Glasgow to Manchester. One year in review.

One year ago I moved to Manchester. And here are some highlights of what I’ve done since. One year in review.

Before we go any further I’m aware this post is a sort of showreel. One of my students called it diary narcissism and he may well have a point. So why have I written this? Firstly, going through my calendar and pulling it all together made me reflect. At Hyper Island reflection is part of how we operate. Asking ourselves questions on a daily basis to try to understand why we behave the way we do and have the feelings we have. This process made me realise how important these past 12 months have been for me. Why? I made a super big decision. I’m still in a period of transition. I’m making a huge effort to slow down. This involves things like trying to be quiet, going to the gym, eating well, reading books and often having feelings of guilt, doubt and confusion associated with said activities.

Secondly, I want to make it easy for other people to start things. I’m sharing this in the hope that it will add some value to you and the journey that you are on.

Thirdly, it’s my 29th birthday today. For me this is as good a reason as any to hold up a mirror and take stock.

Here goes…I’ve pulled out the biggest learnings from each one.


I was nominated as one of Nesta’s New Radicals for the Nightriders pilot I designed and launched. You can watch a video of the pilot here. 

  • Nothing much happens as a result of being on a list of radical people but being in a newspaper makes talking about what I do easier.

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My first week at Hyper Island was spent facilitating foundation weeks for twenty part time MA students.

  • Nothing is more impactful l than face to face interaction and silence is powerful.





I talked about starting things and how to use the design process to make things happen at “How to innovate Your Future” at The Carnegie Club in St. Andrews University.

  • We are still conforming to business students wearing suits and art school students wearing ripped jeans.



I attended the Service Design Network’s 7th global annual conference in Stockholm. I was chuffed to be invited to the members day and hang out with some of the most brilliant, inspiring people I know.

  • Friendships are very important to me. I want to work with people I genuinely like. These events strengthen existing friendships and make new ones but don’t open up the community to people who are different from the organisers and the attendees.IMG_2537I was on a panel with some fellow service designers answering some tough questions from the audience.
  • Students all over the world are asking the same questions. We (me) need to make it easier for people to understand how to learn how to work this way.


The one and only Adam Lawrence invited me to help him facilitate a 600 person thumb war. Excellent.

  • You can make a room full of hundreds of people feel like a small house party.


I spent four days in Paris with my friend Vincenzo Di Maria teaching service design to fashion marketing students from the business school INSEEC.

  • Teaching is extremely difficult when your students don’t want to learn. We mustn’t forget there are more people in Europe who want to work for Coco Chanel than those who want to tackle social problems.



I ran a workshop for undergraduates at Paris School of Art. You can read about it here.

  • Traditional education providers are hungry for new ways of doing things.



I was interviewed for Carola Verschoor’s up and coming book about Design and Research that will be published by BIS Publishers of Amsterdam , The Netherlands.

  • The sheer skill that goes into crafting and asking the right questions in the right way must never be underestimated. Carola is very good at this.

I spent time talking to potential students about why they should go to art school in Dundee, Scotland.

  • Career fairs are very strange places and need re-designed. Good things always come from spending time with people you’ve not seen for years.



I was interviewed by Digital Arts Magazine about my work at Hyper Island.

  • There are many people trying to deliver design education differently.

I created this poster to explain the differences between various design disciplines and the internet really liked it. The tweets are still rollin’ in!

  • Definitions are boring but necessary for those who are learning. Metaphors really help people outside of the bubble you work in understand what you are going on about.


I designed and delivered a workshop with these two great chaps at FutureEverything. We talked about how you reimagine very familiar experiences.

  • You don’t always need to have a strategy. Sometimes just doing something with good people is enough.



I delivered Hyper Island way week on a real island called Karlskrona.

  • Your environment really does matter. I was on an island, in the rain, near lighthouses. This had a big impact.



The students gave me a red balloon to carry all the way back to England. I only got as far as airport security but the airport staff definitely smiled.


I delivered a working shop with the brilliant Chris Ball at Digitas LBI around experience design principles; where they come from, why they are important and how to build them.

  • A team of strangers can create a fairly solid insight to design upon in a very short space of time.




I designed and delivered an event for Hyper Island alumni in London so we could talk about the new Experience Design programme.

  • I’m really excited by networks of people. Particularly global networks.




I spoke at a National Housing Federation event focused on design leadership.

  • I don’t know much about housing. My design experience is valuable for people in this space.




I spoke at Management Today’s Inspiring Womens conference in Edinburgh about the successes and setbacks of running a start up.

  • More often than not you don’t need funding you need paying customers. When a government funded body tells you to download a business plan and fill it in don’t do it.


I spoke at Talk UX Manchester about why I believe designers need to up their game. You can read what the audience thought here. 

  • There are many people who come home from work every day feeling they haven’t made a positive contribution to the world. Again. It’s up to us (me) to show support you; leaders, founders and CEO’s to create the systems, space and structures for creativity to flourish.


I spent the day teaching sixty undergraduate design students. We designed our future and wrote letter to the future of Scotland. You can read about it here.

  • It’s much easier to write a letter to your country when you are asked to do it then and there. It’s one of those things people tend to overthink. Thinking about the future is scary for each of us. It’s up to us (me) to make that easier and to support each other in designing the life we want to live.


I designed and delivered a workshop about creative learning with the fabulous trio Hazel White, Mike Press and Gillian Easson. You can read about it here.



I spoke on a panel at Mortimer Spinks technology event about equality.

  • Some people are just dicks and it’s good practice to learn how to deal with this whilst being stared at. To combat this I am buying this badge.


Dearest Scotland reached it’s kickstarter campaign.

  • A kickstarter campaign is a shit tonne of work. Thank you to Sarah and Cat for their hard work and resilience. Sometimes you meet people and they tell you they like your idea but then don’t email you back. Then they copy you. In the long run that’s a good thing.



We opened Hyper Island’s door to nineteen Experience Design Students. You can meet them over here. I have learned so much it’s a whole other blog post. More on that coming soon. All I know is this was a day I will never forget.



I wrote a book chapter in Cory Lebson’s UX Careers Handbook about Service Design, this will be published early 2016 by CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group).

  • There is a need for very practical advice on what all these different design disciplines look like in industry in terms of careers.

I spoke on a panel at St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland. You can read about it here.

  • It’s still common to be the only women in a room. Often the ‘technology’ conversation at events is dominated by the digital start up narrative. I don’t think this is particularly helpful.


I ran a session at Digital Shoreditch about the future of learning. You can read about it here. 

  • I’d have got a lot more out of it if I had prioritised time to go to other sessions. Just turning up and delivering ain’t for me.


I spoke at UX Scotland – the conference for the UX, Service Design and Digital Communities in Scotland and the north of england.

  • Every event you go to you meet one special person. You mustn’t leave until you find that person. They are always there. For me, this time, her name was Jane Austin. 
  • More often than not presenters are either great speakers with not much to say or awful speakers with amazing stuff to say. The world needs to get better at finding strong speakers with meaningful content to share. I reckon there are more people with meaningful content out there than there are strong speakers. How do you share your content?


I wrote an article for NET Magazine about Designers and social change.

  • I am on a mission to talk about this way of working in spaces where it’s not talked about. Web and tech magazine being the one step on that journey. I really enjoy writing about things I believe in. The writing is always much better when you really care about what you are writing about.


I spoke at Cycle Hack Manchester and applauded the work of the Snook team over the Cycle Hack weekend.

  • Really powerful things happen when you have an idea and give it away. Rubber chickens are precious but are often stolen.


I ran a workshop for NUX Leeds on the basics of service design. You can read more about the content and participant feedback here. 

  • The music you play in a workshop has a big impact on the energy in the room. There are a tonne of digital agencies out there who still don’t really talk to customers. There’s work to be done.


I spoke at She Says Manchester (on a roof in the sunshine!) about doing good and working hard.

  • Speaking on a stage outside is something I’m not used to. Such things don’t happen in Glasgow. I’d highly recommend it. As Louise MacDonald once said to me, there is something about being able to see the sky.


I designed and delivered a module for The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme which supports exceptional young people from across the commonwealth. My module was focused on how to build the networks and relationships you need.

  • Video is a great way to share knowledge when you can’t be in the same room as someone. ScreenFlow is  a good way to do this. I want to help others build the networks of people they need around them. If you need help with this talk to me.

I started a 100 Day Project focused on starting a conversation around feminism. You can read about the 100 Equivalism questions and join in over here.

  • Doing something every day for 100 days is hard. Feminism is very complex.

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I delivered a talk at Hyper Island on how to build communities around your ideas.

  • There is a need for more resources in this space. I’m now working on a digital resource around this topic so if you’d like to know more talk to me.



Lucy Stewart and I co-wrote a chapter in this book about service design and Scotland’s public sector. You can buy it here.

  • Microsoft Word is capable of reducing me to tears. It’s important to tell stories to new audiences. This is how ideas spread.


I wrote an article for NET magazine about networking; don’t connect, make your net work for you. People liked it.

  • This forced me to articulate some things I’ve been thinking about for a while. Saying yes to a talk or writing a thing often forces you to get stuff out of your head and onto paper.



I put a job ad out to find the new CEO of Know Sugar. Watch this space. You too Jamie!

  • I had the choice to run Know Sugar and I chose not to. I’m finding this decision tricky to honour and respect. This tells me I need to practice giving ideas away and handing them over so here goes.


I was nominated for Young Digital Leader Award for Service Designer of the year. 

  • Service Design Award categories never used to exist. This is a good sign that the process is becoming more known and accepted.

Daniel Harvey and I put together this proposal for SXSW

  • SXSW is on my list of global events that I want to experience. Thank you to everyone who voted for us. I really don’t like things that count on public vote. Feels too much like the person with the most friends wins.

I spent the day at the Outbox Incubator. Wow. You can read about it here.

  • The story of how Anne-Marie had an idea to hire a massive house and fill it with girls who code and help them is brilliant. She reminded me how important it is to do, make and ship. I think this model is really transferable. I want to create a version of this for women in their 40’s plus. What do you think?


I designed and delivered an event with the team at Made by Many exploring the future of design education. You can read about it here.

  • Design education really matters to a lot of people. It’s my (our) responsibility to galvanise this energy. I’m spending time with various design agencies in this space and I think it’s high time they (we) all got in a room and talked about what’s really not working and how we can work better as a one network. What do you think?



I joined up with my friend Chris Arnold to talk to his industrial design students at Auburn University in Alabama, USA about how to use the internet to get your work noticed.

  • Skype is a bit shit and Google Hangout is much better. I must never underestimate the comedic value of a Glaswegian accent during moments of technical difficulty.



I was featured in ELLE magazine alongside FKA Twigs and Miley. It has been suggested I get in touch with Maisie Williams to create Game of Services.

  • My masters thesis was focused on making service design make sense to everyone who needs it. I wrote a book called Making Service Sense which people wanted to buy ( I then lost the digital files and got distracted by Sarah Drummond but that’s another blog post). Google tells me ELLE is the world’s best selling fashion magazine. This matters to me because it is a step towards bringing design into peoples consciousness and vocabulary; design that is not about what things look like but how things work.

Never mind Miley. It’s Mhairi Black I’m proud to be in the company of.



I met one of my heroes; David Kelley is the founder of IDEO and Stanford’s D. School. And yes the moustache was that good in real life.


What’s next…

So the future is looking good.

I’m running a four day Experience Design Lab in London in November. You can buy tickets here. My second crew of students arrive in January (there’s still time to apply to study with me at Hyper Island). I’m teaching, writing and speaking for all sorts of people in all sorts of places (if you’d like to talk about teaching, writing or speaking talk to me). I’m working on Equivalism, Know Sugar and Nightriders.

Next month, I’m running a workshop at Service Design Network event in NYC and I’m speaking at Webdagene in Norway. 

So my question to you is: what are you working on and how can I help you? If I can’t help you I’ll find someone who can.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my birthday. Best get back to it.