Author: Karen Barrett, Service Designer
The Royal College of Art opened its doors to the public last week (18th January) to showcase current service design students’ work in progress. Thursday’s industry-only opening night was bustling, and a thought-provoking selection of work was proudly on display.
RCA students applied service design principles to tackle a wealth of topics and challenges including mental health, sustainability in the food chain and financial services. In many cases, an insightful understanding of current trends was evident and the work presented was impressive in its variety and ambition.
Here are a few of the projects that caught my eye:
Goalbowl combines the trend for ‘superfoods' and the popularity of food delivery services into a personalised breakfast subscription service. Ingredients are based on a customer's choice of how they would like to optimise their health, so if they want to be more active for example, they might receive energy-rich chia seeds in their order.
Ox.Store's concept store taps into millennials' increasing concern for ethical shopping. This refreshed charity shop model allows customers to see and measure the impact created through their consumption. For instance, by purchasing a coat a customer can donate £22 to Oxfam.
Stride, a project that aims to make investing more attractive and relevant to millennials; acknowledges this age-group's shifting relationship with money. It provides guidance and advice to young savers to help them to understand how to invest their funds.
EVA is an intelligent personal assistant designed to help mothers to find their individual "Mum-Life-Balance". The project looks to tackle loneliness by making it easier for mums to connect with other mums, or even their partner, through AI which can coordinate meet-ups.
Corallo proposes a new service to tackle plastic pollution. Microplastics are collected from wastewater treatment plants and re-used in other industries; such as fashion where the microparticles can be recycled into garment material.
Agri+ is a data intelligence platform for small-scale farmers that receives its information from soil sensors and a knowledge transfer network. Farmers can ask questions about their land, crop yields etc. via SMS. The answers they receive are based on localised data from their land collected through soil sensors.
It's worth noting that the challenge of addressing significant social problems with limited time and resource sometimes runs the risk of presenting solutions that appear to reduce the scale of the matter. For example, in the case of EVA (the intelligent personal assistant for mums), booking meet-ups with a partner or friends to tackle loneliness feels to over-simplify the point. Is it likely that a mum doesn't get to meet with friends as often as she would like because she doesn't have an efficient calendar system to organise meetings? Or could there be more significant factors contributing to the matter than an intelligent calendar system can reasonably address? Issues such as limited access to child care, financial concerns or physical distance between friends and family could also be at play.
Having attended these types of events many times now, I'm beginning to see some repetition of the social challenges addressed. A Mind Thurrock collaboration on display, which saw educational modules being designed to increase mental health literacy amongst 11-24 year olds in Essex, overlaped with work done a couple of years ago by Central Saint Martin's design graduates and Mind Islington in which they created workshops to help adults tackling depression. This raises the question of what channels or resources are in place to ensure that there is sufficient knowledge sharing amongst the service design community? As the discipline grows, the sharing of knowledge and experience is highly relevant. Otherwise, many small pockets of work are likely to exist in isolation which struggle to gain the significant impact that an aligned undertaking would achieve. Recurring design topics can be a positive thing so long as each new effort builds on what came before.
The RCA Work-in-Progress Show aims to whet our appetites for the final degree show in the summer. I'll be eager to see how the student's concepts develop for the June showcase.
Images courtesy of @RCA_SD