What are the possible service design career paths, including the pros and cons of each?

Daniel Tuitt
6 min readJan 5, 2024


Unplashed: Jens Lelie

Please note: The following advice is based on my experience working across different career paths. This post highlights specific companies and cultures that might be unique to my own service design journey to this date.

What do you want to get out of your service design career? Ownerships, support, freedom, passion, money?

I am lucky to be in a position to have experienced a lot of different roles over the last 12 years working in service design/ strategic design. This has given me the ability to have a portfolio career working as a freelancer working with well-known brands, startups, universities, and non-profits that align with my purpose.

Through mentoring others and speaking to other senior service designers, people are considering different paths.

I have summarized some of my personal experiences for anyone looking to change or start their career but might be unsure what career path is right for them:

Working with a small design consulting/ agency 💨

Design consultancies and agencies sell service design projects to clients. They can have a specific focus such as government, financial services, etc. On average agencies have fewer than 40 people such as Spotless or Nile however there are larger agencies TPX Impact. A Design consultancy is a great environment to help you improve your skills and experience in a short amount of time by working on many projects and clients.


· You have exposure to a variety of different projects and brands, helping you develop a great portfolio in a short/ medium amount of time.

· Good agencies have an excellent reputation that can help you develop your career long-term.

· A lot of agencies have intelligent people with lots of experience that you can learn from and build your skills as they create their own processes/ methodologies.


· Less control and ownership of projects as you are not an in-house designer and are seen as an external designer.

· There can be a lack of structure on projects, and agencies can be unclear as things change all the time with little guidance on the bigger picture of the design project.

Working in-house as a designer 🏢

In-house service design/ design teams often mean that you are solely working in a single organization. All projects are usually directly connected to the internal success of the business or its customers. Some notable examples like Lego, Lloyds Bank, and Ikea have in-house service design teams. This lets you learn a lot about that specific area. You can see projects from start to finish and work with people who might not know much about design. The company might help you improve your skills, but there can be challenges too.


· If you are looking for more depth in project work compared to the variety of design agencies in-house give you a chance to build your expertise.

· You can develop a better level of knowledge as you will be working on continued projects in the same sector/ industry.

· There will be a sense of belonging as the organization has a culture and you understand their vision/ mission.

· You will have a chance to work with a diverse team of designers and non-designers to work on complex changes to services.


· Depending on the design maturity of the company you work for, it can feel lonely as you might be one of the few or only designers in an organization.

· It can be challenging to get buy-in from people within the business who do not understand your role.

· There can be more processes that can be a double-sided sword as the negative means that there is more bureaucracy and complexity that can lead to things taking longer.

Working as a freelancer 🤑

A career as a freelancer often means you are running your own micro business and you are representing yourself. You will be without a team and will have to manage your projects sometimes with multiple clients throughout the year. Having experience as a freelancer and a good existing network of clients makes life easier as clients expect quality of work. There are some support networks for freelancers such as Leapers.


· There is a lot more flexibility as you are your own boss and have control of your time such as taking breaks, working part-time or remotely.

· You can define your own career by picking projects, brands, and industries that best suit you.

· Compared to most of the other career paths being a freelancer can pay well if you can find the right projects or clients.


· It can be a lack of support through mentoring, a team, and guidance. I would suggest finding a freelancing group or coach/ mentor, as it can be lonely.

· If you are a designer who always wants to be busy, beware, as life as a freelance can have quiet periods as you need to find and manage projects.

  • Being the boss is not for everyone, as you need to manage time, clients, and finances, which can be overwhelming for designers.

Working in a startup 🚀

More startups are beginning to embrace service design. Good design is important for start-ups, like Uber and Airbnb. Their founders or leaders in small businesses understand how good customer experience and strategic design play a role. Many start-ups want to make their products and services look better by having team members who understand design, strategy, technology, and products.


· There usually is a fast-paced environment and you get to work on meaningful ideas with both highly motivated and intelligent people who want to make a difference.

· Depending on the stage of the startup you will have the opportunity to experience rapid growth and ownership as the business scales.

· Depending on the startup industry, the role of strategic design/ service design is becoming more respected, meaning that the founders and team will be easier to convince of the design role in the business.


· This environment might have the highest job security risk as 65% of startups fail in their first five years due to issues such as lack of funding, team misalignment, etc.

· There might be a lot of uncertainty working in a startup as everyone is adapting to the market and pivoting to find product market fit or scaling.

· Most startups are figuring it out as they grow, and you might be the only member who has a service design background. If you are at the beginning of your service design career, it might be challenging to find the right mentorship, processes, and support compared to other paths.

Working in Government / local councils 🏛️

Working as a service designer whether you are working for local or central government is a rewarding and challenging career path that allows you to make a positive impact on the lives of citizens. You’ll be responsible for designing and improving public services, ensuring they are user-centered, efficient, and effective. You’ll work closely with stakeholders from across government departments, as well as with citizens, to understand their needs and develop solutions that meet them.


· As government work is supporting society services to become better, there has been a lot of spotlight from the public. In the UK at least, GDS (Government Digital Services) helps create good public services as an overall guiding framework. This means there can be a good structure for support and guidance on best-in-case service design.

· Compared to for-profit organizations, government projects can be some of the most meaningful and rewarding work. This can align with many people’s reasons to become a service designer to create good services.

· Out of all the paths you can take, a career path in government can allow you to work with a diverse range of professionals, from policymakers, solution architects, civil servants, etc.


· Working in government has challenges like many layers and security concerns. There are additional challenges around getting buy-in into a new way of working.

· Projects within government can often be complex and the level of bureaucracy in government means projects can be stopped before they reach society.

I have found being able to walk different paths as a service designer has been an advantage for me.

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Daniel Tuitt

Innovation | Strategy | Making a difference through writing, listening, talking and doing