December 21, 2020

PG #72: Staying with the trouble

Illustration by Bonnie Graham

"The necessity for a form of socialism is based on the observation that the world’s present economic arrangements doom most of the world to misery; that the way of life dictated by these arrangements is both sterile and immoral; and finally, that there is no hope for peace in the world so long as these arrangements obtain."

–– James Baldwin, No Name in the Streets

In January 2020, our CEO Chris Marmo wrote here in this newsletter:

“2020 is the start of a vital decade, and we’re looking forward to taking a rest, rolling up our sleeves, and staying with the trouble.”

I doubt he could have predicted the sheer scale of ‘trouble’ 2020 might bring.

In Australia, 2020 started with bushfires – our fossil fuel dependence and climate change chickens come home to roost. Dangerous smoke blanketed the country; lives and homes and habitat were lost, while our senior government officials literally went on holiday. Little did we know that our cursory attempt at mask-wearing to cope with the air quality was just practice for what was to come.

There is not much for me to say about the pandemic that hasn't been said elsewhere. The pandemic is a thing that was, and is, and will remain for some time. This year I learned to casually throw around phrases like, “well, everything is going well, apart from a global pandemic” into casual conversation. It’s just part of the water we all swim in now.

Chris’ prediction did come true of course, in that 2020 meant plenty of “staying with the trouble.” 

Here are just a few of the 34 projects we completed this year: 

  • We co-designed strategy with Beyond Blue to help them respond effectively to mental health needs during the pandemic
  • We worked with the Supreme Court of Victoria to help them respond to the increase in self-representation at court, and the coming waves of litigation that tend to follow a recession
  • We worked to make it easier to deal with fines in NSW, and easier to apply for the Disability Support pension in Victoria
  • We conducted research for Atlassian that looked at the sheer scale of the impact of the pandemic on knowledge workers
  • We helped a cemeteries trust understand the impact of lockdowns on funerals and grief
  • We worked to make it easier to apply for the Disability Support pension in Victoria
  • And we won a good design award for our work to improve justice system outcomes for people with cognitive disability.

These projects were all conducted in the midst of a year filled with uncertainty – uncertainty in the future of our communities, our society, and our planet. Considering the uncertainty of 2020, what might 2021 bring? 

As I write this there have been no active coronavirus cases in the state of Victoria for 30 days. But even with the virus effectively eliminated (here, if not yet in much of the world), the last thing I would want to see is a return to ‘normality’.

Why? Because 2020 was the start of a vital decade, and now we are a whole year in.  It’s clear that the trouble in our society – the inequities, the injustice, the unfairness, the unsustainability that needed responding to prior to 2020 – are all still with us.

Some issues have been brought starkly to light by the crises of climate change, the global pandemic, and the resultant recession. Some people and organisations are clearly more responsible than others for these problems. But regardless of the causes, I think we can all take this moment to confront the past, fix the present, and shape the future. 

2021 will be about coping, managing, responding to, predicting, and creating change. At Paper Giant, we believe the world can be better, and we hope you can join us in making a better world a reality.

–– Dr. Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Read the rest of issue #72 here

December 21, 2020

PG #71: Design changes the designer

Illustration by Jess Allison

My year has been characterised by two projects. Both involved co-design within two vastly different, but equally complex contexts: mental health and education. They left me more enamoured than ever with this approach to design, but more importantly, they asked me to look at my world through a different lens. 

Co-design has a few closely connected themes:

  • Facilitators need to understand and acknowledge the power differentials that exist within groups, in order to better facilitate collaboration.
  • Creating and maintaining an inclusive environment is crucial. Every participant must feel valued and be able to participate in a meaningful way. 
  • The safety and care of all participants throughout the co-design process is absolutely paramount. 

Exploring these themes has made me a different designer and it’s not a stretch to say the impact on me has been profound. They will continue to influence and characterise my approach to my work into 2021 and beyond.

I believe that co-design, if understood and implemented correctly, can impact organisations in the same way they’ve impacted me personally.

– Ernez Dhondy & the PG Team

Read the rest of issue #69 here

December 4, 2020

“Better than normal”: The 2021 workplace

The workplace of the near-term future is likely to be a hybrid of face-to-face and remote work: some employees are keen to return, others want at least part-time WFH to become permanent.

Managing this adaptively is going to take skill, flexibility and understanding of best practice, but if we do it right, we can make 2021 better than just “a return to normal”.

The webinar covered how to do just that, with speakers from Xero, ANZ, and Paper Giant.

Thankyou to our panelists for sharing their knowledge and experiences in this space - Kristina Nink, Service Design Lead at Xero and Theo Bridge, Design Research Domain Lead at ANZ.  Dr. Chris Marmo, Paper Giant co- founder & Strategy Director Roya Azadi enjoyed the discussion.

November 13, 2020

Design Festival Canberra Panel Event

From 9-29 November, DESIGN Canberra will experiment with new ideas & the best of design, hosting over 200 events, exhibitions, talks, tours, activations, markets, collaborations, artist studios and open homes. The festival, now in its 7th year, is for all interests and ages and most events are free.

As a part of the 2020 program, Paper Giant is pleased to have presented ‘Designing Communities of Care’ a panel discussion.

In recent months the experience of work has undergone a dramatic shift, and that change is far from over. In this new work environment, design practitioners need to reconsider how we create safe spaces for participation and elevate the voices of others. Designing Communities of Care brings together expert panellists for a discussion about looking out for each other in a world of changing work boundaries.

Thank you to our guest panelists Ruth Ellison, Director of Digital Squads and Head of User Research, DTA and Eugene Chung, R&D Team Coach, from Atlassian. We enjoyed the discussion and the thought provoking ideas.

Presented as part of the annual DESIGN Canberra festival (9-29 November 2020) which celebrates and promotes Canberra as a global city of design. A Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre initiative.

November 12, 2020

PG #70: Strategy in uncertain times

Illustration by Jess Allison

As strategists and designers, we trade in the future. Our entire industry is built around organisations seeing something wrong with their trajectory and looking for help to course-correct. Typically the time spans we work within are reasonably stable, but these days even the near-term is deeply uncertain.

Below are a few suggestions to help organisations plan during what are now known as these unprecedented times.

Rapidly generate future scenarios
Sharpen your strategic direction by imagining plausible but challenging events that might have an impact. 

Begin first by defining the focal issue (this could be your sector, or even just one aspect of your organisation’s work), the timeframe you are planning for, and any relevant past events. From there, list out the driving forces in your sector, then analyse what critical uncertainties you will face within the timespan you’re looking at. Include a diversity of voices from across your business to co-design these scenarios, so you can make sure all the uncertainties are surfaced.

With that info, you can develop three or four plausible scenarios for the future, from which you can map out actions you can take today. These actions should be anti-fragile enough to succeed in all the scenarios. This will help you future-proof the plan you create.

Don’t just write business goals, write customer-oriented ‘impact goals’ 
Imagine the change you want to create in the world for others and use that as a way to design a work plan. 

Bring together leaders from across the business and work together to reframe your business goals. Assess each goal, then flip it into a customer-oriented version of it. For example, a typical business goal might be ‘Increase market share’. Flipped into a customer-oriented impact goal, this could be something like ‘Help future customers gain access to [our service] so that they gain [benefit of the service]’. 

Streamlining your daily, weekly and monthly work with a laser focus on impact will make decision-making in times of stress and uncertainty easier. It will allow you to drop away from the work that drains resources but isn’t creating the impact you want it to.

Operationalise your strategy
Strategy requires real-world actions to bring it to life. With your impact goals written, work with your team members who are on the ground to assign metrics, write detailed actions that will achieve the goal, and a time frame for each one. Stress test these impact goals against the different scenarios you imagined before – what do you need to change so they still work well in the future scenarios?

If you and your business have found any other great ways of tackling planning for the future – or you’d like to chat about the challenges you’re facing – I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to get in touch via LinkedIn!

–– Roya Azadi & the PG team.

Read the rest of issue 70 here

November 5, 2020

Designing Communities of Care

Date: 12th November 2020
Time: 5:30pm - 6:30pm
Location: Remote

Info and tickets

In recent months the experience of work has undergone a dramatic shift, and that change is far from over. In this new work environment, design practitioners need to reconsider how we create safe spaces for participation and elevate the voices of others.

Designing Communities of Care brings together expert panellists for a discussion about looking out for each other in a world of changing work boundaries. The panel will make space in a discourse focussed on productivity to examine the importance of care structures, individual needs and flexible work practices. It’s a conversation about what we take forward in a post COVID-19 world.


Ruth Ellison

Director of Digital Squads and Head of User Research, DTA

Ruth Ellison is a user experience researcher, design leader and speaker from Canberra, Australia. She is passionate about creating healthy curious teams who are focussed on collaborating on meaningful and challenging problems. She is currently the Head of User Research and Director of Digital Squads at the Digital Transformation Agency.

With over 18 years design experience in the government and private sectors, Ruth has worked with numerous organisations on taking a human centred approach in their digital transformation journeys. In her spare time, Ruth makes science-themed jewellery with lasers and 3D printers, and explores and blogs about escape rooms.

Dr. Chris Marmo

Co Founder, Paper Giant

Chris is a strategic designer and researcher with nearly 20 years’ experience in the design industry in Australia and throughout Asia. He is a co-founder and the CEO at Paper Giant.

He is passionate about the overlaps between people, technology and society, and enjoys mentoring teams through complex problems. Through his career, he has worked across private and public sectors and has delivered research insights and design outcomes used by hundreds of thousands of people.

Eugene Chung

R&D Team Coach, Atlassian

Eugene is an R&D Team Coach at Atlassian, where he focuses on driving continuous improvement across product and platform teams. He works with teams every day to help them identify what’s holding them back and experiment with new ways of working so that they can reach their full potential.

As part of Atlassian’s Craft Practices and Learning team, he is passionate about creating new Plays and tools that make it easier for teams to continuously improve. Eugene is a recovering consultant who used design thinking to empower leaders and teams to adapt to change and adopt new mindsets, behaviours, & practices. Originally born and raised in Texas, Eugene spent most of his life in NYC before moving a couple years ago to Sydney.

Laura Wilkinson

Co Design Lead, Paper Giant

Laura is an experienced strategic designer with over a decade of co-design, digital transformation and user research experience. Laura spent her early career working across a diverse range of Government Departments and roles where she has led large organisational restructures, managed policy teams and worked with Senior Leaders as an adviser.

Over the last eight years, Laura has focused on the application of human centred design to support the achievement of public outcomes.


Dan Woods

General Manager Canberra, Paper Giant

Dan has over 20 years’ experience delivering design projects to market. With broad experience in the public and private sectors both in Australia and APAC, he leads teams to understand user and community needs and design solutions to address them.

He is passionate about the intersections between public policy and human-centred design, and the role of ethical technologies and open standards in bringing them closer together.

October 27, 2020

PG #69: We need humanities experts now more than ever

Illustration by Bonnie Graham

The Australian government claimed its recent cuts to university funding were about shifting students from humanities subjects into “job-ready” STEM degrees. This was a lie – it was an across-the-board cut that reduced funding for STEM subjects as well

This is clearly ideological –  it’s an attempt to shift the overall cost of university education from governments to individuals.

Let’s treat their argument as though it was in good faith: Are the humanities really ‘not job-ready’?

Consider the ‘jobs’ that need doing in the world right now:  multiple social justice crises need solving, we have a recession that we need to recover from, a pandemic that needs to be managed, an entire world economy needs to be transitioned away from fossil fuels… and more! 

Let’s just take managing the novel coronavirus pandemic. Important and necessary understanding of this virus comes from STEM fields. We need to understand the epidemiology of the virus, we need to build statistical models for its spread, we need to measure the economic impacts of different lockdown rules and decisions. 

But the virus operates within a broader public health response, and our understanding of that comes from the humanities. 

Questions like ‘should we have a strict lockdown despite its other impacts?’ or ‘should we let the virus rip through the community?’ are only partially economic or scientific questions – they are also ethical and social questions that need to take into account social relations, human behaviour, and what we actually want for our society in the short and long term. 

Raw economic or epidemiological calculations only get us so far, and tend to either ignore real human suffering or discount questions of human dignity.  Anthropologists, social scientists, philosophers and ethicists are the ones who can interrogate what ‘public health’ really means in a nuanced way. 

In any crisis, we get to make decisions. Critical, structural, systemic and historical analysis, the kind provided by humanities education,  is absolutely necessary to think properly about – make good decisions about – complex societal issues. These are the jobs that need doing, if we want a liveable, thriving, sustainable society – the jobs we need to be ready for.

–– Dr. Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #69 here

October 13, 2020

PG #68: Competing for talent in the post-Covid world

Illustration by Wendy Fox

We’re all aware that organisations engage in competition with each other at a product and service level – in fact, within industries and markets we’ve designed rules and regulations to ensure competition, with the recognition that it leads to better outcomes for customers and communities. 

We are less aware of another form of competition, including perhaps the fiercest one – the competition for talent. Businesses with switched-on, highly skilled employees who understand how to connect with clients and customers will always have an advantage over the competition. 

While salary is motivating up to a point, leading organisations have an employee value proposition (EVP) that goes further. Crucially, they have historically attracted talent by offering flexible working conditions, including working from home options.

That advantage is now gone. The competition has caught up. With COVID-19, even the most stodgy, traditional companies are allowing employees to work from home. If organisations want to retain their talent advantage, they’re going to have to level up their employee value propositions.

Paper Giant has been thinking about the employee experience for some time now, but I’d be very interested in how your organisation is approaching this – if you have time, please share your thoughts by replying directly to this email or messaging me on LinkedIn.

– Dr Chris Marmo & the PG Team

Read the rest of issue #68 here

September 29, 2020

PG #67: Five ways to bring more strategy into your work.

Illustration by Elliot Midson

Ask a room of a hundred strategists what ‘strategy’ means, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

And that’s how it should be: each organisation is going to need a definition that works for them. It’s all about making sure the work people do every day is effective, and actually getting them to where they want to go.

So rather than provide a single definition for what strategy is, I’ve outlined five ways that you can bring strategy into design work, whether it’s for a small business, a government agency, a non-profit or a large corporation.

1. Zoom out
Look at the big picture. Understand the wider factors that are influencing your project now, and that will influence it in the future.

Be genuinely interested in what transpires in the community, industry, and wider business environment in terms of trends, undercurrents and possible futures. Understand the implications of these macro-factors and trends on the client’s business and on the specific project.

2. See both sides
Be both human centred and business focused. Understand the needs of all the parties involved - your client, their customers and the business.

(Read Hannah’s piece below for more on this.)

3. Bridge the gap
Build connection between research insights and delivering value. Give life to research by translating findings into actionable opportunities to support decision-making – give people the instruction manual for your research.

4. Align to the ‘big goals’
Weave the project’s goals with the organisation’s long-term strategic objectives. Make your project recommendations be the obvious thing for the client to prioritise and invest in, by demonstrating how it accelerates their goals.

5. Supply the plan
Hand over your projects with everything required to turn the project into a reality on the other side of that final presentation. Document the staging of activities, the timelines, the stakeholder engagement strategy… don’t leave design work hanging.

I hope looking at strategy from these varied angles can help you think about how go bring it to life in a way that makes sense for you.

— Roya Azadi & the PG team

Read the rest of Issue #66 here

September 21, 2020

Untangling complexity with Systems Thinking

On Thursday 17 September 2020 we facilitated the successful online event Untangling complexity with Systems Thinking for the Service Design Canberra meetup group. 

Dr Reuben Stanton, Managing Director at Paper Giant spoke about systems thinking and it’s value for seeing the big picture. Paper Giant was humbled to be awarded the 2020 Gold in the Social Impact category for ‘Supporting Justice’, in collaboration with RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) -  Reuben talked through the approach that Paper Giant took in mapping the Victorian criminal justice system, and how it has been used to fundamentally change how people with disability are treated.

In the following activity, Priyanka Kaul, Lead Service Designer at Paper Giant demonstrated the first practical steps of mapping a system and how participants can get started on creating their own maps.

Check out the slide deck or view the miro board


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Paper Giant acknowledges the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung people of the Kulin nation, and the Ngunnawal people as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our offices are located, and the Traditional Owners of Country on which we meet and work throughout Australia. We recognise that sovereignty over the land has never been ceded, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.