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Holly May Mahoney

MA Service Design, 2013–15

Before I applied to the Royal College of Art, I was working as a freelance graphic designer. I did my BA at Falmouth College Of Arts and graduated in 2008. After that, I had a variety of graphic design jobs, followed by a year of freelancing. 

When I came across Service Design as a discipline, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. I had experienced elements of it in my design jobs – user research, insights, strategy, and so on. It had become a bit of a ‘buzz word’ in the design scene. I always felt that graphic design had a bit of a ceiling for me, that I was never going to have the impact I wanted with my work, and I would never really be able to change people’s lives for the better in a very meaningful, deep way.

I had to choose between taking an internship at a service design agency and learning the ropes that way, or studying it to get all the theory and background. I chose studying because I wanted to focus on my own progression. When you're in a job, there is so much other stuff to consider – internal politics being one of them! I wanted to be in an educational environment where I could concentrate on my own work with no distractions. 

At the time, the RCA was one of the few places offering an MA in Service Design. It was also a 2-year programme, which I knew would mean a better work output and hopefully less stress. Also, the reputation preceded itself – I knew that after going to the RCA doors would open that had previously been closed to me.

Studying at the RCA was fantastic. The first year took me by surprise – all the projects were done in groups, which meant you learnt a lot through other people as well as from the actual teaching. And they were ‘real world’ projects, with actual clients briefing us and valuing the work we did for them. In the second year, I was really able to focus on my own particular area of interest, and I had amazing tutor support that enabled me to do some great work. I concentrated purely on healthcare and education projects; both areas are hugely complex and have so many challenges. Mainly, I concentrated on education for my final project, and worked with young people and young adults, which was really rewarding.

Being at the RCA completely shaped how I do things. I like to think I would have come around to this way of working and thinking had I just had been out there, in a job, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Now that I’m working, I can see how valuable it is to have a different approach – a freshness and a new perspective – and I hope I don’t ever lose this.

Straight after graduating, I started freelancing for a service design agency called LiveWork. I have a few other contracts coming up too, and it’s nice to get a mix of experiences under my belt. I have also been developing my final project from the MA, which may well become a social enterprise in the future. My hope is to work with people on the ground, making their lives better through the services I help to create. The RCA opened up a lot of opportunities to me, and has equipped me with all the tools of my trade, as well as some great work examples for real clients. It has also set me up to work in teams of multi-disciplinary people from many different cultures and backgrounds.

If I had to give a piece of advice to future students, I’d say, stick at it. There are some difficult periods throughout and it takes perseverance and dedication. But keep going because it builds you up to be a better person than you were before, and it’s such a unique experience that you come out of it feeling so special, on top of the world, and ready for anything.

"The first year took me by surprise – all the projects were done in groups, and they were ‘real world’ projects, with actual clients briefing us and valuing the work we did for them."
Holly May Mahoney
Holly May Mahoney