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MA Programme Description

Service Design

The programme combines an experiential component involving group and individual projects with a structured learning programme and short related project assignments that reinforce the learning. The lectures, master-classes and workshops develop the knowledge, skills and practices that students will apply in your final year projects. In addition to academics from the RCA, we invite prominent designers as well as our industry partners to present on professional practice of service design, exemplar projects and challenges associated with the emergent practice of service design. As part of these master-classes, we ask guest tutors to either set a brief around a broad, topical theme and work with students to execute a high velocity design-related activity in response to the brief or else prepare for sessions by reading set literature pieces and addressing relevant questions 

The structured learning programme and workshops comprise three- or six-hour sessions spread throughout the first four terms and all modules are delivered as half- or full-day session, the first year being more intensive. Classroom modules are made available electronically with tools for student self-study, project monitoring and self-assessment. The structured learning programme comprises of between 140 and 160 hours of lectures and seminar activity.

First Year

At the outset of the programme, students are introduced to the scope of the overall programme and co-design a personalised academic pathway reflecting their background, context for the learning and personal goals for undertaking the course. 

Students are introduced to the resources and support available to help you achieve these goals both within the Programme as well as to the other resources elsewhere within the RCA.

Autumn term, Core Skills: This first term focuses on an introduction to design and foundations skills in design research, ideation, visualisation, prototyping and enterprise. It also introduces students to the key tools and techniques of Service Design. Workshops provide an opportunity for students to carry out specific skill drills applied to stand-alone briefs which can then be applied to the individual or group project that runs alongside the formal sessions. A series of three Service Design Seminars also provides a thread of critical thinking and discourse, focusing on the design industry, social and public innovation as well as service, digital and the experience economy. This first term is a shared programme with other programmes within the School of Design so that Service Design students can gain insights and share experiences with broader community of designers and benefit from their specialist knowledge in other design disciplines, and students from other programmes can gain a foundation in service design.

Spring term, Service Design Methods and Tools: This term focuses on value creation through the development of ideas in a specific domain. Lectures, masterclasses and workshops dive much deeper into design research, ethnography, analysis and insight development; stakeholder analysis and persona development; customer experience mapping; service architecture and platforms, both user and service delivery experience design, blueprinting and service deployment. Other topics addressed include themes of sustainability, data driven innovation, and the digital and physical environment within the service landscape. Students also embark on the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design course as part of the Imperial College Business School MBA programme, an opportunity for students to evolve their service design practice in a different context and demonstrate its value and use in an entrepreneurial journey. The three Service Design Seminars look at Service & Value, Service Science and Introducing Service Ecosystems.

Summer term, Integration: The final term of the first year focuses on the complexity of service design and examines Social Innovation, Systems Analysis, Design Management and understanding business and organisational behaviour, culture and al management. The three Service Design Seminars focus on General System Theory, People in Services and Service Business and Strategy. Interim Exams take place in the middle of the summer term, after which students will focus on completing the IE&D project, help second year students in the planning of ShowRCA as well as take part in organising a range of events to create an engaging platform for future employers, academics and practitioners.   

Second Year

Collaborative and Final Projects

Amongst the skills which the course seeks to develop in its students, are the abilities to manage large, long-term projects and to collaborate with others, including other professionals from different design disciplines, as well as those from different professional or industry backgrounds.

Autumn Term: Collaborative Project

During the Autumn term of the second year, students will undertake a collaborative service design project, culminating in the demonstration of a service prototype including the design of relevant physical artefacts and the environmental context in which the service takes place. This collaborative project can be in the field of public, consumer or business to business services as selected by the student or collaborating group. The projects may be sponsored by the programme’s industry or public sector partners. Alternatively, the project brief may be generated by the students, subject to agreement with their Tutor.

The project will be judged as evidence of the students learning from the first 4 terms of the programme.  Students will need to manage not only the design and prototyping of the service but demonstrate a potentially feasible business model and viable deployment strategy. 

Spring and Summer Term: The Final Project (an independent project)

Students are required to demonstrate their personal capability and creativity by producing a major piece of individual work as the climax to their second year. This is a 5-month project that is executed from January through to the end of May and the final examination. Students may initiate the project earlier in the second year by researching the domain they are interested in, developing an outline brief, building networks and engaging project sponsors, even developing initial concepts. This may commence over the summer following their first year and in parallel with the autumn term Group project assignments.

Students are asked to consider an area of focus for the final project over the summer and then give a short presentation in week 1 of the autumn term.  They then have regular Tutorials in autumn term, to examine the research they have started, the networks they have reached out to in order to create a clearer pathway and specific design brief by the end of the term. After the Work in Progress show, regular tutorials will continue and students carry out an interim presentation to their peers before Easter (during Year 1 CHS reading week).

This project should demonstrate the students’ ability to work not only to a ‘brief’, but also demonstrate their capacity to become the Author(s) of their own ‘brief.’ Working with the careful guidance of a Tutor, students should establish the parameters and challenges of this project, and its potential contribution in economic, social or environmental terms.

Students can also choose to work with students from other programmes to realise your final project. For instance, you might chose to work with designers from the School of Communications, Architecture and Interiors, IDE or Vehicle Design to develop and integrated service experience which combines different design disciplines. However, students are assessed on the service design and service system they have created and their integrative capability, not as a group or collaborative project. In such cases, the role and work undertaken by the Service Design MA student must be clear for the purposes of assessment.

The final review will be the examination of the work as part of the overall MA assessment.

In this way, each student’s independence, personal learning achievement, and creativity are tested.

Critical & Historical Studies

The RCA provides a unique environment for postgraduate art and design students to reflect upon their own practice, and to engage with students from their own and other disciplines. The role of Critical & Historical Studies (CHS) is to support the studio programmes in enabling these critical engagements to take place. The courses offered by CHS to first year studio-based MA students propose an intellectual framework within which they can begin to establish a coherent relationship between theory and practice.

In the autumn and spring terms there are a series of College-wide seminars and lectures. The autumn term series will relate to your particular discipline (though it is possible to elect to join a series being offered to students on other programmes) whereas the spring term series will be more broad-based and cross-disciplinary in nature.

In the spring and summer terms, a CHS tutor will give you individual tutorials to support the development of a dissertation which is submitted at the start of the second year. The dissertation should be between 6,000–10,000 words in length – this is a major piece of work and you will be not be able to submit for the Final Examination until you have passed this assessment.    

Service Design Studio
Service Design Studio
Photographer: Richard Haughton