Maureen Thurston: transport by design

Maureen Thurston

Maureen Thurston, from Aurecon, is a keynote speaker at iMOVE’s inaugural Transport of Tomorrow Symposium, to be held on 26 & 27 March 2019, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Her topic is Re-imagining transport: How design-thinking can create new paths forward. Visit the event page for more information.

Where are you working now Maureen, and what do you do?

I am the Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at Aurecon. Services are delivered as per client demand. Whereas, ‘experiences’ are revealed over time. They’re the aggregate of interactions on multiple levels, across multiple touchpoints, engaging multiple stakeholders. Delivering on this may sound daunting, but I find it can be achieved through clarity of purpose, pragmatic strategy, and rigorous execution.

In my new role and in partnership with Aurecon’s leadership, I help facilitate the strategic transformation of our firm, strengthen our client relationships, leverage our Design to Innovate ethos and develop value-led economic offerings — all in keeping with Aurecon’s Future Ready, by design strategy.

To achieve this, the CXO role, a first for us, and the first for any global engineering firm as I understand it, embodies four key ingredients. The CXO needs to be a: Catalyst; Orchestrator; Champion; Guide:

  1. Catalyst: ignites energy, excitement, and action among people throughout the company so our ‘exceptional client experience’ becomes a reality beyond the rhetoric
  2. Orchestrator: helps align various elements of operations to fit into a cohesive whole as seen through our client-centric focus
  3. Champion: advocates the client’s needs, wants, and desires to ensure that our offerings create genuine value on their behalf, and
  4. Guide: seeks and supports client experience innovations that create sustainable competitive advantage.

How did you gravitate to studying/working in the mobility field and where (else) have you studied/worked?

I trained as an industrial designer, and see everything as an object of design. I’m predisposed to believe that every challenge is ripe with opportunity. And know that every product, service, environment — even multi-modal, mobility-centric transport systems within our urban jungles — are best delivered when you design backwards from the wants, needs and expectations of the stakeholders/users.

A hypothetical question for you … in your field(s), what is the one transport project you’d undertake that would have a quick, appreciable impact?

Looking out the window from where I once worked in Deloitte, I’d often watched the busy Cahill Expressway and rail line below me and wondered why the city’s leaders would allow a major transport artery to distract from one of the world’s premier tourist attractions (the Opera House alone is valued at $4.6 billion).

The profusion of cars, trucks, buses and trains contaminate the air and the proliferation of noise deafens – walking through the area is a very unpleasant experience. Surely a bit of clever thinking could turn an eyesore into something beautiful, without compromising traffic flow. What if the road and rail was encased below and turned into a greenway above? I could have been looking out over a garden pathway instead of soot-stained concrete and asphalt.

We can, I think, reframe thinking to emphasise increased value without constraining function. The key is in being brave enough to challenge the status quo with the intent of getting a MUCH better result. It’s what we call at Aurecon ‘the Goldilocks Approach’ – not too big, not too small, decisions made just right.

BONUS Q and A!

iMOVE asked Maureen a few more questions, based around her topic at the Transport of Tomorrow Symposium, Re-imagining transport: How design thinking can create new paths forward.

How is design-thinking in transport a departure from how things have been done in the past?

Systems Thinking plays an important role within the transport sector. Design thinking follows the same tenets as ‘systems thinking’ the only difference is that the ‘system’ revolves around people. In Design thinking people are at the centre.

Whether it’s the design of the train car, the operational interfaces, or scheduling timetable, meeting the needs of all users is critical. Same as with the design of a train station, from the employees who run it and maintain it, to those customers who convene there waiting to get to their final destination – all have expectations that must to be first researched and understood in order to accommodate them.

Accelerating the fusion of technology and user-centric design, with pragmatic delivery gives us an unprecedented opportunity to improve quality of life as well as a healthy ROI.

I gather you see the combination of business strategy, creativity, and culture as a must in your design thinking approach. Is it difficult to have all these areas work together? Is there one of these that generally takes a leadership role? How do you effectively manage all these disciplines in any and all collaboration?

From my perspective:

  • Creativity is the fuel
  • Strategy the engine, and
  • Culture the destination.

You cannot achieve organisational transformation without taking all three things into account simultaneously – and design accordingly. As an engineering firm headquartered in Australia, we have a responsibility to ensure that the transport systems we help design and build support our citizens and future-proof our cities. The work we do impacts the very definition of liveability, resilience and relevance.

What are your thoughts on the Transport of Tomorrow?

I’m a bit disappointed with “the future”. Watching my favourite Saturday morning cartoon The Jetsons, I assumed we’d all be in flying cars by now.

That said, the future is nothing to trifle with. It is our responsibility to carefully shape and nurture the kind of future that we’d be proud of. A future we want to be a part of. The legacy we leave, is the legacy we design. The next generation should not be expected to fix our mistakes.

There are SO MANY conflicting social/economical complexities that need to be addressed we can’t assume the same problem-solving techniques that worked in the past will work in the present. We have to be prepared to ‘hack the plan’ today in order to re-frame yesterday’s investments for a better tomorrow.

What do you see, if your crystal ball/wish list extends this far out, in the Transport of Tomorrow in the medium-term? (20 years out)

I’d like to be able to look back from 2040 and say that in 2020 we learned how to approach complex problems — e.g. transport systems — in a humanistic, holistic way. That we designed a system that delivered an economic return as well as distinctive social value.

That together we created a better, cleaner, brighter Australia where our collective intelligence and initiative eliminated harmful emissions … a ‘Zero E Shared’ future.

That we used our five-senses as a metric to design and deliver a transport ‘conveyance’ experience that was void of air and noise pollution, felt good to the touch and was aesthetically appealing. And if we’re really lucky … the food and beverages offered along the journey would be tasty as well as healthy. That would be a beautiful future indeed.

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