design as a process, design as a state, then design to solve complex problems. The simple diagram eventually develops into…
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…a complex diagram.
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This was written in 1987. It’s talking about design applied to systems.
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This excites me – I would love to know more about the history and evolution of systems/service design. I like the distinction between unisystems and multisystems.

At UKTI we are certainly looking at multisystems – a vastly complex picture of not only the many services UKTI offer, but what services the whole of Britain offers exporters, and also what’s going on for exporters the world over. Such a complex picture, that the analysis part of the design process became even more important because the picture is not obvious – it’s too big to see by any one person.

I’m loving the word ‘impresario‘. The article says that impresarios with holistic approaches are the ones that design the appearance of unisystems – starting with a vision of what the user experience should be, the details of the design are painstakingly worked out. I can identify with that.

I’m not sure if I agree with Doblin that designers can usually only do one kind of design. What I’m seeing is that most service designers are coming from what Doblin would call ‘product appearance design’. Learning how to basically design something is the foundation for designing systems.

All images from A Short, Grandiose Theory Of Design.

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Organisational design: The Unconscious at Work

Recently I was speaking with a character called Ben Metz about organisational psychology. (He’s one to follow, he’s organising a festival called Marmalade which is happening in April 2016, get involved!)

He got me reading The Unconscious at Work by Anton Obholzer and Vega Zagier Roberts. Here’s my notes from a chapter on open systems theory.

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What Marina Abramovic’s art has in common with my design approach

I went to Marina Abramovic’s show at the Serpentine Gallery last year, and like most of the other visitors, I was profoundly moved. She is pushing what art can be – she is making art out of interactions.

In this Ted Talk she explains principles behind her work.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 13.55.14Image from Ted Talks Continue reading

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After the Polls: Predicting the Post-Election Landscape

Today I am at an RSA talk entitled ‘After the Polls‘. Normally I either live tweet or write notes on Evernote that I always intend to publish on this blog but never have the time to… so here’s a new approach: writing directly on the blog as the event is happening. It’s not quite live blogging because I will have a look over the text before I publish this – as I understand it, live blogging is a bit like a series of extended tweets, right?

Tweets are at #RSAelection.

‘Today’s event is about analysis, not advocacy’ – Anthony Painter, chair.

Our speakers today are:
Tim Bale – politics professor, wrote a book predicting what Ed Miliband would be like as PM.
Miranda Green – Newsweek contributing editor, knows about Lib Dems.
Janan Ganesh – FT political correspondant, knows about Conservatives.

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Managing Client Demands

Last night I went to a talk by Arthur Irving from Skylark. The talk was organised by London Web.

The talk was about managing client expectations. It was an insightful talk, with ideas that I hope to incorporate into my business practice.

Arthur described the process he used to work with clients and tactics he used to dealing with clients. He said that he had made every kind of mistake with clients, and so he was in a position to give advice. He said that initially he blamed the client for problems such as not getting paid on time, but then he realised that the only person to blame was himself.

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2015-01-15 20.16.31 Continue reading

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