Keen to carve out a career in Human-Centred Design, Simon enrolled in the Design Thinking for innovation: Elevate course. Find out how Simon’s Academy Xi experience has helped him find practical solutions for all kinds of design problems and land an exciting new role with Nous Group.

Can you tell us about your career before Academy Xi?

Until recently I’d been working as a music program manager at a charity called A Sound Life. The charity is Sydney-based and aims to build resilience and wellbeing in the lives of vulnerable people by offering free music, yoga and meditation programs.

The programs operate in hospitals, disability centres and mental health facilities and are all volunteer run. My role as a program manager entailed training volunteers in community music, connecting them with the right program and bringing on different hospitals and centres throughout Australia where we could make a difference.

Around 2019, the bushfires and pandemic meant that mental health was a widespread issue in Australia. It dawned on me that A Sound Life had the potential to take its services beyond Sydney and scale-up its impact nationally.

I knew we could only move into other parts of Australia as a result of digital transformation. To bring volunteers onboard and train them in other locations, our systems and processes would have to become digitised. I realised if I picked up some new digital skills, it would help the charity grow.

How did you end up becoming interested in Design Thinking?

Before Academy Xi, I took an IDEO Service Design course and then carried out a Service Design project with A Sound Life. The project involved rebuilding the service and implementing new digital systems and processes. The project was a real success, improving volunteer retention and allowing us to branch into other parts of Australia.

During the course I was introduced to the concept of Human-Centred Design, which I immediately fell in love with.

Truthfully, I haven’t followed a traditional professional path. Instead, I’ve been listening and responding empathetically to the needs of the people and communities I’ve encountered throughout my career. This has led me to design and deliver workshops, experiences and programs that have had a positive impact on people’s lives.

Throughout all this, something was lacking – I wanted to add more rigour to my practice and bring a bit of method to the madness! As I started digging deeper into Human-Centred Design, I knew I had found an approach that would support my empathetic and inquisitive nature, while offering more structure. It was a perfect fit, and I knew immediately that I wanted to find a role that allowed me to work with Human-Centred Design’s principles.

Why did you choose to study with Academy Xi?

The IDEO course had given me a step-by-step design process to follow, but I knew I needed a much deeper understanding of the methodologies. I researched Human-Centred Design courses, including Service Design, UX Design and Customer Experience, but eventually settled on Design Thinking for Innovation. I wanted to be a generalist, who could solve problems with products and services, and also plan changes at a higher level. 

An attribute that I really wanted in a course was to have a group of people I could collaborate and engage with in my timezone. Plus, I’m a facilitator in my role and wanted to be able to immediately use any skills I learned. It was important to find a course that focused on practice and applying new skills in an organisational context.

Academy Xi is Australia-based, highly collaborative and places a strong emphasis on practical experience, so it definitely ticked all the boxes for me. Because I was working with a charity at the time, I was lucky enough to be offered a scholarship, and choosing Academy Xi was ultimately an easy decision to make.

Simon Jankelson
What was your main highlight of the course?

The course mentor, Anna, was excellent. Anna was just really cool, really flexible and really smart. She had this amazing ability to go with the flow of the group, which made the live sessions so open and enjoyable. 

Anna has worked in Human-Centred Design with KPMG for a long time, and offered a real depth of knowledge and industry insight. She brought fresh thinking to every session and the whole class was in awe of her problem solving techniques. 

Anna encouraged us to question everything and always ask ‘why?’. If there were any underlying assumptions that came with solving a design problem, Anna helped us unpack them and scrutinise them very carefully.

How did you find studying online?

Honestly, I’m normally someone who likes to be out in the world and doing things in person. However, I’d have to say that online learning really does work. I loved collaborating with my coursemates – we were constantly bouncing ideas back-and-forth online. Having a group connection was very important to me, and we made that happen virtually.

It was a really fun, diverse group. One guy was in marketing with a non-profit, another was a member of a project team at Telstra, and we also had a young guy who had just started his career in construction. It was an amazing mix and we learned so much from each other.

Simon Jankelson
What Design Thinking projects did you work on?

The first project was a case study for a business card seller. Because of the lockdowns, he wasn’t selling any business cards and we had to figure out if he needed to adjust his product, or come up with an entirely new one.

I did real-world research to understand why people weren’t using business cards, and eventually came up with the solution of offering webinars that trained people in the art of Digital Marketing. The webinars covered sales calls, emails and all the touchpoints people still had with businesses. Essentially, it used online mediums to perform the same function as a business card.  

My second project was personal and I chose to work with a youth mentoring initiative that I started a few years ago with A Sound Life called Sound Mentoring. Sound Mentoring connects volunteer musicians with disadvantaged young people who might not have access to music equipment, music lessons and recording studios. It helps young people amplify their potential, achieve their music goals and grow as people too.

In preparation for the next Sound Mentoring program, I posed the question ‘How can we improve the self confidence, social connection and engagement of mentees in the sound mentoring program?’. I interviewed 15 mentors and 15 mentees, performed quantitative research with 20 mentors and 20 mentees, and created empathy maps and personas. 

When my research was completed, I uncovered that engagement was a problem, mostly because mentees were not always getting the access they wanted to software and instruments. In the end, specific training and checks were put in place to ensure that the technical setup of the mentor and mentee was compatible with the mentee’s goals.

What did you enjoy about learning Design Thinking?

For me, Design Thinking is a process for dealing with ambiguity, questions and problems. I don’t think that it really ever professes to reach an exact answer, but it helps you to get much closer to solutions that work.

If you were designing a pen, you would take into account the wants and needs of your customer segments, but then if you zoomed back, you might also take environmental considerations into account. There are all these different stakeholders that you could aim to create solutions for, but Design Thinking helps you make rational decisions about whose problems you’re going to address.

Design thinking now seems to be evolving consciously, taking into account a range of stakeholders such as the environment, communities and the planet as a whole. I’m really excited about the direction the field is heading in and looking forward to playing my part.

Can you tell us about the new role you’ve landed since graduation?

Not long after the course finished I got hired as a Human-Centred Designer at Nous Group. Nous is an international management consultancy with over 500 people working across Australia, the UK and Canada. As a values-based organisation, Nous partners with leaders to shape world-class businesses, effective governments and empowered communities. 

As an Experience Design manager at Nous, I design Human-Centred products and services that really do make a huge difference for the people using them. What pleases me most is that it’s a role that allows me to follow my passion for helping others. Nous work across a broad range of sectors, such as environment, education, human services, health and many more.

Working with Nous offers endless opportunities to find projects and teams that align with my purpose of using Human-Centred Design to make a positive impact in people’s everyday lives. I’m grateful to have landed the role – Nous is recognised as Australia’s top workplace, ranking first in the 2021 Great Places to Work Awards.

Finally, would you recommend the course?

I certainly would. The Design Thinking for Innovation course has set me up for success with a full Human-Centred Design toolkit, as well as the methods, mindset and practical approaches needed to apply the principles of Human-Centred Design on the job. 

Traditionally, I’m somebody who appreciates order and struggles a little with ambiguity, which is probably why I enjoyed the Design Thinking course so much. Carl Jung said “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” I’ve found so much personal growth in using Design Thinking to deal with uncertainty and work with it in a meaningful and productive way. 

I’d definitely recommend the Academy Xi Design Thinking for innovation: Elevate course. It’s perfect for anyone getting started in Human-Centred Design, or anyone who wants to deepen their capabilities in UX, Service Design or another design related field. As well as giving me tangible skills, the course has really boosted my confidence and left me well prepared to take on all the challenges that come with my new role.

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