Design Story: Elizabeth Meehan, HX Designer at Coffee No Sugar


In early 2017 I returned to Belfast keen to bring the practice of service design to businesses in our city. I was aware that businesses were facing significant pressures against an ever commercialising landscape, while support was diminishing. Working away from the city, I’d been exposed to practices elsewhere, but of course Belfast is it’s own unique city. I understood that any solutions that could work in our own city must respond to businesses on the ground. At this time I had the unbelievable fortune of renting in Blick Shared Studios and getting involved in Belfast Design Week. A platform that enabled me to share learning across different key groups in the community, in particular students who enter their working life in the experience economy.

This year when I was invited to run the 2018 the Urban Design Challenge, a challenge for local students and recent graduate designers from University Ulster and Queens University Belfast and across Northern Ireland to work as teams on a design challenge, I regarded it as a great opportunity to ensure students from different design disciplines had the chance to work together. I understood working in a multidisciplinary way was the future, as design is used to solve societal problems, from health challenges to business. And that this years challenge, which was to develop concept proposals for the spaces between the buildings within Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District, would benefit greatly from this approach. Using a service design framework, I built in and combined support from traditional disciplines, such as architecture (FCB studios) with newer disciplines, such as interaction Design, (Get Invited) and Game Design, (Cupboard Games). To illustrate how different disciplines tackle a challenge from different perspectives, and how a multilayered approach ultimately delivers solutions for the better. Bringing all of this together in a real city challenge, meant students could have the experience of working for a client, in this instance Cultural Quarter Business Improvement District, of having a key brief, and presenting early design concepts for feedback.

I also felt it was imperative that the challenge had lasting impact beyond Belfast Design Week. Not just in terms of any outcome that might be realised, but as a step towards changing how we think about and approach design challenges as the economy evolves further. Design is increasingly becoming a way of tackling challenges in society. This shift in mindset from earlier times therefore is a necessary one for students to appreciate, and it is this kind of thinking that will keep our city in line with practices elsewhere.

Make no mistake, these are difficult times, and we need to support one another along the path ahead. Which means sharing what we do know. Service Design itself is a response to an economy that is increasingly commercialised. We need to use every tool we can to make our economy strong and sustainable. And to prepare our students as best we can so that they can best deliver.