1st Edition

Transforming Higher Education With Human-Centred Design

Edited By Radka Newton, Jean Mutton, Michael Doherty Copyright 2025
    278 Pages 33 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    278 Pages 33 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Encouraging a collaborative and thoughtful approach to the wicked problems facing higher education (HE), this book is a showcase of pioneering educators who believe that well-designed education is good for everyone - learners, teachers, education administrators, the learning organisation and the world.

    Through case studies, thought pieces and practical advice, this book takes a fresh look at the application of Design Thinking and Service Design in a variety of university contexts. Human-centred design perspectives show up the fact that decades of rhetoric about student-centred learning have often left the student still effectively marginalised from change processes. The reader will encounter ample tools and techniques of design and co-creation that can enhance the student experience, from applicant to alumnus. More importantly, the book sets out, in actionable ways, how we can make our universities more effective at supporting students for success, and to become places where people are more empowered to make those changes.   

    University academics, learning support staff, managers and professional staff, as well as HE policy makers and professional bodies, will appreciate this clear and practical guide to exploring service design in the new context of education.

    Foreword: Paul Bailey. Introduction. Drawing inspiration from the Human-Centred Design process: How the illustrations in this book were created. Human Understanding and Behaviour Go Hand-in-Glove: Making a Difference through the Human-Centred Design. Section 1: DESIGN AS WE SEE IT. Foreword: Sarah Drummond, Debbie McVitty. Chapter 1: “It all just clicked”: Experiences of finding and using service design in higher education. Chapter 2: Service Design solves the right problem. Section 2: BUILDING CAPACITY, DEVELOPING MINDSETS. Foreword: Paul Moran, Annette Robinson. Chapter 3: Change HEROs: Scaling Service Design as a Core Competence for Professional Services Staff. Chapter 4: Inspiring change at all levels: the personal and professional impact of service design training. Chapter 5: Untangling networks: Using design methods to grow collaborative innovation beyond the classroom. Chapter 6: Mindsets Eat Methods: Human-Centred Design for organisational change in HE. Chapter 7: Prototyping educational change: Learning from a ten-week service design programme. Section 3: INSTTITUTIONAL CHANGE. Foreword: Sheila MacNeill, Andy Youell. Chapter 8: An Exploration of the Relationship between Lean and Service Design for Service Improvement. Chapter 9: Moving from silos to integrated services - a case study of three live experiments. Chapter 10: Futurelib: prototyping library services at the University of Cambridge. Chapter 11: Designing for a Gender-Inclusive Campus. Chapter 12: Integrating service design thinking into our Automation Service. SECTION 4: STUDENT EXPERIENCE. Foreword: Sue Morrison, Jacqui Jackson. Chapter 13: Warwick Secret Challenge: Design thinking for re-imagining student engagement. Chapter 14: Service Design in Education: A mindset towards Inclusive and Accessible Learning Experiences. Chapter 15: Reflection By Design: Embedding Reflective Practice into the Student Learning Journey. Chapter 16: Discovering the untold story: emotional journey mapping of learners’ educational experience. Chapter 17: ‘Know thy student, for she is not thee’: User personas as a way to give agency to student voice. IT’S A WRAP: Seamless student journey - fact or fiction?


    Radka Newton

    Radka’s personal experience of being an international student contributed to her professional calling to ensure that as educators we create challenging yet attainable education environments. As a continuous improvement and service excellence scholar, she has grown a significant expertise in combining executive coaching, organisation change practice and service design. Radka is a Personal Chair in Management Education and Innovation and a co-founder of the Service Design in Education network.

    Jean Mutton

    Following a degree in Educational Research, Jean began a career in Higher Education academic administration where she managed many Registry and Faculty-based administration teams, covering the student journey from Admissions to Graduation. Since 2015, Jean has been working as a consultant across the sector, using human-centred design for process improvement to enhance the student and staff experience. Jean is a co-founder of the Service Design in Education network.

    Michael Doherty

    Michael is Professor of Law, and Associate Head of the Law School, at Lancaster University. He is co-author of Public Law (3rd edn, Routledge 2023). He is active in legal education scholarship, co-created the Connecting Legal Education online community, and is a former Chair of the Association of Law Teachers. Michael’s work in legal and service design encompasses education, cultural studies and disciplinarity. He is the founding editor-in-chief of Legal Design Journal.

    We face significant challenges (and opportunities) in higher education from issues of learning to digital transformation, to business models, to how we meet our social obligations to make the world more sustainable and healthy. Given such a context, there should be a premium placed on change functions - on creativity and innovation - yet that is often not the case. With regard to research and scholarship, we have a number of good books focused on what higher education might look like. But there are precious few books on how we can facilitate change. This book is one of those rare and valuable anthologies that enables creativity and innovation, and serves as a playbook for designing thoughtful, iterative change in our universities.

    Professor Jeff Grabill, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education, University of Leeds 


    Universities tend to be slow at innovation in their own systems, processes and overall service delivery. Asking questions about the student experience is frequently approached from a techno/bureaucratic perspective. This book is novel both in the way it is curated, and how it illustrates through case studies of service design practice in education, a way to innovate from a human-centred design approach.  Clearly written it offers everyone tools, techniques and insights on how to focus on the learner and the complete student journey through the physical and digital environment. Using this book should give us better programmes, education experiences and ultimately value for everyone. 

    Rachel Cooper, Distinguished Professor: Design Management and Policy 


    In today’s world of higher education having to deal with the range of wicked challenges we need to learn to ‘fail fast’ and ‘learn fast’ – not seek the ideal or perfect result, spending weeks and months ensuring everyone is on board and the process or policy is watertight before implementing the change. This book gives many examples where the cycle of service design of exploring, creating, reflecting and implementing has led to great results – with the continuing challenges of Higher Education we need to speed up the cycle allowing change of mindsets and faster results – learning from mistakes and giving space for innovation.  
    For the current and next generation of students, their world of work will be different in so many ways – not only the roles and organisations but the technology as well.  Understanding the ‘human’ elements of that world will be even more critical and higher education needs to continue to assure that the values of a human-centric approach are not forgotten. 

    Professor Zoe Radnor, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean, College of Business and Social Sciences, Aston University


    Placing the learner at the centre of a change initiative in higher education is often much easier to say than do. Human-centred design principles have a lot to offer in this regard, but institutions are typically more able to teach these principles than to apply them for service design and change initiatives, particularly in ways that scale. This book seeks to provide practical examples and illustrations of techniques, such as user personas, that demonstrate how human-centred design principles can be applied effectively. Change leaders in the academy and professional services will find well-chosen and well-summarised case studies that recognise barriers and benefits, which resonate with their day-to-day experience. A compelling argument is presented for adopting techniques that heighten empathy and ensure services and interventions are crafted with awareness of significant variety in communities being served. Important questions are raised about how identity, culture, and ownership must be interwoven for successful change. For those genuinely interested in placing the learner at the centre of what they do, it is a must read. 

    Mark Stubbs, Emeritus Professor, Customer Success Lead, CoSector, University of London 


    In the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, the notion that university students once belonged to a homogenous group is now a relic of the past. Today, the spectrum of students, courses, and institutions is broader than ever, bringing with it both opportunities and challenges. By challenging traditional paradigms of course creation and service provision, service design methodology pushes us to engage more deeply in our roles as leaders, educators, or administrators. It necessitates forging a stronger collaboration with those we work with, ensuring we're tuned in not just to outspoken students but to a broader, richer chorus of voices. This book is a treasure trove of enlightening, inspiring, and successful tales that demonstrate the efficacy of service design in reshaping course structures and university processes. Whether you're a novice to this method or a seasoned professional, this book promises to captivate and stimulate, urging you to reimagine higher education's potential. 

    Kathy Charles, Executive Dean of Learning and Teaching, Nottingham Trent University  


     This book is a vital contribution to the field of higher education improvement, presenting an in-depth exploration of service design and related transformative tools for enhancing the educational experience. It is a must-read for those dedicated to enriching the student experience and educational efficacy. 
    The book adeptly bridges theory and practice, illustrating how service design can break down silos and foster integrated, empathetic approaches in higher education settings. The emphasis on empathy, understanding diverse student needs, and tailoring educational experiences to these insights is a critical advancement for educators and administrators alike. 
    This work is not just a collection of methodologies but a manifesto for a student-focused educational revolution and stands out as a comprehensive guide for rethinking and reshaping higher education. The practical examples, grounded in rigorous research and real-world applications, offer invaluable insights for educators seeking to enhance engagement and outcomes. Its strategies for implementing human-centred design principles in higher education are both innovative and necessary in today's rapidly evolving educational landscape. 

    Stephen Yorkstone, Business Improvement Consultant, Edinburgh Napier University and Chairperson Lean HE (Global)  


    Universities face in a number of different directions. There are the overlapping communities of students and staff, each with different understandings of the institution and different expectations for how it should operate and what it should provide. And for every university there is then a third, broader community that might be labelled as “stakeholders” – everyone external to the institution that nonetheless interacts – or wants to interact – with it. Even within the university the communities speak different languages, but often don’t recognise the fact. Students come up against the barrier of opaque instructions and requirements, and too often give up. Staff find the task that they are doing requires someone somewhere to enable something and move on instead to do another equally pressing task. And none of us knows how many external stakeholders simply turn away, unable to work out how to access the service that they want. 
    For senior leaders, the starting point of service design should always be connectivity, and that in turn requires clarity of process and of language. Simple clear processes rarely occur by accident, pulled in different directions by different preferences and priorities. Service design helps to ensure the priority of the service user – or at least an understanding of the balance between their interests and those of the institution.    

    Philip Plowden, Emeritus Professor and former Vice-Chancellor, Birmingham City University

    As educators, administrators, and leaders in higher education, we make decisions every day that shape students' experiences. These choices can have a lasting impact on students and their chances of success. Human-centred design gives us a valuable tool to understand the experiences of the people we teach and support. It also provides us with a way to better evaluate and improve the decisions we make. This anthology of case studies in service design in higher education is an invaluable resource that not only explains the value of design thinking, but also how it can help re-humanise education and focus our efforts on what matters most: the student. This book highlights the tangible benefits of human-centred design and shows how universities and colleges can make better use of their limited time and resources. Therefore, it is an essential read for anyone committed to creating a more student-centred experience. 

    Rich Prowse, Higher Education consultant, Host of ‘Designing for Students’

    To continue delivering great experiences and real-world impact, organisations must adapt. Service design is an effective way to make that change happen. Thankfully, the editors here have gathered insights into mindsets, tools, and techniques to help. This is the book I wish I’d known when I worked in HE. 

    Lisa Jeffrey, design manager in the public sector 


    The world needs to inspire hope and agency in staff and students at all levels of education. Taking an ecosystemic approach, this book does just that – it uses a range of case studies to showcase how human-centred design can ignite meaningful and impactful innovation across every layer of higher education from the strategic, to the operational and on into the classroom and outside community. This anthology challenges higher education to reach across the trisector to invoke radical change for impact. Universities have always been regarded by society as a site of thought leadership and endless curiosity. This book shows this powerful university mindset in action for the greater good. 

    Dr Fiona Chambers: Design Thinking Educator and Innovator


    The book offers an excellent set of stories of how service design tools and approaches have been used in university environments, from co-designing a new curriculum or module with students, to re-designing and piloting new internal administrative processes and systems that break siloes and responds to the students’ needs. If you work in an environment you perceive to be inefficient, where you lack the visibility of other departments, where you feel that the priorities are dictated only by an internal perspective, this book is for you.  If you feel that modules and programmes are designed only from the perspective of the academic, this book is for you. 
    How can we use service design tools to align all the stakeholders around the needs of our real users (the students)? How can we develop a deeper understanding of those we serve (the students)? How can we test initiatives without large pilot investments that help us iterate approaches? Why should we co-create our initiatives with students? The book will help you answer these questions and more. 

    Iria Lopez, Senior service designer and Innovation consultant  


    Having worked on large technology transformation projects in the education sector now for over 30 years the biggest challenge I have found is around cultural change. Education is a complex environment with multiple factors to juggle and the rate of change in technology continues to increase every year. The principles of human-centred design approaches help to address this challenge.
    Whether, like me, you are a manager of a team of product leads using service design principles to scope and implement the next generation of educational technology products and services, or a lecturer designing teaching for a cohort of students the book offers useful ideas that can help anyone create better designs. It is always useful to have examples of how other people have approached service design and in this book we can all learn something new that will help us in our educational transformation. 

     Paul Bailey, Head of Codesign, JISC 


    As costs of attendance have risen, higher education as a sector has broadly experienced a transition to a consumer market structure, and as institutions we more than ever need to ensure we provide tangible and apparent value to our students. To succeed in this new paradigm the way we organise ourselves, design and deliver our services, needs to adapt. Human-centred service design approaches provide us with the insights into what our students need and value and help us design a lean organisation that focuses on delivering that value.  
    Human-centred design principles and methods move us towards a student-at-the-heart mindset and provide us with the tools to understand our students and embody that mindset in the work we do. The learning journeys from the implementation of service design approaches at universities across the sector in this book are immensely valuable and much welcomed. This will help us move towards our vision through drawing out transferable best practices and support our institution-wide embracement of human-centred design mindsets. 

    Jordan Nickel, Project and Business Analyst and Natasha Bennett, Director of Change, City, University of London