Service Design Research UK

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Inst for the Contemporary Arts


Service Design Research UK (SDR UK) aims to create a UK research network in an emerging field in Design that is Service Design. This field has a recent history and a growing, but still small and dispersed, research community that strongly needs support and visibility to consolidate its knowledge background and enhance its potential impact. Services represent a significant part of the UK economy and can have a transformational role in our society, if we think of how they affect the way we organize, move, work, study or take care of our health and family. Design introduces a more people-centred and creative approach to service innovation, which is critical to delivering more effective and novel solutions that have the potential to tackle contemporary challenges.
The UK is a leader in the development of Service Design, mainly driven by design practitioners (Engine, Livework, Thinkpublic, Participle, Snook, etc.) and organizations such as the Design Council, Design Wales, Demos, Young Foundation, NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement. In this scenario the academic contribution to the development of Service Design as a subject of research and practice has been instead weak and dispersed.
This network aims to:
1. Identify, compare and map current research work into Service Design in UK;
2. Increase understanding of and demand for Service Design as a practice and research field in UK;
3. Identify research and knowledge gaps in the field to inform PhD studies and future research projects collaborations and ideas;
4. Increase visibility and connectivity of SDR UK nationally and internationally.
The research network will create the opportunities, for the SDR UK's emerging research community, to converge around three main themes: 1) Service Design for Innovation; 2) Service Design for Social Good; 3) Service Design for Sustainability. Three thematic workshops will bring together academics, designers, public and private sector organizations and relevant institutions to collect and map the research work done till now, discuss project exemplars, share experiences and identify research gaps and future research themes. The workshops outcomes will be made available on a dedicated on-line platform, where the emerged research questions will be used to inform an on-line forum. SDR website will be linked with existing national and international initiatives and on-line communities related to the topics of service research and innovation. The international Service Design and Innovation (ServdDes) conference to be held at Lancaster University in April 2014, will host a final public event to present SDR UK results and to organize discussion tables around the emerged research themes to springboard possible future research collaborations.

Planned Impact

Service Design is introducing a more human centred perspective on service innovation that could benefit the UK economy and society if better understood and supported. SDR will organise 3 thematic workshops with 30 participants each (academics, designers, relevant institutions and organisations) to map the field and illustrate with examples and research work what design can do for service innovation, social good and sustainability. Given these three thematic areas SDR UK network aims at generating impact in the public sector, private sector, third sector, local government and policy makers.
Private sector: the SDR network will target in particular SMEs given their limited design awareness (BIS 2011), but it will engage also with bigger service organisations. Access will be given to a wide range of established IT companies, SMEs as well as third sector organisations via the OS Geovation Challenge database. A specific target is also the design industry to introduce the potentials of service design as a new design consultancy area of application. Via the workshops and website resources, organizations will learn about alternative strategies and modes of thinking to service innovation to inspire their work and lead them to deepen their understanding of service design thinking. They will have the opportunity to participate in the discussion tables and on-line forums about future research collaborations and engage with PhD research that could open up opportunities for research and innovation. The network, by leveraging service design awareness in both designers and companies, will thereby increase the potential for collaborations and generate opportunities for companies to embed new skills, tools and innovation approaches. The resulting impact will therefore be an improved understanding of service design to address private sector service innovation, which will lead to new and improved offerings and higher competitiveness.
Public sector: the public sector needs to increase innovation capabilities to create more effective, efficient and people centred solutions. It requires creative methods to imagine and experiment with novel ways to engage the public to co-create services with fewer resources. The SDR network aims at engaging public sector organizations to learn from other project experiences, innovative service models, service design approaches and to access specific expertise in the field. Public sector organizations that have been working with designers will share their experience with peers, answering specific questions and contributing to the SDR knowledge map. Organisations will also have the opportunity to formulate research questions and needs, activate potential research collaborations with PhD students and research centres. The resulting impact will therefore be an improved understanding of service design to address public sector service transformation; this will lead to the design of innovative modes of service delivery and public engagement that will benefit the wider public in the longer term.
Local government and policy makers: The network will invite and connect with experts in policy making and research impact (i.e. Jane Tinkler, London School of Economics), with representatives from agencies engaged in innovation and design policy programmes (NESTA, Design Council, Design Wales, Young Foundation, Work Foundation, NHS Institute) and Local Governments to showcase potentialities and current limitations in the application and development of service design as a field of practice, also comparing the UK scenario with other international contexts. The Network will elaborate, as part of the white paper, synthetic design and research policy guidelines on how to better support and develop service design driven innovation in the UK economy and society. This will result in more informed and effective innovation programmes and improved policy on service design in local and central government.


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Description This network has allowed to map an emerging field of research in UK which is still very dispersed and fragmented. The main result has been to make this area visible and start creating connections and activate collaborations. It was evident where research did concentrate which is on public sector, and in particular in healthcare, and with a specific focus on applied research to develop novel service models as well as test service design methods. Limited research was apparent instead in the evaluation of design impact, and in understanding how service design practice did change depending on the sector and context it was applied.
Exploitation Route There has been some development which came straight from the network:
- AHRC funding for a 6 months study of Design for Service Innovation and Development;
- Linkoping University (Sweden) to conduct a similar mapping activity informed by SDR UK;
- a work in progress publication with Lia Patricio (University of Porto, Portugal) and Alison Prendiville (University of the Arts) that compares SDR UK data and insights with the global Service Research survey on future research;
- an event at the Service Design and Innovation conference (ServDes2014) that used the developed maps to add information from other ongoing international research projects and compare research directions and applications;

Not directly related but informed by SDR UK, is the EU project the PI is currently involved which is aiming to create a platform called Design for Europe, which is a knowledge repository to bring develop Design use across Europe in the public, private sectors and policy.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Design Innovation. Research Development Funding
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/L013657/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2014 
End 10/2014
Title Service Design Research UK database 
Description As part of the SDR UK network we started to collect information about ongoing and completed research projects related to this new and emerging research field which is Service Design. This included research institutions, PhD projects, EU and UK funded projects, publications. This information was then used to inform the final reports and visual maps of the state of service design research in UK. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This database and the approach to develop was used as a model by Stefan Holmlid (Linkoping University, Sweden), together with other partners in Sweden to conduct a similar series of events and database. 
Description PhD co-supervision 
Organisation King's College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This PhD co-supervision is between the Co-I Alison Prendiville (University of the Arts) and Glenn Robert (King's College of London) who was a guest in the workshops and who contributed then to the final report with a short essay. Their collaboration is a direct result of conversations during and after the workshop. This contact was not existent before the network as many others.
Collaborator Contribution Glenn Robert (King's College of London) who was a guest in the workshops, did support the successful PhD application to AHRC LDOC (London Doctoral Centre) award
Impact No outputs have been yet created. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary between Service Design and Healthcare Quality and Innovation.
Start Year 2014