Hazel runs service design agency Open Change along with Mike Press and has spent a significant part of her career in education but according to her that might have been a little too long.
She started out at Edinburgh University with her first degree but after 5 years working she realised that art school was calling. Hazel found herself in jewellery and metal work apparently attracted by the materials and the naked flames! I find it really strange that the smallest things can highly influence our career paths. Logically we should be looking to gain transferrable skills that will be needed in the future in order to make a living. Maybe high school teachers aren’t best placed to be advising or maybe we should be doing more education around career paths.
A real trend of Hazel’s early career is proving people wrong when they say she can’t do something. An amazing attitude to have and there’s a real drive that you can see throughout everything she does.
We first met at DJCAD when she began teaching design studies, what I didn’t realise at the time was how she’d just sort of picked it up! It also seems to be how she got into the world of service design, learning alongside Lauren Currie and seeing the real value in the profession. I know there is a bit of post-it note/whiteboard stigma around it sometimes but I don’t think you can fault the principles of the profession. There’s potential to have real impact within big organisations affecting how they operate and look to the future.
Another interesting suggestion was a mandatory gap year. I could really get on board with this, not in the sense of going to Asia and trotting around with a backpack. More like a year to appreciate what working life is like to really appreciate the experience of university.
We also touch on death, which I think is a fascinating subject we hardly ever talk about. Maybe it should form part of a roundtable discussion in the future. I just feel there are too many prerequisites that we just take for granted we should question everything more.
Never Settle Podcast – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/never-settle-podcast/id1308995651?mt=2
The Beans Podcast – https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-beans/id1214714407?mt=2
Open Change – http://www.openchange.co.uk/
Open Change Twitter – https://twitter.com/openchangeuk
Hazel’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/HazeloneWhite
Colin Burns Transformation Design – https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/red-paper-transformation-design.pdf
Death Cafes – http://deathcafe.com/
Final Fling – http://www.finalfling.com/
Mistakes Were Made (But not by me) – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mistakes-Were-Made-But-Not/dp/0544574788
Ryan McLeod: Hello. Welcome back. I’m Ryan McLeod, this is Creative Chit Chat, and this is episode number 52. This week I’ve got Hazel White, who I’m sure a few of you in Dundee will know. [00:00:30] Hazel has worked at a few different educational institutes across her career. And that’s where I first met here. At Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (University of Dundee), she taught me on the undergrad course, and then she led the Masters of Design programme, when I did it as well. So I know Hazel quite well.
After leaving DJCAD, Hazel started a service design agency with Mike Press, called Open Change. [00:01:00] They’re doing some amazing work with big organisations, like the City Council, Scottish Government, NHS, loads of different bodies. Using service design to embed good practice in these organisations: design thinking and engaging users and planning out the future. And creating exciting projects off the back of it.
I think the work they’re doing is really valuable. It’s great to see that sort of way of thinking, and that sort of design [00:01:30] thinking being embedded in bigger organisations, I think it’s something that really needs to happen. It’s really important to be engaged with the people who are out there using those services because they are the people who are directly affected and the more we can get people thinking like that the better I think. We’ll obviously cover that, and then cover how Hazel came across service design as well. She’s got a really refreshing perspective on how she learned as much from the students as she [00:02:00] taught them. I think that kind of puts it on it’s head a bit, but it’s quite a refreshing look at how that comes across.
Another poignant point was made about pivot points – knowing when it’s time to change, and not getting too comfortable. I think it’s something that everybody can be guilty of, myself included, and sometimes we just need to give ourselves a shake and really re-evaluate where we are and not get stuck in that rut. Before we dive straight into the episode, I’ve just got one thing to plug, [00:02:30] and that’s a new podcast that’s launched in Dundee, and it’s being run by Ali McGill, and it’s called Never Settle.
This week he had on John Alexander, who is Leader of Dundee City Council, at only 29. He’s got a really refreshing perspective on politics in general. I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s episode, I’d highly recommend [00:03:00] you go check it out. And I think there’s about six episodes out now, if I remember rightly. Definitely worth the listen, it’s great to hear new podcasts coming out, coming up. I think the more we can get round Dundee, the more knowledge we can share, the better we can all get at it, the more we can learn.
I’ll put the link in the show links to that, and to plug again, if you don’t know, go and check out The Beans. Those guys are churning out the episodes, two a week, a ‘minisode’ and an episode. They’re fantastic, they’re just sort of random chats on random subjects. I’ve done a few mini episodes with the guys, and they were really enjoyable, so yeah. Go and check out Never Settle, and check out The Beans. Available at all good podcast platforms. But also in the show notes.
On another podcast related note, if anyone is out there and they’re thinking maybe I should start a podcast, [00:04:00] or maybe I fancy, just drop me a line, email@example.com, or on Twitter, which is @CCCDundee, or on Instagram. @CCCDundee.
This is episode number 52, and this is with Hazel White.
Hazel White: So I first came to live in Dundee, nearly 30 years ago as an art student, to Duncan of Jordanstone, College of Art to study. And I was a mature student – I’d already done a degree at Edinburgh University. I left school really early, at 16. I went straight to university and did an ordinary degree at Edinburgh in English, History and various other subjects and graduated when I was 19. Then I worked for five years. Then I decided to go back and do what I’d always really wanted to do, which was go to art college.
Ryan McLeod: So why didn’t you do that in the first place?
Hazel White: I just wanted to get away. I was brought up in Kirkcudbright. Which is a really small place, 3000 people, it felt like the world was happening everywhere else, and I wasn’t part of it, and I just wanted to join the world. If I was going to go to art college I would’ve had to stay on at school to do a portfolio. I thought I could probably get into university. Which a bit arrogant, because I actually the smartest in my year at school, and at that time not that many people went to university. But I just set my heart on it, I thought that’s what I’m going to do. And English was my best subject at school, so I applied to do that.
Around about the same time that I was doing my final bit of application, I was able to see the reference that the school had written for me, and the deputy headmaster had put on my reference to Edinburgh University; [00:06:30] “Hazel would benefit from another year at school, but I doubt the school would.” I think that kind of set the tone for things for me – you know – there’s all these people giving advice on people’s lives that actually have no idea what kind of life you’re going to lead, or what the possibilities are.
And it made me realise, at quite an early stage, to take advice from people who were nothing like you, with a big pinch of salt. And to seek out the people who’s advice you would [00:07:00] take, people that you admire and share the same values.
So that was kind of important.
Ryan McLeod: Okay. So you went back to art school?
Hazel White: I went back to art school, and again, it was one of this things that are just kind of serendipitous in life. Because I was working in Edinburgh at the time, I’d saved up enough money for a deposit on a flat. And it was thinking okay, this is what I’ll do, because it was the 1980s, and you know, everybody was doing that sort of thing. And then I got pneumonia. [00:07:30] And I was off work for five weeks. And I was really quite poorly, and it kind of makes you think about what are you going to do. I’d had to go back to my parents, because I couldn’t look after myself. I started drawing again, and I thought “this is what I want to do”.
I went back to work and I handed in my notice, and I knew I wouldn’t get a grant because I’d already done a degree, and I thought well, the money that I’ve saved up for a deposit on a flat will see me through my first year, and we’ll just take it from there. And that’s what I did.
Ryan McLeod: So what exactly did you study [00:08:00] at art school?
Hazel White: Well, I didn’t know what I wanted to study when I got there, and I went with a really narrow view of what art school was about. My eldest sister had been to Duncan of Jordanstone, and done drawing and painting. And in my kind of naïve view of the world I thought well there’s drawing and painting, or there’s graphic design. And I didn’t really know about anything else. So I did the general course. And I loved that, I loved every day of going in and just thinking, “this is what I get to do – work with materials and experiment, [00:08:30] and try things out”. And that kind of set me apart slightly from some people who’d come straight from school – I knew what the alternative was – having to get up and go out to work. So this seemed like an absolute luxury. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but we went on rotation around different departments. And when I saw the jewellery department, when I saw the gas torches, I thought “that’s the one for [00:09:00] me” – it was about making things, actually starting with materials and making things from scratch. It wasn’t that I particularly liked jewellery, it was the thing about constructing and making things.
Ryan McLeod: It’s funny how, does when you go through a journey, and the things that attract you, they’re not necessarily like career driven, like I was talking to someone the other day and they were like. They were thinking about career paths, and they were thinking like “oh maybe I’d quite like to be a vet”. And then someone said yeah, but you’ve got to stick your hand [00:09:30] up cow’s bums. And it’s like that could then dissuade you from an entire profession, no matter what, if there’s going to be a demand for vets in the next 10 years, and if it could be a really sort of, amazing career path. It’s funny how these little tiny decisions affect your life massively.
Hazel White: Absolutely, and it wasn’t that I was thinking oh, I’m going to go and set up a jewellery studio on the west coast of Scotland and lead a solitary life making earrings or whatever, that was never part of the vision, it was just like a visceral attraction to making [00:10:00] stuff. You’ve got to like the material that you’re working with. I mean I dabbled in ceramics, and clay just didn’t do it for me. I liked metal because it was really hard – you put it in a position and it stays there. I liked all the different techniques, I liked the technical aspects of it.
When I was at college with Brian the technician, we set up an aluminium anodizer. [00:10:30] just from reading about it in books. Brian got hold of a direct current battery from a HGV lorry, and we set up this aluminium anodizer from scratch – it was great, it was brilliant. And just that possibility, that you could just think of things and then make them, was just, that’s what attracted me to it.
Ryan McLeod: So what happened to, you’ve gone through art school, where did you go from there?
Hazel White: Well again it was one of those, be careful who you ask for advice. [00:11:00] I decided I wanted to go to the Royal College of Art. Again this is a thing kind of connected to Dundee slightly. Dundee was a very different place 30 years ago. And it didn’t necessarily hold people here in the way that it does now.Now it seems like a place to stay, because it’s a really creative place. Dundee, yeah, was different 30 years ago. Post industrial. I’d worked all the time I was here, because I [00:11:30] didn’t get a grant, I worked in what was called Raffles, it was an Italian restaurant on Perth Road, it’s now Braes. And I worked there from the day I started at art college till the day I left, because I needed the money. And I got four square meals at the end of my shift.
I used to look out the window of Raffles when I was working the evening shift, and I would see the sleeper leave for London, and used to wish I could be on it. There’s a bit of a pattern here of wanting to get away from somewhere, and go somewhere bigger. And so I decided that [00:12:00] I wanted to go to London, and I wanted to go to the Royal College of Art. But it seemed so, again, it seemed quite arrogant to want to do that, because few people got to do that. And there is this Scottish thing of you know, being no better than you ought to be. That if you say I want to do this, you’re being arrogant in some sort of way.
But once I’d said it, I mean somebody asked me actually, in the pub, “what are you going to do when you leave college?”, [00:12:30] and I said, “I’m going to go to the Royal College of Art”. Once I’d said it out loud, then I had to go and make it happen. But when I’d said to the course leader I wanted to apply for the Royal College of Art, and would he write me a reference, he said “oh don’t bother, you won’t get in”. So of course that made me even more determined to go, and of course I applied and I got in.
So there’s a bit of a pattern of doing that in my life, if somebody [00:13:00] says that you can’t do something, it just makes me all the more determined to do it.
Ryan McLeod: So how did you find that experience then, moving down to London? What was it for a year, two years?
Hazel White: Two years. I absolutely loved it. I didn’t know London particularly well, and so, there was a bit of anxiety about it, but it was fantastic. Again, I got a job waitressing as soon as I got there, so this was this other part of life going on where you were getting to meet people who weren’t involved in [00:13:30] creative things. But I just loved being in a place and thinking this is what I get to do. It’s absolutely amazing. And although I was in the goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery department, as it’s catchily titled, I spent an awful lot of time in photography. Because I’d become more interested in how you present jewellery or jewellery type objects. You would do all [00:14:00] this stuff in Photoshop now: I was making things, that could then be glued onto the body and then photographed. I was processing them all using wet photography techniques. So I spent a lot of time in the photography dept., – it was interesting being in those conversations about how people read images.
I absolutely loved it, and I fully intended to stay in London, and never leave. But again, when I graduated, [00:14:30] I won the prize that the department could give out, which was called the Bakri prize, and I asked the professor of the department why I’d got it. And he said oh, it’s the only prize that we can give out that’s not you know, judged by sponosrs. He said we give it out to the person who doesn’t do what they’re told to do.
And he said “do bear in mind with the sort of work that you’re doing, (because it was mainly photography, rather than sellable jewellery [00:15:00] objects). you won’t get a job. So of course I was the first person in my year who got a job, because it’s one of those things that you know, people don’t know what other people’s lives are going to be. So instead of staying in London as I’d intended, I moved to Sheffield, where I got a job lecturing in the metalwork and jewellery department in Sheffield.
Ryan McLeod: Why did you take that job then, that seems like [00:15:30] a big leap from where you were, doing a lot of photography and not a lot of jewellery to then to go and teach?
Hazel White: Yeah. I guess it was for security, and it was one of those things, and again that’s kind of life lesson, because you know, you’re flattered because you get the job. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it but you know, it was a steady salary and it was two year contract. And it was so [00:16:00] different from what I did, – design subjects at Sheffield were very industrial: packaging design, industrial design, design and applied technology, and metalwork and jewellery. So you know, really kind of hard edged design subjects.
But again, that was kind of challenging, it was interesting. In my first couple of weeks there, I had to design an object and make all the tooling for it, and work out all the processes that would lead [00:16:30] 120 undergraduate students who had just started, through all the health and safety processes in three different 3D design workshops. And timetable all the staff for that as well. It was such a baptism of fire, but those kind of challenges that you learn most from. I stayed too long. I was there for nine years. And that’s one of those things you get into the security of something, and you begin to think that’s [00:17:00] what it is you do – you feel like that’s your life. This is what I do. I’m a lecturer.
Ryan McLeod: So how do you define that point at which it’s long enough? What should be the transition where you start to realise, or what should be the factors that you should start to think, this is not right for me anymore?
Hazel White: When you stop enjoying it. When you stop enjoying it or it’s keeping you awake at night. [00:17:30] I have very leaky boundaries between work and home life, because if you love your work you do it all the time. And whether that’s a good or a bad thing that’s how my life is. And if you’re doing it because you love it, at times when other people might be watching TV or whatever, I think that’s fine. But if you’re doing that because you have to, or [00:18:00] it’s encroaching into your downtime in a bad way, then it’s probably time to stop doing what you’re doing.
Ryan McLeod: So what was the next step from there then?
Hazel White: We moved up to Scotland. Didn’t intend to move back to Scotland. Sheffield’s a fantastic place to live in, kind of has parallels in it being a post-industrial economy that has revitalised itself, like Dundee. Had no intention of coming back [00:18:30] to Scotland, but Mike got a job in Aberdeen, and I got a job back in the jewellery department where I started off, covering somebody’s maternity leave at Duncan of Jordanstone. That’s how I ended up back in Dundee.
Ryan McLeod: And then I mean you ended up at Duncan of Jordanstone for quite a long time after that?
Hazel White: For another stint that was probably longer than it should have been, for ten years. And I came in as I said to cover maternity leave in the jewellery department, but I got asked [00:19:00] to cover design studies for interactive media as it was called then I think, and product design. Which was never particularly an area of expertise, but I do believe that you learn things by teaching them, and so I ended up teaching that and teaching on the masters course. And again that wasn’t my area of expertise, but was really interesting. So I moved out of jewellery, did [00:19:30] one a term in the jewellery department and then moved more into design, both masters and at undergraduate level.
Ryan McLeod: That’s where we first met, you taught me on the design studies course. Which was, from what I remember, all about design thinking.
Hazel White: Yeah.
Ryan McLeod: And how you apply techniques to generate ideas, and apply them to new sort of areas and things like that. Which at that time was probably more of an emerging part of design.
Hazel White: Yeah, yeah. And it was [00:20:00] something that I was learning about and I thought was really interesting and really relevant, and also that thing about understanding people’s motivations – why they behave in certain ways. I’d come from a very craft background in design, where it’s about what you can do with materials. But I became interested in why people wear stuff, and what that says about them. People’s behaviours and motivations, [00:20:30] and why they want products, and what they’re trying to do when they’re interacting with things became something that I thought was really key. You can’t add that on later. Let’s design something and then work out why people might want it, it’s got to be up there at the beginning of a design process.
Ryan McLeod: It feels like that thinking, part of it needs to be there at sort of the core of any designer. No matter what your end product is, or what your materials you’re working in [00:21:00] or whatever, but at that process has to be there at the start.
Hazel White: Yeah. Then that expands out into everything that’s not just design – why are we doing this and where are we trying to go? Or what behaviour change, or environmental change are we’re actually trying to make? And hold onto that. And that might change, you know, as you observe people or talk to people, or find out [00:21:30] what people are doing at the moment, or what they want to do in the future. But you need to understand that before you start designing things otherwise you design the wrong thing.
Ryan McLeod: Yes. And then you moved over to the Masters of Design, is that right?
Hazel White: That’s right.
Ryan McLeod: Again, it was another course that I took. But I mean, coming out of that course, there’s been a lot of amazing designers, and also a lot of people who’ve set up their own businesses. [00:22:00] But why do you think that that course was so effective?
Hazel White: I think because it brought in that different way of looking at things. It used to be that a masters course in design was an extra year to get your shit together – “I’ve done four years of an undergraduate degree, now what am I going to do to kind of reposition myself in the world?” Whether it’s [00:22:30] to take your final project and refine it, or think of a marketing plan for it or whatever.
Ryan McLeod: And that was sort of some of the motivations that I went into that masters. It was a very comfortable step.
Hazel White: Yeah. Instead of stepping out into the world, to refine your thinking a bit. Which is fine, which is okay. But I think you could do more than that. An undergraduate degree is about learning about the subject you’re in and exploring what you’re doing. What you come out with it at the end of it is not necessarily the product that’s going to go [00:23:00] into the world. It’s what you have learned about things through making that product or doing that project that you’ve done. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to spend your next five years trying to market that.
So it’s a transition phase. Helping people transition into the next bit. It became about understanding the whole process of design: understanding users, how you communicate with people. Everything in design is about communicating [00:23:30] with lots of different people. In your masters project, you were looking at how people who don’t have speech can communicate – that involved talking to experts in augmented communication and talking to people who would be the end users of the things you were designing. Talking to experts in all different parts of the field. And that’s not a natural thing for everybody to do. Building confidence in doing good research.
And then how to take ideas through and prototype them – and not always get it right. How to explain to somebody what you’ve done and why it has is really, really important. That’s what the Masters course was about – helping people (students) through those journeys. One thing I remember really, really well, and [00:24:30] I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning this. Is Jamie, who was in your year, presenting back some work that he’d done -midway through the course. And Jamie saying, “it’s not actually working out, it’s not going where I thought it was going to do, and I made some assumptions here that weren’t right”. Just being very, very honest about that and then repositioning, and moving his project forward.
That isn’t traditionally how design’s been taught, in the past it was – Hold a ‘crit’, you present your stuff, your lecturers slag it off, and you defend what it. [00:25:00]
Nobody’s listening to each other, it’s a confrontational thing. Whereas it should be about conversations and critical friends being able to recognise when you’ve gone down a path and you’ve learned a lot but it’s not quite the right path, and you need to step back, then move forward again. The course was really good for people to be able to explore things in a safe environment, make mistakes, and learn from them, then move forward. [00:25:30]
Ryan McLeod: I think helped me develop my own personal design process. And consider what the fundamental steps are that you need to go through in any project you could apply that across. It gave me time to explore that before I then went out to get a job, which was really valuable.
Hazel White: Yes, just picking up on that thought, another great thing was bringing people in who were already working in industry. [00:26:00] I remember you coming back and talking to the current students after you’d been working for a year, maybe two years in Glasgow, explaining what your day was like to the students. And saying that you might be meeting three deadlines in a day, and explaining your process for each one. And them (the students) looking at you absolutely slack jawed because the pace of things when you’re a student is so slow compared to [00:26:30] when you’re working in industry. You have to work fast, because time is money. That was a really, really good lesson, and an good eye opener for them, because it was somebody who’d been in their position, 18 months, two years earlier, it had a real resonance for them. So I think that was another strength – having people who were working in the field coming back to say “this is what it’s like out there”.
Ryan McLeod: A lot of the things we’ve been talking about there, like the fundamentals of process and prototyping, [00:27:00] failing fast and reconsidering how a traditional design process is led feed into what is now known as service design. The way I see it is that formulates the next part of your journey. So at what point did you become aware of service design, and how did that transition into your journey. [00:27:30] How does service design take hold of you?
Hazel White: The actual word ‘service’ design came a little bit later than understanding the idea of it. When I was running the masters course, John Thackara had written his book, In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World. He gave a talk at Robert Gordon Univeristy in Aberdeen that all the masters students went to. His point was that there was lots of people in the world with real problems that needed solving and [00:28:00] lots of designers sitting in studios solving problems that didn’t. If you got those tw people together, you could actually affect change. And that had a huge resonance for me. We had Colin Burns, former studio head of IDEO London come once a year for the seven years I ran the masters course. He did user centred design with the students, and it was really inspirational. Colin had [00:28:30] been part of a movement which is called Transformation Design – they wrote a paper in 1996, looking at what the role design could have in the world rather than just the making of objects. The Designer of the Year Award had been given to someone who wasn’t a designer (Hilary Cottam) for the design of hospitals and schools. There was a big outcry among the design community. How can somebody who’s not a designer win a design prize? [00:29:00] And you just thought well “why not?”
It’s not just about being able to kern (layout type), or sand blue foam nicely. It’s about how you actually make a change in the world. So that was really seminal to me – the change in what design could be. But the actual term service design was when Lauren Currie was doing the course, and she was researching into service design – so learning through her. That’s been a pattern for me – [00:29:30] you learn an awful lot from what your students are doing and reading and saying. Because they’re really trying to navigate through and create a new world – whereas I’m kind of part of an old world.
So you can learn an awful lot from them. So the term service design was probably first introduced to me by Lauren Currie.
Ryan McLeod: And when do you think you started sort of practising that?
Hazel White: I think to a certain extent we were already doing it, but calling it something different. We changed [00:30:00] the name of the Master of Design course to Design for Services. That was conscious rather than calling it Service Design because – in my head, service design is a full end to end process: finding out what user needs are, prototyping and right through to the delivery point. [00:30:30] It involves digital solutions, it involves all sorts of different competencies that you can’t cover in a one year masters course. Design for Services was about working with people who are providing services. So we would do aspects of it, but not claim that we could run the HMRC by the end of it -that was the reason for calling it that. But now I’m kind of less [00:31:00] bothered about what you call service design, because it’s basically using those kind of creative techniques and methods and mindset, in helping people do their work better for the people who are using their end products, or delivering their end services.
Ryan McLeod: So you obviously decided at some point that you wanted out of the world of education. And wanted to start your own practise.
Hazel White: Yes.
Ryan McLeod: [00:31:30] I’m interested to find out what drove that, and how late that was – relative to you saying that you generally stuck around for too long. So how many years or months before should you have gone and set up your own thing?
Hazel White: I set up Open Change at Companies House, a couple of years before I left the university, I kind of forgotten that. So [00:32:00] obviously in the back of my mind, I had an escape plan. The thing was, I didn’t know enough to do it, I was still learning about service design, so I probably couldn’t have set up the business successfully much earlier because I didn’t have the skills and knowledge to do it. In terms of running a business, I’d forgotten how much I liked running a business. Because between university and going to art college, I worked for Pizzaland, a company similar to Pizza Express. I’d waitressed for [00:32:30] them when I was at Edinburgh University, went on to their management training scheme, by the time I was 21 I was running a restaurant that was, in the 1980s, turning over £1.2 million. Managing all the staff, the stock, etc. I enjoyed all the different aspects of that, I enjoyed having to get the money in, figuring out how to increase sales, etc. It wasn’t until I went back to running a business I [00:33:00] realised how much I actually like that.
“ I don’t know whether we’re going to get paid this month or not” – if we don’t do the work, we’re not going to get paid. And I quite like the challenge of that.
Ryan McLeod: That seems to be the exact opposite from the majority of people I’ve spoken too. Like that’s the big bugbear, that’s the pain, that’s the frustration or the worry that keeps you awake at night: “how am I going to pay the bills?”.
Hazel White: No, it’s never kept me awake at night. What kept [00:33:30] me awake at night was being in a job that I couldn’t escape because I had a pension. You know what I mean, because you know that you’ve got something that’s absolutely steady and you wouldn’t want to lose your pension. It’s not a way to live. I guess I’m lucky in that because I made this decision – I decided I’ve got to leave before [00:34:00] I’m 50. By the time you’re 50, you’ve paid a lot of your mortgage etc. so it’s not as challenging for me as it might be for somebody else.
The driver of “this business will not run unless we bring in money” is absolutely key. We took on premises, we’ve got a lot of costs to cover. We don’t pay ourselves a huge amount because we try to put it in the business. [00:34:30] I I like to look at the balance sheet and think, we’ve got to get in this sort of work or this is the sort of work we’re going to do. It’s also tied in to how you value yourself. You have to charge a price that values your work. Initially I wasn’t sure how to pitch that or how to do it. I have a school friend who worked in financial services for [00:35:00] big companies, and does project management of large IT systems and is now freelance. When I told her what our daily rate was, she just threw her head back and laughed, and said I wouldn’t send a junior out for that. And they’re basically teaching people how to use Word. That gave me a benchmark I’ve stuck to.
Ryan McLeod: It’s really difficult to price yourself. People are always asking that question, it’s [00:35:30] you can look at national averages and things like that, but it’s often very difficult. I imagine trying to sell service design, which is a relatively new concept, to people who don’t necessarily have a grasp of what it is, or the benefits that it can bring, and then you’re putting a price tag on that. That must be quite a difficult process.
Hazel White: It’s not been as difficult as I imagined it would be, because people can see the value of it. And that’s the key thing is about selling the value of it, not the cost of it. It gets [00:36:00] a bit tricky if you’re working with people who are working on daily rates or whatever, we tend to just avoid that where we can. And it’s just here’s a job, this is how much it costs. Because yeah, you can unpick stuff. I mean the day rates you put in for doing stuff never ever cover the amount of days you spend on things as you will know yourself. So it’s just this is how much this job costs. And this is the value that it will bring. To [00:36:30] date we’ve not had anybody coming back and saying I don’t think that was worth it. And we have lots and lots of repeat business from clients, so they obviously are seeing the value of it.
Ryan McLeod: So how do you approach the selling of the value and illustrating the value that you bring?
Hazel White: We use examples of previous work we’ve done. A lot of what we’re doing, although we badge it as service design, is about helping people think about the future differently and creatively. [00:37:00] We are working a lot with public service organisations who are delivering a service as they’re trying to do change. They’re trying to keep the wheels on things with you know, decreasing resources, whether that’s money or people, or usually both.
But they know they have to change, because the world’s changing, people’s expectations are changing, people are living longer, have different ways of doing things – eg. digitally. They’re trying to do that while still doing their day job. [00:37:30] And the way we work with them offers them ways of thinking that helps them think creatively and positively about how they can do that. And usually in relatively simple steps. For example, clients that we’ve worked with, when we go back and say so what difference did that piece of work make? They’ll say “it changes how we do everything”. Because previously they might have decided that they were going to change how they did something and senior people or middle [00:38:00] management people would come up with a plan of how they were going to change it and then they would roll it out. And it wouldn’t work or people wouldn’t do it, or people wouldn’t know about it.
Whereas now they go to their service users, and people that are delivering the services and work with them. And they have got a much better idea of how things work on the ground, and what impact changes will have, or suggestions of how things might work better. So it becomes a bit of a mantra in these organisations – if somebody comes up with a new policy, or a new way of doing something, people will say, “have you asked anybody about this, have you talked [00:38:30] to any users, have you talked to people who deliver it?” And if the answer’s no, then it doesn’t go ahead. This makes people’s jobs easier. And things are much more likely to stick if they connect with how people do things, and their lives.
You know, you can design the best service in the world, but if it involves driving to get there, (and you don’t have a car), or it involves logging on to a computer rather [00:39:00] than being able to use a mobile device, it’s not going to work. (if you can’t access a computer). Or if it’s delivered at a time of day that people can’t make, etc.
(Thinking about) all those things helps people deliver things that actually work.
Ryan McLeod: Yeah, and it’s coming back to not designing for yourself, you’re not designing in a silo. You’ve got to consider the context, and the real world people and application of what you’re creating.
Hazel White: Absolutely. And that goes back to education as well, When I started teaching, way back [00:39:30] in Sheffield, the design briefs used to often be about designing things for yourselves: boys with toys – designing skateboards etc. It reinforced designing for yourself, rather than for others.
It’s funny, (James Ashford) a graduates from industrial design, I think it was industrial design called [00:40:00] designed the accountancy software that our accountant uses (which works exceptionally well) . He was an exceptional student, I only interacted with him briefly at the time, but we’re still in touch with him – he’s been up to Dundee. (As a student) he was designing toilets. And he actually went into an old folk’s home and asked if he could clean the toilets so he could understand (the issues), and then designed a toilet.And that was his whole attitude to life, and he’s run many successful businesses since [00:40:30] then, because it was “let’s just go and see what the real problem is”. Not just “let’s make a nice looking toilet”.
Ryan McLeod: Yeah.
Hazel White: It’s that thing of being able to step outside yourself.
Ryan McLeod: So before we go on to talk more about Open Change, I want to just take a little bit of step back into the sort of realms of education. And I mean with a bunch of people on the podcast, we’ve talked about their routes and their different journeys. I want to get your opinion, having [00:41:00] been in educational institutions for quite a significant amount of time. If someone is coming out of say high school, and they’re looking to get into the creative industries. I think that often university is pushed as the be all and end all, the big option that everyone should take.
But now I think that there are a lot more alternatives, potentially better or more effective routes. [00:41:30] I’d like to get your opinion on what options you would recommend to someone coming out in that sort of situation.
Hazel White: I think with everything it depends on the individual. But just having some experience of the world before you go into any sort of next stage training, helps you appreciate it more. And also helps you put it into context. You know, so when somebody’s explaining to you about how people live or [00:42:00] how people behave, you’ve seen examples of it elsewhere, albeit in a different context. My first move as I said was to go to Edinburgh University to study what I’d been good at at school. And what I was good at at school, in the massive pool of people who apply to Edinburgh University to do English, meant I was pretty much bottom of the pile – and that’s a bit of a shock.
So what you thought you were really good at, in comparison to everybody else (you’re not), [00:42:30] knocks your confidence a bit. How things are taught at school, is quite different to how it might be taught in a university, so you’re going to go through a big change there. There’s a lot of choices to make about choosing the right course. Things have the same name, or similar sorts of names, like design but they’re very, very different between school and university, and one university or art college and the other. So that takes a bit of research.
[00:43:00] I’m a firm believer in taking your time and not rushing into it. Because I think for someone leaving school at 16, 17, 18, and going onto a course which they don’t enjoy, or doesn’t let them thrive is not good, not good for their confidence, it’s not the best use of their time, it’s not the best use of money or resources. But there’s a real push. “What do you want to do when you leave school, what are you going to do, are you going to apply for university?”.[00:43:30] Real pressure, which I think is unfair on a lot of people.
Sure you’ll have some people who have an absolute driven vocation, and want to go on and do something as quickly as possible. But I think it’s wrong (for everyone), and I think an enforced gap year would be good for (some) people. To go and work and do something different and then find something that’s appropriate for them. [00:44:00] Art college is interesting. People go to say their local further education college to do some sort of course that would take them to art college, and then once they got there they do a kind of diagnostic year to find out what it was that they were actually interested in, before they actually specialise.
And yeah, that’s expensive and it takes a long time, but it’s a model that actually is quite interesting. It’s probably quite inefficient, and takes quite a long time.
We’re doing some work [00:44:30] at the moment with Skills Development Scotland around a construction skills qualification in schools, where it introduces third year pupils to the construction industry at all sorts of different levels: from trades, like joinery, brickies,, plastering, quantity surveying, site management, architecture. etc. – people can see the big picture (of the industry). Going back to [00:45:00] people giving advice, (based on) what they think about the world – it’s common at school to get pigeonholed by people who actually don’t know you. Who say “your destiny in life is to be this”. And they’ve decided that you’re either at this level or you’re at that level. And that sticks with people.And that’s not fair. People have to be allowed to make their own choices, and it’s so unlikely that everybody is actually going to reach their peak, [00:45:30] between fifth and sixth year at school, and have a vision of what they want to do. When they’re still navigating the world, maturing, they haven’t stopped growing, they’ve got lots of other things going on in their life that are exceptionally more interesting than academic study. And yet you’re asking them to make a decision – for the rest of their life.
We don’t even live in a world where you have to do that anymore. If you’re a school teacher you probably did decide that you wanted to be a school teacher, and that possibly will be the occupation [00:46:00] that you will be pensioned your way through your life with. (many of my family were school teachers) For the rest of the world, that’s increasingly not the case, and people will move between different occupations, successfully, because they want to grow as people -not because they don’t want to stick in jobs, it’s because you’re actually growing and moving between things.
Yet we still have an educational system that thinks we are popping people out at the end to be manual workers, civil service workers, teachers, [00:46:30] doctors, etc.. And the world isn’t like that anymore.
Ryan McLeod: The world is ever changing. And the needs and the demands for that are ever-changing. I mean even just looking at how the world will change in the next five, ten years, what kind of skills will be required, or what skills are actually going to be less required. Things like, I mean electric cars are going to come along, therefore less mechanics are going to be needed because there’s less parts to be serviced, and everything’s going to be computer automated. [00:47:00] So then does that mean maybe go into coding or things like that? Start to have that sort of foresight as to how the world is, and what skills the world is going to need in the next five to ten years, so.
Hazel White: Yes, the skills that they’re going to need, we don’t know, we actually don’t know. But the skills to learn, the skills to be adaptable, the skills to work with other people, to work with teams – to be able to know where to access information and how to assimilate and synthesise information, [00:47:30] wherever it comes from, will always be needed. Being able to learn a set of information and recall it in an exam doesn’t really measure any of that stuff.
Ryan McLeod: So to go back to Open Change. Now you’ve obviously worked on an amazing range of projects, in a relatively short space of time. But there’s one in particular that stood out [00:48:00] that I’d like to chat about, and that’s sort of collaborative called the Death Café. So how did that actually come about?
Hazel White: I think it was Fi Munro. I can’t remember how it came about, whether I knew about it first or whether we talked about it. Fi is somebody we both know from working at the university. I always like to say I knew Fi as a student – she was a PhD student, [00:48:30] but I mostly know her from working with her. Fi was keen to run a Death Café. Fi has stage four ovarian cancer. There’s a global movement in Death Cafes and she was keen to run one and wanted some support with the organisation of it. So Kate Sauderson, or Donaldson as she now is, who also worked with Fi and I decided that we would set one up together.
It’s using [00:49:00] the principles of the Death Café, which I think was started in San Francisco. And it’s basically a safe space for people to come together and talk about death. It’s not about advising people, it’s not about selling any services, it’s just an opportunity to talk about something that as a culture we don’t talk very much about. I’ve not done a lot of research into why we don’t, but I know from my own experience with elderly [00:49:30] relatives and through my own mum’s death, people just don’t talk, we don’t have the language, things are not set up to talk about it. Most people will make wills and things as they get older – but probably not sitting down and talking to people about it.
So it was an opportunity to do that, to get people together. We had about 20 people came along. We did it in Avery, a local [00:50:00] café. I must admit I was full of trepidation about it – because I just didn’t know what it would be like, and whether I would find it emotional. Actually it was a very joyful experience. And it ties into work that I’ve done with the Children’s Hospice (CHAS) in the past when I was at the university. And we’re just about hopefully to start doing some more work through Open Change with the Children’s Hospice. People who are close to [00:50:30] working with people who have life limiting conditions or are towards the end of life (often) have a very joyful approach – actually realise what life is about. While the rest of us are focusing on the daily grind, and not on the joy of what life is. When you face things like that head on, it actually changes you. One of the best weeks I ever spent was at the university [00:51:00] was when a bunch of students and I stayed at the Children’s Hospice and ran a Dragon’s Den day for a bunch of young people, who came for the week to do it. And it was like Christmas, it was great. It was just such a great amazing week. Because that’s people who are enjoying life and getting on with it, and have mechanisms for how you talk about things. We all know, if you hide something away, it [00:51:30] becomes a monster. That way of being able to talk about things makes death part of life.
Ryan McLeod: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Because it’s an inevitable thing that we’re all going to experience at some time or another.
Hazel White: Absolutely.
Ryan McLeod: We have these pre built constructs that exist around the concept of death that we’re just expected to go along with, and that’s just what’s happened, that’s the norm that’s happened forever. Whether that [00:52:00] be the rooms in which funeral ceremonies are conducted, or the way in which coffins look. Or the way in which we deal with funeral directors, or anything around that whole process, and the service I suppose. Is very prescriptive.
Hazel White: Absolutely.
Ryan McLeod: And we don’t really have much control over that. So I think it’s a really interesting area, and it’s one of the great things that services then can do, it can sort of latch onto these [00:52:30] sort of areas that have never really been touched by design before, and start to show them the benefits. And create a better overall service for everyone.
Hazel White: Yeah. I mean it’s a really interesting area, I mean we’ve done work with the Death Café with Fi and Kate, bringing people together to do that. But not done work on the actual service design of that (death). There’s a great woman in Glasgow, Barbara Chalmers, who [00:53:00] works on that. It’s really, really interesting work that anybody should look up. I think it’s called Final Fling.
Ryan McLeod: I’ll put it in the show notes.
Hazel White: Yeah. Really interesting work. But yes it’s true, and it’s all those things that actually make things easier for people. The one time in our lives that we go to the dreary ceremony that is a crematorium, is one of the worst moments in your life. From a personal point of view, and I hope none of my family mind me talking about this: when my mum died, [00:53:30] I don’t know why I thought of this, but I’d heard of willow caskets. Which are kind of woven baskets (coffins). I don’t know how I’d heard of them. And I’d said to the undertaker, who is somebody I know, because this was in Kirkcudbright – could we get a willow casket? And he said oh, “we’ve never done one of those, but I bet I could get one off the internet”.
And he did. And it was amazing. It made, well to me, it made a huge difference, because instead of those really horrible coffins that remind me of Only Fools and Horses [00:54:00] for some reason. You know, the kind of mahogany thing with brass handles – tacky. It was a basket – a kind of box shaped willow woven thing. It just softened the whole thing. It seemed like something that was nurturing. An object that actually just makes you think differently about it (death). If you kind of applied [00:54:30] all the different sorts of thinking to all the other parts of the service and things like that, it would make (a difference).
There are a lot of people who are beginning to develop their own ways of doing that – humanist ceremonies and things like that. That change it and make it something that’s a celebration of somebody’s life, instead of this kind of dirge process that you have to go through to move to the other side. That’s different in different parts of the world, lots of people do it much, much [00:55:00] better than we do.
We’ve obviously not always done it in this way either, but you kind of grow into a way and just don’t change things. Yeah, we’ll have to think of a different way of doing our own ones. I think it’s important because a funeral is for the people that are left behind, and a way of helping them deal with it. And the way we do it at the moment I don’t think really does help people express how they feel.
I’ve [00:55:30] also been to another family friend’s funeral, which was a Quaker funeral. Which was different in that everybody, after the ceremony, was in a circle, which I think is a normal Quaker meeting thing. People could stand up and say what they wanted about the person. I was there with all my siblings because it was an aunt who’d been a really important part of our family, and I was able to stand up and talk for the family, why we’d all travelled [00:56:00] in different modes of transport from one end of the country down to the south of England to be at this, because she was so important – it was great to be able just to say, in two minutes, how important this person was to us. And anybody could do that, it was amazing. So yeah, you felt a sense of celebration and being part of somebody’s life. And that’s really important.
Ryan McLeod: I noticed on your Twitter feed, you posted a photograph with a little [00:56:30] scribbled note on it, and it was about the number of times you had to phone your GP to get through. It was like 28 or something like that. But what I’m wondering, do you come across things in your sort of daily life, and then immediately start in your head, trying to work out how to improve that service and solve that problem?
Hazel White: Yes, I do. I do. And my son characterises it as, “stop trying to tell other people what to do”. [00:57:00] It’s that thing about noticing, once you start noticing certain things, you can’t unnotice it. There’s all sorts of things that are part of really big complex systems and you think, “if it was that simple they would have done it already”. In lots of cases, it is that simple and they just haven’t done it already.
It’s about mindset, it’s about how things change. It’s also about how things are measured, [00:57:30]. Like the GP phone calls. It’s partly to do with targets, in that GPs are measured on how many people are seen on the day that they phone up. And so they keep lots of appointments for the same day. But there is a good percentage of people who do not necessarily need to see the doctor the same day, but it’s either phone up at eight o’clock, or it’s you know, three weeks on Thursday, there’s kind of not a middle ground. Just because of the way the systems [00:58:00] fill up, and the way it’s programmed. But actually if you went and asked people what they want, you would find that information out, but they’re doing it to meet targets rather than to meet what people want. (need)
And it’s awful. There’s, GP practices in Dundee where there are sick people going and queuing outside at eight o’clock in the morning, in the freezing cold because that is the only way they can guarantee getting an appointment to see the doctor. Because they you know, they’re not getting through on redial. that is [00:58:30] It’s a problem, and yet nobody is picking that up.
Ryan McLeod: Through the work that you’re doing, you are trying to address and alleviate stress on social situations, or anxiety, and service design has that sort of ability.
Hazel White: Yeah. A lot of it is common sense. You know if there’s 20 people queuing up outside the GP’s surgery every morning, “Houston, we have a problem” [00:59:00] Rather than that becoming the norm – if that’s your norm, something is wrong. We can’t just continue to accept it and say well it’s because we’re understaffed, we’re under-resourced etc. Look at things from a different way, or trying doing things in a different way and test it out to see if you can make a difference.
It’s difficult when you’ve been doing things in the same way for some time [00:59:30] to actually change, or to know how to change, or to think you have the authority to change. That’s a big thing with people we work with. You know there’s lots of people who are working on the front line, who are going “I don’t know why we do it like this, but that’s what the bosses say”. And they don’t feel empowered to change. Or they feel they’re going to get into trouble if they change.
And so that’s what a lot of what we do, working with cross sections of organisations, to get them to work, together, collectively. [01:00:00] And to empower people to make the changes in a safe way and in a sensible way that make things better. Not just for the people that they’re serving but for them, as people working in those systems. You want work to be something that people find joy in as well – if people find joy in the work they do they do it creatively and they do it well.
Ryan McLeod: So in that same vein of change. What, I mean, Dundee is a city of change at the moment. Quite drastically. [01:00:30] What would you like to see change in Dundee going forward?
Hazel White: There’s been massive (change) what more can you ask for? It’s been amazing. Going back to when I was dying to get on the Sleeper and go down to London. I don’t want to do that anymore, I’ve brought up my son here, I love it. I mean it’s an amazing situation, it’s got an amazing vibrancy to it, there’s lots of stuff to do.
To actually [01:01:00] connect up some of those things would be great. I mean we’re well connected in the community, we’re connected through Creative Dundee, through other networks, we know what’s going on, we use all sorts of different websites and social media to know what’s going on.
If you’re not from Dundee that’s not so visible. If you are a visitor to Dundee, you could miss an awful lot of what’s going on. Because you wouldn’t know about it, because you’re not connected, you’re not in the ‘in crowd’ as it were. Also other people in Dundee who are not [01:01:30] in that crowd don’t know how to access it, or what bits they might be interested in. How do you spread that? The V&A has been a massively great catalyst for that and can also be part of that solution. How do you make things visible and accessible to people who are not already in the know? In the way that when you go to visit Paris or Barcelona or any other big [01:02:00] city, you kind of think right, these are the sort of things I would do here. Otherwise it’s going to be the one trick pony of the V&A. Claire Brennan from Abertay (Univerity) had a fantastic idea the other day talking about tours – where people were taken on tours of cultural events – you might be taken from a games exhibition that was happening at Abertay through to whatever [01:02:30] exhibition’s happening at the DCA, to maybe something that’s happening in the V&A, then go and visit a jeweller’s workshop. There’s all these things happening but it needs somebody to actually physically connect them up, or virtually connect them up.
If you took that thread of “here we have an expert”, whether it’s a virtual expert to take somebody on a tour, to connect- you could have just such a broad variety of things. If somebody’s got, six hours in Dundee, “this is what we’re going to do: you’ll have the chance to look at this, and you might see [01:03:00] craft beer being brewed, and you might get lunch here, and you can go and talk to such and such.” A ‘menu’ of those different sorts of things. To do that really, really well could totally put Dundee on the map.
Ryan McLeod: Yeah. I think that’s a very good point. There is a lot going on, there’s not a centralised place to facilitate that. Whether that’s a digital or a physical thing that can do it, would make a massive difference. And it’d keep people here, and [01:03:30] give them a reason to stay two, three days.
Hazel White: It can just be one thing. If you go on TripAdvisor for Barcelona something will pop up: you can go and do cocktail mixing somewhere or whatever at some trendy bar – it’s that thing where you have an experience as well as going to see ‘things’.
Ryan McLeod: Yeah.
Hazel White: It might be you make a ring, or you go and brew craft beer or something like that. It’s another hook, an experience. Because you’re [01:04:00] actually talking to people, interacting with people, rather than just passively looking at stuff. If you got off the train at Dundee station you can either have an absolutely amazing experience. Or you could have a really shit experience. It’s up to the city to help guide people towards that amazing experience.
Ryan McLeod: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Hazel White: My other bugbear is the water. [01:04:30] You know, we’ve got one of the most amazing waterfronts, and lots of that’s being developed etc. There’s bits of it that are better than others. There’s flats obscuring great views. There’s a whole bit of waterfront there that could just be really vibrant cafés etc. – I’d really love to see that grow – that’s part of plans – ferries to Perth – using the water would be great, it’d be amazing.
Ryan McLeod: [01:05:00] We’re just at the hour mark just now. So to finish up, could you recommend some things you’ve seen or read or listened to in the last sort of few months that you find really interesting or inspiring?
Hazel White: Two books I’m reading at the moment, I’ll have to give you the proper titles for the reading notes. One’s called, Why We Sleep? It’s basically the science of sleep and the impact sleep [01:05:30] has on your cognitive performance, on your weight, on all sorts of stuff, based on clinical evidence. It’s absolutely fascinating and changes your view of everything – eg. we are all either ‘larks’ or ‘owls’ (function better early or late in the day). There’s not very much you can do to change that. I’m quite lucky in that I do like getting up early – the world is designed for people that like getting up early – jobs are 9 to 5. If you’re not, if you’re an owl, [01:06:00] you’re discriminated against. And that’s an interesting thing to think about. That changes also as people are growing – useful for me (to know) with a teenage son – although he’s a lark as well. To think about the amounts of sleep you need and how that affects development and also how it affects decision making. That thing about pulling all nighters – “don’t do it people – you will produce worse work”.
The other book I’m reading is [01:06:30] called Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me. And it’s about how we use our cognitive biases to back up bad decision making, and justifying things that we’ve done wrong. It’s really, really important in service design to understand that we have biases. We’re going in talking to people – so that we can try and set them aside Biases) as much as can, to do good research. [01:07:00] We rally information to support what we already think – this is why we have Trump, and why we have Brexit etc. we just, we pick up the stuff that reinforces our world view. We think Trump will do something and [01:07:30] people will stop supporting him if we hear one more awful (thing he’s done/said). But they won’t because people (supporters) don’t pay attention to those sorts of things, you gather the sort of things that support the view you have already. We all do that. We have to be aware of that, otherwise we can’t change.
I’m working to try and support other people to change, but I have to be really aware [01:08:00] that I have to change as well, I can’t stay the same either. And we’re kind of naturally programmed to try and hold onto certainty.
Ryan McLeod: Great. So if anyone does want to find out more about you, where do they do that?
Hazel White: www.OpenChange.co.uk has details of work projects, and links to LinkedIn and various other things that we do. And Twitter @hazelonewhite @openchangeuk
Ryan McLeod: Great, thank you very much.
And that was episode 52. Thank you to Hazel for coming on. And do go and follow her on Twitter, find out what she’s up to. And also follow the podcast on Twitter and on Instagram, it’s @CCCDundee, or if you’re more of a Facebook-y kind of person, it’s Facebook.com/groups/CCCDundee.