A new chapter

Last month marked my 4 year anniversary at Snook. It also marked a new chapter as I will be joining Addaction from 1st July on a 12 month secondment to design services that will help people overcome addiction.

Image: Snook’s design sprint with Addaction

This move is the culmination of almost 12 months of career deliberation for me and I wanted to share my thought process in case there are others out there grappling with similar scenarios.

My career (excluding university) currently stands at 11 years. 5 of those years were spent designing packaging for the food and drinks that sit on our supermarket shelves. The next 3 were spent trying to stop designing food and drink packaging! Through that process, I discovered service design and everything suddenly made sense to me. At last, a job that allowed me to combine my logical brain, creativity and problem solving skills — putting these to a more meaningful use. Consequently, my service design career thus far has spanned 4 years, the majority of which have been spent with Snook.

Agency turnover is high. I’ve only ever worked in agency and for me it’s usually the 3 year itch. At Snook this coincided with a period of growth and an opportunity to step into a more senior position at Snook. I found myself moving from a hands-on senior design role to a design leadership role. That felt like a huge and transformative move — was I ready?

During this period I started having cups of tea with people I thought might have a perspective on this transition. Zoe Stanton, Lou Downe, Gavin Elliot, Kate Kapp, Rebecca Kemp and Matt Edgar, thank you. I was also lucky enough to be able to speak openly to Sarah and Valerie at Snook about how I was feeling and always felt supported to make the decision that was right for me.

Then two things happened, a few months apart.

Firstly over one of those cups of tea, Gavin said to me “what does Emma want to do”. I laughed this off at the time because frankly I had no idea. I probably had ‘advice fatigue’ by this point, but these words always stuck with me.

A good 4 months or so later, I spent my Christmas break honing every last word of a pitch to undertake strategic service design for the NHS around emergency care. We came second and the disappointment I felt highlighted how much I still wanted to be hands on in designing services that impact people’s lives.

The key word here is wanted. For months I had been conflating what I wanted with what I was capable of. I realised that I am capable of being a design leader, it’s just not what I want — yet.

I’d love to be Head of Design one day, for an organisation I really care about. I’m only 33 years old.This means I could still be working for the same time I’ve been alive over again. I have plenty of time.

The great thing is, the longer I spend doing what I love, the better future design leader I will hopefully become. What’s the rush eh?!

I’m very lucky to have an opportunity that allows me the best of both worlds. Snook are my work family and this way I get to poke my head out of agency life and into ‘the real world’ to test the water with a support network. However, most importantly I get to spend 12 months doing what I love.

At Addaction, I’ll be helping scale service design as a practice by actively co-designing and delivering changes to their services in line with the wider organisational strategy. I’ll be working with an incredibly ambitious organisation to figure out how we can design services that help more people, improve peoples’ chances of getting better and transform internal ways of working.

I’ve said it a million times already but thank you to Sarah, Snook, Laura and Addaction for this opportunity. I can’t wait to get stuck in.

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I’ll be writing about my experiences at Addaction and working to create a talk about our work as I go. So, follow along for the ride.