Gillies need no introduction to many people in Tayside and the North-east of Scotland, as a well-respected family run furniture retail business. With a flagship branch in Broughty Ferry, they employ many loyal and long-serving staff who hold the company’s ethos of having strong customer relationships. The part Gillies plays in local communities is core to their values.

Gillies recovered after the first lockdown in 2020 with customers returning quickly to their stores. The management team had learned lessons during lockdown and had made some investment in their online presence to future proof their business,

Although Gillies have built a strong reputation on meeting high customer expectations within stores, this has been challenging to replicate online. And like many thriving organisations, improvement was needed with internal communication processes.

Gillies senior team recognised that they needed to re-design elements of their business. After speaking with Dundee and Angus College’s Skills Advisers and the Service Design Academy team, Managing Director David Philp was keen to learn how service design could be embedded as an integral part of the company’s strategy. David’s vision was to improve business performance by unlocking the creativity within Gillies teams to encourage a more collaborative culture.

Through a series of exercises in a 90-minute Discovery meeting with the Service Design Academy team in July 2021, Gillies senior management team shared what they wanted to achieve:

·        To build an improved and streamlined customer journey across stores and online that is truly exceptional

·        To create a cohesive, collaborative team to find solutions that are always customer focused

 The Approach

From these insights, the Service Design Academy’s accredited consultants designed a customised online and interactive programme with clear learning objectives and business focused goals.

A team of 14 staff took part in six fast-paced and collaborative online workshops over six weeks. The workshops were designed to encourage creativity, guaranteeing everyone’s voice being listened to equally. The group had basic training on the online whiteboard Miro, and all accessibility needs were met to ensure a welcoming and productive environment. 

The Workshops

The participants collaborated on a design challenge set by senior management –

design challenge - how might we improve the customer journey and experience at Gillies?

To start, they captured and recorded knowledge and assumptions. From that teams were formed to work on different themes using a variety of tools and methods. The teams were trained in user research techniques to challenge their assumptions and fill gaps in their knowledge. Out of the workshops and back on the shop floor, they carried out in-depth user interviews (or cheerful chats) with customers. Participants learned to use empathy techniques  – walking in their customers’ shoes and observing shoppers’ behaviour.

From this research activity, the teams gathered insights and then learned how to flip their problems into new opportunities. The teams used tools specially designed to encourage creativity and generate a large volume of ideas relating to these opportunities.

SDA consultants then guided the teams through the process of refining and prioritising ideas until they were left with only 3. They explored their ideas further by prototyping to testing and tweak ideas again and again through feedback and evaluation from critical friends.

The final day was devoted to planning how these new solutions could be brought to life. The teams learned to use tools to understand what every step would look like from the user’s perspective and how to create storyboards of a user interacting with the new service. To consolidate all their learning, activities and future plans, each team shared their journey through the design process and their final ideas.

Utility belt for implementation

The Utility Belt Tool for Implementation let the teams come to a shared understanding of how their new, or re-designed service might scale up. The tools also help  them consider how to truly embed service design into the organisation. 

The Outcome

Four final ideas are being taken back to the business. These cover a new customer tracking system; a blended approach to internal communications; introducing rewarding activities for staff and shaking up the induction process for new staff to ensure they truly understand the whole business, not just their role within it.

Post it notes explaining what Gillies liked about their training course
Post it notes explaining what Gillies learned during their training course


To help build on the progress achieved in the six sessions it’s been recommended to the Gillies team to use all their golden nuggets of user research to inform the improvement of customer experience.

The management team will decide on which of the prototypes they would like to pilot, and this will be supported by the planning already done in the workshops. How the pilots land with customers will be tested using newly learned user research techniques. SDA encourages setting up a team of champions to ensure that progress is kept on track with clear guidelines on responsibility, with this new mindset of designing “with, not for” people. SDA looks forward to meeting up with the Gillies management team soon to reflect on progress and to offer support in building momentum on the change already being implemented.

Immediate Impact:

Chris Muir, SDA Consultant reflected on a successful training programme:

“The comments around the value of this training from Gillies has been extremely positive. The work produced by each of the groups was fantastic, not only in the workshop but in gap tasks. The insights and discoveries made ensured that we were indeed solving the right problems, particularly when we entered the develop and deliver phases.

There were lots of comments about building on this momentum for making changes which will ultimately result in a more focussed and better customer experience across all Gillies stores. The online workshops offered the opportunity to collaborate across different stores and demonstrated a way to capture everyone’s voice and do so in a very open and transparent way.”

 On how these new skills will be used, Claire Hartley, SDA consultant added,  “As service design educators, we introduced all participants to the service design mindset and showed them how all these different tools and methods can be used to facilitate conversations and capture insights.

The teams have reflected on the value from experiencing the design process and thought of many ways it will be used for being a better business, from customer satisfaction to staff engagement. However, this would not have been possible without the commitment and passion all participants gave to the challenge presented by the management team at Gillies.”


Valued Voices from Gilles

You can learn how taking a service design approach has made an impact by listening to Director David Philp and Group Store Manager Jonathan Creece here

Ideas are cheap and abundant; what is of value is the effective placement of those ideas into situations that develop into action. Peter Drucker

What makes the Service Design Academy’s Professional Development Award in Service Design different?

Lack of community, low engagement and often no incentive for completion. The world of online learning is becoming stale. We’re in a post-content doldrums. In the past, educational content was valued – it was expensive and relatively scarce. It became a major selling point for universities. Today educational content is everywhere, plentiful, and much of it is cheap. Blogs, social media, newsletters, YouTube have replaced validated and reliable sources of knowledge found in the lecture theatre and library.

And that’s not all, Low cost or free online courses, incubators, accelerators, and alternative education programmes have been created to serve the lifelong learning needs of working professionals. But content profusion has created its own set of unique challenges for educators and students.

Most learners are actually worse off for all this low priced and plentiful content. More access does not equal more engagement or achievement. Take for example, MOOCs, the “Massive Open Online Courses” popularised in the 2010s, with a completion rate of just 3 to 6 percent.

Online meeting

At the Service Design Academy, we believe cohort-based learning holds the key to impactful learning. They are interactive, community-centric, remotely delivered online courses where a group of students advance through the materials together – with hands-on, feedback-based learning at the core.

What makes our courses unique?

They are engaging, real-time, and involve community-driven, active learning as opposed to solo, passive content consumption. Fixed start and end dates ensure a real-time and paced experience. Mentoring making for an authentic, personalised approach even the smartest of online content – with machine learning and algorithms – can’t match.

Scarcity drives value. In today’s content-rich world, what scarce is community . Cohort-based courses provide community and so much more.

A great course is a catalyst for transformation. Before we created our first lesson, we identified what the transformation would be. We thought about what our students can do after taking the course that they couldn’t do before. We explored the structure of the course. We wrote compelling learning objectives and explored different curriculum formats with real world examples to make the most sense of our students.

SDA Toolkit

Online learning has defaulted to on-demand video where viewers watch experts share information. Our cohort-driven courses introduce fundamental learning principles through active learning. Using the tools of service design on live business challenges, we’ve a complete toolkit to cover the subject. We’ll show and share how and when to use these tools so you can immediately use them in your professional context. From break out discussions to case studies you’ll join a community of like-minded people seeking a similar outcome.

We call it “learn by doing” – active learning, not passive watching, every workshop is designed to help you put your learning into practice.

Expert, passionate, and accredited staff will keep you engaged and help get you make sense of the process and the theory.

And we do recognise the value of online resources but only when they are offered in the context to our interactive remote learning. Learners benefit from our signposting to a resource of validated, trusted online learning material including Storytelling videos.

Are we a course creator with a trusted voice in the service design space?

Absolutely. Our course became the first and only, service design qualification accredited the Scottish Qualifications Authority. In 2020, The Service Design Academy became the first organisation in the world to receive the Service Design Network’s Organisational Accreditation following a rigorous and in-depth audit. Through this initiative, the SDN has recognised the authority and quality of SDA in the provision of service design education and qualifications. You’ll receive certification from SDA and SDN. We were shortlisted in the Top 3 of the Digital Leaders 100 Awards 2021 in the Public Service Innovation of the Year category for the approach we took to designing our online learning with our students and not just for them.

Accredited by the Service Design Network

Is the course taught exclusively by us or by a collective?

We are not an Agency who provides training, we are educators pure and simple. The recent influx of independent course creators means these new teachers may have practical experience but less theoretical knowledge. We have achieved mastery in our skills in service design, in facilitation and in teaching. Four members of our team are SDN Accredited Practitioners, and our Lead Consultant is an Accredited Master Trainer who sits on the SDN Accreditation Panel. Our Team Bios show the range of our expertise and achievements. Our Newsroom shares stories of our successes so far both in terms of the individual achievement of our PDA in Service Design graduates and alumni our work in building service design skills and capacities in organisations.

We’re backed by Dundee & Angus College’s well-developed reflection and self-evaluation arrangements which enables review and any necessary action and improvement to take place timeously. Themes and priorities for consideration link into the Quality Themes and Indicators outlined within the Education Scotland How Good is Our College framework, and to the Professional Standards for Lectures in Scotland’s Colleges.

A team of Learning and Teaching mentors within our Academic Development team support academic staff through teaching qualifications. They promote the sharing and enhancement of practice through a flexible model for observation which supports and encourages innovation.


We’re very social

Social interaction is right at the heart of what we do. We want to put an end to the loneliness of the long-distance learner. That’s why, throughout our course, you’ll find discussion steps and chances to debate and interact with other learners. That way everyone learns from each other, discovering new perspectives and forming new ideas.

We love service design

For us, service design is not just another discipline – it’s in our DNA. We believe the ability to question, be curious & interrogate are as important as knowing the methods & mapping the journeys.


Watch the overview video and apply

SDA Insights Vol 7 focuses on the Service Design Global Conference which took place on Thursday 21 & Friday 22 October.  The newest member of our team, Robbie Beautyman, was a SDGC Conference newbie. We asked him about his favourite talks, key takeaways, and personal impressions of this year’s event.


I found the SDN Global Conference to be an amazing experience on many different levels. It was great to be surrounded by hundreds of like-minded individuals – albeit virtually. You could feel a sense of camaraderie in the air between the speakers, MC’s and attendees in the chat function which is no mean feat to achieve online.”

Cat Drew, Chief Design Officer at Design Council kicked off the event. Cat’s role brings together architecture and the built environment, public sector design and business innovation to support people live healthier, happier lives.

Cat’s keynote was a real highlight for me. It set the tone for the rest of the conference. I particularly enjoyed the section around using trees as infrastructure, including them as main stakeholders within cities alongside humans, especially her example of Melbourne giving 70,000 trees identification numbers to enable citizens to email them (and receive replies!).”

Trees as infrastructure - The Design Council's Design for Planet presenation slide explaining trees as infrastructure and the benefits they bring to a city area, such as improved air quality, storm water reduction, and regenerates soil quality

Cat insisted that service design can have a positive impact on the planet if we start to bring the planet to the table as a main stakeholder.  The numerous examples, data and insights from across the world included in Cat’s talk was phenomenal!  From the caulibox takeaway containers to recycled industry material slow fashion bags.

“If you aren’t designing for the planet, what planet are you on?”


I tuned in to Florie Remond’s talk – Planet Centred Service Design. Florie works to raise awareness of eco-design in the field of services and helps companies to align their strategy and their services with their values and those of their customers.

Florie Remonds presentation slide : “we must integrate some new reflexes and review our design steps”

Next up I joined Zeynep Falay von Flittner’s workshop.  Zeynep discussed changes organisations need to make when transforming towards sustainability, arguing that organisations can no longer rely on good customer experience, now it’s more than that, sustainability is important, and we must stop thinking about the planet as an external factor and start thinking about the human/planet relationship.

3 change needs of organisations transforming towards sustainability – mindset shift, organisational shift and systemic shift

Key Takeaways

: 9 coloured post-its with quotes

Overall Impressions

I first thought 20-minute talks would be the perfect length; enough time to get the speaker’s point across but not too long to lose attention.  The latter was true, but this top-level approach often left me hanging, wishing there was more in-depth information about the speaker’s research. The fact that I was left wanting more meant I was then inclined to go away and do my own research on the topic, so in this respect, these ‘taster sessions’ into each topic served their purpose very well.


The conference was very well facilitated on Brella. As an attendee, I found it very easy to navigate and thought the chat and poll functions were very useful. The ability to upvote other attendee’s questions during Q&A sessions was a great feature too. Since there were people with such a wide variety of experience streaming the conference, they often asked questions I would not have thought of personally but was still interested to hear the answer to.”


SDGC Inspired short reads & a podcast

  1. Accelerating Sustainability Transformations within organizations by Zeynep Falay von Flittner, Hellon: https://blog.hellon.com/en/accelerating-sustainability-transformations-within-organizations
  2. Meet the SDGC Award Winners: https://www.service-design-network.org/headlines/service-design-award-meet-our-winners
  3. Design Council: Design perspective – sustainable living: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/enabling-sustainable-living  
  4. The Design Thinking 101 podcast teaches listeners what’s possible when you think and solve like a designer. In its latest broadcast, Cat Drew shares her design insights and highlights the value of using Design Council’s new Systemic Design Framework to achieve – and go beyond – net zero targets.
Events worth checking out


Design Council: Design for Plant, 10th & 11th November 2021

A landmark festival to galvanise and support the UK’s design industry t commit to a sustainable, climate-first future. This 2-day event will give a platform for visionaries across the sector who are leading the way in sustainability and climate action and will support others in the industry to prioritise the welfare of our plant in their work.


SDA’s Professional Development Award in Service Design

Applications are open for our PDA in Service Design starting in January 2022. We’re created a short overview video that talks you through. If you’d like to talk to one of our Consultants about any aspect of the study, use our Contact Form or call us on 01382 448868. Delegates from a huge range of backgrounds have successfully completed the Award.

A list of 39 companies of delegates who have completed the PDA in Service Design with the Service Design Academy. Some being: Angus Council, Dundee Council, Dundee University, Natwest Group, NHS24, Scottish Government, Arbroath Academy

Kevin Meehan recently completed our Professional Development Award in Service Design, a 6 month course that covers the core skills, tools and mindsets you need to service design powerful interventions for complex issues.

It was great to hear from Kevin last week about how his learning has benefited him and the student loans company he works for.

“Since completing the course, and implementing the techniques and methods learned I have managed to secure a new role within the company as a UX designer.”

Kevin also said;

“This wouldn’t have been possible without access to the PDA, so thanks to all at SDA, but especially Chris and Claire for all the help and guidance provided.”

We’re so glad to hear that our PDA helped Kevin secure his new role within the business, and wish him every success.

If you have a service design success story please share your good news.

An upcoming event worth planning for

Service Design Network Virtual Global Conference Join us on October the 21st – 22nd, 2021 in Taking a Stand to impact our organisations and our communities so that we may co-create a better tomorrow.


Vote for Us!

The Service Design Academy is thrilled to be a finalist in the Digital Leaders 100 Awards in the Digital Public Service Innovations of the Year category! This recognises how we redesigned our online learning with our learners, customers partners and friends.

We’d love this wonderful collaboration to be celebrated – so please do take 20 seconds to vote for Dundee and Angus College “Service Designing Online Learning” here.

Public Service Innovation of the year Finalists 2021

In advance of National Customer Service Week, we reflect on how expectations are rising, and business transformation needs service design to keep up.

National Customer Service Week 4th to the 9th of October

The Covid-19 crisis is not over, and the longer-term societal and economic impacts are not yet fully known and understood but they will shape the future business landscape. This is a critical time to take stock of lessons learned and to re-imagine and re-design future priorities.

The UK Customer Service Index Report launched in July shows a slight improvement in overall customer satisfaction, although some improvement can perhaps be credited to better complaint handling and service recovery. Record numbers of customers have experienced a problem with an organisation. What this demonstrates is that businesses have adapted to become better at dealing with issues but not necessarily better at preventing complaints in the first place.

Customers have appreciated improvements or innovation in services such as

  1. better scheduling to avoid queuing
  2. proactive communications and dialogue
  3. support with mental, physical, or financial well-being
  4. advice and knowledge to help navigate challenging situations and life events
Nearly 25% of customers believe that some organisations have used Covid-19 as an excuse for poor service. Customers were empathetic and patient towards the disrupted level of service which they received during the first 6 months of COVID. But fast forward a year – that’s a year to adapt, plan, fail, try again, and improve – with some considering “because of COVID…” is deemed to ben an excuse that no longer cuts it.


When Covid hit, it was inevitable that service levels would fall while companies readjusted and established teams working from remote locations. Wait times lengthened, processes were unclear, and the sharpness of businesses became blurred, but three quarters of customers expected this.


Almost 18 months later, Covid-19 cannot be used exclusively as an excuse for poor service. Expectations rise, and the best businesses transform themselves to keep up.


Covid has heightened the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and innovation. Organisations need to learn from the enforced changes of Covid-19, retain the benefits and develop the mindset and capabilities to enable ongoing innovation.

More customers have made online purchases or chose to buy from local or ethical suppliers, and the number of customers who are willing to pay more for excellent service has grown to almost 32%.

preference for excellent service even if it costs more has rose from 26.7% in july 2018 to 31.6% in july 2021. Preference for low costs, no frills service has decreased from 14.1% in july 2018 to 12.2% in july 2021

In addition to these statistics, the value of listening and learning from user experiences has strengthened our understanding of the contribution of customer service to well-being, quality of life, trust in organisations, and business performance. A sustained focus on customer experience will be vital for the health and prosperity of the organisations, their customers and employees, and our economy.

The problem with thinking about customer experience without service design is it risks creating gaps in the delivery and maintenance of services and products. Unless your organisation is set up and working to deliver a consistently great experience for all customers, problems will float to the surface, with inconsistencies and customer frustration from unintended consequences.

In large organisations there will be multiple teams responsible for designing and delivering what in the end should feel to the customer like a unified experience. Service Design as a practice ensures the customer experience is unified, and that the organisation can deliver it. Unified customer experiences are also critical for small businesses who can’t afford to take costly risks when innovating.

For any organisation, Service Design should be your first port of call when designing new processes or rethinking entire ways of doing things; more now than perhaps ever before.


We’d love to hear what you have learned about customer service in the past 18 months, as a customer or as you deliver a service. To start the conversations, we’ll see you over on social media.


  1. https://www.instituteofcustomerservice.com/
  2. https://synthetix.com/blog/the-covid-excuse/
  3. https://www.foolproof.co.uk/journal/how-service-design-enables-great-customer-experience/

Great short reads

Measuring the value of service transformation

Global events, research and technology company GDS collaborated with individual service teams in several government organisations to identify and document the value of their digital transformation work. This blog post marks the start of a series, which aims to document these examples and case studies of best practice and good end-to-end service design.


The Power Of Branding

The design Council has created this guide to shed some light about branding: what is it, how it works and how you can use it to help improve your business or the perception of your service.

Events worth planning for

National Customer Service Week (NCSW) Is fast approaching! From Monday 4th of October ICS will be celebrating customer service in organisations with a series of themes. They have prepared activities for each day, in addition to some helpful resources.

Service Design Network Virtual Global Conference Join us on October the 21st – 22nd, 2021 in Taking a Stand to impact our organisations and our communities so that we may co-create a better tomorrow.


Please Vote for Us!

The Service Design Academy is thrilled to be a finalist in the Digital Leaders 100 Awards in the Digital Public Service Innovations of the Year category! This recognises how we redesigned our online learning with our learners, customers partners and friends.

We’d love this wonderful collaboration to be celebrated – so please do take 20 seconds to vote for Dundee and Angus College “Service Designing Online Learning” here.

Public Service Innovation of the year Finalists 2021

As always, we’d love to hear if:

  1. You have an article to share with our community of changemakers
  2. You have an event happening and want to spread the word
  3. You’d like to talk about any courses or business course funding opportunities

Use the link https://www.sda.ac.uk/contact/ or email info@sda.ac.uk

This is late! We missed our June edition, things were busy, staff were getting ready for holidays. I remember when we used to say ‘winding down’ for the holidays but that just doesn’t seem to be the case anymore! Enough of the excuses, we’re back with some great insights, articles and events that are on the horizon.

No Boundaries, No Limits

Maralyn, our Business Development Executive talks every day with SDA customers, about the benefits of taking our accredited Professional Development Award. She shares the value of the course based on speaking to SDA Consultant, looking at course content and reading students’ stories and hearing their feedback. In April it was time to move from secondary research to experience the course first-hand. What’s the Professional Development Award with the Service Design Academy really like?

Maralyn is halfway through the 4-unit, six-month course. We asked her to share her perspective; someone with no service design experience who has returned to the classroom for the first time in a very long while!


Make the learning work for you

This was a different learning experience for me. Rather than the standard expectation I had from training – at best, giving things a go between chalk and talk – we’ve been taken through service design theory to set the context, then quickly on to tackle design challenges together.

Out of the classroom, the four assessments require a focus on work-based issues that will enhance my learning experience and be worthwhile for my organisation. If like me, you don’t design services as part of your everyday role, start thinking about issues that would benefit from your intervention. You’ll need to ask managers and colleagues for their time and support. By helping them understand your goals, you’ll gain buy-in from the beginning for you to learn while making a difference at work.


Pace Yourself

“Don’t leave your assessments to the last minute”, said SDA consultants Katie and Kim in our first introductory coffee shop. Did I listen? Of course not. However, I’ve learned to commit chunks of time during of time during the week, evenings, and weekends to avoid a mad dash on deadline.
All the planning and preparation you need is worth it. My visual portfolio will be a living document that will support my work, not a lifeless essay gathering dust at the back of the wardrobe. Your portfolio will become a tool to share your design progress with others, so it needs love, time and attention.


Small is beautiful

I had an idea of a work project that I’d like to use as my Tools and Methods assessment and had some great conversations with Katie about how to facilitate a small event with the team and with a customer. However, I did not plan the time well, it took much longer than I expected to get through the exercises. The insights I gathered were very useful to inform our customer journey, but I’ve learned to rein in ambition on getting lots done in one session. That’s all part of the service design mindset, progress is incremental and iterative.

Give, Take and Ask for Help

I was assigned a buddy for each unit. Buddies team up in the coffee shops, it’s a great way of sharing concerns, gaining clarity on the coursework, and getting reassurance if you’re having a wobble. I use the dedicated teams channel for my cohort to talk about problems I’m experiencing or material I don’t understand. It’s always helpful to hear from others about their progress.

The consultants share industry articles regularly to build our knowledge and understanding. Every PDA delegate gets free professional membership to the Service Design Network, which means access to a global community of practitioners, and many benefits including Touchpoint magazine and a wealth of case studies which have proven to be very useful for assessments. Service Design has a naturally sharing culture and this makes you feel a part of it.



No boundaries, no limits

I’ve been guided by the service design mindset throughout the course. Planning user research – why not ask someone to look over it as your critical friend? Being clear on the purpose of what I’m doing, and how to share effectively with others is developing my communication skills. I’ve realised that the principles for ideation or co-design aren’t a checklist for how I should behave in a workshop. They guide how I want to work, and how I’ll approach engagement and building relationships. In over 20 years in sales and marketing, I’ve always tried to put the customer first. Service Design is helping me do this the right way.

Great short reads

Employee Experience exceeds HR by Noortje Hartman at Koos
It takes a village to design a service by Tero Väänänen, Head of Design at NHS Digital
So what exactly does customer experience mean by Nikki Gilliland, Ecoconsultancy
Deliver equity to the customer with ease by Shivika Sood


And lastly check out the Design Council’s  Design, Differently digital report. The project brought together community organisers to understand how they have been using design to reimagine and create local spaces and services, and how we could support them to do more of it. Supported by the Emerging Futures Fund, part of the National Lottery Community Fund, and Local Trust.

Rory, SDA Social Media and Marketing Assistant has been sharing the value of Service Design Academy’s programmes since April. To understand more about service design, he’s been observing our PDA learning labs. When the chance came up for a hands on experience in our 2-day Tools for Problem Solving & Innovation course in early June, he jumped at the chance. In addition to building awareness of service design first- hand, he was excited to gain new skills to co-design marketing campaigns with the team. He shares his story here.

I attended the SDA Tools for Problem Solving & Innovation course in early June delivered by SDA consultants Chris Muir and Claire Hartley . They were both excellent at keeping us engaged and conveying information in a way that sunk in. Which was great as although I work for the SDA, I’m still quite new and don’t have a deep grasp on everything Service Design yet. Let me break down what happened and what I learned over the 2-day course.


Day 1: Love The Problem

As you might expect, at the start of Day 1 there were some fun ‘icebreakers’, a nice way to relax us into the main activity ahead.

We started by thinking about 4 typical work issues everyone could be familiar with ‘Leadership’, ‘Silos’, ‘Conflicting Priorities, and ‘High turnover’

We worked together to uncover key themes behind these issues – ‘Conflict’ ‘Us and them’, ‘Emotions’ and ‘Communications’. With a technique described as affinity mapping, we formed groups to work on a chosen theme.


My team, Rory, Eliza and Maureen, our team name was Rested and Ready (REM)

My team researched current day problems relating to our theme. Then we collated the data we found by using a ‘Problem Framer’. Before we reached for a solution we first needed to properly frame the problem, in this case our problem was “Loneliness Due To Covid”. These “discover and define” phases of the process that Chris and Claire shared with us was a complete flip in mindset for me. I like to think quickly about solutions to any problems, but this tool helped us really dig deep into understanding more about the issue. As Claire said, we need to love the problem first!

Problem Framer - It allows us to capture barriers and align to specific opportunities. Problems can be acted upon immediately, or banked for later.

A jam-packed day was drawing to an end. I’m sure the rest of our group felt as buzzed as me, we were all quite talkative and responsive when we were having group conversations throughout the day.

Day 2: Flower Power and Prototyping

Chris and Claire started by explaining that we were moving into the develop phase of the design process, it was time to start ideating. Claire showed us how to use our next tool, SDA Sunflowers. It’s a simple tool which helps you start with an initial idea and develop more ideas around them. This was a fast-paced exercise – filling up the idea petals in one sunflower before expanding on more ideas to how to make this idea happen. With 8 idea petals on each sunflower, and 8 sunflowers we could have come up with 64 ideas, a daunting but exciting and fun challenge for my group. Chris helped us by explaining that it was better to focus on our preferred ideas and then work on those ones.

Next we had to bring forward our favourite solution and prototype how it would work, we chose:

Walking Group – “Themed walks for where ever you are! In the countryside? You can do some birdwatching! In the city? You can do some sightseeing!”

Drawn Walking routes for Rural and Urban, enjoy nature or see the sights in the city!

I drew a sketch of the different routes that could be taken and the kind of activities you can have during the walk, I love drawing, so this was a pleasure for me. Service Design builds confidence in everyone to use visualisation to get ideas across to people you are designing with.

Walking Group Storyboard - Joing the group, meet up, time to walk, see the sights, stop for a snack, make friends, chill out, discuss future walks, become a full time member!

To round off a very busy 2 days, all the teams gave 3 minute presentations to share their prototypes.

Time always flies when presenting, and we overcame our nerves to do a great job! We enjoyed the other teams’ presentations, it was good to hear feedback from them and the consultants.

R&R Walks Presentation Graphic, Rural+Urban, experience the 5 senses,1 stick person saying "I love walking" another stick person responding "Glad you joined!"


The course was very enjoyable, Chris and Claire were great at keeping it engaging. The tools really made me think and work through a problem with others in ways I haven’t done before, I certainly wasn’t taught like this in school! It was easy to collaborate online and I’m happy I was able to further my knowledge on Service Design.

For those interested in looking at our courses, there’s a link to the courses page below!

We are dedicated to supporting a growing community of change makers. We build the skills of design leaders and capacity in business to create better services and customer experiences.

People from across the world come to the Service Design Academy to learn how to design services well. Organisations discover how to build capacity and resilience to solve problems and transform. Accredited education programmes help create confident design thinkers and leaders.

If you haven’t seen our first blog post on this topic then you can read it here!

Three more learners share their service design journeys . . .

Everyone needs a Rip ’n’ Mix!

Karyn Lumsden is a Head of Brand and Communications and first became interested in the world of service design around a decade ago.

“It wasn’t a well-known concept at the time, especially in the public sector. I attended the first Dundee GovJam and I was hooked. I then applied to be a pioneer on the first SDA PDA and the rest is history!”

Coming from a marketing and communications background, Karyn found it refreshing to see methods and tools in place that backed up the way her mind worked.  

She explains: “I immersed myself into the world of service design and have managed to embed it within all areas of my remit. Everybody needs a Rip ’n’ Mix in their life! I met great people on the course, from all walks of life and business. Having us all in the same room, applying our knowledge was quite inspiring.”

Karyn continues to embed service design methodologies into her work and is currently leading on a strategic project that involves the redesign of many complex systems. 

It helps with those difficult conversations

Kevin Ditcham from Dundee is an Insight & Engagement Lead who is currently studying for a Professional Development Award at the Service Design Academy.

Kevin shares his journey so far: “At the start of the pandemic I got the opportunity to take
part in online ‘test classrooms’ for the SDA. I thought it sounded like a great idea and I’ve now progressed to studying for formal qualifications. The teaching team are just excellent – their ability to translate quite tricky concepts to a group of participants who are all from different backgrounds and fields of practice has been amazing! Humour along the way is always good, too, and keeps everyone engaged and hungry for more.

My key takeaway has been the opportunities and spaces that service design approaches create to have those difficult conversations – in teams, in organisations and across sectors. Being able to ‘step back’ with a service design mindset and see the whole picture is something that is so important and undoubtedly leads to change.

“The skills I have learnt and been able to put into practice at work have been wide ranging. You really will see a difference quite quickly in your leadership behaviours and mindset. You will leave with a new set of tools to add to your toolbox which will help you achieve those outcomes you’re striving for.”

Every school requires a tailored approach

Lynsey Clark from South Lanarkshire is a Design & Technology teacher.

Lynsey shares her experience: “The idea of designing a better service within education appealed to me as I believe that every young person is different, and every school therefore requires a tailored approach to providing the best opportunities. I was able to attend the PDA in Service Design course as part of my professional learning and was very lucky to be funded by my school.

“I learned about the ‘tools’ of service design including that to be effective it is about all stakeholders benefiting, not just the consumer/client. This is very important to me as I believe that teachers who feel empowered and fulfilled will transfer this to the pupils they teach.

“Just prior to lockdown, I felt that I had found a true need and desire in my setting for the opportunities that service design could bring to how we manage change and include all stakeholders in the process. I would like to see service design approaches applied at all levels of education, moving away from the traditional top-down approach, and putting education in the hands of the people at the frontline, practitioners, and young people.

For more information on the Service Design Academy visit: www.sda.ac.uk/contact/

The world is an uncertain place. As the outbreak and spread of the Covid-19 virus has powerfully demonstrated, change can happen with devastating speed. At the same time, although less visibly, there are profound global trends at work, ranging from the climate crisis to technological disruption and evolving social attitudes. A business’ ability to thrive in the face of change, in whatever form it takes, will depend on ideas, solving challenges and exceeding customer expectations.

In today’s economy, characterised by digital purchasing, social media and a glut of communication channels, customers have more choice and influence than ever before. Satisfying their expectations is the minimum standard. To stand out from the crowd, companies must exceed expectations and delight customers.


And that’s where service design comes in!

1.       Service Design Improves Business Performance

Defining problems in obvious, conventional ways, not surprisingly, often leads to obvious, conventional solutions.

When service design is an integral part of a company’s strategy, it can improve business performance by unlocking the creativity within teams and encouraging a more collaborative, less risk averse culture focused on making things better for people. Naturally, this translates into a stronger brand with a clearer business purpose, coherent identity and great customer experiences that encourage loyalty and advocacy. Your customers become your sales team.

Long-term studies by McKinsey and the Design Management Institute have compared the performance of businesses with strong design capability against that of their peers. In both cases, the businesses that exhibited the best understanding and most effective use of design were found to outperform their peers by around 200% in terms of revenue and shareholder returns. Many other studies have linked design capability with increased customer satisfaction, faster growth, increased revenue, and exports. Evidence based award schemes such as the Design Business Association’s (DBA) Design Effectiveness Awards routinely highlight examples of design delivering significant value for business.

2.       Service Design Builds Resilience

This pandemic has exposed many flaws and vulnerabilities in our structures, practices, and ways of working that have been ignored for too long.

Service Design will help you re-invent the things that don’t work as well as they should or things that need to change to fit new ways of working.

Perhaps for the first time, people can collectively see and understand that the way we currently work has levels of risk, inefficiency, bias, and waste baked in. We can no longer ignore the compelling reasons to re-invent ourselves, our communities and our organisations and build a better normal.

A service design led pandemic response gave Dundee & Angus College students the support they needed, and the College are able to implement the right customer experience plan quickly, saving time and creating organisational resilience.

3.       Service Design Creates Employee Buy-In

An innovation won’t succeed unless a company’s employees get behind it. The surest route to winning their support is to involve them in the process of generating ideas.

In a stable environment, efficiency is achieved by driving variation out of the organisation. But in an unstable world, variation becomes the organisation’s friend, because it opens new paths to success.

Recognising organisations as collections of human beings who are motivated by varying perspectives and emotions, service design emphasises engagement, dialogue, and learning.

By involving customers and staff in the definition of the problem and the development of solutions, design thinking garners a broad commitment to change.


The framework outlines four core principles for problem-solvers to work as effectively as possible:

Put people first

Start with an understanding of the people using a service, their needs, strengths and aspirations.

Communicate visually and inclusively

Help people gain a shared understanding of the problem and ideas.

Collaborate and co-create

Work together and get inspired by what others are doing.

Iterate, iterate, iterate

Do this to spot errors early, manage risk and build confidence in your ideas.

Staff become more loyal and more dedicated to making things happen. Not just your front line, everyone, because they care and are involved.

Importantly it connects the people designing a service with the people who will use it and moves away from organisational silos. Service Design gets around the human biases, for example, being rooted in the status quo because it’s perceived as “too difficult to change” or attachments to specific behavioural norms “That’s how we do things here”.

It does this by overcoming workplace politics, as generated solutions are based on customer experience data, which is transformed into insights, which help teams agree on the design criteria they use to brainstorm solutions.

Alex Breuer, Executive Creative Director and Tara Herman, Executive Editor, Design at The Guardian tell us how design thinking and service design not only helped them change their funding model and boost revenue, but also adapt their culture

I made 5,127 prototypes of my vaccum before I got it right there were 5,126 failures. James Dyson

4.       Service Design Solves The Right Problem

Service Design explores the rationale behind the use of user research and how important it is to consider all stakeholders when designing the right thing, and the thing right.

The Design Council’s Double Diamond clearly conveys a design process to designers and non-designers alike. The two diamonds represent a process of exploring an issue more widely or deeply (divergent thinking) and then taking focused action (convergent thinking).

Discover. The first diamond helps people understand, rather than simply assume, what the problem is. It involves speaking to and spending time with people who are affected by the issues.

Define. The insight gathered from the discovery phase can help you to define the challenge in a different way.

Develop. The second diamond encourages people to give different answers to the clearly defined problem, seeking inspiration from elsewhere and co-designing with a range of different people.

Deliver. Delivery involves testing out different solutions at small-scale, rejecting those that will not work and improving the ones that will.

Double diamond diagram on yellow background

5.       Service Design Is A Catalyst For Growth

For businesses engaged in innovation, regardless of size or
sector, design can be a catalyst for growth.

We can easily see the value of great design (and the detrimental effects of bad design) in the goods, services, and environments that we buy and use in our daily lives.

Great design boosts the value of new ideas by making sure they’re not only feasible but also desirable, useful, and frustration-free. It gives businesses a competitive advantage and allows them to compete on value, rather than price, by offering preferable customer experiences that command a premium. At the same time, design can find novel ways to reduce costs without compromising the result so delivering more valuable outcomes.

When conventional wisdom is challenged, we as consumers are pleasantly surprised and a spark of chemistry with the creator is ignited.

By involving people earlier through user-research, testing and co-design activities, a design approach can help companies make important discoveries and validate ideas sooner. It reduces the risk of late-stage problems, saving time and money and increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes thereby reducing innovation risk.


Service Design is all around you. So what distinguishes the best of the best? (Fast Company)

By offering a delightful experience, you build loyal customers who become your salesmen and women. #delightingusers #customerexperience

When you challenge the conventional wisdom of your industry, it allows you to view your organization from a different perspective, which helps you come up with different, more innovative solutions. #innovation #branding #delightingusers

Course illustration

Round Up

The structure of design thinking creates a natural flow from research to rollout. Immersion in the customer experience produces data, which is transformed into insights, which help teams agree on design criteria they use to brainstorm solutions. Assumptions about what’s critical to the success of those solutions are examined and then tested with rough prototypes that help teams further develop innovations and prepare them for real-world experiments. Service Design is about making mistakes in the right way so that you identify the gaps and the areas for failure before you finalise a service or a product. So economically it’s a return on investment to ultimately save time, money, and resources.

Great services don’t just happen, they are designed that way. We can help you to do that no matter what sector you’re in. If you’d like service design expertise in your business,

Get In touch here!

Rory Mertes is a new addition to the SDA Team, he is our Digital Media & Marketing Assistant that joined on the 19th of April 2021. We asked him to write about his experience of his first month working here.

Firstly I’ll say how I found out about the Service Design Academy. In January I signed up for Universal Credit as I had recently dropped out of university, I was studying Game Design Production at Abertay, realising it wasn’t for me I wanted to take a different turn in life. I was given a work coach that helped me quickly pinpoint potential careers that fit my interests, I applied for a job at the SDA as many of the roles looked like they’d be a good fit for me.


Week 1

My first day was just introductions and learning the basics of what my job would entail, I was given a very warm welcome and was made to feel part of the team straight away.

 On Tuesday I was in a workshop about Co-Design, this was ran by Claire and Chris, all I was doing was observing and learning. It was really informative and both Chris and Claire made the workshop a fun and engaging experience.

For the rest of the week I was learning more about what the SDA does and what I’d be doing. I also began learning how to use the video editing software Adobe Premiere Pro, as my first big task was to create a short video on the workshop that I had attended on Tuesday. At the end of the week I had begun work on the workshop video, most of the day was cutting down the 2 and a half hours’ worth of footage and finding key moments I could use.


Week 2

Most of the week was spent editing the video, cutting it down to about 2 minutes of good footage, figuring out how the video should look, appropriate music I should use etc. I had finished my first draft on Friday ready to show the team for the following week.

Also scattered throughout the week I figured out WordPress to create blog posts on our website, and I attended a few meetings, again just to observe and learn how things are done here.


Week 3

This week had me doing more blog posts! I also spent my week updating the youtube channel, giving it a fancy banner, and general house keeping making our videos more accessible and adding links to our other social media channels. I was also trying out a new website, Canva, which lets you create all sorts of content, like posters, or brochures, and other similar items. I was tasked with creating a leaflet on the courses we run here, as always using new software is a bit confusing but after a while I became at least somewhat familiar with it and created a decent looking leaflet (maybe it could use some fine tuning from someone who properly knows how to use canva though!).

On the Friday I attended another workshop, this time titled Tools And Methods, it was being ran by Kim and Katie. Again, I learned a lot, Kim and Katie were great at conveying the information in an engaging manner, and the clients got on really well with the activities they were given.


Week 4

Using the feedback I got on week 3 to edit and improve on my first video, improving the consistency of the colour scheme and accessibility of the video through more clear fonts. I’ll be showing my improved version of the video next week so I hope it goes well! Assuming my video can go public on our channel I’ll begin work on my next video, a workshop I attended in week 3, now with 1 video under my belt it’ll only get easier from here!

I also have created a few blogs, the last 3 blogs were done by me and there’s more on the way! Lastly I managed to create a few short social media posts, advertising our upcoming courses for businesses, which there’s still have time to sign up to!



Overall I’ve really enjoyed my first month here, I was nervous going into a job where I didn’t know anybody before hand but everyone has been really welcoming! I’m really fortunate that this job became available to me right as I was looking for one. My responsibilities are exactly what I enjoy doing, video editing, creating graphics, blog posts etc, so the days are flying by, and I get to learn and use a variety of cool software I otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Tgank you SDA for making my 1st month of work a pleasant one!