For four months now, I have been working for Circle. Circle is a not-for-profit service that brings people over 50 together through social, learning and wellbeing events. The aim is to tackle the growing problem of isolation amongst older people, whilst not relying on the welfare state. The events include local coffee afternoons, theatre and seaside trips, rambles, and how-to-use-Facebook sessions. People make friends and they have the opportunities to try new things.
Participle is a service design agency which tackles social problems through coming up with ideas for start-up services, and they came up with the idea of Circle. I have admired Participle’s work for a few years, so I am thrilled to be working for them. Circle has been around since 2009, so we have an office separate from Participle’s, but in the same office complex in Bermondsey near London Bridge.
This is my first paid long-term design job post-university. Previously I have worked on short term projects and I’ve done lots of unpaid internships, as well as working in a theatre bar to earn money, plus various stints previously including as a hairdresser’s assistant underground in Bank station, and a horror house promotor in Piccadilly Circus that involved full vampire costume daily. Finally – I feel valued to be actually paid for designing. I’ve even been able to give up my theatre job.
I am working three or four days a week at Circle, and I am keeping my studio so I am able to work on various freelance opportunities that are coming my way.
Initially I was hired to be a service design assistant for Circle. They have different branches for different boroughs, and the new one is Kensington & Chelsea Circle. In order to maximise the effectiveness of the service, I spent three months researching the people and services of Kensington & Chelsea, in order to produce a report that helped us identify how the service could be adapted for the new branch. This was presented to the council, who loved it. Kensington & Chelsea Circle is now going to be launched at the end of July.
I worked in a small team comprising of the manager who worked 1.5 days a week on the project, another marketing/service designer, and a hub manager of the closest Circle, Hammersmith & Fulham. Since Circle is a start-up, the environment can often be stressful since we are often short-staffed for the standards of work we seek to achieve.
When the research phase for Kensington & Chelsea Circle drew to a close, I was offered a position as a community engagement co-ordinator for Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham Circle. Through my research, I have made contacts with service providers and older people that may want to come to events we put on, or collaborate with us to put on events. I am part of the marketing team, and aside from organising outreach events (where we tell people about Circle) and hosting the occasional event, I also graphically put together the monthly Kensington & Chelsea Circle newsletter.
Aside from having InDesign open on my computer half the time for newsletter edits, what I am doing now does not feel like design. The service is solving a very real problem, but I was not involved in coming up with the idea of it – I am helping implement it. Now, I’m like the manufacturer and marketeer would be for a product designer. The adaptations made to the service through the research were minimal, and as we go we can make small adaptations according to user feedback.
I appreciate that it is good to have a flexible, creative attitude to how the service is run: to be on the lookout for problems and have ideas for adaptations. This is in the spirit of a start-up. I hope that with the next service I am involved with, I might have the opportunity to come in a bit earlier in the game, so there might be more freedom in coming up with solutions rather than simple adaptations. It’s very useful for me now to see what works and what doesn’t, and I can learn from the structures and the various roles that people have. I hope to be able to carry this experience to enable me to uncover other problems and design other services. There’s still lots to be learnt with Circle for now.
I’m not sure to what extent I care about whether what I am doing is defined as design or not. I want to be involved with Circle because I think it’s a great concept and it seems to be making a very positive difference. I have learnt lots about older people – so many people are really lonely, so many people have problems I didn’t know existed. I want to do things that will have a positive impact on the world, and I think I’m doing it.
I still want to gain more overtly creative experiences as well, so I am working on graphics projects on a freelance basis at the same time. I don’t know for how long I will be working in Circle – my contract ends at the end of August, but there is a chance I will be asked to continue with them.