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Oonagh Comerford

Design Researcher and Project Manager at Design Council

29 October, 2015

Oonagh, what is your background?

I’m a design researcher / project manager in a team that runs open innovation competitions to solve issuess within society that could benefit from a design approach. I’ve been working at the Design Council for about four years now and my background is in fine arts/history of fine arts. I do a lot of design research – interviews, ethnography, desk research.

The types of projects I’ve worked on in the past few years are predominantly healthcare related: I’ve just finished a large project looking at how we could improve choice making in elderly social care. And then, prior to that, I worked again in elderly care – on how to strengthen the network within communities, In the past I’ve also worked in a typical open innovation model focused on improving young people’s employment opportunities: partnering with the Nominet Trust, we helped with framing the challenge and creating design briefs to translate problems into opportunities. The call was open for anyone who had an idea – a product or a service - and we had an interesting range of applications. They were shortlisted and the three finalists were supported with design expertiser. In that sense they initially showed up with ideas that were not fully formed and then, after nine months they were ready to launch their product or service.

What’s is the background of your agency and where is it located today?

I suppose the Design Council is not a typical agency: it’s an enterprising charity. Design Council has many, different aims, but the main one is to promote the use of design to improve lives. We have a policy and research team Who advocate the value design can add to policymaking and government.

"Design Council has many, different aims, but the main one is to promote the use of design to improve lives"

The team I’m working in is called the “challenges team” which is much more about the practical application of design to address societal challenges Then we have CABE “commission for architecture and the built environment”: They focus on the built environment and they are now integrated with the Design Council.

We predominantly work with people in the UK. Some of the projects we worked on in the past were related to specific contexts - challenge and area: often the funds dictate the geographical area in which we focus our efforts.

Did the Design Council get any recent change in its business?

Probably nothing specifically related to our activity. Generally, I’ve seen an increasing number of incubators and accelerator programs over the years. And many design agencies being integrated within existing traditional consultancies.

Which kind of projects and clients does your company work more for considering digital, private and public work?

Tech is just an enabler to the service. You could deliver a service design project but not actually knowing how to deal with the technical specification of the digital product. In terms of clients, the majority in the past have been either government departments or trust and foundations.

How many people work at Design Council?

About 70 overall, 16 normally in our team.

How is your team composed by?

A chief design officer, a behavioural scientist, a service designer with a psychology background, a graphic designer. We also had a strategist in the past. It changes accordingly to the project. We had some people with specific expertise – for example industrial design – but who take a program/project management approach.

Have you ever heard about product service system design?

In terms of service design, I know some people who have done the service design Master’s at RCA, but that’s just emerging here. Even though obviously there are many people practising service design, most of them seem to have traditional backgrounds such as product, interaction, graphic design rather than having studied service design specifically. It just seems that service designers can probably approach lots of different challenges because they have that skillset, hence they can use different approaches to find out more about what they need to do. It seems like service design is all encompassing in comparision to other disciplines.

How do pssd, service design and design thinking relate in your opinion?

I believe that design thinking is integral to all disciplines . Service design is one aspect.
The main difference to me is that service design is a discipline, while design thinking is an approach. And probably pssd has things in common with both.
oonagh service design map

Is the double diamond process actually respected at the Design Council? And which kind of tools do you use?

Yes, it is very much respected.

About the tools I think it depends on the project. We do put a lot of emphasis on the research phase, understanding the issues from the users’ point of view – so a lot of in-context research. That could take an ethnographic style approach or maybe a mix of some interviews and shadowing. Then some stakeholders mapping for more organizational kind of work and customer journey mapping for individuals.

Is it possible to actually integrate social innovation aspects within commercial projects and have a business benefit?

It’s tricky! I’ve always been working on social issues, never worked for a client or for a project which is just for commercial purposes. If you think about all of those agencies, for some of them the balance is more towards social aspects but the majority work for commercial reasons and they try to do a bit of both, so working for corporate clients and then do some social related projects on the side. It appears that more roles are coming up in councils delivering services for people and I think there are roles for social design within those spaces. There are people that I know who are opposed to going to work for “a large car manufacturer” for example, because they are genuinely interested only in those social innovation.

How do you think service design will evolve in the next few years?

I think it’s more and more in demand I find more people knowing what it is when I talk about it and I think that bigger organisations are starting now to comprehend why service design agencies use this method, because it is actually very beneficial, very useful.

Essentially it is a creative approach to problem solving, isn’t it? But I think it’s a pretty good one.


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