Snook was founded 10 years ago this December. Sarah Drummond reflects over nearly a decade of great work, and where we want to be in the future.

We’re stronger now than ever before. We have a full portfolio of work for the year, doing the things we love best — working on some of the most significant Scottish and UK Government programmes around.

Over the years we’ve grown a team of over thirty in Scotland and London and recently, we have brought in more support roles to make it easier for great work to happen.

This year more than any other, Snook has hit its stride, and we’ve finally been able to take a step back and ask ourselves — how can we make an even bigger impact in the world?

Snook was founded on a mission to scale the design capability of the public sector and to make it more user-centred.

So many things have happened since the early incarnation of those principles, embodied in the slightly questionable poster above.

We have trained thousands of people and delivered hundreds of live products and services that have touched the lives of people across the world.

There are too many to list, but over the years we’ve helped Samaritans design ways for people to improve their mental health, supported Neighbourhood Watch to help older people facing fraud, worked with the NHS to redesign A+E, created new national care services with the Scottish Government, worked with housing providers to support vulnerable tenants, helped local authorities commission new homeless systems and launched award-winning platforms supporting young people to prepare for the world of work — to name just a few.

Alongside this, we’ve released our own products that improve the world in areas we’re passionate about. From CycleHack, an award-winning initiative to overcome the barriers to cycling in 50 global cities, to Dearest Scotland, a snapshot of the referendum which culminated in a book of letters written by citizens to the future of the country.

In recent years, we’ve pushed the design industry to be more accessible by running initiatives and events on inclusive recruitment and inclusive design. We also started ‘Design On The Inside’ a set of events, conferences and (soon to be) podcasts. It shares the knowledge of designers who work inside large organisations and furthers our mission of increasing in-house design capability.

We are beyond proud of the work we’ve done. I’m eternally grateful for the people who’ve employed us, and even more for those we’ve worked with. We are now hooked on the same mission — we want to design a world that’s more human.


So where now?

All of this is a huge achievement, especially for a studio that’s only been around for 10 years — but the world is changing.

Our mission is still the same as it was, but how we deliver it today needs to be different. The market and its needs are changing. I’ve been open and honest about my scepticism of the traditional design studio model in meeting the new demands and needs of the Government, our NHS and the wider public sector.

In the past five years, we’ve seen countless service design projects (both our own and those of other agencies) struggle to get delivered through consultancy, and it can be unsatisfying for both the team and the organisation investing in them.

We’ve also noticed an increase in the number of technology companies with product-oriented models being awarded work by designing multi-channel services. This is generally being done without having the in-house skills to undertake the work, or expertise to build capabilities of organisations, leading to badly designed services and unsustainable delivery models.

“We need the NHS’s staff and patients to benefit from this talent [in the marketplace] and we need this talent to see the NHS as a brilliant market for their innovation.

The new NHSX CEO, Mathew Gould summarised what the market needs far more succinctly than I could. For organisations supporting the NHS to deliver world-class health services to work differently, he said; “We need the NHS’s staff and patients to benefit from this talent [in the marketplace] and we need this talent to see the NHS as a brilliant market for their innovation. All this means a clear approach — creating the platform for digital innovation and creating the standards that will allow that innovation to plugin safely. It means not competing against the market and resisting the urge to build or commission everything ourselves”

We are facing a reality where government, the public sector and many other large organisations have and will become platforms on which products and services are built. To do this we need open, ethical organisations that can take on this challenge, build real partnerships with these organisations and build their capability so that they are able to deliver these services sustainably.

More importantly, these organisations need to be able to make these partnerships well in the first place, and that means rapidly increasing their capability in design, from policy downwards.

The route of delivery

Right now, Snook simply doesn’t have the scale to be able to do this on our own. This is why we’ve chosen to take Snook to the next level by integrating with a partner that can help us achieve this mission.

There are two main options open to agencies looking to do this — work with a large consultancy firm, as so many other agencies have done, or work with a delivery one.

We chose delivery for all of the reasons I talked about above. The strategy, after all, is delivery — not more strategy.

Our exciting news

I’m excited to announce today that the partner we’ve chosen to join with is Northgate Public Services (NPS).

What we needed to find was an organisation that had a deep expertise, knowledge and platform for scaled delivery. That’s what NPS has.

If you don’t know NPS, they have helped to screen more than 10 million babies for hearing loss, maintained over 21 million people on the NHS Organ Donor Register, provided 50% of police forces in the UK with vital frontline information and supported 150 social housing providers to deliver efficient services to tenants across the globe.

They have the scale and technology, we have expertise in user centred-design that they want to bring deeply into their products.

This move marks a change in both the pathways of Snook and NEC. For Snook, this means scaling the level of delivery we’re able to offer, and for NPS, this means becoming a design-centred, user-led organisation.

The design studio model of yesterday is in danger of becoming obsolete for the type of capabilities the sector is calling for, and we want to ensure we’re listening to the patterns we’ve witnessed.

For me, this integration is about both Snook and NPS creating the type of organisation a 21st-century public sector needs in order to deliver great services.

Part of this means accelerating the independent initiatives we’ve started, like our work on inclusive recruitment, our Design Patterns for Mental Healththe User Research Library and Design on the Inside.

Working with NPS will provide us with the ability to invest in building these platforms in the open, with an aim to support wider sectors for good beyond our own work.

We don’t see this as ‘tacking’ design on, this is about fully integrating user-centred design into the heart of a delivery organisation that can not only innovate but sustain and maintain delivery.

What’s next?

Firstly, it’s important to say, Snook isn’t changing.

Our mission, name and services won’t change. We’re committed to continue the work we’ve been doing and will work with NPS to build a shared capability in Service Design, transformation and delivery.

We will still have our studios in Glasgow and London, and continue to invest in the skill development and pathways of our team to grow and hone their talent.

We are however growing, and we will be hiring.

We will be developing our skills and offer in digital product design and transformation more deeply by integrating our teams together.

We want to go beyond our client expectations and set the vision of what great looks like, and we can now do this at scale. There are a number of critical things we want to ensure happens in our work together with NPS;

  • All the services we design, past and present, consider user needs first, building services that work first time for those who need them
  • We live in a world where services work interoperably, exploring how our platforms can be open to enable this
  • Ensuring all of our products and services are accessible
  • Developing critical thought on user data

Further to this, we have always advocated for preventative models of care and service. With scale and data, we can begin to explore and test preventative health and care models and explore how to ethically bring these to life in the sector.

To make sure that all of these things get delivered, I’m going to support Snook in a new role as Chief Digital Officer for NPS, and join the executive team at Northgate. I’m excited to be operating at this scale and set the pace for a company to develop deep capabilities in Service Design and human-centred design.

Opportunities like this don’t come along often, and when they do, you know it’s right. I’m proud of Snook past and present who have taken us to this stage, and even more excited about what the future holds.

You can read the press release NPS (now NEC) released here.

You can read my personal blog on the last ten years of Snook here.

It goes without saying, there are some people who I owe dear thank-yous to for being part of the Snook journey to date:

Lauren Currie — Co-founder with me at Snook who I shared many laughs and cries with for the first half of the Snook journey.

Cassie Robinson — A dear friend, confident and board member who helped Lauren and I start up Snook in the first place.

The early crew — Andy Young and Kirsty Joan Sinclair who really solidified the early portfolio of Snook.

Our first project ALISS — Peter Ashe, Christine Hoy, Andy Hyde who we shared our first project with and invested a whole lot of love into bringing people together to design a system to support people with Long Term Conditions.

Glasgow School of Art — In particular Gordon Hush who’s been a long time support and let us set up an office in the art school for our first six months and Irene Macara McWilliams who made me think hard during my masters year.

Open Change — Known as Mike Press and Hazel White who supported us during the early days and continue to be great friends in the world to build more design in Scotland.

Our board — Stuart McDonald and Scott Cain who have provided fantastic support and asked the hard questions of me.

My partner Lou — Who has shared the joys and the pain of this bumpy ride for the past four years and helped keep me sane, without Lou, I’d have given up.

Friends and family — There are FAR too many of you to mention, but you know who you are. Thanks for supporting this first part of the ride.

All of the Snook team and extended family — Snook is nothing without team and I’m eternally grateful you’ve joined the journey for however long or short in our mission. You know who you are and there are too many to name individually that would favour anyone, so a deepest thank you.

Valerie Carr — My longest-standing Snook, super mum and all round fantastic role model. Thank you for standing by me and continuing to invest so much of yourself into what we do at Snook.

Simon Smith — Our strategy director who’s really supported me in turning the company around in the last year by investing so much time internally to get our wheels turning smoothly and helping to make this move happen.

NPS, and Steve — for making this an easy smooth ride. It’s been a pleasure this far and we’re looking forward to working with you.

(NPS rebranded to NEC Software solutions in June 2021)