Inside

MA Programme Description

Service Design


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.

Structured learning programme and workshops overview:

First Year 

Term 1

In addition to the Service Design Foundation, students take part in a common platform for the School of Design complemented by an evening seminar each week delivered by faculty from across the entire School of Design. 

The School of Design, of which Service Design is part, offers a unique environment for interdisciplinary design led innovation. It attracts students from a highly diverse set of disciplines and work experience to give them the opportunity to not only reshape their own design practice, but to reshape the discipline of design itself. 

Students from many different design disciplines are joined by students with backgrounds as diverse as science and engineering, medicine, social sciences, business and the fine arts. Together, over the next two years they will achieve extraordinary levels of creativity and innovation that have made the Royal College of Art the number one institution for Art and Design in the world. In the first term students from Design Products, Service Design, Intelligent Mobility and Global Innovation Design, Fashion and Textiles participate together in a common platform of seminars and workshops and a joint project. The goal of the common Programme is to provide a vibrant interdisciplinary environment to accelerate new ways of thinking, design practice and new skills. It is designed to reinforce existing best practice in design well as introduce those who are new to design to some of the key principles and practices for design led innovation. 

This common platform introduces students to the principles, tools and techniques and practice of design in each of the disciplines, introduces them to design research methods, systems thinking, advanced ideation techniques, visualisation and prototyping in physical and digital environments and issues of design for sustainability, the circular economy and commercial viability. It is delivered through a combination of seminars, workshops and studio projects linked to each of these topics, and culminates with a group project where students from different Programmes work together to deliver an exhibition of their work. Each of the individual Programmes builds upon this platform, both during the first term and in subsequent terms, enabling students to develop their specialism in their respective disciplines.

Term 2

In this term we explore the fundamental principles of Service Design in more depth and the key tools and techniques starting with an introduction to the design research tools and methods used in both academia and professional practice. 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 further 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. 

The second half of the term focuses on value creation through the development of ideas in a specific domain. Lectures, master-classes and workshops include themes of sustainability, social innovation, data driven innovation, the digital and physical environment within the service landscape. Students also embark on the Entrepreneurship Journey 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 two Service Design seminars look at Service & Value, Service Science and Introducing Service Ecosystems.

During Term 2 we will explore the three different platforms – Envision, Public Service & Policy Innovation and Service Innovation – and help students select which platforms they would like to specialise within for the remainder of the year of for their final year.

Term 3

This focuses on the complexity of service design and hence examines Systems Design by addressing the deployment of services, understanding business and understanding organisations. The two Service Design Seminars focus on General System Theory, People in Services and Service Business &Strategy. Interim Exams take place in the middle of Term 3 after which students will focus on completing the Entrepreneurship Journey 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 and practitioners.

Second Year 

Collaborative and Final Projects

Students will be asked at the start of term four to select the primary platform they will be focusing on for their master’s project as well as group project that’s undertaken in term four. They may choose one or more platforms but their primary choice will relate to their personal tutor who will be the relevant platform leader.

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. 

Term 4 – 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 who in turn, will provide input to the examiners. 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 four 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.

Term 4 & 6 – 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 five-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 term four 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 one of term four.  They then have regular tutorials in term four, to examine the research they’ve started, the networks they’ve 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 first yearCHS 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 Schools of Communications or Architecture, or the Innovation Design Engineering or Intelligent Mobility Programmes 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 end of the Summer Term.* 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.