Service design: Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow Caledonian University approached Unthinkable in spring 2014 to advise them on the development of a platform for social innovationWe assembled a crack team of the finest research, product and design thinkers we could lay our hands on.

Platform vision

We first built a shared understanding of the proposition based on the inspiring vision of GCU’s Principal, Pamela Gillies. In so doing we drew on the expertise of research and teaching specialists in GCU, as well as key thinker about the process social innovation, Charles Leadbeater, and a close reading of his work and that of other experts in the field. As this project brought together learning, academic research and social innovation, we shared with GCU a comprehensive survey of the major digital initiatives in these fields, and used this to help us define a clear and distinctive proposition for GCU’s work. Through desk research and interviews with key practioners across four continents, we also built a strong understanding of local variations in the nature of the social innovation scene and the ways in which technology is used to support and present projects – this was crucial, given the international focus of GCU’s ambitions for partnership, based on a range of specific locations primarily in the global south.

User proposition

Having identified a very diverse set of user groups, including students, researchers, non-profit and corporate stakeholders and social innovators, we set about deepening our understanding of their motivations as they would relate to this vision. In addition to our conversations with innovators and researchers, we engaged directly with student representatives from GCU and with existing research into their circumstances and needs. Based on this understanding, we were able to work up a detailed vision of how different users would interact with the platform and with each other, made concrete through a series of process flow diagrams, and a central system overview.

Visual prototype

One of the things we loved about working on this project was the chance to draw in a pair of Unthinkable’s favourite designers, Rebekah Ford and Kat Flint, who worked with us throughout to keep us honest by ensuring that the complexity of our ideas was always reduced to a series of hard choices in drawings and diagrams. We find that drawing is often a brilliant way to ground the potential abstraction and ambiguity of words. That said, there’s a reason why we mention the purely visual side of this project fairly low down the case study. We wanted to use the design discipline to think through hard strategic questions. We didn’t want to be prematurely led by product design, in scoping a proposition whose most complicated moving parts had to do with human beings and their relationships, and for which technology would only ever be a supporting part of the solution. Nor did we want to assume too much about the place of a single bespoke product build in what could potentially be a wider ecosystem of existing digital services and physical human workflow.

But we wanted to do more with this project than simply produce an objective analysis of how best to proceed. We wanted to do everything we could to help the proposition along, as it’s something we believe in and are motivated by. Part of the key to that will be building the right kind of partnerships. So we produced a number of illustrations of how key aspects of the platform might be presented to different users on different devices, as an essential communication tool to help GCU recruit partners to support the project.

Implementation plan

GCU asked us back in summer 2015 to work with them on a set of detailed practical proposals for piloting the project in earnest. This second piece of work included detailed service design, website design and build and evaluation, giving GCU the evidence they need to seek funding and build an academic framework that will enable the pilot to scale up.