Loughborough University’s School of Design and Creative Arts regularly ranks at the top of The Guardian’s university league tables for design. So when I was asked if I was interested in working with them to embed lateral thinking and future-focused frameworks into a service design module on their UX and service masters course I couldn’t resist.
A shared curiosity
Our goal was ambitious. We wanted this module to be an opportunity for students to move away from linear problem-solving approaches and instead, experience an approach to design that requires them to be brave and handle the complexities real-world challenges often bring. We also wanted students to ultimately understand the difference between ‘big’ design and ‘small’ design when it comes to services and the wider context in which they exist.
Over the past two years, Dr. Stuart Cockbill and I have made several key changes to this module to enable futurestate thinking. The biggest (and perhaps most impactful) has been kicking off the brief with a vision workshop – encouraging students to build a clear vision of the future as a target and then shaping their design process around making it happen, rather than starting with a pre-defined problem.
Over six weeks, students develop their service idea and pitch them as start-ups for their final assessment. Several groups have gone on to enter their projects into the Ford Smart Mobility Challenge, receiving awards for their thinking.
This is an ongoing project. The second cohort of students are currently moving through the module and our findings are being synthesised into a broader research piece.
The work on this User Experience and Service Design module did not come from a need to address any existing problems with the course; it stemmed from a shared curiosity between myself and Dr. Stuart Cockbill about the differences between taught service design and service design in practice. We both felt that, although the fundamentals of what the students were learning were correct, they lacked some of the wider strategic thinking that is often required to tackle real-world challenges.
This meant that whilst students were graduating into the industry with flawless book-knowledge, they were struggling to break away from the templates and processes design frameworks often leave us with. Their thinking is solution- or technology-focused, they never question if a given brief is the right one in the first place, and they fail to recognise the wider strategic value of design programmes. All of these are missed opportunities, if you ask me.
It's a delicate subject, tinkering with a curriculum. There are a lot of forces at play, so over the last two years, Stuart and I have looked to reframe and refocus existing principles in the module, rather than introducing more and overwhelming the students. There were a number of core skills we were looking to embed into the module.
The ability to zoom in and out of a problem – ensuring that students are aware of the context in which they are designing, so that they can understand the implications of their solutions.
The ability to move away from linear problem-solving when necessary to avoid putting band-aids over existing problems and instead, create solutions that drive fundamental change.
The ability to understand and reflect on the design tools we introduce them to, so that they know why and how the design tool is used in the first place meaning they can make better decisions about their own design processes in the future.
These core skills, along with many other principles, became the driving force behind the module and have been integrated in various ways. A personal highlight for me is the futurestate visioning workshop that kicks off the module. The purpose of this workshop is for students to create vision-statements of what they want to achieve with their service design projects over the next 6 weeks, making their projects vision-led instead of problem-led.
I never knew how much thought and work went into creating a module like this one, and I have been very fortunate to have worked alongside Stuart to develop it. While he has taken on the burden of heavy lifting and mass slide production, I have been able to bring an outside perspective to the structure of the module, finding opportunities to reframe or emphasise certain areas of teaching to ensure that the vision of what we were trying to achieve was not lost along the way.
It was also fascinating having the opportunity to watch the first cohort of students embrace some of these new principles in their service design projects. Some of the techniques we introduced worked a treat, others came with slight friction. A number of key insights merged from the first edition of this module and are topics that Stuart and I have looked to address in the ongoing second edition.
This is an ongoing project. The second cohort of students are currently moving through the module and our findings are being synthesised into a broader research piece. I’m really excited to share our findings.
Loughborough University School of Creative Arts and Design
2021 – 2023
London & Loughborough (Hybrid)
Jack Strachan & Dr. Stuart Cockbill