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Sunil Bhandari ThinkPlace

Leading ThinkPlace Australia's new Education and Capability service.. Sunil Bhandari

Sometimes in life you just have to roll the dice. 

That’s a lesson that ThinkPlace Melbourne’s newest Senior Executive Designer, Sunil Bandari knows all too well. 

Bhandari may be relatively new to ThinkPlace but he is a seasoned design expert with more than 15 years' background in user experience design across government, private agencies and startups. 

His relationship with ThinkPlace partners John Body, Nina Terrey and Darren Menachemson dates back to his early days at the ATO.    

Bhandari says two defining things in his life led him to choose a designer’s career. One was his first job at a Superannuation Fund and the other, his evening hobby of developing board games in pursuit of creating the next Monopoly or Pictionary.  

And whether you’re coming up with a more sophisticated snakes and ladders or a government program aimed at tackling a complex social challenge, the principles are much the same. 

“If I had to choose one ingredient for a successful designer, it would be empathy,” says Sunil. “It’s the one that will drive you to fight for the vulnerable citizen, or at-risk community or disengaged customer.”  

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Sashi Surendran
Sunil Bhandari ThinkPlace
As well as offering his considerable experience to clients and their complex problems, Sunil will also lead ThinkPlace Australia's new Education and Capability Building service

As well as offering his considerable experience to clients and their complex problems, Bhandari is charged with another important responsibility: He will lead ThinkPlace Australia’s new Education and Capability Building service. 

That means taking responsibility for an education offering that spans industry-leading short courses as well as tie-ins with leading tertiary institutions and bespoke capability-building programs for prominent organisations.  

“From being a sports coach to training government staff on prototyping and usability testing, and even teaching UX design and other digital skills at leading academies, I’ve always been naturally drawn towards coaching and mentoring,” Bhandari says. 

“At ThinkPlace we have long had a deep background building capability at the organisational level. Now, as we ramp up our education offering for individuals it is an exciting time to be involved.” 

We are developing and offering course like Ethics of Digital Transformation, Design for Public Good and Agile for Policy and Programs. These are the skills that our clients, partners and collaborators want to build up in their organisations and their lives. We know because they tell us every day.” 

Bhandari’s love for design started almost accidentally, early in his career. When the phones at the Superannuation office were constantly ringing with inquiring customers, it didn’t take them long to realize they needed a new system to handle them. Sunil found himself putting his hand up to create and deploy an innovative change management project. 

Drawing on the queuing theory of Dutch mathematician Erlang, he took a methodical approach, tapping the data gathered by the answering machines (this was before Big Data became an actual term), using formulas for plugins, interviewing team members to understand the human experience behind scheduled breaks. In his eyes the task was about more than just creating a roster system or creating a call centre. It was a cultural shift.  

Meanwhile, in the evenings Bhandari was designing and playing board games, ideating, prototyping and testing them with his friends. Reflecting back, he says “In both places, I was following a design process, trying to solve people problems and using design methodologies to create the best human experience possible.” 

Soon after, Bhandari joined the policy department at ATO, influencing policy makers, representing the industry and playing the voice of design. He travelled around various Australian cities and trained public servants in how they could better engage citizens using design methodologies which were then still an emerging concept for most people.  

Sunil moved to Melbourne in 2007 and joined a UX Design Agency where he got his grounding as a consultant, a people lens to large businesses and enterprises.  

He says “the valuable lesson I learnt was that building empathy demonstrates to people that you understand the problems they are dealing with.”  

This means you take on a responsibility to ensure that whatever products or services eventuate solve real problems and deliver value to people. Being agnostic about methods and putting aside pre-conceived idea it is important to design a solution with them, not for them.  

After many years of consulting experience and moving from government to the public sector and then agencies and start-ups, Bhandari felt he had moved too far from where he started.  

“I asked myself, In the twilight of my working years, do I want to think that I helped some company sell more of their products or help build communities and create sustainable economies?” he says.  

Having always been inspired by the work of John Body – his first Design mentor, joining ThinkPlace became a natural next step. Although both Sunil and ThinkPlace as a company have come a long way from where they started, he says, “After all these years, the fundamental thinking behind the design principles and methodologies is still the same.”  

At ThinkPlace, we tackle some of world’s most complex challenges using a desing-led approach that puts people at the centre. Get in touch with Sunil or the team for your next big design project.  



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