Post-Graduate Design Advice in Service Design and Strategy

Hello out there to the brilliant creatives of Core 77!

I’ll try to keep this short. I recently graduated from college with a bit of a mixed major. Loving human behavior I came in to study epigenetics until about two years in I realized that I wanted my future career to involve creativity. Not being in a very creative atmosphere, I explored as much as I could and eventually pieced together a curriculum of Graphic design, Digital Studies and English Literature. I got really into exploring various design fields and was part of film, advertising, and magazine clubs. I love the strategy side of the design world, mixing left brain and right, and I recently have found the field of interaction/service design as well as design research that seem like a great fit. While my major gave me many great experiences that make a unique candidate it left me without much of a mentor or confidence in planning how to get into this career field. I’ve been exploring people with the job titles in various dream agencies (IDEO, Method, Smart Design) but still feel unsure how to increase my experience in this or to apply all this to my job search.

I realize that this topic may be trite, so if you have seen a similar situation I welcome all directed links.

Thanks for your time!

Have you looked much into IxD?

Interaction Design? I have some, yes! I’m very intrigued by it but user research seems like a good place to start without much of a portfolio and service design stemmed from my desire to study interaction design but with more of a social benefit aspect.

Your feeling is very common among recent graduates.
You can always start by aiming at the ceiling and see if you can hit the sky, i.e. go for that dream position right at the start.
It is most important then to have a presentation and portfolio that can tell future employers specific things they can expect from you, so it is important to convey precisely what you would want to do with the company, what your strengths are etc. Even if your story varies a lot across employers, it is better than a generic approach that does not make you stand out.

Traditionally, research is the realm of marketing. That said, the vast majority of said research is directed towards downstream marketing, the selling of existing products/services.

But there are companies out there that practice upstream marketing, discovering the user problems that can be solved by new products/services. You also get to evaluate the many “solutions” with the user until a launch solution is ready.

Just my .02, I find it to be extraordinarily rare that the person who discovers the problems, can solve them, and visa-versa. So don’t get your hopes up in doing both.

I think I plan to either do one or the other, it’s the larger meaning of the work rather than the work itself (in this field) that interests me. What I was trying to say above was that I’m willing to look for research jobs as a means of getting my foot in the door given my lack of a portfolio.

So that being said, how would I either
a. find those companies that do upstream or
b. prepare myself now to get a job at one of them?

Hi, Alice. I can’t speak about ID firms, but I can tell you that many UX firms (including ID firms that do UX project work) and in-house UX teams have design research teams that go by names like “user research” or “UX research.” Service design is relatively new in mainstream business practice in the US, but there are more jobs with this description showing up on Indeed these days. In the US right now, it’s more likely to be called “Experience Strategy” and they are going to be mid-level to senor positions (not always, however).

You can certainly focus on research. I worked as a designer for 12 years, but then moved over to user research for the past 12 or so — it was a gradual transition. Iab’s right: usually in organizations, your work will be focused on either the research side or design side, which means you’ll be developing skills in one area more than the other.

Finding jobs:

  1. Read UX/UR blogs and sites. Search terms: “user research recruiting” “UX research jobs.” Vimeo has conference talks from UX/UR thought leaders.
  2. Get involved with UXPA (User Experience Professionals Association) and IxDA (Interaction Design Association). Both have regional and global annual conferences. IxDA’s conference in NYC in February will have a job fair with UX recruiters. Companies like IBM, GE have UX design training programs. Tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Intuit, and Intel hire UX researchers. Firms like Gravity Tank, Frog, Teague, Lextant, Smart, etc. hire people to focus on research, but these are very competitive. It’s worth spending money one one good conference to meet people and learn which companies do what.
  3. seems to be a good sources to search terms and find companies that are posting jobs in this area. Try a variety of key words. There are many terms for this work. You might approach the company, even the job post isn’t a good fit. They might be looking for entry level down the line.
  4. Cities that will have more of these jobs include: Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, Portland (OR), Seattle, Denver/Boulder, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles.


  1. Give yourself a UX research project to do. Need some instruction? Grab a friend and do the’s Design Thinking Crash Coure ce (video and instructions are online). BUy “Field Guide to Human Centered Design” from, and walk through the steps in the book to complete a project. That will give you a portfolio piece.
  2. General Assembly (several cities) has a short course in user research. Again, complete a project.
  3. Read books about design research. And again, find where the UX/UR community is having discussions online. Note where these people work. Medium has interesting discussions and articles right now.

Good luck!