When you talk to designers about how they found their way into the profession, you often hear a story with its origins a long way from design. Although Sarah McColl graduated from Billy Blue, Melbourne in 2015, her journey to a career in design – service design, to be precise – encompasses just such a journey. We wrote to her and asked her to tell us her story. Whenever I’m asked to give a surprising fact about myself in an icebreaker activity my answer is always the same – I have a degree in archæology. I entered uni with high hopes of becoming Indiana Jones but quickly realised the famed movie archæologist had set an unrealistic expectation of what the profession would be. It turns out that barrelling in and destroying 99.9% of the artefacts to snatch the one gold one isn’t actually good archæological practice.

Thankfully I had a backup option – throughout my degree I’d been working at the Melbourne University student magazine, Farrago, as an illustrator, and when I graduated I was selected to be an editor. As the officially appointed ‘arty one’ on the editorial team I took charge of the layout and learnt InDesign on the job. Despite some early hyphen-related pain this role convinced me that design was a field I was excited about, so I enrolled in a Communication Design degree at Billy Blue College of Design.

The focus of the degree was very much on learning to think as a designer, teaching us tech­niques for ideation and problem solving whilst also helping us hone our skills in visual execution – every subject presented a new problem to solve and a new way to solve it. I also had the opportunity to intern with two of my lecturers during my degree which introduced me to the realities of the industry and helped me understand what it meant to work to a ‘professional standard’.

My third internship was at Today (formerly Thick) and I very quickly became enamoured with their mission – to use design to affect positive social and environmental change. I had always feared having to sell my soul to a huge ad agency after graduation, so finding a studio whose work aligned so closely with my desire to do some good in the world was very exciting.

I’ve now been at Today for two and a half years. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be supported by the amazing team I work with to explore what I want my design career to look like. After starting as a junior designer I forayed briefly into copywriting and content strategy before moving into a role as an information designer. Here, I used data visualisation to tell stories, working closely with the service design team to come up with compelling visual ways to convey their research findings and recommendations.

It was in this role that I got the chance to work with the Victorian Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) to conduct research into the information sharing practices which surround family violence matters in the magistrates’ courts. One of the recommendations given in the Royal Commission into Family Violence was that all family violence services should work together to reduce the number of times a victim-survivor has to tell their story, as the retelling can be traumatising. We conducted a rapid research stint at courts across Victoria, helping us to build an understanding of the key actors involved in a day at court and the way they share information with each other. With this knowledge we worked closely with the team from the Victorian BIU to craft a series of visualisations which fed into their final report, where they made recommendations to streamline the process.

I loved the opportunity this project presented, to dive into a subject matter that was almost completely foreign to me and develop a deep understanding of how the system worked and how it could be improved. This meant that when I was approached by our Chief Design Officer and offered a role in the service design team I jumped at the chance – it was a mode of problem solving and rigorous research which gelled with the way my brain works and seemed to pull together my diverse educational background. To me, the allure of studying ancient history was the chance to unravel the problems of the past. Today, as a service designer, I get to use design thinking to solve the problems of the present.

This interview is an excerpt from Ligature Journal Issue Five, pick up a copy here.