Illustration by Jacob Zinman-Jeanes

Learning to innovate

I almost completely missed the service design boat. But thanks to a little luck, I stumbled upon the most exciting and rewarding career path I could ask for.

I began a communication design course in 2012. It was an undergraduate course that offered a few creative problem solving classes, but their monotonous titles failed to describe the creativity and excitement that these projects had.

At the end of my first year I struggled to find electives or a career path I was passionate about. Our core subjects lacked logic, purpose and real impact. Luckily a good uni friend had just completed a class called Design Systems and Services. After expressing my concern to her, she opened my world to service design.

Once I discovered the awesome world of service design and design for impact, I did everything possible to steer my course in that direction. I had to drive the boat — my university were accommodating to my needs, but like any large organisation, there were lots of administrative barriers along the way.

Getting industry experience

The following year I applied for Industry Based Learning. As I expected, none of the agencies my university offered had heard of service design. So I took things into my own hands and sourced out several service design agencies in Melbourne to work for.

I talked my way into two offers and ended up choosing my placement at Thick, the best decision of my life. I entered a world where everything I was learning at university directly related to what I was doing at work. After spending years at university, it felt euphoric.

Now I’m completing my honours. I’m about to embark on a multidisciplinary, innovative program called the Global Swinburne Design Factory. The program partners with ME310 (set in Stanford University’s renowned service design school, known as the d.school) and CBI (CERN’s equivalent program, Challenge Based Innovation). It’s pretty incredible that Swinburne offers such a collaborative learning experience. I can’t wait to start this next leg of my learning journey.

How can you find service design?

Many universities have now realised that the old design course structures are not fitting current student’s needs. Stanford University have catalysed this change by developing four learning experiences for the future. Unfortunately for now it’s just a concept prototype.

These days, most reputable design courses include creative problem solving subjects. The only problem is these subjects often aren’t core subjects (which they definitely should be), they may not be adequately publicised and they may not be named what you’re expecting. Be careful to look out for them, ask your faculty dean if you can’t find them.

What still needs to improve

I think design universities could do more to make service design a feature in entry level subjects.

In my communication design course, one first year subject showcased a broad range of real life design projects. A lot of these projects used creative problem solving in some way. Some students (I was one of them!) got really excited by these projects, but didn’t realise there were classes within the course that can teach you these skills or lead you on that career path.

It would be extremely useful if subjects like this told students, ‘If you were interested in the Ugandan water project, you might enjoy the Design Thinking class’. But that’s not always possible, I suppose.

Maybe design faculties should also look at renaming these creative problem solving subjects (often dryly called Managing Design or Business and Design Strategy) to reflect the engaging projects within them. This might help new students hear about service design like I wished I had.

As designers, we can have huge impact through the work we do. That’s why it’s important that we find the right subjects to learn the necessary skills so we can improve the world we live in.


Written by Katie Potter, Service and Communication Designer at Thick.

Read more essays from the Thick team.