The ‘as-is’ state of my service design placement: 8 things I learned in 6 months

Rebecca Gorton
Sep 27 · 5 min read

Reflecting over the past six months, I truly have learned a lot. I don’t know why I set the target of trying to squeeze it into 8 learnings, but here it goes.


1. The NHS is huge

That probably won’t come as a shock to most people, but when you’ve only been working in the NHS for under a year; you’re constantly finding out about new areas, teams and organisations. Working in urgent and emergency care (UEC), this became clear quite soon. There are so many patient groups, staff members, projects and programmes invested in making things better in this space, and it was a pleasure to be part of this world for a short while. I am confident that I will still be learning about more of these groups in my time to come.

2. Working in a distributed team is hard

I am a very sociable person. I love talking. I’m from Liverpool; it’s what we’re famous for doing. So you can imagine how sitting alone whilst most of your team are at home or in a completely different city was really hard for me. However, I used it as an opportunity to sit with other teams, work autonomously, manage my health, my work-life balance and get to grips with remote working tools. I won’t lie, I do prefer working with a co-located team, but I now understand the same results can be reached with a remote team too.

3. Looking after yourself is imperative

This is related to part of the previous point. There was a lot of travelling, long days and early mornings during this placement. It was super important for me to shout when I needed to take a beat. My line manager; Sophie Dennis was super supportive when I needed to work from home, slow down or take some time if I wasn’t feeling too great physically or mentally. Recognising these moments is just as important as asking for the time to recover from them. Your team might lose you for a few hours, but both you and they will be better in the long-run for it.

4. Doing research in live care settings requires patience and respect

Doing research in a pre-arranged lab setup is on the other side of the spectrum of observing and interviewing people in live care settings. We interviewed patients and staff in over 20 care settings. Some of these were A&E departments, ambulance stations and 111/999 call centres. You can’t control what is going to happen. One minute you could be having a conversation with someone and the next minute; that person is bleeped to a blue-light emergency, to see a consultant, or may even be too emotionally vulnerable to continue to talk to you right now. You need to be prepared for this. You need to convey that you have patience and respect for their situation and know when to start and end your research.

5. It is helpful to alter communications styles to match your stakeholder

I’ve managed stakeholder expectations before, but this large group of diverse stakeholders was beyond my experience. I’d only really learned how to create reports and presentations for one type of stakeholder. I had to learn on my feet and find out that not every stakeholder wants a jam-packed, wordy presentation. Some like to know the key facts and that’s it; some like a bit of both. Some have a particular area they are passionate about, and putting that at the forefront is beneficial. I’ve come away from this knowing you should get to know your stakeholders and how they like to take in information, and this is how you should present it back to them.

6. I can do (a bit of) service design, me

My colleagues over on NHS.UK kindly bought me ‘This is Service Design Doing’ just before I started this placement and it really has come in handy. I’ve been able to participate in journey and service mapping, forming hypotheses, ‘how might we?’ questions and co-design workshops. All of these have given me a good idea of what life as a service designer could be like. I know service design is about a lot more than those activities mentioned above, but I feel like I’d have a good toolkit to get started.

Our team working together and creating sketches of possible solutions for our problem statements
Our team working together and creating sketches of possible solutions for our problem statements

7. Don’t be afraid to challenge your imposter syndrome

I experience bouts of imposter syndrome quite frequently. I often think that my decisions shouldn’t carry any weight, or that I’m not qualified enough to make these choices. However, on this placement I learned that I’m here for a reason, that people do respect my decisions and skills. Most importantly, it’s okay not to be great at everything and I’m here to learn.

I offered to design and create materials and maps for some of our various sessions, and whilst making them, I had hardly any confidence that what I’d done would be accepted and used because I’m only a junior designer. I sought out validation and Sophie was very supportive, she explained that what I’d done was great, and we’d work together to make it better; as there is always room for improvement. This taught me that I’m on the right track; and I just need a little nurturing from more experienced designers — and that’s the point of the graduate scheme. I’m excited about making more design decisions and I trust there will be support from more senior designers to ensure I’m making the right progress with my skills.

8. If you’re passionate about it, you can talk at a conference about it

I was lucky enough to be able to support Sophie in running a session at this year’s Health and Care Innovation Expo, or just ‘Expo’ to some. This was probably the largest variety of roles and experience that I’d spoken in front of before. We worked as a team to create the agenda and took on some learnings from a practice session we ran with NHS Digital colleagues. Public speaking has never really bothered me too much, but because of the senior stakeholders that could potentially drop-in to our session, I was feeling the pressure slightly.

Afterwards, I felt positive about my performance, we were the passionate ones, we had done all the research so we had the knowledge that made us able to talk about this subject with such confidence. It seemed to land with the room. There were a few discussions post-session and I felt such relief that people seemed to agree with the points we were making. I could definitely do that again. As long as I have the knowledge and the passion.

What’s next for me?

I mentioned a few blogs ago that I wanted to dabble in a bit of prototyping. Unfortunately due to the scope of the UEC project, we were not able to get as involved with prototyping as we’d hoped. I reached out to David Evans, Interaction Designer for the e-Referral Service and asked if I could join their ranks in September in order to develop these skills. He agreed, and here I am. I’ll be back in a few months to check-in and let you know how I’m getting on!

I’m super thankful to all the colleagues I worked with on this placement and I’m sure you haven’t seen the last of me! :)

Rebecca Gorton

Written by

Leeds Graduate working as a Service Designer at NHS Digital. Helping to integrate Digital into UEC. Scouser, Pop-punker and huge Simpsons fan. @beccagorton95

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