Getting connected to Service Design

Mike Press
Mar 4, 2018 · 13 min read

Revised version: July 2020

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Getting connected is what being part of a community is all about — to share, be inspired, start new collaborations and learn from the experiences of others. As a relatively new field, Service Design has benefited from the enthusiasm of people across the world to help define methods and approaches by sharing and learning through networks, meet-ups, events, podcasts, jams and other initiatives that connect people. Then COVID-19 happened.

The pandemic gave a new urgency to building communities and learning from each others’ experiences, but using different methods. Global lockdown required remote connectivity with Zoom events and gatherings springing up across the world.

These notes have been updated to reflect some of the new initiatives that have taken place over the past few months.

Global Service Jam, GovJam, Service Design in Government, Service Design Days, the Service Design Global Conference and other events all broaden interest in service design and pull new people into the field. How they will evolve in the post-Covid world remains to be seen. We’ve put together these notes to help people new to the field get more connected. They are designed to encourage those new to service design to navigate the networks more easily. This is a prototype so please let us know of any omissions or errors — especially of recent online networks and gatherings. The first two sections below have a UK bias, but I hope the rest is more international in focus.

The service design community

One recent study described the service design community as follows:

The professional practice of service design is a small community, mostly of micro-businesses and freelancers, with some in-house teams in users and some service design work by larger design consultancies. It is a young field, for example over a third of our survey respondents have been practising for under three years… (Some) organisations do not often refer to themselves as service design agencies but rather as ‘social change’ agencies or similar. There are also many larger agencies who offer service design as part of their suite of offers but we can only assume that service design practice is still a relatively small element of their business.

In the few years since, the landscape has shifted away from one characterised by micros and freelancers to a more mature, but still diverse one. The United Kingdom has one of the most mature and diverse service design industries, from which the following trends can be observed:

  • Some of the smaller companies have been acquired by larger global consulting firms, and in some cases by other small independents in the sector — Fjord was acquired by Accenture, Designit by Wipro, and FutureGov, after merging with UsCreates, was bought by The Panoply.
  • Some of the micros — like Snook — have grown considerably into multi-site operations, in their case with offices in both Glasgow and London. Snook is solving its problem of scale, by partnering with a delivery company — Northgate Public Services.
  • There has been a significant increase in the employment of service designers by government departments — mainly at a national level, but also at local/regional level — an exemplar is the UK’s GDS — and this has been a driver behind networks such as OneTeamGov. Devolution in the UK has led to a considerable growth in public sector service design teams in both national and local government.
  • Some leading third sector organisations — such as Barnardos and Cancer Research UK — now have well established service design capacity and leadership.
  • Many large organisations have embedded service design standards and methods into their corporate procedures — such as Transport for London — reflecting a significant increase in their internal capacity.
  • While the sector is fragmented, there is evidence of community-building at local, national and global levels — in large part enabled by social media. The Service Design Network is one notable example of this, which also has nationally based chapters.
  • The landscape and the community is evolving rapidly.

Education, training and mentoring

The education sector has been relatively slow to adapt to this landscape and there remains a significant shortage of skills and expertise. This has created opportunities for service design companies and others to establish training provision.

In Scotland, the government has been running its own Service Design Champions Programme, delivered by its own user research and service design teams. A wide range of training provision is also provided by Open Change Academy, Cardiff’s PDR, LiveWork Academy, Stick People in Leeds, Service Design in Practice by Satori Lab, The Academy based in Dublin and Service Design Academy — the latter offers a short course accredited by the SQA. The User-centred design team in the Government Digital Service run two service design training courses at various locations which are free and open to public sector employees. Mention should be made of Design 4 Future in Athens who is also developing training workshops, and the Co-Creation School in Nuremberg.

Since February 2020 many of us have shifted to online delivery of training.

In terms of developing a career in the sector, some excellent advice comes from Sanjay Poyzer — Service Designer at GDS:

There are some decent service design courses around these days (like the one at the Royal College of Art), but that certainly wasn’t my route.

Partly, I transitioned from music into tech thanks to the wide availability of free/cheap meetups and events. One great way to learn about service design is by going to events like these. Global Service Jams, Service Design Fringe Festival, and GovJam — supported by the Department for Work and Pensions — are all great examples of this.

Like Sanjay, many have found that — with a disciplined approach — free events and resources (like the podcasts listed below) can provide a sound foundation in the knowledge, skills and understanding of service design. The openness of the community is also reflected in a recent initiative to support those a little further on in their service design career.

In the Spring of 2020 Mega Mentor was launched — a free to use global mentoring service for those ready to step up into design leadership roles. According to its founders:

We do this because although there are many, many places for designers early on in their careers to find and receive design mentoring, there are very few for people further into their design careers.
We’ve seen the incredible work that’s put designers into organisational leadership positions, and we want to help more designers step up into those roles. We want to help the design industry flourish, and lead change in other industries too. To do that, we need those with senior and leadership experience to help out those ready to take on these challenges.

Exploring the community

It’s one thing to map out the shifting commercial, professional and training structures of service design and quite another to explore what impact this has had on the service design community and its collective (and diverse) aspirations.

Angela F. Orviz, Stéphanie Krus and Serena Nüsing have set up a project collecting practitioner’s stories from the Service Design Community “to see what everyone does, their aspirations and how we could collaborate better in the future.” Their focus is Scotland, but the project will provide more general insights. Details on the project and how to get involved here.

Using Social Media

The emergence and growth of service design has coincided with the rise of social media. The consequence of a new generation of creative professionals defining this territory in the age of twitter is that social media is wholly embedded into the community.

Service designers thrive from learning, experimenting and working together as part of a community. Twitter is a vital tool in creating and maintaining the service design community. It is used to make and maintain contacts, publicise events and projects, advertise jobs, and create conversations around topics or events.

Twitter and LinkedIn are both useful tools to keep abreast with a fast changing field and to learn of events and publications useful to you.

To help you decide who to follow on twitter, there are a number of useful lists of specialists in this field:

A public twitter list on design-thinking;

A list of service design influencers;

List of service design experts;

And another!

Do not restrict your Twitter following to these lists alone. These lists will give you a starting point and inspiration in relation of suggested people to follow.

The advantage of Twitter is that it provides you with a greater range of networking opportunities and access to some key experts in your field. It also provides links to your colleagues. We are not requiring you to tweet, but we do encourage it.

Hashtags are a way for twitter users to focus around events or specific topics. Here are some hashtags worth exploring:

  • #sdingov is the hashtag for the the annual Service Design in Government conference.
  • The Scottish Approach to Service Design is an initiative of the service design team in the Scottish Government. Follow their conversations at #satsd
  • #oneteamgov is an international community of policymakers, service designers, digital people & others working to reform government and make public services better. Also worth checking and the hashtag for the Scottish community — #oneteamgovscot
  • The Service Gazette is a print publication for service innovators. It is published since 2015 with most print articles available on Medium. New issues are announced on twitter #ServiceGazette
  • The International #GovDesign Conference was held in London during July 2018 with around 700 participants. This hashtag links you to the community driving this.
  • #PubSecDesign is the Public Sector Design Community in Scotland. They hold regular meet ups, mainly in the central belt, for those involved in or interested in designing public services.
  • Then of course people often simply use the hashtag #servicedesign

Facebook is perhaps less conversational but has some active and informative groups such as:

LinkedIn groups include:

Service Design Network

Service Design in Government

Service Design Education

Service Design and Innovation Ireland

The Practical Service Design virtual community of practice is a space for people to connect around all sorts of things service design and has around 4,500 people signed up.

Service Design Scotland has been set up to support the growing service design community in Scotland — but we welcome people across the world to join us. There are channels for meet ups and to exchange ideas on the development of a digital platform. To sign up please follow this link.

The Service Design Network Slack workspace also provides a range of channels on specific sectors, case studies, events, etc., all linked to the SDN community (see below).

Service Design Network

The Service Design Network (SDN) is an international “platform to connect you with like-minded passionate service designers from companies, agencies and universities, and with curious innovators who embrace and apply this approach for the better of their organisations and for people.”

It is membership based and aims to both build a worldwide active community and professionalise the field. Members get discounted access to events such as the annual Service Design Global Conference, and their quarterly journal Touchpoint — which disseminates best practice, analysis and case study material.

There are also national chapters including one for the UK — this organises conferences, meet ups and twitter chats.

Online meetups

Since the lockdown, online networks and events have sprung up, most free to participate in. This part of the community landscape is still fairly fluid, and you are recommended to search on Twitter for events.

The London-based Service Design Campfire takes place on Fridays from 5pm (UK time) and can be joined via the Service Design Days community.

We co-organised the Distanced Gathering events. These weekly one hour events were fast paced, with one-to-one and small group discussions. With 40–50 participants coming from all sectors — local government, business, consultancy, education, NHS, housing, Scottish Government, finance and others. Most were from Scotland, but some joined from Europe, Asia and The Americas. After 15 Gatherings we decided that we would rethink them for the post-lockdown period and are currently working on plans for less regular but more ambitious events.

UCD Gathering

One of the first new global gatherings to be initiated post-COVID is UCD Gathering taking place in October 2020: “UCD Gathering is a new virtual event for the research and design community. Over 2 days you’ll hear from inspiring keynotes and take part in practical tutorials, engaging live sessions, interactive group sessions, speaker Q&A — plus an all-important hallway track where you can meet and share experiences with fellow practitioners.” It’s organised by Software Acumen, who are behind the annual Service Design in Government event. Supported by a number of community groups including Service Design Scotland.

Service Design Drinks

Service Design Drinks and Thinks is an organic network of designers and others with an interest in service design. From London to Amsterdam to Sydney to São Paulo, groups have self-organized to meet and talk about service design, share experiences, and drink together to create locally based communities.

Regular meet ups take place in cities across the world. These take a variety of forms and can be formal or informal. One common term used for these events in Service Design Drinks.

Service Design Drinks India.

Here’s a video of Service Design Drinks in Athens

And Service Design Drinks Berlin has a whole YouTube channel

Look out for Service Design Drinks in your city. Some are publicised on the MeetUp site.

Speak at design events

I set a personal goal this year of presenting by myself and I’ve been fortunate to spend a chunk of my summer speaking and attending design events. Here’s what I’ve learned about picking and submitting to an event, planning your talk and presenting it.

A summer of speaking at design events is an excellent post by Kirsty Joan Sinclair who provides very open, honest and generous advice to help build your confidence in speaking at service design events.

A slightly different perspective — but also written from a generous and encouraging perspective is Sophie Dennis who is an experienced conference chair — How to find something interesting to share at a conference — and how to pitch it to me. As she says:

Lots of people tell me they’d like to try speaking at a conference, but don’t think they have anything interesting to share. Every time, within five or ten minutes we’ve found at least one really useful thing they could talk about — if not several.

For many of us a lack of confidence or imposter syndrome stands in the way of us putting ourselves forward. Melinda Seckington works for FutureLearn and is very open about how she confronted it in this excellent post. She explains how “Public speaking is a BIG SCARY THING (for me it was at least) and if you had told me 10 years ago that I would be doing it on a regular basis and actually enjoy it, I would have called you crazy. So I thought I’d share my experiences about how I got to where I am today.”


Podcasts are also vital to developing the community and connecting with it. The Service Design Show provides conversations with people who are shaping the Service Design field. The goal of the show is to inspire and connect the global Service Design community by providing material for a richer and deeper discussion.

The Show is hosted by Marc Fonteijn, co-founder of 31Volts, a leading Service Design Studio based in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Here is the recent episode featuring Open Change.

Four other vital podcasts

This is HCD is a podcast put together by Gerry Scullion, a human centred design practitioner based in Dublin, Ireland. It covers a wider territory than service design, but recent episodes have included interviews with Sarah Drummond, John Thackara, Adam Lawrence and Adrienne Tan.

OneTeamGov Podcast — again, a broader remit than just service design but features “real conversations with awesome people doing interesting stuff in government and the public sector”, some working in service design.

Service Design Podcast

Why Service Design Thinking is an excellent podcast run from Los Angeles by our colleague Marina Terteryan.

The Government Digital Service podcast (UK GDS) is also recommended.

Global Service Jam / GovJam

To feel part of the global service design community, you really need to experience a jam. While Covid-19 has interrupted these events, they will doubtless return possibly in more of an online or distanced form.

The first Global Service Jam took place in March 2011, where more than 1200 participants in more than 50 cities around the world created around 200 unique service designs around the Theme “(Super)HEROES”. A sister event, the Global Sustainability Jam, tool place in October 2011. Around 800 participants in more than 40 cities created over 100 services, products and initiatives around the theme “PLAYGROUNDS”. In 2012, the first GovJam was initiated by Protopartners, The Australian federal Government and WorkPlayExperience. WorkPlayExperience initiated the global version, Global GovJam, in 2013.

These have since grown in size and some of the organisers have co-written this account of Global GovJam 2018.

The Global Service Jam is a non-profit volunteer activity organized by an informal network of service design afficinados, who all share a common passion for growing the field of service design and customer experience. The Jam has a staff of none and a budget of nearly nothing.

The jams are all connected using twitter and Skype to enable meaningful communication, encouragement and sharing.

Here’s a film of Dundee GovJam.

The Jams are a great way of building a community, developing contacts and productive links between people across the world. Here is a practical guide on how to use social media at Jams. And this is a wakelet of how social media tells the story of one Global Service Jam in 2017.

HCD Network

This network — first based in Australia and now run from Ireland casts its net wider than service design, but hosts the This is HCD podcast described above, a Medium publication, a newsletter and a Slack channel. An interesting community, led by equally interesting people that has the potential to develop into something even bigger in 2020.

We would like this to be a useful resource for the service design community, so please let us know what we’ve missed out and we will revise. There is a UK bias in terms of detail particularly in the education and training section, and I would value suggestions to make this section more global. Apologies for any howling omissions — regard this as a rough prototype.

Pablo Fernández Vallejo and colleagues at Buenos Aires Service Jams have created an excellent resource, similar to this but in Spanish and with a focus on the South American networks and activities that I had neglected to include. You can find it here.

Mike Press is a Director at Open Change.

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