The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

"Designing for Social Impact: A Conversation with Jenni Parker"

John Carter
April 15, 2024
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"Designing for Social Impact: A Conversation with Jenni Parker"

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Today on the show, we're joined by Jenni Parker, a passionate designer from Humanly in the UK, specialising in social impact. Jenni comes highly recommended by my very good friend Rachel Dekas.

In this episode, we delve into the realm of impactful work, exploring Jenni's perspective on what it entails and what it doesn't. We discuss the criteria Jenni uses to select projects, offering valuable insights for anyone eager to make a difference.

Jenni's insights are truly inspiring, and I'm incredibly grateful for her time and wisdom. I'm certain you'll find our conversation enlightening, so let's jump straight in!

Episode Transcript

This transcript was created using the awesome, Descript. It may contain minor errors.
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[00:00:00] Gerry: Jenni Parker, I'm delighted to welcome you to the podcast. This is HCD. A very warm welcome. Delighted to have you here.

[00:00:10] Jenni Parker: Thank you. Thank you. Great to be here.

[00:00:12] Gerry: So for our listeners, I always start off the episode by asking the guests to tell us a little bit about themselves, where they're from and what they do. Some people listening to this podcast I know already will be familiar with your work. Um, but for those people who don't know Jenni Parker, maybe introduce yourself.

[00:00:31] Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. 

[00:00:34] Jenni Parker: yes. So I'm Jenni. I'm originally from Glasgow. Well, not really Glasgow. Any Scottish people will now be offended because it's not really Glasgow. I'm from a place near Glasgow. Um, but I've lived in London for sort of 10 years or so. Um, and that's where I started my design studio Humanly. Um, in 2017, and we focus on utilising human centred design and participatory design for social impact.

[00:01:02] So we do lots of work with charities, government and organisations that aim to have a social impact.

[00:01:09] Gerry: Absolutely brilliant. I love, um, hearing of the application of design for social impact, but maybe give us an idea of some of the projects that an organization like yourself might, uh, you know, get to work on and, um, have exposure to.

[00:01:28] Jenni Parker: It's been really varied. I would say we've been incredibly, incredibly lucky that we've had the chance to work on lots of different issues. And that's something that I've always been really interested in. I think anyone who gets into consultancy naturally is a very curious person and wants to be working on different things all the time and not, you know, The same thing for, for years and years.

[00:01:48] So it's really spans everything from disability to climate change, to education, employment support. I mean, really, um, I, I'd struggle to list all the things we've worked on. We've done a lot of work in health and social care. Um, and recently we've done quite a lot of work with children and young people as well.

[00:02:08] So some of our clients bring us in to do research. Particularly sort of really creative research and we're often brought in to engage people who really need that inclusive, sensitive, thoughtful process when designing the research to really meaningfully engage them. Um, and then that moves into generating ideas through co creation and prototyping as well.

[00:02:32] So every project is different, which I'm very happy about.

[00:02:36] Gerry: yeah. I know an awful lot of designers that I've coached or have trained. They might be working in organizations that, um, how should I say this? They follow the, the more, I'm doing air quotes here for anyone listening on the podcast and not on YouTube, the air quotes, the traditional kind of double diamond approach where they're very much around generative ideas and then they implement stuff and it's, it's, it's It doesn't really feel very satisfying for them.

[00:03:03] It doesn't align to their purpose. What, what happened before you started Humanly? Like, what was the journey to this point? Because I know a lot of designers want to use design for, for good. Um, and they struggle to get to where you've got to be. Today. So are you okay? Like, again, I'm putting you on the spot here, but are you okay to talk a little bit more around that journey?

[00:03:25] Cause I'm sure it wasn't a case of like, what day is it next month? I'm going to start my design agency and we're going to do social impact.

[00:03:32] Jenni Parker: Right, right. Um, yeah, it was interesting. I did kind of always want to start my own business because my dad ran his own business. He was a printer and he always told me to, to start my own business. So I kind of did always want to do that, but I didn't know what it would be. Then, um, yeah. Yeah, when I was deciding what to study, I, I wanted to do psychology because I was really, really interested in how people think and how people behave and just very curious about people really and what makes them tick.

[00:04:02] Um, and I did a year of psychology in my final year of school and I realized that I would be a terrible, Psych, psychologist because I immediately would just want to solve everybody's problems and that's not that's not really what it's all about. So I started frantically looking for something else to study.

[00:04:21] I was literally going through prospectuses and I panic and I find product design. Um, and I thought, well, that's cool because then I could understand people and their problems and then come up with solutions. And I always liked, you know, creative subjects as well. So I ended up doing product design. Uh, did really enjoy it.

[00:04:40] I wasn't that great at giving physical form to things. Um, I was good at the functional side, less, less of the aesthetics, I would say. And I really loved user research and prototyping and all the bits where I got to really spend time with people who were affected by the problem. So yeah. And then I find out about service design for one of my lecturers.

[00:05:00] This was probably, Started 2005, 2006, and he told me, Oh, you really need to look at the service design, uh, agencies down in London, like Livework and Enjin. And it's like, you need to check it out. I think, you know, this would be really up your street. And yeah, I went down to an event called Design of the Times 2007 in Newcastle.

[00:05:21] And I saw loads of really inspiring stuff from like Think Public and, uh, people like that and things that were sort of UK around, uh, public, public sector and service design. And I was like, yeah, this is what I want to do. Um, and yeah, also got really interested in Hilary Cotton's work. She won designer of the year when I was at uni.

[00:05:41] And I remember reading um, a product design magazine and an issue about Hillary's work and she had been doing some really interesting stuff reimagining prisons as sort of communities and I was like, hang on a second, I'm doing briefs here that you need to redesign. I had to redesign a bin. I had to design a bin, Gerry.

[00:05:59] I was like, I don't want to design bins. I want to design systems. This is much more exciting.

[00:06:04] Gerry: Well, do you know what? Bins are really, really, um, I find that really interesting, but you've also insulted all the bins around the world,

[00:06:11] Jenni Parker: I'm so sorry to all the bin designers.

[00:06:12] Gerry: all those bins are like, you know, they're going to be looking out for you now. And the next time you've got to try and put a bit of rubbish in, they're going to snap your hand off.

[00:06:18] Jenni Parker: this is it. Hashtag

[00:06:19] Gerry: Bin design is class though. Tell me about the bin design because, because I'm into bins,

[00:06:24] Jenni Parker: Oh, I really, really don't want to discuss the BIN project. I've, I've locked it away in a part of my memory that is, it's just, it's gone.

[00:06:33] Gerry: I mean, like, it's so like, I love the whole kind of journey of waste. This is the sort of stuff you get to talk in this podcast, by the way, there's never, ever going to be a dinner party on this earth, whereas like, while we talk about next thing, well, let's talk about bins. But like, I just, I find them fascinating, but what is it about that project that you don't want to talk about?

[00:06:52] Jenni Parker: Um, I think it just wasn't what I was interested in. I mean, I did actually get very interested in sustainability when I was doing product design, but weirdly that didn't really come up with the BIN project. Um, I think our BIN might have some. I think it might have been made of a type of plastic that smelled nice, um, which seems frivolous, um, in retrospect.

[00:07:12] So, um,

[00:07:14] Gerry: right. Well, we'll, we'll, we'll move off the

[00:07:15] Jenni Parker: I've moved away from bins. Now, Gerry, this is all, all in the past. Um, I've redefined myself as a social impact

[00:07:22] Gerry: You did.

[00:07:23] Jenni Parker: And, uh, what I did after that was I studied, um, I studied services. I low product services to design in Milan. Um, Um, and then I got an internship in Italy at an in organization called the International Training Center of the International Labor Organization, which is really catchy.

[00:07:41] Um, and it's a un agency, um, focused on workers' rights. And I had a great professor out there who got me this sort of interview for this internship, and I was looking at how mobile phones were being repurposed for education in developing context. And then I got a job at UNHCR in Budapest in the tech team, which is hilarious because I had a dumb phone at the time and I was, I was sort of helping design smartphone apps.

[00:08:08] And when my boss realized I had this like Nokia dumb phone, he was really concerned, but it worked out okay.

[00:08:16] Gerry: so let's just go back to the kind of work that you, gets you up at a bed in the morning. Okay, like, um, the social impact to work. Define what that looks like. And maybe also to follow on from that question, what kind of work does it not look like?

[00:08:33] Jenni Parker: Right. I think, yeah, that's a great question. I think for me, It's about recognizing that all, all the work we do as designers has an impact, which sounds really obvious. Um, and I think for lots of people, the intention is, is always to have a positive social impact, but I think we do need to remember that we can have negative impacts as well through the work that we do and whether that's intended or unintended, you know, we need to be really, really mindful of, of what impacts we're, we're having.

[00:09:04] Um, Both through the solutions we design and the organizations we work with and the people who are involved in that process. So for me, having that positive social impact means that I guess everyone who's involved in the process gains something from it and has a meaningful experience that's really a two way value exchange.

[00:09:27] Um, and the solutions we create have a measurable value. and a sort of proven positive social impact through whatever means that might be. Um, and yeah, that's, that's the goal really to, to do something, do something good, which sounds really cheesy, but it's, um, it's complicated.

[00:09:47] Gerry: So, can you tell us, I'm going to sound like a user researcher here, tell us about a time that you turned away for, turned away work because it didn't align to your purpose and principles because you're in a unique position. You're one of the founders, the original founders of Humanly. And for me, I guess my own position and you know, the predicament sometimes I'm faced with is, is this a good fit for me?

[00:10:13] And being able to identify that because I spoke to ben reason Um a number of months maybe a particular could be a year ago now around identifying what? Those kind of projects are because you can be identified, you know, through that work in the future and it might not align to your purpose at that present time.

[00:10:30] And I'm really interested in seeing how you've grown the business. Because when you look at the track record of all the work that you've done, it seems to follow that thread really nicely of human centered design. So how do you maintain that? Yeah,

[00:10:43] Jenni Parker: think early on there wasn't really a blueprint or I guess a major discourse around this. Quite early on in my career, a question I started asking myself was, is this empowering for the people who are supposed to benefit from this project? Is it empowering or is it disempowering? Um, and that sort of came out some early experiences working more in international development and humanitarian aid, um, where those power dynamics are really extreme.

[00:11:15] Um, and those lines are very, very blurred. Um, and that's something that I guess has always stuck with me. But now there's a lot more discourse and there's a lot more that we can look at. I think Katie McOutcher's work is, is amazing. I was lucky enough to, to run a workshop with Katie in London earlier this year.

[00:11:35] And, um, one of the most, I think appreciated things in the workshop was Katie's scope of practice and template and activity, getting people to really think about what they are sort of qualified really to do and what they're not qualified to do and where there's a sort of maybe with the right partners or the right sort of skills from other collaborators.

[00:11:57] And I think that's That's really something that we've intuitively been doing for a long time. But getting back to the actual question about a project that we've turned down, I guess the one that springs to mind was,

[00:12:08] Gerry: you don't have to name the client as a

[00:12:09] Jenni Parker: no, I will definitely not, but it was a few years ago and it was a piece of work, um, to do user research, um, around mental health with people from the Afro Caribbean and South Asian communities and at the time.

[00:12:27] We, we didn't have any people of color on the team, um, and, you know, specifically from those communities. Also, we did have freelancers, um, from those communities in our network. Um, so I reached out to them, but unfortunately no one was available. So. I basically, yeah, I had to respond saying, I don't think we're the right people to do this.

[00:12:48] And I think for certain things, it is so important that you have that lived experience as well. And I just thought, how are we going to build trust and rapport with people? And like, why would people talk to us? You know, as you know, yeah, it's, it was, Just didn't feel, didn't sit right with me, but a lot of this is just intuitive, but we're starting to have frameworks to guide, to guide us on these things and not relying on our own moral compass.

[00:13:12] Gerry: So you have your own frameworks.

[00:13:15] Jenni Parker: We don't have our own frameworks. We are still largely working off of impulse, but, um, I think Kaye's work around scope of practice is something that every designer should do and should really And the sort of checklist of are we the right people to do this work, um, is something that everyone should be doing at the start of every project.

[00:13:34] Even, even if they work for an organization and sort of using that as a tool to push back potentially if they, if they think they're not.

[00:13:41] Gerry: Absolutely, I've never regretted saying no to the work, um, when it aligns to my purpose. I remember there was a scenario that I was faced, I was young when it happened, I was probably 29 or 30, and it was my first kind of design business in Sydney, and a coffee chain by the name of, should I name them?

[00:14:03] Uh, it sounds like Aurea Jeans. Um, they're, they're pretty big over there, and I met them, and I remember it would be a night for dinner. one night and, um, all my friends, I was like, Oh yeah, I just got hit up by, um, you know, that, that coffee chain. And they're like, Oh, okay, right. I said, why would you do work for them?

[00:14:23] And I was like, why? And he says, Oh, they have a, uh, they have a car company that, uh, it's called the Jesus car, uh, or something along these lines. I was like, what? And he says, Oh, yeah, they're, they're part of this church and they've got, uh, an ulterior motive for some of these things. And I was like, I don't believe you.

[00:14:40] And the following week they were found to given money to, uh, the, uh, the, the sort of the opposition of, uh, encouraging gay marriage to be approved in, in Australia. So, I just said, hey, listen, look, I don't think this is the right fit for me. Um, you know, we're, we're really busy and, um, unfortunately I'm going to be turning down this project.

[00:15:04] I just, I was not in a position to get into it. And about three days later, I had the most. Awful phone call message left on my, on my phone, kind of threatening me about, is it because of our right, I don't know, so I knew at that moment that I'd done the right thing, like, you know,

[00:15:22] Jenni Parker: yeah.

[00:15:23] Gerry: so I might chop that bit out of the podcast, I might not, um,

[00:15:27] Jenni Parker: I can't wait to find out. Um, but yeah, you've absolutely got to share the same values if you're going to work together. And I really see that between agencies and clients. I don't like that agency client dynamic at all. We always say that really, we, we see the people we work with as partnerships and it's a collaboration and we are a team and everyone on the team needs to be on the same page.

[00:15:49] Otherwise it's not going to be a successful piece of work.

[00:15:52] Gerry: yeah, absolutely, um, so the work that you've done to date, as you said, like we've figured out, like there's, there's some sort of, gut check, and there's a, uh, an alignment to the purpose to make sure that the work and also probably a team check, are we the right team to do this? That presumably comes with a cost.

[00:16:13] Um, and too often people look at the work and they kind of go, they must be, they must be killing it. Like they're, they're doing so well. Like, you know, how do you manage that, that pipeline where you're like, actually, you know what? It could probably take on this project. Um, it's not going to align fully. Is that something that you've encountered over the growth of Humanly over the last?

[00:16:36] What is it? Seven years, uh, seven years. Surely like, um, like every business, there's peaks and troughs, but I'd love to know from your experience has been an agency owner or a studio owner is probably probably a better way of framing it. How do you maintain that? Because it's a constant, um, kind of balancing act in my mind.

[00:16:56] Jenni Parker: yeah, yeah. It is, it is tough. It does come with a cost in the sense that yeah, you're not going to get the same budgets for projects working for a bank as working for a charity and, you know, you wouldn't, Want to, you wouldn't want to take that amount of money anyway, from a charity. So I guess it's just, just thinking of those, yeah, you know, those different things, the business has to be sustainable and that's a non negotiable, right.

[00:17:24] It has to be sustainable, but I think from, from my perspective, it's never really been about sort of chasing big money and.

[00:17:34] Gerry: Yeah.

[00:17:35] Jenni Parker: I'm lucky to be financially comfortable and I would much rather be doing work that I'm passionate about, I guess. Um, but yeah, I'm aware that comes from a position of massive privilege to be able to make that.

[00:17:52] Make that judgment call, but we've been very lucky as well that we have had the opportunity to work on projects with bigger budgets, which obviously help us to cover the costs of those really small things that you do on a shoestring for smaller charities or social enterprises that just, you know, they just have, have very little to it.

[00:18:12] To spend on innovation or design, but, you know, want to do something really interesting and genuinely, I love working with charities because they have that such close connection with their, um, users and their, um, well, the people that they're, they're, they're trying to support. So there's, there's so, so many good intentions there, but, um, some of the bigger, bigger organizations we've worked with have had, um, decent budgets.

[00:18:36] So that,

[00:18:38] Gerry: So I can carry over. So, as regards, um, you know, you, you went through a really kind of formative experience. You mentioned you went to Polytechnico, didn't you, T.

[00:18:47] Jenni Parker: Yes. Yeah.

[00:18:48] Gerry: you studied service design there. You, you worked, um. Before getting into this space. What I'm seeing more and more of it seems to happen around around now to May, I'll start to get maybe two or three emails a day.

[00:19:02] And they'll be coming through from people who are getting ready to finish university and they're looking straight away to get into that whole kind of world of purpose led service design. For whatever reason, the podcast and popularity and stuff, I get emails saying, Hey, do you have any work? And typically I don't.

[00:19:21] I'm a one man show. I scale up and partner with people I've done work with before. Probably not too dissimilar. I'm speaking out of hand. It's too dissimilar in how you might scale up your own kind of project teams. How do you handle Those kind of conversations with emerging talent who really like, I mean, it took me a couple of years at uni to really kind of realize this is what I want to do.

[00:19:45] It seems to be happening earlier and young emerging talent aren't prepared to take on the projects that may cause them to kind of question their purposes or purpose. Um, what advice do you give to those people? Do you, do you have anything specifically you say to them? I'm sure you got emails as well.

[00:20:04] Jenni Parker: we get so many inquiries, um, even just people who want to talk to us and hear about how we got into it and, um, the type of work we do, um, because the team's so small, we can't talk to everyone. We do try to talk to as many people as we can, um, and for those that we can't talk to because, say, it's a particularly busy day.

[00:20:24] Busy time for us. We'll always try to offer some encouragement, send people some links for things to check out, things to get involved with. I often link to your podcast,

[00:20:34] Gerry: Yeah!

[00:20:34] Jenni Parker: and service lab, service lab, which is an event that used to be involved in running that has lots of great, um, events and talks, uh, mainly social impact.

[00:20:43] focus. Um, and yeah, we've got sort of links to our case studies and talks and things online so people can learn a bit more about it. Um, I often, if, if people have studied something different or have worked in a different field, I'll often Suggests, you know, that they do some free training. Um, I think there are some good free training, training offers out there in human centered design, um, just to dip the toe in and have a goal and just have the confidence to do that and try it out for themselves.

[00:21:13] If people have studied design, it's just a case of talk to them. If I can give them a welcome into the industry, I think. for a lot of people, it's just having that warm welcome. And I know how much that meant to me when I was a student or a graduate, just having people going, yeah, do you know what? I can have a 20 minute chat with you and just seeing a friendly face who was, who was in the industry and sort of just, just encourages you, doesn't it?

[00:21:37] Um, that is tough. It's really, really tough. And we get people offering to volunteer their time and, and You know, we, we can't accept that type of support for multiple reasons, but most importantly for, for equity reasons. And, you know, not everybody would be able to give their time for free. Right. So if we're going to offer any opportunities, they will always be paid opportunities.

[00:22:00] Um, so that they're equal opportunities, but, um, But yeah, it's tough. There's so many people out there trying to get into this space.

[00:22:08] Gerry: Yeah, and it's, I think it's probably going to get harder and harder to do it, especially if you're trying to follow this kind of path of social impact, and you've pretty, you know, put your colours to the mast much, uh, much earlier, like it's taken me, um, a long time to really kind of align to my own purpose.

[00:22:29] It's been a journey, but, you know, it is a journey that's taken me. Probably 15 years, 20 years,

[00:22:35] Jenni Parker: there are opportunities to, to sort of fly that flag in, in all organizations though, and I think with the younger generation that are coming through, they are scrutinizing things a lot more closely and I think the sort of greenwashing or sort of CSR initiatives that, you know, might have satisfied past employees, you know, aren't possibly going to.

[00:23:01] Going to wash anymore with people and I think, you know, people are going to be more demanding on on organizations and to to have those values. I think that's quite exciting.

[00:23:11] Gerry: Yeah, it is like I think it might take a while for organizations to catch up to that kind of perception because I still think an awful lot of organizations are expecting you to hit the ground running and be able to deliver value like after the first week. It seems to be, be more popular than ever just to hire junior designers, not give them any growth, not give them any nurturing, um, and not give them any training either, and expect them just to, to sort of create miracles, um, on their own, and then question their intelligence when, when it doesn't happen.

[00:23:47] They're, they're the kind of emails I, I get, you know, time and time again, it makes me sad. But. What makes me really happy is when people get connected to people and they see that there is other opportunities to work that can actually connect to their purpose. Um, which is what I can see, um, happening in Humanly anyway, like, you know.

[00:24:09] Um, we mentioned there before we, we started recording, you know, Rachel Dekas, um, and Rachel's work, um, she does an awful lot of work in trauma informed design and is currently at the White House and stuff. What is it about? That kind of work that you see being more and more, um, I guess important, um, to the future of social impact, how we design.

[00:24:35] Jenni Parker: Well, I think in design, we, we've got a long history of sort of borrowing and learning and evolving practices from other areas, which is one of the things I love about this field. It's not static and we're always, well, we do get, maybe we get a bit overexcited by shiny new tools and terms. But, you know, historically, you know, we've, we borrowed from anthropology and like sort of utilizing ethnographic methods and so forth.

[00:25:03] And the conversation is always shifting and moving, moving on, which is great. I think trauma informed research, trauma informed practice, design, care has really come to the forefront in the past couple of years, which I'm excited about. Um, and I think it's that with that awareness. comes the interest, the curiosity and the desire to incorporate into our practice.

[00:25:27] So I think it's just because it's come to the forefront of the conversation. People are sort of quick to, to try to learn more about it, apply it, um, which is great. And I'm also in that situation trying to, upskill myself more in what trauma is, what it looks like, how it might show up in the work that we do and how we can respond, um, appropriately and sensitively.

[00:25:52] Um, my only concern is that I do hear the term being banded about a lot and sort of used a lot by people who don't have any sort of expertise, whether clinical or other expertise in, in trauma and in those practices. So I'm always very cautious. about, I mean, I don't describe our work as trauma informed, for example, although sometimes when I'm chatting to Rachel, she'll say, oh, that's a great trauma informed practice.

[00:26:16] And I'm like, well, great. I'm really glad to hear that. Um, you know, it didn't come from a place of knowing about trauma and sort of designing it in that intentional way. And I think a lot of. The things we do instinctively, you know, probably, probably fit and sort of reflect some of those practices, but I do think there needs to be that, um, yeah, that expertise needs to be part of, part of the conversation as well, and part of developing that practice.

[00:26:42] I'd love to develop our practice. I mean, I'm always nagging Rachel to do more training opportunities.

[00:26:47] Gerry: Well, stop the lights. As we say in Dublin, that's a real Irish phrase. Stop the lights isn't like, you know, don't go any further. Like, you know, I've, I've been there, but it's, uh, we've done work before myself and Rachel and it's great fun. Um, so Rachel, if you listen to this, um, Maybe think about doing some training, maybe think about doing some training, Rachel.

[00:27:10] Um, but yeah, that's, there's, there's other people out there doing, um, trauma-informed training at the moment. But for me, whenever I've seen Rachel do it, like there's just so much care and thought put into the content. So hopefully Rachel gets through more of it. You mentioned there before, and you might kind of go, Gerry, don't mention that.

[00:27:30] I can't talk about it. But I'm going to mention it. You said you're doing some work with the Asthma Society. Can you talk

[00:27:37] Jenni Parker: Asthma and Lung UK. Yeah, I can talk about that. Yeah, yeah. That's what we're up to at the moment, which has been really enjoyable actually. Um, we are looking for innovations that help people with lung conditions to move more and become more physically active. Um, and what we're going to do is, offer those innovations, eight weeks of user testing.

[00:27:58] Um, so we'll actually take those products, put them in the hands of people with lung conditions for eight weeks. We'll do interviews with people at the beginning and end, um, and sort of, yeah, diary study throughout and then report back to the teams behind the products on what's working, what's not working in the real world and how they can improve their products.

[00:28:17] Um, and the whole idea came from the insight that asthma lung UK had. That a lot of products that are designed, um, for people with lung conditions and in the health space more generally, um, go through really stringent, um, protocols to be regulated and, you know, be like a medical device, et cetera. Um, a lot of that is focused on clinical trials, improving medical efficacy, but not a lot's done around usability and desirability.

[00:28:46] So they might prove that it works. It works if people use it, um, but those trials are done in really controlled environments with very motivated people. And um, it doesn't always translate to real world uptake. So, um, we're really keen to see what happens when you put those products out into real world, real world settings and how they integrate with people's everyday lives or don't.

[00:29:11] Um, so it's going to be fascinating.

[00:29:13] Gerry: Tell, tell me about the kind of trauma that might persist inside the service creation for the Asthma and Lung Society. It's, it's probably a loaded question. I, myself, as an asthma, um, you know, I've had asthma since I've been about 12. And for anyone listening, they would have known it towards the end of last year, I was kind of breathing very deeply on some of the mics, some of the interviews. I'd love to know any insights that you've, you've garnered. from that project in particular, and just how you've changed your, your approach based on a trauma informed design lens.

[00:29:51] Jenni Parker: Right, right. Well, I mean, as I said, not an expert in trauma or trauma informed design,

[00:29:57] Gerry: This is the thing though.

[00:29:58] Jenni Parker: I'm learning every day. It's been, it's been a huge learning journey for me. And one of the things we're really lucky to be doing in this project is we're working really closely with people living with lung conditions.

[00:30:10] So we formed a co design team right in the beginning of the project, when we were brought in to deliver the program in collaboration with Aspen Lung UK. And, uh, on the team, we have five people, very diverse, uh, group of people living with lung conditions. Um, plus myself and Ali from Humanly and, um, some of the Aspen Lung UK research and innovation team.

[00:30:33] And I think having them. In the team. And we have really regular meetings and, uh, we get input from, from our co designers on everything really. And they're involved in all key decisions. And currently they're helping us to review and select what innovations go into testing. We're interviewing the innovators and, you know, I've been.

[00:30:53] uh, going to them first on the interviews to ask questions and then we, we go last. Um, and it's really, really been helpful and it's highlighted a lot of things to me, um, around, you know, just hearing the questions that they have and the comments they have around the links between mental health, well being and, um, asthma and lung conditions.

[00:31:13] And yeah, some of them, have experience of trauma that they've, they've bravely shared. And, um, it's, it's really, really, it's really, really helpful to have that lived experience and that understanding, um, and just looking at it from a very personal level more than a, I guess, practice level. That's kind of where we're at at the moment.

[00:31:35] Gerry: No, I think it's, it's, it's great to even Bring the conversation in, like as much as we want to say, and just want to preface the whole, I'm not an expert, I'm not an expert, like, that's a very common reaction, especially when something that is so important, um, and my take on that, the fact that you're even presenting it and you're, you're talking about it and you're open about it, it kind of moves the conversation away from it.

[00:32:00] Being an expert into a kind of a facilitator of the of the experience for research and so forth, letting giving it the room to breathe. So For anyone else out there, it's not just a case of saying, Hey, once I mention it, tick, done, we're doing trauma informed design. It's not, it's, it's definitely, it's an area to study and upskill in. To what Jenni's talking about, like Jenni is, you know, a phenomenal practitioner. Um, and like anyone doesn't want to come across as being like, Hey, I'm the expert in all of these areas, like hire me and I'll do, I'll do all this kind of work. But for me, the fact that you're even talking about this stuff and weaving the client involvement throughout the process.

[00:32:42] is very, very special. More and more people should be doing this and talking about it because we still see it like when you go into organizations and how they research and how they use it as an extraction method as opposed to, um, an opportunity to learn. It's really, really powerful when it's done properly.

[00:33:01] Jenni Parker: yeah, yeah. And it's more meaningful and the, the, the impact, the results are better. Um, but we need to slow down to do it. That's one of the biggest things, just having the time. Um, this project is a year long, so we've, we've got the time to do it justice, which is great. Um, and most of our projects are. Are longer and slower.

[00:33:23] And I think that's really key. That's another thing. Actually, sometimes we, we turn down projects because we look at the timescale and we look at the ask and we go, no, no, we couldn't involve people with, you know, experiences, traumatic experiences, for example, you know, and, and do that really sensitively and appropriately within those timescales.

[00:33:45] So, you know, those, those ones we do have to walk away from as

[00:33:49] Gerry: Yeah, well, look, what's the future like for Humanly, um, it's, it's February when we're recording this one, folks, hopefully we get it out, um, as quickly as possible, but yeah, What is the year, what does it hold for Jenni in terms of the, the goals that you're, you're hoping to kick this year, you mentioned like the asthma and lung project can go for a year, but, um, what other things have you got in the pipes?

[00:34:17] Jenni Parker: I think the thing I'm most excited about is getting closer to that genuine co design and that joint decision making and projects. And now that we're actually starting to get those opportunities, um, it's, it's great. I mean, we're, we're learning so much and that's great. That's what I love about this field is changing all the time.

[00:34:36] So there's always a chance to learn and evolve your practice. So that's a biggie for us actually moving into that, um, collaborative design and decision making space. Um, we're going to be doing some more work with children and young people in Scotland as well, which is great. I love going to Scotland and love working with kids.

[00:34:55] Like it's so great, especially doing co design with them. Like they're absolutely much better than adults, much better. Yeah. Absolutely,

[00:35:04] Gerry: I know

[00:35:05] Jenni Parker: no problems, no problems, um, generating solutions to problems. Um, so quick to very yes and audience. I wrote a little blog about this, like children are the ultimate yes and

[00:35:17] Gerry: send that to me.

[00:35:18] Jenni Parker: they, I will, I will, because you know, if you show them a prototype, they don't go, Oh, there's too many steps.

[00:35:23] They go, Oh, Oh, that's too many steps. But Do you know? Exactly. Yeah, it's like, well, why don't we just add a quick add feature? And they just like, they just points around and

[00:35:32] Gerry: a robot.

[00:35:34] Jenni Parker: exactly, very, very quick to come in with solutions and not just complaints. So,

[00:35:39] Gerry: Did you, have you had any of these experiences? I was in Amsterdam last week and I was speaking to one of the trainers I was working with and he had a similar position on this. I did a hundred design thinking. I did. I did. Three or four design thinking classes over in a school in Dublin before Christmas, a hundred students, and I was using Playmobil Pro and we were prototyping some things.

[00:36:04] Now, this, people may say to me, don't be using these stereotypes, Terry. But what seemed to happen was there was a pattern between the boy and the girl. Uh, the girl would, would. this is just generically, they would always pick up the stuff and they'd be really respectful of each other. Whereas the boy would stand up to present.

[00:36:21] He was like, this is a gun and we're going to shoot everyone, or this is a knife. And the other person, they do stinky, stinky things. And I'm like, Oh man, it was so difficult to curtail the excitement throughout the, throughout the session. How do you handle that when you're working with children?

[00:36:39] Jenni Parker: right. Well, we haven't given them Playmobil and I don't think I will after this. Um, so that's good to know. Um, we had, we, we have had children get overexcited with stickers before. Um, we find that there's a real balance between giving really creative, fun materials that they want to use. Um, but you can overdo it and just get stickers all over people's faces.

[00:37:01] Um, and no, no actual outputs that are usable for research or design purposes. So

[00:37:08] Gerry: 100 percent and it's a really good point actually, I hadn't really consider the materials being fit for the, the age group, even though they're eight or nine, it just seemed that 50 percent of the class were like really kind of cognizant of each other and listening. And whereas it just seemed that these, this bunch of boys were out to get me.

[00:37:28] And I was like, can you just sit down and try and be sensible? I know you want to have fun, but it was, it was a real, uh, an effort and patience on my own,

[00:37:39] Jenni Parker: It's so interesting. We did a session once in a school and we were told it was a class of boys and we were told that, you know, to expect chaos, that they would be very unlikely to be polite and respectful and all these things. But actually it went really well. We had some really good chats with them and I think just, you know, the fact that we went in and we just, you know, we were really interested in their ideas and we were really listening to them.

[00:38:01] Um, and. Yeah, treating them in a sort of, you know, adult manner, they were actually completely fine. They were good as gold. So sometimes it's just not, well, with kids, you have to expect the unexpected. Just, you know, whatever warnings you're given by a teacher or a staff member before you start the session, you know, it may or may not be applicable.

[00:38:20] Yeah.

[00:38:23] Gerry: the next class, you know, um, I was doing with Alexa, we've got this business called Makers and Doers School and, um, I'd be like to be a knock on the door a few minutes afterwards. And there'd be a little boy coming in. He'd obviously been told off and he'd be like, hi, Gerry.

[00:38:38] And I go, hey, what's going on? And he's like, I've got some of your Playmobil. I need to give you. There was like, like a, like a train going through the school of just, oh, my Playmobil was, was being, was being, you know, Let's just say left behind to people.

[00:38:51] Jenni Parker: I think you need to accept a percentage, a percentage loss with any materials and that, you know, you will, you will not get them all back and not all the outputs will be gold, but there will be, there will be gold in there, so,

[00:39:03] Gerry: They're still talking about it apparently. They're still saying, when, when is that person coming back? Because we had so much fun. So the excitement for

[00:39:09] Jenni Parker: that's great,

[00:39:10] Gerry: is part of the thing that we want to try and design

[00:39:13] Jenni Parker: yeah, yeah.

[00:39:14] Gerry: But look, you know, we could probably speak about loads of stuff, um, but I guess I just want to, you know, throw some light and some, um, perspective on Humanly over in London and Jenni's work.

[00:39:25] They're, they're remarkable what they're doing. Um, But if people want to connect with you and ask questions and stay up to date, we could obviously put your LinkedIn in there. It seems to be the most popular one for people. Are there other ways for people to stay in touch? Do you have a newsletter or anything else that you want to maybe push subscribers to?

[00:39:43] Jenni Parker: Um, no, not really. You can give us a follow on Instagram @designhumanly or X, if you're so inclined, we are still on there, but by the time this airs, we might not be as difficult to tell,

[00:39:55] Gerry: has been a, an X at us over there.

[00:39:59] Jenni Parker: but a bunch, um, but you can drop us an email as well. Uh, We, we get back to, and why am I saying this on a podcast? We get back to all the emails we receive, not always in a timely fashion, but you You'll definitely receive a response eventually, so do reach out and, um, yeah, if you happen to be London based, then come, come have a coffee.

[00:40:22] That would be the best way, really come and have a,

[00:40:23] Gerry: it's been great. If you get a

[00:40:24] Jenni Parker: have a cuppa.

[00:40:24] Gerry: loads of people knocking on your door saying you said on that podcast, we can

[00:40:27] Jenni Parker: Well, I like that. I like to meet other people, people who are trying to get into this, people who are already doing it. Yeah. We're people people, so we like that.

[00:40:36] Gerry: for sure. Jenni. Listen, look, I wrap every episode up by thanking people for their energy and ultimately their vulnerability of having a free flowing conversation like. We don't do any planning as regards scripted questions. And this is, it is an open conversation for me. It's the most enjoyable and for the listeners as well.

[00:40:56] They get to see the real thing, but again, that takes a bit of vulnerability to do it. So again, Jenni, thank you so much for giving me your time and energy today.

[00:41:05] Jenni Parker: Thanks for having me. It's been a pleasure.

[00:41:09] Gerry: we go.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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