Slowing down to scale design

A presentation at UXSEA Summit 2019 in in Singapore by Samantha Yuen

To begin a new starter:

  1. In a large bowl, mix 55+ UX designers, 1 design research coach, and 12 months of experiments till well-combined.
  2. Leave to ferment till it starts to bubble.
  3. Feed regularly to encourage the development of strong skills and elastic mindsets.

Like artisan sourdough, growing a robust design practice requires time, space & perseverance. Without rigour, we’re just creating a lot of product without the ‘nutrition’ that feeds wider outcomes.

I shared my experiments from 17 months at GovTech Singapore through 3 areas we can slow down, and an approach for scaling design capability sustainably.

In case you were wondering: This work is very much WIP. The outcomes achieved are still unevenly distributed, and do not fully represent the culture across the organization.



The following resources were mentioned during the presentation or are useful additional information.

  • Q: Is mental health taken very seriously in GovTech? I really like how you start from the very basics of human being as a designer. (27 votes)

    There’s the concept of mental health at work (which we agree is important), and the practice of mental health (which really comes down to what we do as individuals and teams). I’d encourage you to explore what this could look like for yourself and the human beings you work with!

  • Q: What made you bounce back from your burnouts? (13 votes)

    The sheer drive & desire to live a more intentional life! Not so much to ‘bounce back’ (which implies fast, energetic return to original state) but to give myself time & space to rest & recover; to unpack what I was still doing and more importantly, why.

  • Q: Just want to say that you talk also inspires my own personal development. (13 votes)

    I’m so heartened! Please do share your experiments/approach, I’d love to learn from all of you too.

  • Q: How do you manage diverse teams in a government structure that follows different rules? (12 votes)

    I prefer seeing that each team has different contexts & constraints, so understanding that is a good first step to setting them up for success.

  • Q: Samantha, you were awesome! #safespaceadvocate (12 votes)

    Aww, thank you! We can all be safe space advocates - remember that individually we’re little black dots in the system, but collectively, we can shift how we work together and support each other 🌱

  • Q: How do you engage team members who might be working in another geographical location? (10 votes)

    Lilla Szulyovszky has some great tips At Foolproof, I really loved the webcams we had in the social spaces of each office so we could wave hi/chat outside of work.

  • Q: Why a huge change from Foolproof to GovTech? (8 votes)

    I took a 3-month sabbatical to learn how to take better care of myself, and wanted to explore non-commercial work!

  • Q: I want to be part of your team! What a great sharing. (6 votes)

    Don’t have a team yet and don’t know where the winds will take me, but please do reach out - would love to meet you!

  • Q: Do you train designers or just researchers? (4 votes)

    I coach both! Mainly in design research and design/research ops, but also in interaction design, UX writing, storytelling, stakeholders, and personal challenges/adulting.

  • Q: Samantha, are you an introvert? A lot of what you said resonates with me. (4 votes)

    I’m a sloth who loves to hide in her tree :) But I’ve learnt to grow my extroversion range and the size of my social tank.

  • Q: What advice would you give to someone who might already be experiencing burnout? (4 votes)

    Burnout comes in different shapes/symptoms, and it’s important we set ourselves up to rest and reflect. This might mean talking to your boss even if it’s uncomfortable AF or finding other means to stop work for a while. Happy to chat more if you’re struggling.

  • Q: How do you influence the team to use your system? / How do you incorporate regular personal development? / How do you convince the organization to improve or invest in your work? (3 votes)

    To bring back some points from my talk: Grow your relationships and trust; start small; don’t ask for permission but try and see what emerges! (GovTech didn’t hire me to do this - I created my own role.) And sometimes, we have to recognize that an organization just isn’t ready at this moment in time.

  • Q: Should designers be researchers too? If so, what’s the best way for them to work together? (1 vote)

    I think everyone who builds products & services should have a people-centered mindset, so explore how you can continuously gain more context of the people you design for and the people you work with.

  • Q: Have you ever cooked? (1 vote)

    Yes! I’ve also worked in a professional kitchen as an apprentice cook.

  • Q: Is that the WeWork font you used in your slides? (1 vote)

    Haha it’s good ol’ Georgia. I also used Avenir.

  • Q: Why not seperate the research coach and the research ops team? (0 votes)

    And create another silo? :) I see the Dojo roles intertwined in achieving our outcomes, but I could be wrong!

Buzz and feedback

Here’s what was said about this presentation on Twitter.