MA Service Design

Service designers create solutions for complex systemic and societal challenges, developing experiences that address the needs of a diverse range of stakeholders. The MA Service Design teaches the application of design methods, tools and thinking to sectors such as healthcare, technology, finance, transportation and education.

The MA Service Design will not run in the 2022/23 Academic Year. 

NCAD is currently in the process of restructuring its postgraduate offering to allow for greater choice and flexibility in the delivery of these programmes. As part of this phased restructuring, the MA in Service Design will be offered as a part-time option starting from September 2023, enabling students to combine the course with other professional and personal responsibilities.


The MA Service Design is a 12 month, studio-based taught masters that empowers candidates from fields such as design, business, sociology, systems thinking, education, banking, technology and the public sector to shape the services of the future through design thinking and doing.

Why Service Design?

The global service economy is growing rapidly and accounts for more than 70% employment in all OECD countries, presenting exciting possibilities for design (Deloitte, 2018). The new MA in Service Design is the first of its kind in Ireland. Through a series of live projects, students will engage with complex economic, technological, political and social issues, creating new service solutions that revolutionise everyday experiences.

Service Design is increasingly recognised as a vital skillset to help address the challenges of the new experience economy, and the course seeks to meet the new demands of industry and wider society. Projects, activities and workshops will expand on methods and principles from human-centred design and design thinking, applying these to the development and delivery of new consumer and public services, transforming user experiences. 

Upon completing their studies students also have the opportunity to undertake a further semester of work and graduate with an additional qualification of a Graduate Certificate in Design Enterprise or in Design Research & Innovation.

The MA Service Design operates across a range of sectors and methodological approaches and contexts. The programme has close links with Irish and international partners from the private and public sectors, and students will have many opportunities to work with these partners during the course of the year. It combines core taught elements in service design research and critical studies, with advanced studio practice. The aim of the MA is to create a design culture that thrives on new ideas, new ways of doing things and new areas of exploration.

We encourage our students to experiment and take risks in order to carve new understandings of design and make technical innovations within, and across Service Design. In challenging the purpose, methods and ambitions of contemporary service design practice and research, candidates will identify opportunities and develop their own creative careers.

The MA provides the opportunity for students to engage in an inter-disciplinary educational experience, working alongside postgraduate students from across the School of Design. We encourage our students to explore contemporary themes that connect all the design disciplines. Building on the knowledge and skills developed at undergraduate level and professional practice, candidates encounter new contexts in which to develop their skillsets and deepen their knowledge of service design through a range of interdisciplinary projects, before undertaking a major project within their chosen design discipline.

Students undertake a number of core modules, and have the opportunity to undertake an additional module if they wish to extend their studies.

Year 1

Autumn Semester

Service Design Fundamentals - 15 credits

This module focuses on the theoretical underpinnings, contemporary issues, topics and concepts relating to Service Design. The aim of the module is to introduce you to the fundamental principles and processes of the discipline, enabling you to approach studio work from a theoretically informed perspective. The module aims to improve your awareness of the issues that determine the usability of a designed service through the lenses of People, Data and Systems. Throughout the module you are introduced to various theories, factors, methods, and tools of Service Design. You will engage with the key hard and soft skills involved in the service design process, from user research and facilitation to prototyping, testing and implementation. The module focuses on the interdisciplinary nature of Service Design, covering topics ranging from participatory design to human factors.

Collaborative Design Studio - 10 credits

This module introduces you to the professional, philosophical and creative issues facing contemporary design and society as a whole. You will undertake a thematic design research project with colleagues, and develop a project through contextual research and development, negotiation and radical collaboration.

Research Methods for Creative Practice - 5 credits

This module begins by provides an introduction to a range of core research methods. It aims to assist you in the conception, development, documentation, delivery and reporting of both your major creative projects and your dissertation activity. Through a series of lectures and workshops you will explore, adopt and use a range of research methods appropriate for your studio practice. You will learn a variety of methods for data collection, interpretation and presentation. With an emphasis on applied research, you will learn to translate research findings into actionable design propositions and solutions.

Exit award: Graduate Certificate

Spring Semester

Service Design Studio – 10 credits

The aim of the module is to give you experience of a range of service design projects relating to the design of services and their constituent touchpoints with a focus on users, experience and context of use. By engaging in a range of project briefs students will learn fundamental service design approaches, methods and tools. Projects will incorporate lectures, seminars, workshops, fieldwork and studio work. Students will work independently and in groups, giving them the opportunity to work in a self-directed and collaborative manner.

Design for Change - 5 credits

This module will enable you to explore the capacity of design as a critical and collaborative agent of social, cultural and economic change. It also seeks to position design as a creative forum for exploring a dynamic, changing world full of critical, contradictory and provocative ideas. The module considers the potential impact of design on a range of specific topics including human behaviour, societal change and international development. Through a series of lectures and group tutorials students will examine the role of the designer in the 21 st century in relation to these broad issues. You will develop and present your own ‘Design for Change’ concepts and engage with a combination of faculty, industry and external stakeholders in the development and delivery of your project.

Author & Audience – 5 credits

This module will enable you to become familiar with key concepts in design theory, and to communicate effectively about the context of your personal practice and your proposed major project. A core design skill is being able to describe users, motivations, actions and reactions, obstacles, successes and imagine and convey scenarios, and this module is intended to facilitate critical reading and writing in a number of modes. The module will help hone your writing for design skills, from design fiction to technical writing, and copyrighting to developing content for new media platforms.

Design Studio, Major Project Proposal – 10 credits

You will initiate and state a design project of your choice (by negotiation with your tutor/s) which will encompass: information retrieval, collation and interpretation. The module will develop your ability to understand how to find scholarly and professional literature on the topic that interests you, and relate that literature to your research question. Your goal is to describe what is already known about your topic, how it has been researched by others, and how your question and the research methods you seek to employ different methods from that of previous design researchers. This will then enable you to develop a feasibility study where through a process of analysis and evaluation of a proposed project you will determine if it is required, appropriate and feasible.

Exit award: Graduate Diploma

Summer Semester

Design Studio, Major Project - 20 credits

During this module you will work on a self-selected and generated major project, which offer the opportunity to undertake a wide-ranging and in-depth practical and theoretical investigation into your chosen field of practice. Students will be supported to execute projects from both a pragmatic and speculative perspective.

Design Rationale - 5 credits

This module will enable you to reflect on your personal practice and your major project. You will record and communicate the argumentation and reasoning behind your design process, the reasons behind decisions made, your justification, other alternatives considered, the trade-offs evaluated, and the rationale that led to the decision. You will create a reflective learning journal and consider what you have learnt during your studies and how this may affect your design practice in the future.

Design Presentation - 5 credits

The culmination of the programme, this module will enable you to demonstrate your ability to prepare and present your work in a variety of contexts and formats both for the purposes of assessment and for the wider dissemination and promotion of your practice to peers, public and a professional audience.

Exit award: MA Service Design (90 credits)

Autumn Semester (Optional)

Design Incubation and Enterprise – 30 credits

This optional module provides you with the opportunity to develop your creative work and designs further within the NCAD Origin8 incubator, helping you to develop a viable business plan and funding proposal/s. The module aims to support the commercialisation of student’s design work, and draws upon the institutions strategic research and knowledge exchange activities. Students undertake an agreed programme of design practice, working with researchers and external partners, clients and funding bodies.

Exit award: MA Service Design with Graduate Certificate in Design Enterprise


Design Research & Development – 30 credits

This optional module provides you with the opportunity to develop your creative work and designs further within an NCAD Research Cluster, helping you to undertake research and develop funding proposal/s. The module aims to support the research development of student’s design work, and draws upon the institutions strategic research and knowledge exchange activities. Students undertake an agreed programme of design research, working with researchers and external partners, clients and funding bodies.

Exit award: MA Service Design with Graduate Certificate in Design Research & Innovation

The MA Service Design programme provides an in-depth, professionally informed programme of study and design practice. As a consequence of the range of skills acquired MA Service graduates have access to a wide range of national and global creative opportunities in a range of sectors in the rapidly expanding discipline of Service Design.


The MA Service Design provides a scholarly framework for students who wish to develop their expertise as a Service Designer. The programme seeks to prepare candidates, from the broadest range of undergraduate and professional backgrounds, with the practical and theoretical means to develop contemporary service design practice and theory, while also benefitting from a broader design discourse and student cohort through interdisciplinary projects.

The programme is open to graduates with an honours degree award of 2.2 or higher, or an equivalent academic or professional qualification in a related discipline. NCAD also takes into consideration prior learning and experience.

English language: Students who have not been educated through English must show proof of achieving IELTS 6.5 (with a minimum of 6 in the writing section on the Academic Version) or an equivalent score in another accepted test.

View Entry Requirements and Application Procedure

Dr. Caoimhe Mc Mahon – MA Service Design Programme Co-ordinator

Caoimhe holds a degree in Industrial Design (NCAD), an MSc in Design Ethnography (University of Dundee), and a PhD focusing on how design research methods can be sustainably embedded in practicing design teams. Following a period in industry designing equipment for children and young adults with special postural needs, and involvement in design research across several FP7 projects, Caoimhe now lectures in Service, Product and Interaction Design in NCAD. In her recent work she has applied research through design methodologies to examine the theory and practice of design, particularly focusing on prototyping and prototype evaluation at the later stages of the design process.

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