The Future of Service Design
Symposium 2019

Silvia Grimaldi
Dec 7, 2019 · 6 min read

Veron WK Lai and Silvia Grimaldi

Our opening talk for the MA Service Design student symposium at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, on 6th December 2019, where graduating students presented their work to 200 guests.

I am one of the alumni from the MA Service Design course, having attended almost 10 years ago on one of the first years of the course. We joke I attended the MVP (minimum viable product) version of the course. Now I am, among other things, one of the Lecturers for the course, running the Entrepreneur Strategy & Product Management (ESPM) unit.

Since I graduated in 2011, I have seen how the industry has changed and evolved. I remember when there were only a handful of companies hiring service designers when I graduated, and mostly limited to government pilot projects. I remember the days when going to job interviews, people would ask “what is Service Design?” & “I’ve heard about that before”... Fast forward to 2019, Service Design is flourishing across the public and private sectors. Although the question about ‘what is service design’ is still one of the most frequently asked questions because it is still a relatively new discipline. However, we have seen Service Design becoming an integrated part of the Government Digital Services (GDS), financial services, charity, consultancy and retail etc. More recently, we have seen well-established startups like Babylon building an internal Service Design capability. It is an exciting time for all service designers, especially for our graduates to explore the array of opportunities available to them to forge their career.

Looking back at the last 10 years of my design journey, one of the most valuable things I learnt from my own MA studies was the ‘Purpose of Design’. I gained a new perspective on Design - understanding What Design can do. Design is not a means to an end, it is purposeful, it is powerful, it is personal and sometimes it is political.

Very often we thought Service Design is a set of tools and methodologies. Being a practitioner and educator, I would say the true value a Service Designer can bring is our Approach, our Ways of Working. It is our approach to tackle complex problems through in-depth research and gathering insights to ensure we ask the right question. It is our approach to creating teams, engaging and empowering people to collaborate, including the vulnerable and often forgotten. It is also our approach to creating a meaningful outcome, not just output.

Veron attended the first MVP of the course 10 years ago, and lots has changed since then. We find ourselves doing more and more collaborations with many varied organisations, working with, to name a few, public services, local government, charities, EU government, policy labs, private companies, design consultancies, start-ups and accelerators, and other universities. The scope of the projects has broadened, and while we still work on service delivery projects with local government, we also work in areas as varied as health, policymaking, public engagement, placemaking, science and technology and future-making. We partner not only with partners or clients who commission a project, but we work closely with them throughout the project, and we also invite experts from varied fields, and work directly with stakeholders and users at all levels. Students get used to having very different feedback from different stakeholders and having to navigate all their different priorities.

Students quickly learn that working in a participatory and responsive manner in all these situations requires them to push what they thought service design was. Many students arrive thinking there are set tools for service design, they look like HMW (how might we) questions and blueprints, and they expect that is what they will learn to equip them to be service designers. However, these tools are not set in stone. They represent a set of values and an approach, and we need to be clear that the approach and values of service design are what students will learn, and will learn to apply. This focus on values and approach allows them to operate in a way that is critical, adaptive and iterative, and not rigid.

I think it’s important to remember that these values are what sets service design apart from other disciplines that tackle the same type of briefs. We are working on research projects here at London College of Communication which apply a Service Design approach to areas as wide as public engagement in biotech for drug production to antimicrobial resistance in poultry farming in India, and this approach is what allows us to act as mediators between different sets of experts, users and general populations.

As service designers we value collaboration at all levels of an ecosystem, and a service design approach is therefore participatory.
We value a designerly approach of doing, envisioning, testing and making sure outcomes are appropriate to the context, and therefore we use an iterative approach.
We value people and their roles, experiences and knowledge within complex systems, and service design therefore has a people-centred approach.
We value lived experiences, we value getting to the bottom of problems and we value asking why things are the way they are and why people behave how they do, and therefore our approach is qualitative.
We value making and communicating and therefore our approach is a designerly approach. Designers have always envisioned futures because we work on things that don’t exist yet, and we give shape to the future, and our approach therefore allows for speculation about futures.

Over the course of the masters students develop and refine their own approach. They gain confidence in their ways of working. They’ve become experts in collaborating in teams (they have worked in teams with people from all different design and non-design backgrounds, and from all over the world). They’ve driven their own major projects, which you will hear about tonight, following their own topic choice. They focus on what they think is the purpose of design. They set up relationships with partners. And they gain the confidence to stand up in front of 200 people tonight to talk about their projects, often in their second or third language.

Throughout the MA study, our students are required to collaborate with their peers and the industry. You will hear more from their presentations later this evening.
The emphasis on user-centred design in this course is not only who we are designing for, but also who we are designing with. The 15 months MA Service Design journey is about developing future design leaders, who are equipped not only with the technical know-how but leave us with creative confidence.

Here at the University of the Arts London, we are very lucky and honoured to collaborate with different organisations around the world; working on some impactful projects that challenge the status quo. In 2019, the MA Service Design students have collaborated with:

  • Co-Design Your Place Erasmus+ (Poland and Denmark) - a community empowerment & social regeneration project
  • Lucitopia Rural Design Challenge (China) - Sustainable town development in rural China
    European Joint Research Commission looking at the Future Government and Policy Design (EU)
  • Culture exchange Design Project with Samsung Design School on a project commissioned by the Mayor of Seoul (Korea)
  • Pharma Factory (EU H2020) - speculating on public engagement around biotechnology for drug production
  • AgeUK Lambeth (UK) looking at resilient ageing
  • Design against Crime and the Public Collaboration Lab UAL (UK) with a consortium of homelessness charities and Camden Council.
  • Squad Social - startup redefining LGBTQ+ online (UK)
  • Mozilla Open festival
  • Southwark Council, looking at mobility for over 65s (UK)

Through understanding these complex subjects, our students are able to explore Design from different perspectives. They develop their own design values, ethics and creative identity during this learning process. Exploring How Might We make a positive impact for now and our future?

Tonight we have presentations from 30 students delivered via a lightning talk. They are the Future of Service Design, all of them have chosen a subject they are passionate about, for example startup accelerator programme and culture experience design. Many of them have also chosen a subject close to their heart – healthcare, sustainability and equality.

Service design is not the silver bullet to all the world’s complex challenges, what I am excited about the Future of Service Design is the openness of the industry, the willingness to adopt new ways of working, the appetite to try, most importantly is the passion from these new blood... All these together become the Enablers of Change.

We are very confident that our students are going to shape what service design is in the future. We are so proud of how far they have come in a year and I look forward to seeing where they will go and what they will achieve. Many of our ex students are here tonight, many are working all around the world in many of the pioneering service design teams, and have contributed to shaping what service design is now. Some are teaching on our course, many come back for talks and mentoring our current students, and all are part of a shared community.

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To see more about the symposium, check Twitter and Instagram @MAServiceDesign. Blog post about the symposium will come soon.

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