Michael Gearon

Service Design in Government 2020

Michael Gearon

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In March, some of the interaction design team at Companies House including myself travelled up to Edinburgh, Scotland for the international Service Design in Government 2020 conference. With four different streams of talks, workshops and tutorials going on at any one time it was a jam-packed three days with plenty of good food.

Visiting Scotland

We had little time to explore Scotland, however, we did walk around the city as much as possible, visiting the castle and going into the Camera Obscura attraction which gave us amazing views over the city.

Our venue was around a 30-minute walk from our hotel crossing through The Meadows park. Luckily for us, there was little to no rain, just crisp, cold mornings every day.

There are so many good food places in Scotland, one, in particular, stood out to me, the Gourmet Mash Bar, which I would go back to any day of the week. What I had there was the Makars Wild Boar Sausage in onion gravy with crispy smoked bacon & spring onion mash.

As this was my first time visiting Scotland I would definitely go back again and explore more of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas as it is a really pretty city.

Notable talks from the conference

As the conference was over three days, I ended up attending a lot of different sessions that I could discuss for hours! So, here are my top talks.

The very first talk was a keynote session from Carrie Bishop, Chief Digital Services Officer for San Francisco, who spoke about the unsexy work of fixing the plumbing inside Local Gov.

Carrie talked about how design is not sexy. We mostly deal with complicated, old legacy systems for which redesigning isn’t very attractive, but these are the systems that are most important. We need to embrace these old systems and have an endurance mindset as it does take a lot of time and resources to fix this old plumbing.

There was also a 90-minute workshop on public service mapping using the STEEP-V framework, something that I’ll be using at Companies House going forward in my projects.

Another workshop I attended was Liberating Structures for Service Design, which gave us new techniques and skills on running workshops and how to effectively deliver them based on its purpose and the people attending.

Finally, a workshop entitled Cake As Work, which was the outcome of baking 100 cakes for colleagues, gathering anonymous feedback and then tweaking the cake recipe to find the ‘best cake’ that was the cheapest to bake, but also the tastiest.


Our conference in Scotland was an amazing experience. With a few bumps in the road, such as FlyBe collapsing while we were there, it still didn’t take away from the experience.

With all of the different sessions going on, it was really hard to pick which ones to go to. However, I managed to get something out of every session I attended. We also had great experiences outside of the conference, exploring Scotland and all of the wonderful places to eat.

It was also fantastic to see so many people around the world from different government departments and local authorities coming together to listen to other people in the design industry and to design better services for the public.

Michael Gearon

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Michael Gearon

Senior Interaction Designer and Co-Author to Tiny CSS Projects