On #servicedesignday – 3 ways service design can help you PhD (and you don’t need to be a designer!)

So @MikePress let me know that it was International Service Design Day – and asked if I would contribute a short blog post about the role of service design in my work practice. Specifically, how I used it in the final stages of writing up the PhD. So it is totally applicable beyond

As I said I would spend only 10 minutes on this, and have it up by 6pm for the #servicedesignday chat – so here is the definition of service design from the Design Council – but it there are many other ways of thinking about it too.

I had a think – and I thought I would blog three ways learning about service design has helped inform my practice over the last 6 months – in particular, the last 3 months of the PhD and beyond.

1. ETHNOGRAPHY IN THE WILD. Firstly, my introduction was through – the Jams. The week before I handed in the thesis, I signed up to the Dundee Service Jam – and spent 3 intense days learning, mentoring and getting right stuck into all the tools and processes that help a group of folk who signed up go from ideas, concepts and to prototypes. There are a lot of post-its, sharpies and drawings – sticking your fingers together with hot glue, making stuff and doing quick, important ethnographic research – I’ve never seen ethnographic research so succinctly explained to a group of people who were not researchers or sociology students, and then given a tool to go and carry it out themselves. Ethnographers are often given the dud deal because writing takes time, it is harder to make sense off and communicate than a survey or focus group – and to see it explained simply, then sending folk out to do it, then apply it – brilliant. We are all capable of it – and it legitimises it as a research method without the abstraction of academic philosophy – plus it saves us from big quant data overload.


    1.  I came back from the Service Jam in Feb. My PhD was due 7 days later. I was stuck. And fed up. I took a pile of post-it notes. I read my thesis up to chapter 7 where I was stuck. I wrote a post it for each page. I stuck it on the wall. I organised it. I wrote chapter 8. The post-it note approach to just writing stuff down, getting it on the wall, moving it around, unstuck my writing. It pushed me over the finish line.


I was then invited back to the Dundee Gov Jam a few weeks ago. I gave a presentation about citizen journalism and my research into this area.
The first time, in my career, I was working in an environment where people didn’t just take the concept and run with it- they immediately applied it to their work – and they saw my ‘interview with no edits’ stint and the raised me with all sorts of adaptations and experiment.

I was exposed to a million different ways this could be applied, it unstuck me from my elevator pitch about my PhD and got me thinking beyond my “contribute to knowledge” – it was remixed and adapted and used, and it was so refreshing. Again, the environment we were working in pushed us beyond the boundaries of what we are used to in workshops, seminars, projects – and allowed us to just play and perform, you cannot ask for more as a practitioner.


And there you go. 3 ways you can apply service design to finishing a PhD – in ten minutes. Cheers.