2017 was an intense year for me. The first half of the year was spent finishing the final year of my masters in Service Design at the Royal College of Art (RCA). While going through the usual struggles of writing a dissertation, I wondered if I was equipped enough to work for public service design.

Now, six months later, I’m in my dream job, working as a service designer at FutureGov. While it appears like the fairytale ending, it’s actually just the start of my Service Designer story. Now, seemed like a good time to reflect upon my personal experience of transitioning from academia to the workplace.

Finding my feet

When I finished my BA in product design, I didn’t want to study further. I thought it was better to learn in practice so I was keen to get out there and work in the public sector. I decided to work as a freelance designer. I came to realise that service design is complex. Especially when dealing with the public sector. To help my confidence, I felt that I would need a more specialised knowledge base.

So, I went back to university.

At the RCA, I focused on every bit of the methods and tools, the constant iteration, everything from user research to system mapping to prototyping to service business models. I had the privilege to be mentored by experts and get their constant input and support. For me, the benefit of this has been that I could spend two years of deep diving and learning the disciplines of service design.

And yet the biggest learning curve was to come. Figuring out how to make all this knowledge practical and relevant to the projects I would be working on.

Getting real

Moving from student status to real-life practitioner is a transition we all have to make at some point. The focus has been shifting from working as an individual to being part of a team.

FutureGov works with public sector organisations. I have to remind myself that in the end, it’s not about what I will learn from a project, but what will the organisations we work with learn and take away. This requires consulting skills, which you don’t necessarily get through academic education. Service design programs at university are designed for students to try out as much as they can so that they can build their skills and individual areas of interest. At FutureGov, and in all real-life practice, we can’t spend time on endless self-exploration.

Figuring out my role

I’ve had to figure out how to work on projects. Firstly, what’s my role in the team? How do my skills best support the work? I’m not working alone anymore and I’ve had to adjust to working as part of a wider team.

Secondly, understanding the project outcomes. What does the organisation we’re working with really need from us? Is this part of discovery or helping to scale a process? Here, I can’t adjust the brief to try out something new (as I used to do when studying). Is it user research, envisioning or product development? This depends on the place and requires knowledge of local government to help articulate the aims of each project.

Lastly, is the way an organisation is structured and works. Understanding these needs is equally important as understanding the needs of service users. I’ve learned that have to be accountable for making sure we deliver the best possible outcome within a set of constraints — for example, financial, policy, or operational constraints.

This takes… well, practice!

To be able to do the right thing at the right time, I’ve been getting stuck in and moving from theory to practice.

There are no shortcuts. Books don’t really help (because that’s theory again). I’ve had to put my previous understanding of service design to one side and look at FutureGov projects with fresh eyes. It’s taken time to learn from colleagues and listening to council staff and department managers to figure things out in practice.

In my first projects at FutureGov, I was still thinking like a student, now I’ve started to think like a FutureGov’er.

Anne joined FutureGov as a service designer in September 2017. If you have similar aspirations, we’re always looking for good people, and have internship opportunities from time to time. Get in touch.

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