Reading Week: July 2022

Reading Week: July 2022

From Monday 18 to Friday 22 July, we held a Reading Week in the team. For Reading Week we had our afternoons blocked out to focus on whatever learning and upskilling we wanted to do to help us develop our skills. Here’s what we each did for the week, and how we found it.


During Reading Week I digested a whole load of different talks, guides, articles, podcasts and books (well, a book) about improving service design, better citizen engagement, social attitudes towards poverty, creating better UX, understanding neurodiversity, co-production, and more. Here are a couple of the things I learned (or was reminded of) that hit me the hardest:

TEDx Talk – Don’t Listen To Your Customers – Do This Instead by Kristen Berman

As a user researcher I place great importance on listening to people to understand their experiences and needs. But this talk challenged that somewhat by clearly evidencing that when gathering insight to inform service design, what people say is not as important as what people do.

Kristen Berman, a behavioural scientist, shows compelling evidence that the insight gathered through interviews, surveys, etc. is often misleading, as people are not always conscious of their true motives and behaviours so what they tell researchers they would do is not what they would actually do. Her argument is that behavioural research like usability testing and field studies gives us a much more accurate understanding of what people do, which gives us better insight for designing services for those people. Whilst I have to agree with what she’s saying (it’s hard to argue against science!), I still feel that listening to people is an important and valuable part of user research and the insight gathered can supplement any behavioural insight.


IDEO’s Human Centred Design Toolkit

IDEO’s Human Centred Design Toolkit was a really interesting read that helped me to shape and structure Human Centred Design in my mind. The toolkit explains how Human Centred Design focuses on 3 things:

  • Desirability. This involves understanding the needs of the people using the service. Do they desire the service or product we are designing for them?
  • Feasibility. Is it possible to design and deliver this solution? Is it technically and organisationally feasible?
  • Viability. What impact will the solution have on our budget? Is the solution financially viable? 

If you could picture a Venn diagram with these 3 components, the solution that emerges should find itself in the overlap of all 3. In the toolkit, IDEO walks us through their framework to deliver human centred services and products. They have split their delivery model into 3 stages that, like Human Centred Design, has the acronym HCD:

  • Hear. The Hear phase is when the design team collects stories and experiences, and observes behaviour. This is when research is planned and conducted.
  • Create. During this phase, the design team translates the research findings into themes, opportunities, potential solutions and prototypes.
  • Deliver. The Deliver phase is when design teams start to realise their solutions through revenue and cost modelling, capability assessments and implementation planning.

It is important not to attempt to identify a solution that ticks the Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability boxes straight away. Keep testing solutions to make sure they meet the Desirability principle throughout, however Feasibility and Viability can wait until later. If we find that those two components are not met, solutions can be iterated to meet that criteria.   


Our team reading week gave me a chance to explore topics that were not directly related to my work, but which could help me improve my knowledge and skills in a wider way. I had a great time making my way through a variety of books, articles, and podcasts.

I started with Kristina Halvorson’s The Content Strategy Podcast, and specifically her interview with Helen Lawson, Content Designer at Co-op Funeralcare. Helen is “passionate about improving the conversation around death”, and spoke about how to think about language around sensitive subjects. While we don’t deal with the same subject, we do address other sensitive subjects as a team, and this had some useful advice to improve how we do this.

You also can’t beat a physical book to provide a break from the screens, so I picked up Good Services by Lou Downe, and the classic Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. Lou Downe’s book was extremely relevant to the Life Events Service Design project work I’m involved with at the moment, and got me thinking more about how different parts of a service interact with each other, and how we can make the experience more seamless for citizens.

Finally, I enjoyed Scott Kubie’s writing about content ecosystems. While not directly related to content design, content ecosystems seem like a useful tool to identify issues and opportunities, which can benefit everyone.


Over many years I have worked with DevOps teams on software development projects. Some lasting years. Some months. All without exception, having digital security best practice as a core requirement. So, based on these experiences, spending time learning about what organisations can do to build resilience to cybercrime seemed a natural choice. More so as my current role is much more about organisational digital transformation than developing software.

The first thing to clarify was the difference between cyber security and cyber resilience. To do this I unsurprisingly asked Google and equally unsurprisingly I found a bucket full of useful stuff (as a starter I’d suggest checking out the National Cyber Security Centre website). Reassuringly, reputable sources agree that cyber security is about locking systems down as much as possible based on available budget, system performance needs, and ongoing support practicalities.

According to the AXELOS ‘Cyber Resilience Best Practices’ publication, cyber resilience on the other hand is about “building a capability to prevent, detect, and correct any impact that incidents have on the information required to do business”. With some 260-pages of subject matter and 40-pages of abbreviations and glossary (the cyber industry definitely gets a gold medal for acronyms and complex titles) trawling through this book took up most of my reading week.

Some things I understood, some things less so, and although the publication was last updated in 2015 and some content seemed dated, I believe it to be a good introduction to cyber resilience and worthy of a read.

If you don’t fancy doing so yourself, I would skip to the bit about the five key elements to building cyber resilience, which (summarised) are: strategy; design; transition; operation; and continual service improvement.

  • Strategy identifies the critical assets, such as information, systems and services, that matter most to the organisation and its stakeholders, and identifies vulnerabilities and risks.
  • Design selects appropriate and proportionate management system controls, procedures, and training to prevent harm to critical assets and identifies who has what authority to decide and act.
  • Transition introduces designs into the operational environment, ensuring changes support cyber resilience objectives, and new or modified processes and controls deliver the expected outcomes.
  • Operation detects and manages cyber events and incidents, including continual control testing to ensure effectiveness and consistency.
  • Continual service improvement work ensures the organisation learns from incidents, and as necessary modifies procedures, training, design, and even strategy.


For my reading week, I focused on developing my WordPress skills. We’re currently duplicating our existing website into two separate sites (one English, one Welsh) to ensure we’re meeting best practice for bilingual services. As someone with some WordPress experience I’ve been working on it in my downtime, but wanted some focused time to read up about website replication, URL generation and linking, content duplication and redirection plugins. Reading Week gave me time to focus and wear my Comms hat for a prolonged period. I read articles and blogs from across the WordPress corner of the internet, trying out what I’d learned and seeing if it worked in practice before unleashing it on the public.

It was great to be able to dedicate time to this without falling down a rabbit hole and then panicking and having to pull myself out to go to a meeting which is what usually happens! Whilst we may still need a developer to help up with some of the thorny parts of the work, I’m really proud that at the end of the week I managed to pull together two replicated sites with the right content on each, and a backlog of the work needed to complete the project. Having the permission to switch off from my emails and read was critical to being able to move the work forwards – I’ll be lobbying for another reading week this time next year.


For my reading week, I focused on the two areas of service design and creating interactive prototypes. Firstly, I read Lou Downe’s Good Services book, as it was part of a ‘welcome to the team’ gift from our Senior Delivery Manager. I really enjoyed this book as it linked with my desire to make services easily accessible to users, and has helped me widen my mindset to consider things I had not thought of. The book also helped me understand the public sector, having joined the team from the private sector.

As well as Lou’s book, I also focused on Figma tutorials, as our team needed someone to work on an existing Figma prototype to get it to a state where we could start usability testing. I needed to get curious with the software (without breaking the prototype) so I started to research how to create and use components.

I found a few links below which were really helpful for a complete beginner with no knowledge of the terminology to find out how to use the software:

What a week of learning! In our latest retro, we discussed how we found it and as a team it was overwhelmingly positive. Having the permission to focus purely on a topic without distraction was of real benefit to us. We’re now planning another Reading Week for the winter to keep us going!

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