It really is a case of it being the perfect partnership.  Storytelling is such a huge part of service design and the whole design thinking process.  Storytelling can help you in so many ways throughout your service design journey.

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today”

Robert McKee, Scriptwriter

Service Design gives us powerful stories to tell.  

We have been telling stories for as long as we’ve been human – they are an essential part of our day-to-day communications. When done well, storytelling can do wonders for a project: it can create a sense of empathy, generate enthusiasm and win the loyalty and affection of audiences. 

We want to share three ways where you can deploy storytelling to support your service design journey.

Problem, Solution, Impact

The first is to better understand and to articulate a problem. One of the key principles of service design and design thinking is that we need to understand the problem before we can come up with potential solutions and being able to tell the story of the problem is a good place to start.

As service designers we listen and share the human story behind the problem. It could be that people can’t find a service, or that they can’t use it unaided.  It could be that the confirmation email hasn’t been sent, or the explanation in it is not clear. It could be that having to pass between the silos created in organisations means the service becomes frustrating for people.  Whatever it is, there’s a story behind why that service doesn’t work, and why the user is not able to do the thing they set out to do.

All our courses are hands-on, with a learn by doing approach, our learners are required to listen to, and share stories.  When teams come up with their idea, there is a story behind it. Telling this story and the background context lets everyone know why something needs to change.  

And that’s the second part, we can share potential solutions to the problem.  It’s about telling a scenario of what could be possible in the future and if we are trying to get buy in, or help people to understand our solutions then telling it in a story format is going to be much easier for people to absorb and to understand.

“Storytelling connects us, helps us make sense of the world, and communicates our values and beliefs. A good story makes us think and feel, and speaks to us in ways that numbers, data, and presentation slides simply can’t.”

Celinne Da Costa

Thirdly, you can tell the story about the impact you have made.  Going through the service design process means that you will initiate some sort of change, being able to tell the story of that change, tell the story of what it was like before and what it’s like now and the impact the change has had.  This part is not just about the change, it’s the difference that change has made to individuals and potentially the broader community as well.

We’d been thinking more and more that Storytelling had an important part in service design and we wanted to test our idea.  The team got together with Kevin Anderson from The Story Edge for some training.  It struck us how intrinsically linked our worlds are and how important it was for service designers to be able to tell their stories well.  A workshop was arranged with some of our past and potential clients and we fleshed out the idea.  At that time, we were undergoing our Organisational Accreditation with the Service Design Network and Birgit Mager, joined the workshop as part of our assessment. Birgit was intrigued by the idea and saw real value in adding a Storytelling element to our core learning. 

Move on several months and we’ve just introduced 8 self-study videos created by Kevin to the PDA in Service Design.  The short lessons take you through Kevin’s Story Stack model.

When the story is very relatable, like when you’re using real-life examples gathered from user insights, it has the added benefit of making it easier to understand and more memorable as it’s personally relatable, the audience empathises with the character in the story.

Stories provide meaning, create context and evoke a sense of purpose.  Businesses are increasingly recognising the importance of storytelling to better connect with their users, create a connection with their brand and to share successes!

Being able to tell a powerful story can be the start of a service design journey and a tool that will help you through the whole process.


We live in uncertain times and now more than ever the tools of service design are helping to find new, creative mindsets and innovative ways to solve our challenges.

The future is bright, the future is …… yellow and blue and white and green

November at the Service Design Academy has seen us very much looking to the future.

The publication of The Future of Service Design, the After the Pandemic Symposium, the launch of our new website and the announcement of increased Flexible Workforce Development Funding are shining a bright light on the road ahead.

Service Design is always aimed at creating a future that doesn’t exist yet

Liat Rogel, Service Designer at Housing Lab

We knew that to move forward we had to  be in a really great place, and that meant a 6 month zig zag journey through the design process which led to the development of our remote delivery courses. Yes that’s 6 months of work right there!

And that means that from January 2021 our Professional Development Award in Service Design will be delivered remotely, so it doesn’t matter where you are in the world you can study for a service design qualification, accredited by the Service Design Network and the Scottish Qualifications Authority.  Find out more and apply here.

Our short course programme for 2021 is now available there’s a range of 2, 3 and 5 day options to suit you whether you’re starting your service design journey or taking that step into learning for the future.

Until the 30th of November you can enjoy an Early Bird price on all 2021 short courses.

… and the streets are yellow, and pink and blue …..

Lady with umbrella walking across the street

When it was announced that a Dundee city centre street was to close to through traffic in May 2020 many were upset and sceptical about the potential benefits.

SDA worked with UNESCO City of Design Dundee and Dundee City Council to facilitate a fast paced, compelling, and responsive engagement initiative with businesses to support the pedestrianisation of the city’s Union Street. Find out what happened when we service designed a city street here

….. and the adverts are yellow and pink and green ….

We have been eagerly awaiting the announcement about the Flexible Workforce Development Fund 20/21 and we weren’t disappointed. This year our funding allocation has increased to over £600,000!

As part of Dundee & Angus College we are the only service design educator where you can use FWDF for service design education and training.  Eligible businesses have £15,000 to upskill their workforce through our PDA and Business Courses. Whether you need to adapt to recover, change to grow, or are ready to drive innovation and problem solve on a whole different level, we can help.

We have Business Advisors who can walk businesses through the application process and if our courses aren’t quite what you’re after why not let us design the perfect solution? We will work with you to co-design learning to exactly suit your needs where your people will work on live business challenges, set by you, to immediately put the learning into context.

If your employer is eligible for the funding, contact your HR/OD team to ask them to support your learning through FWDF.

As the only College in Scotland with a Service Design curriculum we look forward to welcoming people from across the country to study with us.

The future is …………..

Have you spotted our new brand colours yet?  We’ve been introducing them on social channels and in our workshops recently, they match our newly launched website, check it out and let us know what you think at

As always for the latest news we’re on Twitter and Instagram @SDA_Scot

When it was announced that a Dundee city centre street was to close to through traffic in May 2020 many were upset and sceptical about the potential benefits.

The Service Design Academy worked with UNESCO City of Design Dundee and Dundee City Council to facilitate a fast paced, compelling, and responsive engagement initiative with businesses to support the pedestrianisation of the city’s Union Street.

Funded by Scottish Government and managed by Sustrans Scotland, Spaces for People is a temporary infrastructure programme in Scotland offering funding and support to make it safer for people who choose to walk, cycle or wheel for permitted journeys and exercise, while physical distancing is in place during Covid-19.

Dundee City Council (DCC) has moved to make the city’s streets more walker and cyclist friendly, to encourage workers to use active travel as lockdown eases.  DCC is committed to improving engagement with, and services for, its communities, putting employees, customers and partners at the heart of all transformation and innovation.

DCC has recognised that to maximise community engagement and to increase the pace of improvement, they must harness and embed a way of doing things that encourages innovation and collaboration.

UNESCO City of Design Dundee (UCODD) partnership started with the Service Design Academy in 2018. What started with sharing a brief for an SDA User Research bootcamp,  “What can be done for design in Dundee and for the designers in the City”,  soon developed. UCODD were impressed with the depth and breadth of the insights produced by the SDA delegates. They were confident that the refreshing approach taken by SDA – challenging assumptions and not jumping to solutions –   was exactly what was needed. Listening and understanding the needs of local businesses and residents would shape the redesign of a busy thoroughfare to be car free and pedestrian friendly.

Let’s take a moment to understand why UCODD and DCC believed that a Service Design approach was ideal for Union Street to be redesigned with not just for the community.

Service Design is concerned with how things work for people in practice. It looks at the lived experience, behaviours and aspirations of people and organisations, and how these are influenced by broader system drivers and conditions. It helps to connect policy intent with the complexity of how things are practised on the ground

Taking a project through human centred design stages ensures that you

Its collaborative processes create an environment where:

The Programme

In partnership with UNESCO City of Design Dundee (UCoDD), Service Design Academy (SDA) facilitated two activities:

Development of an interactive online tool for local citizen engagement and user research. We introduced users to Padlet, for citizens to share their thoughts and insights on the pedestrianisation of Union Street. It was prepared with thoughtful, open questions and distributed throughout online platforms with the support of UCoDD.

Two dates were arranged for online collaboration. This brought together local businesses, representatives from the local authority and elected members. Both events were led by SDA Consultants using their card game “Connecting Communities”

Chris Muir, SDA Consultant explains “The game is designed to increase democratic engagement, for participants to feel empowered in providing solutions to real life problems and challenges. The gamification of service design tools is a pioneering way of engaging groups quickly to encourage collaboration and empower decision making. Participants worked through themes and levels of the game to discover and define problems before moving forward with developing solutions through speedy idea generation.”

Workshop activities were designed to maximise interaction between participants, enable collaborative working and expose everyone to a range of creative service design methods and tools.

The groups were overwhelmingly positive on the content of the workshop, how it supported creativity, challenged assumptions and supported deeper understanding of stakeholder needs.

Workshops Overview

The session started with a social dreaming exercise, engaging participants to consider what the City Centre of 2030 looked like.

Next, we took an empathic approach to thinking about Union Street by using an empathy map and asking key questions such as, how are people feeling about the road closure? What are they seeing, hearing and noticing all around them?  The map looked at the current picture from 3 perspectives. A business owner, the Council and a local person.

A shared vision exercise followed, to bring individual aspirations together to create a cohesive vision based on what is important to the stakeholders moving forward. After the vision exercise, the Connecting Communities game started. Participants were asked to pick what kind of street they would like to work on. This resulted in four groups working simultaneously through their understanding of a cosy, safe, vibrant and communal street. Ideation was introduced at this point to get initial thoughts, ideas and suggestions out on the table.

We paused ideation, asking the collective to consider what the ’Street from Hell’ would look and feel like. This ‘flipped thinking’ exercise was incredibly useful in discovering what the participants did not want their street to become.

The last activity looked at keeping it local.  How do we put the community at the heart of Union Street? This resulted in more creative ideas being produced and identified individuals whom the participants would like to be involved.

Encouraging the third sector to get involved was a popular idea. Striking up impactful relationships with local charities, putting on pop up events to increase footfall in the area, would bring a real community feeling to the street.

Outputs supporting delivery and implementation included using natural materials to create space for outdoor dining by installing wooden planters, maintained by Bonnie Dundee volunteers, and selecting bold, bright welcoming colours for the street mural designed by recent DJCAD graduate Callum Laird, 

Valuable additional outcomes of SDA’s Connecting Communities approach with Union Street’s local businesses and residents are:

The pilot programme due to run until the end of September has now been extended until the end of January 2021.

84% of traders say that the changes have been positive for the street, with 62% saying it has been good for their business. In the survey carried out on behalf of Dundee City Council, retailers in Union Street also report 68% of their customers saying that they feel more positive about the area.

Mark Flynn, convener of Dundee City Council’s City Development Committee said:

“Keeping vehicles off the street was a way of doing something different to try to open it up to locals and visitors so that they had more time and space to use the shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes. 

“It has gone down so well that the street will remain closed to through traffic until the end of January, but we will continue monitoring the change carefully and engaging with businesses over the coming months.”     

Photo © D C Thomson

Arbroath Academy and the Service Design Academy partnered up in 2019 after receiving a successful bid from Education Scotland’s Creative Curriculum Fund.

Arbroath Academy was aware that their curriculum may no longer be fit for purpose. Attendance data collected showed a disengagement with students, particularly, in 3rd and 4th year upwards. The current curriculum is focussed on those young people who will achieve and secure a higher education place. Only 20% of the current young people attending Arbroath Academy will move onto university with limited opportunities for the remaining 80% of learners.

Arbroath Academy saw an opportunity to design their curriculum with young people and staff at the heart, adopting user research and co-design process approaches to invent the curriculum of the future.

“We wanted to inject some creativity into the system and tackle existing, stubborn challenges in a new way.  We’re calling this creative change”

Creativity Team, Education Scotland

To start the discovery process, SDA ran two workshops with a follow up co-design day inviting stakeholders including Education Scotland, Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Angus Council, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) and members of the PTA.

Workshop 1 – Discovery with young people

Workshop 2 – Discovery with teaching & support staff

Workshop 3 – Co-Design with staff, young people and external stakeholders

Here, Chris Muir SDA Consultant shares his experience of the co-design workshop.

“Co-design is not a one-off event, it’s a journey. Imagine a world where users decide what works best. Imagine a world that encourages all stakeholders to have a say in designing the curriculum of the future.

The brief that the Service Design was given from Arbroath Academy was radical. Only 20% of these young people continue onto university. So why is the current curriculum solely focussed on this group?

Following on from two previous events, that concentrated solely on diving deep into gathering insights, it was time to do something with all that research. Create the right conditions and something magical can happen. The Service Design Academy’s role in this was clear; facilitate (not lead) young people, teachers and partners to collaborate and co-design the curriculum of the future for Arbroath Academy.

 Embracing the full value of Co-Design

The day kicked off with some speedy getting to know each other before mapping out the themes that had been discovered during the first 2 days. The mixture of young people (s2–s6) and teaching staff had all their findings collaborated and digested into 49 specific areas of interest. The groups picked themselves by choosing what they wanted to tackle for the rest of the day.

Group Forming through the power of the marshmallow challenge was served up next. What occurred during the next 7 mins was radical and rule breaking at its best (things we do encourage here at SDA). Construct the tallest freestanding tower you can with the material provided. With a bag of chocolate buttons on offer, competition was fierce. Embrace failure you say…nearly every structure was stuck to the desk, oh well the SDA team devoured the buttons on the way home, winning!

Prototype 1 – Giving the pupils a voice

Marc Stickdorn repeatedly says “ideation is cheap, prototyping is underrated”. The groups re-defined their problem around the theme of their group. (Skills, Pupil Voice, School Essentials (physical design), Qualifications, Building Relationships and School Experiences) before carrying out some ideation into the problems they were trying to solve.

After an introduction to prototyping and a reminder that the greatest inventor of all time is called ‘Accident’, the groups jumped straight into designing their solutions.  The learn by doing approach was infectious and allowed creativity to flow, if you could capture the energy in the room at this stage of the day it would be worth a small fortune. Co-design is a team sport and those rough first drafts to be fair, were pretty impressive. Now was the time to test and validate those version 1 prototypes.

With the ring of the lunchtime bell a few hundred stakeholders became instantly available to give feedback on the solutions we’d produced.  5 of the groups hit the recreational areas in and around the school and one group stayed in the room and brought stakeholders to see their prototype.

Testing and validating those ideas

Our invited guests, from meaningful learning networks, donned their ‘critical friends’ caps and each joined a group to specifically ask the, ‘yeah, so what?’ and ‘why?’ questions. Importantly we’d called upon the people who could actually make this happen! Ian Lorimer, The Director of Finance at Angus Council (who holds the purse strings), Education Scotland (project funders), SDS, DYW, Lynsey Clark from Calderglen High School/SDA student and members of the Parent Teachers Association all took part as we carried out 3 rounds of pitching and feedback.

Combining the feedback from the school community and the critical friends, each group was asked to create version 2 and re-work their original solution.

Young People & Teachers co-creating their solutions to the skills of the future theme

On completion of version 2 we asked them to tell the story through a visualisation tool called tomorrow’s news, specifically asking them to date it, as we want to see how long it will take for their proposed solution to come to fruition.

One of the completed Tomorrow’s News

The results of the co-design day were inspiring.

  1. Having an entire week out of the year for teachers and young people to come together specifically to focus on relationship building through clubs, activities and visits outside of the traditional classroom setting.

  2. Complete classroom design overhaul. Introducing a cosy corner that young people could utilise at times of anxiety and uncertainty.

  3. A new 13-week block timetable, one that has all theory in the morning and all practical in the afternoon. This would include leaving the school and getting out and about to put into practice the theory you had covered in the mornings. It would involve a whole day being dedicated to the one subject.

  4. An app for giving young people a louder voice in the school. A ‘we said, you did’ approach to all things in and around the school. This group used the Marvel app to produce a 1st prototype.

  5. Ways and means of accessing the school curriculum outside of school. Inspired by the Amazon approach of getting exactly what you want online, young people who may miss classes for a variety of reasons (carer, mental health, illness) can pop online and access all the materials they missed that day.

  6. Re-organising and reviewing the current social and life skills young people want/require for leaving school. Replicating a flat, arranging to pay bills, getting a mortgage, changing a tyre, prepping for interviews in the real world. This would involve the complete re-design of some spaces inside the school for this to be brought to life.

All prototypes and materials were left on display for the rest of the school to review and reflect on. The excitement of everyone involved was tangible. They agreed that something very special had been created by SDA, Arbroath Academy and Education Scotland through the 3 workshops.

What happened next – September 2020 update

This feeling of creating something special has not been lost. Acting, ensuring that all this work has “legs”, embedding the powerful student voice and co-creation skills and the drive and momentum are now a priority

  1. In May an implementation workshop put ideation into action with members of the senior management team taking responsibility for each theme.
  2. Two members of staff were so inspired by the service design experience they successfully applied for funding to formalise their learning with the Professional Development Award in Service Design. Before and during the pandemic they’ve run small service design projects as part of their assessments, bringing service design learning into day to day practice.
  3. Arbroath Academy’s young people and staff have embraced service design and are now engaged once more with the Service Design Academy on an Employability Pathways project.
  1. Service design is being taught to S2 pupils. It’s been extremely successful so far!  They’ve been approached by community champions in the school to use “improving the community in Arbroath” as the overall challenge.  So far 5 groups in the year have been:

What do they like? A better question would be what’s not to like? The young people simply love the “doing not talking” approach! 

It’s about changing the reality of those coming to learn, grow and develop at Arbroath Academy. The education system has a responsibility to be inclusive for one and all. Let’s remember first and foremost, real change only happens when we’re willing to do things we’ve never done before.

Feedback gathered on the day

Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence states every child and young person is entitled to opportunities for developing skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work.

Arbroath Academy is leading the way, we can’t wait to see what happens next to help our children and young people gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century.”