1. Make having a user focus central to your mindset

Having a user focus is more about your overall mindset than about particular methods and tools. Cultivate qualities such as empathy, the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, and a genuine appreciation of how citizens can co-create and take ownership of their own solutions.

2. Understand the importance of empathy

Building skills around empathy with people (both inside and outside the system) can help you to put yourself in another person’s shoes, to experience what they do. Working in the public sector, you are likely to be very knowledgeable about your areas of specialism, with clear ideas of how systems should work. Yet when you see the real conditions on the ground, you begin to understand which conditions can make citizens more or less likely to follow these rules. It brings an awareness of a whole range of scenarios and an acceptance of the complexity.

3. Unlearn the idea that you have the solution

It’s easy to get it wrong when trying to guess what citizens need. Using a design-led approach and having empathy with people can stop you from making too many assumptions. For example, using observational techniques and understanding how people engage with services and systems can help identify unmet and latent needs. Involving users in the co-creation of new solutions can also generate new approaches and service opportunities. Being a designer is about stepping back, and handing ownership and agency to people to let them shape their own environment.

4. Remember to think beyond the needs of your average user and consider the extremes

Designing for the ‘average’ user doesn’t tell you about the outliers. Seek out extreme users and experts: people who have interesting and different ways of using the system because they have specific needs. What are these needs, and how can they inspire us? Looking to extreme users pushes us out of our comfort zone, prompting us to imagine wild ideas and concepts that may also resonate with more average users.

5. Reconnect to your mission to improve outcomes for citizens and society

Having a user focus can help you to reconnect with the original values that attracted you to the public sector: for many, this is a desire to improve outcomes for citizens and make a positive difference to society. Placing citizens at the heart of the design process can help you and your organisation to do that more effectively, while the direct and empathic connection to the end user can reignite your sense of purpose and motivate you.