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Service Design at the Royal College of Art

Overview

A new frontier for designers

Key details

  • 180 credits
  • 1 year programme
  • Full-time study

School or Centre

Next open day

Application deadline

  • 4 Jan 2023

Transform customer and citizen experiences.

Service Design is the application of human centred design methods to complex systems in order to create pragmatic and visionary services that improve and transform human experiences and outcomes.

The Service Design programme equips you with the tools to provide human insight, create and prototype new futures and an understanding of complex systems to become an effective changemaker in the modern world. You will develop your practice through exploration of service design theory, intellectual critique and experience of working in the real contexts of live projects.

We aim to inspire and equip students from a broad range of design and innovation backgrounds to apply design thinking methodologies in order to answer the challenges of technological, social and environmental futures in commercial, social and public contexts. Using a human centric approach to systems, technology and societal trends, the programme delivers the practical tools, the intellectual frameworks and the professional practice required to deliver transformational change.

The programme is built on an academic foundation of design methodologies and principles that is applied to real scenarios through partner organisations working in enterprise, social and public roles who bring real issues and opportunities that respond to current and future disruption or innovation. Working in collaborative teams you will move through the design process of deep research, issue reframing, creative concept generation, prototyping and user testing you will understand and experience how design tools enable you to imagine and then deliver sustainable solutions.

Explore further

Visit 2022.rca.ac.uk to view graduate work by our students.

Catch the replays from our November 2022 online Open Day.

Gallery

Facilities

The School of Design is based across our Battersea and Kensington sites.

View all facilities

Students have access to the College’s workshops, with traditional facilities for woodworking, metalworking, plastics and resins, including bookable bench spaces. Computer-driven subtractive milling equipment is available, as well as additive rapid prototyping.

  • Service Design studio

    Service Design studio

  • Service Design seminar

    Service Design seminar

  • Service Design studio (detail)

    Service Design studio (detail)

More details on what you'll study.

Find out what you'll cover in this programme.

What you'll cover

The first two terms will take you from a foundation of the tools and methodologies through to advanced techniques and management skills which are applied through projects leading to the Independent Research Project in the third term.

Term 1

Service Design Foundation Methods and Materials encompasses the whole term and consists of a series of lectures on the methods and materials of service design accompanied by 3 project sprints in which these methods are applied.

You will develop an understanding of core design processes and skills and demonstrate learning from the taught aspect of the programme through practical exercises that are applied to a live student project. The initial project develops a theoretical and practical understanding of the ecosystems of services, develops skills in research, design sprints and the interaction between human, technology and systems.

Across Terms 1 and 2, you will participate in AcrossRCA, the College-wide unit. See below for more details.

Term 2

The second term will deliver teaching in Advanced Service Design Methods, looking at the role of the service designer in developing transformational programmes to reframe projects. You will develop an understanding of organisational cultures, how to think at a strategic level, specify metrics and create a Minimum Viable Experience. You will explore delivery across channels including the human and ethical issues of emerging technology platforms such as AI.

You will also have an Elective choice in term 2.

In term 2 all School of Design students will participate in the Grand Challenge, School-wide unit. The aim of this unit is to connect and challenge all students in the School through the introduction of a ‘wicked’ design problem that requires a cross disciplinary approach to problem solving involving an external international scientific or industry partner (or both). This unit and lecture series has been hugely successful in connecting and disrupting disciplines, people, philosophies and approaches to design thinking whilst providing our student body with very unique networking opportunities.

Term 3

You'll work on an Independent Research Project in one of several Challenge Labs, collaborating with external organisations who bring active projects and challenges. You will develop strategic visions with practical deliverable design interventions to create new services and systems. This project will be the core of the public output of the programme and contribute powerfully to public discourse on the value and suitability of the services and interactions we experience.

Situated at the core of your RCA student experience, this ambitious interdisciplinary College- wide AcrossRCA unit supports how you respond to the challenges of complex, uncertain and changing physical and digital worlds by engaging you in a global creative network that draws on expertise within and beyond the institution. It provides an extraordinary opportunity for you to:

  • make connections across disciplines
  • think critically about your creative practice
  • develop creative networks within and beyond the College
  • generate innovative responses to complex problems
  • reflect on how to propose ideas for positive change in local and/or global contexts.

AcrossRCA launches with a series of presentations from internationally acclaimed speakers that will encourage you to think beyond the discourses of art, architecture, communication, and design, and extend into other territories such as economics, ethics, science, engineering, medicine or astrophysics.

In interdisciplinary teams you will be challenged to use your intellect and imagination to respond to urgent contemporary themes, providing you with an opportunity to develop innovative and disruptive thinking, critically reflect on your responsibilities as a creative practitioner and demonstrate the contribution that the creative arts can make to our understanding and experience of the world. This engagement with interdisciplinary perspectives and practices is designed both to complement your disciplinary studies and provide you with a platform to thrive beyond graduation.

You will work on a range of live projects from industry that align to different Challenge Labs: 

  1. Social Impact – delivering transformation
  2. Financial Services – research project on current trends
  3. Liveable Planet – exploring system change for sustainability
  4. Service Futures – new models for service design
  5. Healthcare – behaviour change and better health

The curriculum works across the RCA and our partner establishments, blending design expertise across all departments with technology and business management from London business schools and the Department of Computing at Imperial College London.

Requirements

What you need to know before you apply

We invite candidates from around the world who have a passion for design as a transformational tool and wish to take that to a Masters level. Our selection process looks for a desire to take on challenging issues, to be curious in uncovering reality and bring creativity to finding and delivering new solutions.

The Service Design MA programme takes students with and without a design background who show the right qualities and the intellectual ability and desire for creative innovation as demonstrated through your portfolio. You should have a BA, BSc or similar or minimum of five years professional experience

Students may come from product, communication, digital and user experience design who wish to expand to their capabilities, be recent high performing graduates from other design disciplines as well as from computing and other technical disciplines, be budding entrepreneurs interested in launching new service-led business ventures and mid and senior professionals from industry and the public sector, with evidence of their creative talents as demonstrated by leadership of innovative projects.

What's needed from you

We are looking for portfolios that show clear evidence of:

  • Project topics that are challenging and aim to transform.
  • Evidence of insight from user research, a sense of curiosity and willingness to uncover new insights.
  • Empathy and understanding of people.
  • Creative ideas that go beyond the expected and are built on user insight.
  • The ability to craft new solutions that are desirable and impactful.
  • An understanding of implementation and how concepts can be delivered in a sustainable and viable way.
  • Examples that show your ability to shape and form services and experiences from a variety of physical, system or technological touch points to be beautiful and desirable to the user.

In your video, please explain your motivation to be a service designer and provide an example of your favourite service experience. Please then describe an aspect of service design you are most passionate about. Finally, briefly describe your favourite project in your portfolio and describe why you chose it.

This will be a chance to showcase your understanding of service design, your passion to study at a Master’s level and your ability to communicate the value and impact of your work.

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need the equivalent of an IELTS Academic score of 6.5 with a 6.0 in the Test of Written English (TWE) and at least 5.5 in other skills. Students achieving a grade of at least 6.0, with a grade of 5.5 in the Test of Written English, may be eligible to take the College’s English for Academic Purposes course to enable them to reach the required standard.

You are exempt from this requirement if you have received a 2.1 degree or above from a university in a majority English-speaking nation within the last two years.

If you need a Student Visa to study at the RCA, you will also need to meet the Home Office’s minimum requirements for entry clearance.

Find out more about English-language requirements

Fees & funding

For this programme

Fees for new students

Fees for September 2023 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.

Home
(subsidised)
£14,175 *
Overseas and EU
£33,600 *

Deposit

New entrants to the College will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure their place. This will be offset against the tuition fees.

Home
£1,000
Overseas and EU
£2,000

* Total cost is based on the assumption that the programme is completed in the timeframe stated in the programme details. Additional study time may incur additional charges.

Scholarships

Scholarships

Scholarships are awarded for a specific programme and entry point and cannot be deferred without consent from the academic Programme and scholarships panel.

Supporting students on any MA programme from the UK (Preferably is a Scottish national), experiencing financial hardship.

Funding Categories: Financial hardship, Full time, Student preferably of Scottish origin

Eligible fee status: UK fee status

Value: £10,000

The Scholarship supports 21 UK MA, MRes and PhD students every year from across all RCA MA, MRes and PhD disciplines.

Funding Categories: Financial hardship, Students with Black African and Caribbean diaspora heritage, or mixed Black African and Caribbean diaspora heritage

Eligible fee status: UK fee status

Value: £21,000

To provide scholarships to students onto any RCA programme, from underrepresented communities, and facing financial challenges. Preference will be given to those identifying as Black or Black British; Asian or Asian British; or from a mixed background.

Funding Categories: Financial hardship, Full time, Students from underrepresented communities who identify as Black/Black British; Asian/British Asian; or or mixed heritage.

Eligible fee status: UK fee status

Value: Up to sixteen full fee scholarships

Supporting School of Design students from the UK from under-represented communities. Preference for those identifying as Black or Black British (Caribbean); Black or Black British (African), or other Black background.

Funding Categories: Students with Black African and Caribbean diaspora heritage, or mixed Black African and Caribbean diaspora heritage

Eligible fee status: UK fee status

Value: One scholarship valued at £35,000

More information

External funding

There are many funding sources, with some students securing scholarships and others saving money from working. It is impossible to list all the potential funding sources; however, the following information could be useful.

Payments

Tuition fees are due on the first day of the academic year and students are sent an invoice prior to beginning their studies. Payments can be made in advance, on registration or in two instalments.

Start your application

RCA students at work (photo: Richard Haughton)

Change your life and be here in 2023. Applications open 2 November.

The Royal College of Art welcomes applicants from all over the world.

Before you begin

1.
Make sure you've read and understood the entrance requirements and key dates
More information about eligibility and key dates
2.
Check you have all the information you need to apply.
Read our application process guide
Visit our applications portal to get started

Ask a question

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more or have any questions.

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