After climbing the industry ladder into a management role, Elle felt an urge to step back into design practice. Find out how the Service Design: Elevate course is helping Elle approach her role with newfound creativity and optimise the accessibility of a university’s student services.

Can you tell us about your career and how it led to Service Design?

I took a TAFE course in the early 1990s, which covered film, television, multimedia and graphic design. When I graduated in 1995, the web was starting to become a big thing and I was working in graphic and interface design, producing interactive content. By 1999, I had moved into a leadership role as a Digital Creative Director.

After the dot-com bust, I set up my own digital interactive and graphic design company in Perth. We completed projects for advertising agencies and companies who were starting to embrace digital. This included award winning work for a number of premium wineries in the Margaret River Region and co-founding a web2.0 startup. Once I had kids I changed my priorities and left the start-up life. Instead, I started working at digital agencies in project management and client account management.

From 2013-2020, I held a managerial role at a university which focussed on digital transformation to improve the accessibility of student services. I managed a talented team that developed and maintained front-line peer-to-peer support services and a large portfolio of digital products, from portals and apps to social media.

About a year ago, I found myself at a crossroads and realised that I could continue with management, or return to design practice. I decided to step back into design, but the industry had radically changed since I’d been involved creatively. To bring myself back up to speed, I decided to take a post-grad degree in design, which gave me a big picture understanding of current design theory.

Throughout my study, Service Design leapt out as something I’d really enjoy working with - I wanted to get into that problem-solving space, which would allow me to collaborate with clients, understand their needs and co-create the best possible solutions.

Elle Beaumont-Bilsby
Why did you choose to study with Academy Xi?

I was in the process of canvassing different course providers and luckily met someone at a design conference who’d studied Service Design at Academy Xi. They told me the course had been really exceptional and that they’d landed a Service Designer role shortly after graduating.

I took a close look at the course and realised it combined understanding the theory, picking up the creative tools and working on personal projects. The course content was very clearly laid out online, and I felt confident that it would allow me to bridge the practical design skills I’d developed earlier in my career with my managerial experience and the design theory I’d learned during my postgraduate study. For me, the course really hit a sweet spot, so I decided to enrol.

Did you enjoy working with your mentor?

Honestly, I can’t speak highly enough of Taiss. I’d had lots of experience with managing creative projects and shaping services, but it was so insightful to work with someone who’s had years of industry exposure.

Taiss established a really open environment that welcomed everybody’s previous experiences and personal approaches to design. They encouraged us to bring all our questions to the live sessions and test out our ideas, which created a really healthy, constructive dialogue. We had live sessions every fortnight and the team dynamic was really strong.     

The teams would sometimes hit roadblocks, but Taiss would get us all together and help us figure out what the next step should be. Taiss had this amazing ability to find the common threads that pulled together everybody’s thoughts about the direction a project should take. 

The success of the course really hinged on Taiss. Taiss made sure everything we were learning had the right scaffolding around it, which gave everybody the freedom and support to explore the possibilities of Service Design. We weren’t just passively working our way through the content and completing multiple choice tests – we were actively engaging with the theory and practice of Service Design, which took the learning to a higher level.

How did you find working with the rest of your cohort?

Everybody in the cohort encouraged and supported one another. In the first few weeks of the course, the sheer scale of Service Design suddenly dawned on the group, but Taiss reassured us that everyone goes through the same process of realisation. Ultimately, we were able to work through all the content as a group and reassure one another that though what we were learning was a bit tricky, it was something we were all capable of.

By the time we reached the final projects, we all knew how to carry out research, narrow down our ideas, possibly pivot, and manage stakeholder expectations, all while maintaining the integrity of the Service Design process.

Were you able to mobilise what you were learning in your role?

While I was studying the course I started working with another university and, similar to my previous role, was tasked with improving the accessibility of the student services. I could have provided a series of tactical deliverables, but I spoke to my line manager and secured her buy-in to approach the project through a lens of Service Design. I was able to combine the university brief with my personal project for the Academy Xi course.

By connecting real-world work to the scaffolded Service Design course content I was able to delve deeper into what was happening with the students in a front-of-house setting, as well as what was going on with the service team behind the scenes. Having a detailed map of the service proved really valuable when it came to creating a road map for planning and then enacting changes with a busy operational team.

The course is all about coming up with a service concept and then adjusting it to align with a real-world context. The work I carried out for the university was a perfect chance to put that concept into practice. Everything I learned throughout the course had an immediate impact on how I approached my work, which was a very satisfying outcome.

What have you been doing since graduation?

After I completed the course, there was an opportunity to extend the work of the project, focusing on student service accessibility but with a broader objective. I’m managing that project too, which means I’m drawing on aspects of the Service Design process day-to-day.

Even though the project is still in its early stages and nowhere near being in an end-state, I feel comfortable working with the ambiguities. The course has given me the confidence to conduct the design research to better understand complex human and systemic requirements. I also have more tools at-hand to advocate for change when working with stakeholders in a large, dynamic organisation. All this means we’ll be able to deliver some wide-scale solutions that should have a really positive impact on the student experience.

Do you have plans to do any further training?

In terms of formal learning, I don’t really have the bandwidth to commit to studying at the moment. The role I held while I completed the course had some flexibility, which meant I was able to juggle the two commitments productively. Plus, the new student services project I’ve started will definitely absorb all my time and attention.

For the time being, I’m fully focused on putting everything I picked up from my Academy Xi experience into action. Taiss was very generous in providing links to references, articles and design forums that will help us develop our careers post-graduation. The next steps for our Service Design practice were very organically seeded into the course.

In the long-term, I’m keen to add to my knowledge bank. I’m really interested in transition design and co-design, both of which are really pushing boundaries in the industry.

If I do decide to take another digital skills course, I’ll definitely look closely at Academy Xi. Judging by the Service Design course, I’m confident it would be a great investment and give me a really practical, job-ready skill-set.

Would you recommend Academy Xi to anyone contemplating enrolling?

Absolutely! The course content was intuitive to work through and Taiss was not only deeply knowledgeable in the field, but also completely supportive of any questions I had. 

My classmates had such diverse backgrounds and it was really inspiring to see how they applied their interpretation of Service Design in the context of different projects. It demonstrated Service Design’s adaptability and the variety of solutions it can bring about. 

The course was a great opportunity to meet other design professionals, and I really enjoyed taking those all-important steps towards my dream career. Speaking from experience, I would definitely recommend Academy Xi to anyone who’s looking to expand their practical skills and further their career in the design industry.  

If you’re ready to redefine your career with cutting-edge Service Design skills just like Elle, check out our Service Design courses.

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