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Service Design at the Royal College of Art


A new frontier for designers

Key details

  • 180 credits
  • 1 year programme
  • Full-time study
School or Centre
  • Kensington
Application deadline
  • 14 Aug 2024

Transform customer and citizen experiences.

Service Design is evolving fast in a world where we see a historic transformation in how we respond to the uncertainties brought by advanced technologies & AI, the climate crisis, and societal change.

Service Design is the application of a ‘designerly’ way of thinking and working to respond to these uncertainties and is guided by a set of mindsets, principles and methods that are collaborative, innovative, pragmatic and systematic. As the subject evolves, its fields of inquiry and practice expand to include a spectrum from developing services for human experience to enabling transdisciplinary innovation and social change.

The Service Design programme equips you with cutting-edge thinking and tools to provide human insight, engage with complex systems and create and prototype new futures to become an effective changemaker in the modern world.

The teaching and learning is mostly project-based in that students will develop their practice through working on projects in teams. This includes collaborations with commercial, public sector or social organisations who bring real issues and opportunities for future disruption or innovation. Collaborating in teams, the students will move through the design process of deep research, issue reframing, creative concept generation, prototyping and user testing. In developing their practice, students are encouraged to take a critical and reflective view of Service Design to develop their confidence in contributing to the development of Service Design as a practice and subject.

Applications for the September 2024 intake are open and will be assessed on a rolling basis. Programmes will close for applications when the maximum number of places have been awarded, or at the final deadline on 14 August, 12 noon (UK time).

Explore our graduate work

In July 2023, students presented a series of exhibitions and events featuring their final work. Explore online at the RCA2023 website.

You can also view previous events and exhibitions online at Showcase.

Find out more about this programme

Catch the replays from our latest online Open Day.



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 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

You’ll apply design methodologies and principles to real scenarios through collaborations with organisations working in enterprise, social and public roles. This approach brings real issues and opportunities that respond to current and future disruption or innovation. Collaborating in teams, you will move through the design process of deep research, issue reframing, creative concept generation, prototyping and user testing. In doing so, you’ll understand and experience how design tools enable you to imagine and deliver sustainable solutions.

We aim to create a studio-based learning environment where you learn by doing projects in collaboration with your peers, addressing a range of real-world challenges, e.g. health inequality, the green transition, designing for cities, emerging technology and AI.

The project work is guided by regular sessions with tutors who work with you throughout each project. You will have the opportunity to describe relevant research, hypotheses and potential outcomes with tutors as your project develops.

The studio-based learning is complemented with a series of lectures and seminars, covering the theoretical principles, practical examples, and methods of Service Design.

Topics include the impact and future direction of Service Design, human and digital interactions, user research and the generation of insight, design ethics, total system design and approaches to prototyping and testing.

A public event is held towards the end of the Independent Research Project.

The programme is delivered across three terms and includes a combination of programme, School and College units.

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 introduces the theories and concepts underpinning service and Service Design practice. You will deliver a small-scale and analytically focused project in a team setting.

In Service Design Practice, you will apply Service Design tools and methods to deliver a ‘live’ project in dialogue with industry partners, to address a selected challenge in an area, e.g. health, sustainability, business innovation and social inclusion.

Term 2

In Service Design in Context, you will develop a project proposal for the Independent Research Project, by examining the relationship between practice and context, and the impact of Service Design projects on economic, technological, social, cultural and environmental systems and how these contexts shape the implementation of service ideas.

Term 3

The Independent Research Project is self-directed, with the aim to develop and establish yourself as a professional service designer in your chosen areas of expertise within the diverse spectrum of service design practice. 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.

Download the Service Design 2024/25 programme specification (PDF)

AcrossRCA is a compulsory 30-credit unit which is delivered as part of all MA programmes.

Situated at the core of your RCA experience, this ambitious interdisciplinary College-wide unit supports you in responding to the challenges of complex, uncertain and changing physical and digital worlds. Developed in response to student feedback, AcrossRCA creates an exciting opportunity for you to collaborate meaningfully across programmes.

Challenging you to use your imagination and intellect to respond to urgent contemporary themes, this ambitious unit will provide you with the opportunity 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 and panel discussions from acclaimed speakers who will introduce the themes and act as inspirational starting points for your collaborative team response.

Delivered online and in-person across two terms, the unit has been designed to complement your disciplinary studies and to provide you with a platform to thrive beyond graduation.



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.

We ask that you upload a two-minute video recorded on your phone or laptop, speaking to us directly. High production qualities are not needed. We will review the work in your portfolio, so keep your video simple.

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 or UKVI 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 2024 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.

Overseas and EU


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.

Overseas and EU

Progression discount

For alumni and students who have completed an RCA Graduate Diploma and progress onto an RCA Master's programme – MA, MA/MSc, MFA, MDes, MArch, MEd or MRes – within 10 years, a progression discount of £1,000 is available.

* 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.



The RCA scholarship programme is growing, with hundreds of financial awards planned for the 2024/5 academic year. Examples of financial awards offered in 2023/24 are given below.

For: All MA programmes, MArch, MFA, MDes, MRes & MEd

Eligibility criteria: Students from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, USA

Eligible fee status: Overseas fee status

Value: £7,000 towards fees

For: All MA programmes, MArch, MFA, MDes, MRes & MEd

Eligibility criteria: Students from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey

Eligible fee status: Overseas fee status

Value: £7,000 towards fees

For: All MA programmes, MArch, MFA, MDes, MRes & MEd

Eligible fee status: Home fee status

Value: £5,000 towards fees

For: All MA programmes, MArch, MFA, MDes, MRes & MEd

Eligibility criteria: Students who identify as D/deaf or disabled

Eligible fee status: Home fee status

Value: £6,000 for living costs

For: All programmes excluding PhD & short courses

Eligibility criteria: Black or Black British Caribbean, Black or Black British African, Other Black Background, Mixed - White and Black Caribbean, Mixed - White and Black African

Eligible fee status: Home fee status

Value: Full fees & maintenance

For: All MA programmes, MArch, MFA, MDes, MRes & MEd

Eligible fee status: Home fee status

Value: £5,000 for living costs

For: MA Design Products, MA Fashion, MA Service Design, MA Textiles, MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering

Eligibility criteria: Students from under-represented communities

Eligible fee status: Home & Overseas fee status

Value: Full fees

For: Any MA programme

Eligible fee status: Home fee status

Value: £10,000 towards fees

Applying for a scholarship

You must hold an offer to study on an RCA programme in order to make a scholarship application in Spring 2024. A selection of RCA merit scholarships will also be awarded with programme offers. 

We strongly recommend that you apply for your programme as early as possible to stand the best chance of receiving a scholarship. You do not apply directly for individual awards; instead, you will be invited to apply once you have received an offer.

More information

Additional fees

In addition to your programme fees, please be aware that you may incur other additional costs associated with your study during your time at RCA. Additional costs can include purchases and services (without limitation): costs related to the purchase of books, paints, textiles, wood, metal, plastics and/or other materials in connection with your programme, services related to the use of printing and photocopying, lasercutting, 3D printing and CNC. Costs related to attending compulsory field trips, joining student and sport societies, and your Convocation (graduation) ceremony. 

If you wish to find out more about what type of additional costs you may incur while studying on your programme, please contact the Head of your Programme to discuss or ask at an online or in person Open Day.   

We provide the RCASHOP online, and at our Kensington and Battersea Campuses – this is open to students and staff of the Royal College of Art only to provide paid for materials to support your studies. 

We also provide support to our students who require financial assistance whilst studying, including a dedicated Materials Fund.

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.


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

Change your life and be here in 2024. Applications now open.

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

Before you begin

Make sure you've read and understood the entrance requirements and key dates
More information about eligibility and key dates
Check you have all the information you need to apply.
Read our application process guide
Consider attending an Open Day, or one of our portfolio or application advice sessions
See upcoming sessions
Please note, all applications must be submitted by 12 noon on the given deadline.
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.

Register your interest with us here
RCA Kensington cafe