Service Designers: The new Shapeshifters

Trisha Rathod
6 min readApr 4, 2021


My wardrobe is full of roles, what do I wear today?

The Existing Wardrobe

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” — Lewis Carroll

Being fascinated by the fantasy genre of storytelling, I often leaped into unexpected places hoping to discover a new world. From Alice in Wonderland to Narnia, amidst all the alluring representations, what fascinated me the most was the journey of self-discovery of these characters who were often faced with hardships but we're determined to explore and learn from their experiences while taking upon new and challenging roles. As I open my own wardrobe in the hopes to find my new next adventure, I see it packed with comfortable roles, each driven from my own experiences, skillset, and aspirations guiding me to ask myself the question,

Who am I today?

During the first week of the MA Service Design unit, we were asked to share a video about our background and our reason for choosing Service Design. For me, that was a moment of reflection. I wondered if everything that I have learned in the past would help me qualify to become a Service Designer? For the longest time, I have been a curious creator, a good CAD modeler, an eccentric researcher followed by an analyst, and mostly, a wanderer. As I interacted with more students in the course, I learned how each of our experiences and roles helped in shaping our own perception of Service design.

The Wishful Wardrobe

During the Ways of Working unit, we were allowed to interact with several Service Designers from the industry to get inspired by their journey, their learnings, and most importantly to identify their changing roles in real-time. A notion that I developed over time, possibly since we started collaborating as a team, was to improve upon my outcome-driven skills. We were often expected to have a prior understanding of tools like the Business Model Canvas, Value proposition canvas, Test cards all developed by Strategyzer. These are the tools I had only briefly learned about and presumed that they were ‘good to have as a skill set until we dwelled into the delivery phase of our projects where I realized that having a keen sense of business understanding wasn’t optional but rather necessary.

Initially, it was a challenge for me to conclude a service concept at the testing phase. The need to see the service in reality and to build the necessary wireframes for the digital application often took over my mindset. Since most of my classmates came from a User Experience background, I often contemplated whether the need to learn these additional skills would make me a more holistic designer and a better presenter.

Sadly, sketching being the bread and butter of being a designer is something I have grown to resent over the years due to the constant pressure of achieving perfection. Inspired by some of my teammates I realized the potential of quick sketching, simply mapping the journey of the user that helps others comprehend the design in a much easier fashion.

The New Narnia

A realm beyond the wardrobes

As the name suggests, we believed that the Collaborative Unit would harness an extensive partnership between MA Service Design and MA Data Visualization students. While expecting this to be a single dimensioned collaboration, much to our surprise we discovered its reality composed in several layers. We collaborated with another design discipline and the families of Camden, the Camden Early help, and other experts and stakeholders that we came across. As a team, despite coming from divergent backgrounds of Design such as Graphic Design, Industrial Design, User Experience, and Engineering, each had an open mindset to harness the prospects of this newly founded collaboration.

While listening to the renowned British author and journalist Lynsey Hanley’s series titled Streets Apart: A History of Social Housing, I was impressed by the information that the residents shared and realized that getting people to open up is truly an art. Due to the complexity of the ecosystem and the sensitivity around the subject, it was truly impeccable that she managed to establish an engagement with the community through effective conversations Similar to Lynsey‘s exploration of the history of social housing in the UK, we struggled to step into the shoes of the families in Camden and understand their needs from the Early Help service. (Hanley, 2017). As we embarked upon our journey of exploring the realms of Camden Early Help, we learned the importance and art of effective yet respectful conversations.

‘Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.’ — Brene Brown

One of our student-led sessions focusing on the importance of showing empathy instead of sympathy. With its direct correlation to our subject, I explored the role of being an Approachable Conversationalist. I carefully examine the types of questions I was asking, in what frame of mind, and most importantly was it necessary for me to know the answer, or was I simply curious for the sake of research.

Our team conducted a town hall session with Becca Dove, Head of Family Support and Complex families at Camden where she referred to the interconnectivity of services as a scaffolding built around the families to support them holistically. As we progressed to interview some stakeholders of Camden, we could see the continuity within the ecosystem. As a cohort we were also expected to share a weekly update with the stakeholders, which was challenging at first but being inspired by the correspondence network of Camden Early help, we embraced the new role of a Project Manager, building a scaffolding of ideas for our key stakeholders to build upon.

“The only way the world is going to address social problems is by enlisting the very people who are now classified as ‘clients’ and ‘consumers’ and converting them into co-workers, partners and rebuilders.” (Cahn, 2020)

The Asset-Based Community Development report by Nesta helped dignify the practice of co-creation by harnessing the relationship between the community and the authorities by addressing their strengths instead of their shortcomings. While working on projects driven by social innovation, it is very easy to lose oneself in the savior mindset and the possibilities of selfish compassion. This project helped me realize that we as designers need to take on the role of a Co-creator instead of a savior. Making the user feel not only heard but valued is key to successful design implementation. It is important to reflect upon how we work so that we give them an equal voice and an equal position to make their own choices.

I like it here

the reflection, the realization & the reach

A Business Analyst, Data Scientist, Project Manager, Design Researcher, and Illustrator walk into a bar, “ Table for one”, the Service Designer says!

In her article on practicing Service Design, Megan Erin Miller talks about the challenges with the terminology and roles associated with the profession of Service Design. Due to the unawareness of the role of a Service designer, she suggests the role be transformed into that of a Design Leader. It is important to feel the weight of that responsibility, as we dawn upon the roles that we learn with time, we must lead the way by inspiring others to explore the different roles that they have adopted over time. ( Miller, 2017)

For the outcome of the Collaborative unit, we developed a framework titled Grow Together, based on an asset-based approach that helps families share their vision of Good Help based on three key principles -

Reflection: Where are you right now?

Realization: What do you need to move forward?

Reflection: Where do you aim to reach?

Figure 1.0: Trisha’s Growth tree: An interpretation of my roles as a Service Designer

We represented these questions visually by mapping a Growth tree for the families by plotting their assets, needs, and resources that could help them grow further. Inspired by the potential of transforming our framework into a universal approach, I mapped my own Growth Tree whilst asking myself the following questions -

Reflection: Who am I today?

Realization: Who do I aim to become?

Reach: How do I get there?

“Lastly, you don’t know, what you don’t know! “

On this journey of finding myself as a Service Designer and all the roles I shapeshift into, the one thing I constantly struggle with is being afraid of not having enough skills to sustain. Although something that changed my outlook over time is the fact that there will always be something that we are unaware of, as we get to a stage where we are exposed to that information, we will learn and act on it. I believe that the reality of being whole is proportional to how open we are to accept the different roles we acquire!