“What advice would you give to service design students? “

Recently, I had a group of design students come to visit the FutureGov space in London. They were interested in the work that we do, what it’s like to be a designer in the public sector, the things my degree helped me with as well as what I’ve learned since.

I gave them a bit of an honest talk — and I thought I should probably note down some of the bits and pieces I covered.
Here’s some questions asked, and some (multi-coloured) info and advice from a designer on the inside.

What skills do I need?

  • Ahead of starting out in any client-facing design job I din’t know just how much time I’d need to put into showing and explaining the value that design can bring to an organisation.
  • A lot of councils (and other orgs) are running services first instigated in the Victorian era, and haven’t really changed since. They are unprepared for change to come along. We’ve got to work with that mindset in mind.
  • You have to create the space for your work to sit in; you have to prove, persuade and showcase all the time.

What didn’t you learn at art school?

Collected from across the rest of the design team at FutureGov.

  • Often in university projects, you’re allocated weeks of ‘research’. I often ask designers in interviews how they would plan their research if they knew that they only had 3 days to do it in? The reality is that we cannot spend lengthy periods of time discovering. We must get to hunches and hypothesis quickly, pool the recent experience from others in the team, and continuously research throughout projects.
  • Getting to the point where you’re confident in your work, that you’ve produced a good ‘thing’. Even if, in your heart of hearts, you could stay up all night tweaking it. It’s fine now. Honestly.
  • Truth is, it’s highly likely that the industry you design in isn’t ready and waiting for you to stroll in the door. You have to reassure them that your work will be good and useful, that it may feel different and risky, but you will help their organisation out. You have to have a lot of these conversations – setting the scene for your work to sit in.
  • You also have to respect the fact that a lot of your clients may never have worked with a designer before. Your jargon and flourishes will not pass. Take the time to explain what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and what it’s going to produce.
    You’re always taking others with you on the design process.
  • Here’s the thing; there’s not really any short cuts.
    No number of events, books, blogs or podcasts will give you superpowers. Listen to them, and read too, but nothing will substitute for getting out there and getting experience.
    In my opinion, more time working is better than extended time studying.

What do you look for in new hires?

  • You need to be able to talk about your work. Not just what the thing is and does, but how you got there. Bring examples, and be ready to talk to them.
  • Tell me about your role on a project — being honest about that.
  • Are you a designer who sketches/makes their ideas real quickly, to help bring other’s thinking along with you? Great.
  • Some workplaces are, quite honestly, a bit bonkers. The are steeped in legacy and risk-aversion. Having direct experience of this is not necessarily required, but showing that you can handle the complexities that might throw at you it a good thing to see.

Any more advice?

  • Remember that (good) jobs should work two ways. Look for an agency where you’ll be growing your skills, but also one that is equipped to support and develop early career service designers.
  • This industry is always changing, be prepared to change your role, title, skillset and emphasis over the years. It helps build your breadth of knowledge. If you want to be a designer for the majority of your career, there’s no rush to get ‘senior’ in your title. Remember we’re all working ’til we’re 85. Sigh.
  • Before going to an interview, have an idea of what you’d like to get paid. Do some research so you know what a decent wage is. Ask others, or look up some helpful websites. Negotiation comes in a few forms; some people like to have a number in mind and ask/talk around it. It’s important for me to get paid the same as those I’m doing equal work to — so I’ve learned to ask for that.
  • Spreadsheets are really quite ugly, but a fantastic tool for organising projects, breaking down data sets, sharing user journey maps etc. Learn to love them.
  • Those pals that you graduate with might feel like your competition to begin with, but hold on to them. They will quickly become great sounding boards for your portfolio, will mention jobs to you and share your name in their developing networks.
  • If and when you’re ready, get a mentor outside of your company — but in the industry. It’s good to have another soul to talk to about your work and career.
  • No-one has ever asked what I got in my degree, or asked to see it.

Got thoughts or questions? Get in touch @kirsty_joan

I’d like to write some future posts on what the design industry can do to help ready future graduates, and how companies can bring on and champion less experienced designers. Keen?

Service design, user experience & digital. Research and prototypes @futuregov . Writing about methods used & thoughts had.