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Service Design (MA)

Jess Stein

Jess is a design researcher and strategist with an interest in practice-led research and cultural analysis in design. 

After completing an undergraduate degree in History and Literature at Harvard, she worked in strategy consulting and social innovation in San Francisco.

Her degree work reflects explorations of creative applications of technology, narrative techniques, brand communication, and experience design. Project partners include IKEA, the Belmond Hotel Group, Alpha, and Planethon. She enjoys working with words—both in the telling of user stories and the development of patterns and frameworks to connect levels of service experience.


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RCA Service Design Home - expanded project description

Degree Details

School of Design

Service Design (MA)

For my final MA project, I worked with fellow student Bea Mandelstam, in collaboration with IKEA of Sweden. IKEA has led research since 2016 into future sleep value spaces, exploring how to expand its traditional sleep offering in an evolving sleep market.

Our work began with a reflection on sleep and anxiety, and recent discussions around the futility of and harm caused by the use of sleep tracking devices and apps. This led to a series of small experiments into the mapping of journeys—how can we talk about, draw, and describe our own sleep in terms other than hours? What happens when we “go to bed”? We gathered 20+ hours of user home walkthrough footage over Zoom, creating a visual diary around sleep to explore sequencing, product interactions, and the stories that make up our sleep journeys.

This exploration suggested a ‘before’ that falls out of the traditional time frame in which designers map a user’s journey to bed. We typically begin our journey to sleep after dinner, yet this ‘before’ period, and its associated decisions and artefacts, are not connected to sleep. The word ‘sleep’ triggers fixed imagery and associations linked to the bedroom and late evening—our hypothesis was that there were opportunities to design for sleep in these moments ‘before’ if we expanded the framing and opened the language around what was considered ‘sleep’.

In response, we developed a speculative fictional scenario around a ‘before’ sleep phase—and bioluminescent reaction—known as Rey, drawing from our research into the history of monophasic and polyphasic sleeping patterns. This fictional narrative and structure gave us a place from which to design for the ‘before’, and we designed an IKEA homeware range and catalogue for Rey.

(1) Early project interest area: reflecting on market’s focus on sleep disorders and the framing of sleep as a “problem”

(2) Home walkthrough research into sleep journeys

(3) Project focus: Limits of language used to describe our sleep and the importance of the ‘before’

(4) Early prototype and user story development

(5) IKEA REY Catalogue

The catalogue was a way of bringing tangibility to our user insights and stories we heard through our research, as well as an exploration of how we might design for sleep outside of the current parameters of sleep design.

Through this project, we also looked to reflect upon ways into service design research using language, semiotics, and history. To test this approach, we developed a set of tools to prototype using language as part of the design process. We were interested in how to engage designers with extended sleep journeys, as well as how frameworks from semiotics and depictions of sleep within literature and history might encourage expansiveness within sleep design. We then invited responses from product designers, set designers, and textile artists to a set of briefs focused on expanded sleep journeys. From these responses, we have created the beginnings of a product catalogue for the ‘before’.

This work brought together different threads of interest, namely how to present stories from user research, different ways into a service design project using speculation and historical research, and an interest in semiotics and the signifiers/signified of sleep.
Design fictionDesign researchDesign StrategyLanguageService designSleepSpeculative Design

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