Phase 2: Explore service visions

Unit 2: Conducting Studio Explorations

Involving the RCA students

In this unit:

Like in the previous unit, the aim of this work was to create concepts that are diverse enough to scan the landscape and provoke conversation about the huge diversity of potential issues and opportunities in the future. 

However, this unit harnessed the creativity and diversity of experience and culture of the RCA’s Service Design students by combining the service design methodologies from the course with the need to generate focused service concepts for the project.

Alongside the educational aims of the student projects, this unit also aims to harness the diverse thinking of student cohorts to expand the thinking of the lab team and the client. 


*The term ‘studio explorations’ refers to the future service visions designed by the first and second year students of the MA Service Design course at the Royal College of Art.

Before the start of the collaboration between xploratory and the client, the Service Design programme had previously partnered with the company by setting briefs and working with the students of the course.  As it had proven valuable for the client, the xploratory lab team planned to run parallel work streams with the students. 

As the lab team had led their own explorations, they had enriched knowledge on the topics and themes for briefing the students. The approach they took for the studio briefs was different from their own, internal ones. They were aware it was not possible to have the students follow their same process to envision concepts, nor did they want that. There were different aspects to take into consideration:

First, the students had to follow the service design process in the development of their projects, as indicated in the project guide of the course. 

Second, given the limited time they had to work on their projects, the lab team needed to focus the students’ efforts where it was most valuable. The second year students focused on a time horizon much closer to the present (the ‘Near Future’), and the first year students were tasked with expanding and enriching the prospects of the ‘Far Future’ time horizon.

Additionally, to make sure that the projects aligned with the client’s strategy from the beginning, in terms of goals and principles, the briefs combined the research done on the future trends and extreme users, with the research on the client’s strategy.

However, as the aim of the studio explorations was to help them expand the client’s thinking, the lab team did not want to put too many constraints on the students, so they kept the briefs fairly broad, and let the students give their own perspectives on the topic of the future of health and happiness. 

Through tutorials, reviews and meetings with the students, the lab team supported the work of the studio and mediated between the students and the client. The students’ projects created meaningful value to the client, expanding and enriching the thinking and uncovering new perspectives of health and happiness.


Briefing the Studio

The lab team had different objectives set for the first-year and second-year students of the programme. They wanted them to tackle different types of challenges with varying levels of depth and breadth based on their knowledge and experience.
For the first-year students, the brief was their first project on the course, so they knew they would still need to become familiar with the service design tools and methodologies. Their brief was therefore more explorative.

The second year students were expected to be able to build on their briefs, identify the most relevant problems and design and prototype services to address those challenges. This is why they created two different brief strategies, with different scopes and objectives.


Activity 01.
Prioritising workshop

As mentioned in the previous unit, during the workshop for the refinement of design challenges, the client and lab team also discussed the prioritisation and allocation of topics for the student briefs. In particular, they defined a few selection criteria, which they used to review the themes and the challenges.

The lab team and the client initially arranged and adjusted design challenges into two categories.

  • The ‘Near Future’: more immediately and strategically valuable for the client
  • The ‘Far Future’: more unusual and provoking and needed more explorative work.

The practical work of creating service concepts for the lab team (explained in Unit 1) only focused on the ‘Far Future’ horizon, but would greatly benefit from the diverse perspectives of an entire year group of first year students. The second-year student brief aimed to create robust service visions, which could be deployed in the ‘Near Future’ horizon and match the client’s immediate strategy.

Evaluation of shortlisted projects

This tool is a rough guide to some of the elements which should be included in your briefing of the project for students.

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Activity 02.
Briefs write-up

With the prioritisation of topics that the lab team agreed during the workshop with the client, they were able to begin writing the briefs. The briefs began with an introduction to the client’s mission and their approach and strategy, followed by an overview of their primary area of focus: health, happiness and wellbeing.

The lab team then described the various potential contexts and problem areas. They also prepared a synthesis of the research they had conducted on health and happiness and explained the importance of people having agency over their health choices.

 After, the lab team had to take two different approaches that distinguished the brief of  the first-years from the second-years. For the first-years, they created a more explorative brief focused on the ‘Far Future’, using the societal dimensions as the starting point. And then for each one, proposed a particular problem area that the client and the lab team found relevant and interesting to delve into. They were expecting the students to help the lab team and enrich the client ‘s views with a diversity of cultural, ideological, social and disciplinary perspectives coming from any source of inspiration they might find relevant.

For the second-years, they created briefs that were aligned with the research done on the client’s platform, and more focused on the ‘Near Future’. As with the first-year’s brief, they started from the key themes. However, in this case using the persona developed for the scenarios of the ‘Near Future’ (see phase 1), they focused on a specific target user and encouraged them to explore what their needs and challenges would be.

The second-year students were expected to unpack problems and investigate how science, business, technology psychology, and design could be combined to create service visions able to address those challenges.

Design challenge

This tool helps you define the design challenge for the brief. Create one for each dimension of change.

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Activity 03.
Presentation of Briefs

The lab team presented the briefs to the students at the start of the year, before the creation of their teams. Each one of the cohorts was introduced to six different design challenges, one per societal dimension related to health and happiness. These challenges were much broader than the ones they had created for the lab challenges, as they encouraged the students to bring their own point of view.

Once the teams were set up, they asked the students to give a first thought on what approach they would like to take and what theme they wanted to focus on. This really helped them understand what the students were going to cover, and how they could complement their work on the lab explorations with the students’ work.


Crafting Service concepts

The students were provided with a project guide, which is a document the programme provides each term, with the main milestones and deliverables requested for each tutorial and review.
The project guide followed the double diamond framework (developed by the Design Council) and its four stages: discover, define, develop and deliver. However, the phases were adapted to the students and the client’s needs, so they had to discover & define, ideate, test and present and exhibit.
For the entire duration of the projects, the students were followed by a tutor who had weekly review sessions with them. There were also two main checkpoints with the RCA Service Design tutors: the interim review and the final review, completed with an online submission and selection before the shortlisted projects were able to present their work to the client


Activity 01:
Discovery and definition

The students first activity was discovery and definition. This corresponds to the first half of the Double Diamond, which includes the research (Discover), followed by the definition of the problem and the creation of a refined brief specific to the students project interests (Define).

Their brief was just a starting point, but the lab team was expecting the students to be able to define their own brief by identifying a specific problem statement. Starting from the design challenges that had been proposed to them, the students went through a research phase, exploring the problem by conducting primary research and desk research. These often included surveys, interviews, and reading of articles, papers and books. They then tried to identify the most crucial and relevant issues to consider in their selected area of interest, and they established their point of view on the topic.

As part of the definition phase, the students used the insights they collected from the research, to identify their scenario of action. For this scenario, they outlined who is involved, as well as the organisational and systemic context of the problem to be solved.

While creating their own briefs, each team developed their own personas and detailed the objectives each person may have. They analysed the research findings and developed a set of critical questions and clear design objectives to create solutions that take into account the different stakeholders and their goals, as well as the nature of the overall system into which those stakeholders fit.

Activity 02.

Once the students had defined their problem statement and brief, they started what  is called the ‘Develop’ phase in the Double Diamond. This phase includes both ideation and prototyping. Here the two activities are divided, but in reality, it was an iterative process of ideation, prototyping and testing. This way of working is part of the service design process, inspired by the build, measure, learn strategy from the ‘lean startup’ approach.

Following this way of working, students were continually creating concepts and testing them quickly, so they could refine them and then re-test. For the ideation activities, students focused on the generation of concepts, reflecting on how they would be executed, by whom, for whom, and to what end.

To make sure these concepts would generate the value they wanted to create, the students consulted with experts and key stakeholders. They also visualised their ideas through the use of service design tools, such as user journeys and blueprints. Once the concept was defined, the students were asked to prepare a prototyping plan, to test the service fully or partially, and collect feedback from users and stakeholders to help them refine their ideas.

Concept creation tool

This tool will help you tell the story of the experience of the user when they engage with the service, considering how the user starts with a problem and how they are influenced by the service.

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Activity 03.

Students were encouraged to be creative in finding ways to prototype their concepts rapidly. Part of the challenge was to create prototypes that did not require much time and resources, but that would still allow them to validate their concepts with stakeholders and users, get meaningful feedback and understand how to improve them. The other challenge was that for ‘Far Future’ concepts students had to test elements of the service that were in some way reproducible using today’s technology and only with existing users rather than future ones. This meant being imaginative about finding alternative ways to test their hypotheses. During the prototyping phase, the students presented their progress at an interim review. This was a great opportunity for them to receive feedback and advice from the tutors on how to test their concepts further and how. 

Each team developed their own methods to test their services, from clickable interfaces, to simulated AI chatbots and physical prototypes. The students worked autonomously to recruit testers; they set up interviews and workshops and used both physical and digital tools to communicate their concepts.

Active 04.

At the end of their projects, the students had a final review with the programme’s panel of tutors. This was their chance to present their work in its entirety, from the research they conducted to the service they created and the testing with the stakeholders.

Each service was also documented with a detailed blueprint, a viable deployment plan and a comprehensive narrative. The lab team also asked the students to describe a business model to demonstrate that the service could be commercially feasible, either through return on investment or return on social capital. 

It was a great opportunity for the students to collect feedback from the tutors, and to reflect on the details of their concepts. Each team was given 10 minutes to present their work, followed by questions from the tutors and feedback.

Activity 05.

This last activity was not directly connected to the project with the client. But, it is important to mention that at the end of the term all the students were invited to present their work in the ‘work in progress’ show at the RCA.
Each team communicated their service proposition in a way that allowed the audience to understand and experience the service. For the selected projects, it was an excellent opportunity to test their concepts and collect feedback from the general public.


Selecting studio projects


Activity 01.
Submission and shortlisting

At the end of their projects, the lab team asked the students to submit their work through an online form. They were asked to highlight what the concept was about, its key benefits, the key findings of the background research, the problem they were trying to solve, and for which users. They were also asked to describe the future scenario and context of the project, and provide an overview of the strategy for further development and prototyping.

Using this form, the lab team was able to compare the projects, and understand which ones were more aligned with the client’s current strategy and what value they would bring to Koa Health. Then, the lab team with the client, shortlisted ten teams from the second year, and two teams from the first year to present their work to the rest of the organisation.

Activity 02.
Presentation to the client

These teams were invited to present their work at the client’s headquarters, in front of the whole team. During the presentations, the students were asked questions about the services they created and what plan they had for further development and testing of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

The lab team then asked each member of the client’s team to fill an online survey to assess each project based on how relevant it was for their strategy and why, how clear and exciting the idea was, and how aligned it was with the client’s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).

The criteria for the selection of the student projects were based on how aligned the concepts were with the client’s strategy and their selected market. At this stage, the lab team was looking for projects that could integrate with the client’s existing range of products and services and that provided value in the area of health, happiness and wellbeing. 

Then, they selected three teams from the second year, which were invited to continue their work as their final year project, with the support of the client and xploratory. They also selected one project from the first year, which was integrated into their work with the lab explorations. 

Evaluation of shortlisted projects

This tool provides a detailed understanding of the client’s response to each service concept. Use this tool or a digital surveying tool.

Once you have all the responses, you can compare quantitative results and discuss the selection.

Download tool


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