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Human-centred approaches — https://duncanstephen.net/

The printing press was the most important technology for the distribution of content — until it wasn’t.

Now print is seen as increasingly irrelevant, usurped by digital distribution methods.

We know this. And yet some people still obsess more about the technology than the content.

My response to a recent conversation on Twitter appeared to create some confusion. It seemed as if I had to persuade some content designers that content is more important than technology.

So I thought I’d take the time to explain what I mean by that.

But first…

What I don’t mean when I say content is more important than code

A focus on technology is understandable. Most…


Double diamond icon, with a people icon in the first diamond, and an article icon in the second diamond
Double diamond icon, with a people icon in the first diamond, and an article icon in the second diamond

Over the past year, I have worked to re-shape the team I lead at the University of Edinburgh, hiring people into new content design roles.

(I say new roles, although strictly speaking we evolved them from existing but outdated job titles and descriptions.)

Content design is a relatively new discipline that pulls together complementary editorial, user research and design thinking skills into one role. Sarah Winters is widely credited with pioneering the discipline while at the Government Digital Service. Content design has quickly gained a foothold in many organisations.

Sarah Winters has moved on to running her own consultancy, but…


The images in this blog post have been compressed for publication on the web. But I have also created a high-quality PDF.

Note: My scanner has made some of the stains look rather more vivid in colour than they do to the naked eye.

In my post about our kitchen renovation, I mentioned that we’d found something interesting under the floorboards. It was this booklet, a “Boys’ Outfitters” catalogue for James Middlemass & Co.


At the Service Design in Government conference in March, I found myself chatting to a nice person who wasn’t a service designer himself. I don’t remember the details, but I recall that he seemed reasonably senior and worked for a local authority. He was at the conference to learn more about this service design stuff he’d heard about.

I introduced myself as a user experience manager, because that’s my job title. This instigated an interesting conversation about what user experience is.

He told me his department was trying to hire a user experience designer for a particular project. He said…


UCD Gathering — A service design approach to improving student experience — 15 & 16 October 2020 — virtual, at home
UCD Gathering — A service design approach to improving student experience — 15 & 16 October 2020 — virtual, at home

I’m pleased to be speaking at UCD Gathering, a new virtual conference taking place on 15 and 16 October.

A service design approach to improving student experience

I was originally supposed to be giving this talk physically at UX Scotland, but of course that conference has had to be deferred.

It has been replaced by UCD Gathering, which is designed to bring together communities from a number of conferences covering user experience and service design. I’m pleased to see this new conference breaking down that unnecessary silo between the two labels.

Given the condensed programme, I’m also surprised and pleased…


In March I attended the fantastic Service Design in Government conference. Each year it brings together service design practitioners from across the public sector and beyond, from across the UK and beyond.

Remember those days, when you could go to a conference? At the time, coronavirus was looming on the horizon, but the true scale of the crisis to come wasn’t clear to many. Handshakes were few and far between, but the buffet food was still in abundant supply.

Much of this post was written in the week or two after the conference, before lockdown began. (The existing draft literally…


One of the curious features of lockdown life is how little time I seem to have. Work is busy, life is busy, and the weekends fly by with barely any time to think. You’d think the lack of a commute would at least give something, but seemingly not.

But when I’m compiling these posts, I’m realising that it’s all a matter of priorities. Running for miles is in. Making intricate models of buildings is in. Chilling out is not in.

But these are the projects that keep us sane in challenging times.

This roundup of month 2’s lockdown projects includes…


Each weekend during lockdown, we’re trying to make at least one new thing. Nothing too ambitious. Many of these are gifts that we’ve never had the time to attend to. There are fewer excuses now. And there are other things we’re finding the time to do differently. These are the little projects giving us a reason to get up at the weekends.

Here’s what we’ve completed during month 1 of lockdown. Other projects are still in progress — — they’ll be highlighted after month 2.

Food and drink

Butternut squash seeds snack


One of the (many) strange features of the coronavirus outbreak is that in many ways I feel busier than I have ever been. It is almost three weeks since I was last in my office, yet I haven’t had the time to commit my thoughts to writing.

Part of that is because the situation has changed so quickly. I rattled out 600 words on Tuesday 17 March, a day that felt like the tipping point. But I never managed to finish it, and I never published it. I could try to tidy it up now. But the fact is that…


Last week I attended the Service Design in Government conference, held here in Edinburgh. It was a hugely thought-provoking event. Almost every session I attended was excellent, sparking new ideas and thoughts that I am still getting to grips with almost a week on.

I’m currently working on a separate post where I’ll explore those ideas and thoughts, as a (hopefully constructively) critical friend. I hope to have that ready later this week. Subscribe for updates.

In the meantime, I wanted to share my thoughts on each of the individual sessions.

Over on my work blog, I’ve featured three highlights…

Duncan Stephen

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