This is a post by Sarah Drummond, published on 3rd August 2o21

This is an excerpt/mashup from the call I had with our team on Thursday 29th July 2021. And yes, I did cry.

I’m just going to say it out loud, and that will make it real for me.

I am moving on from Snook. There, I said it out loud!

This, as many of you will recognise, is not a decision I have taken overnight, nor has it been easy for me to make. It’s been my own decision to move on. The time feels right for me to hand over leadership to our fantastic senior team.

When we started, hardly anyone had heard of ‘service design’. We worked hard on demonstrating the power of design, applying it to wicked problems and helping institutions move into the 21st century. We told stories of our projects, time and time again, and we eventually saw traction — small glimpses of meaningful change.

We’ve worked tirelessly to share the impact of our work with anyone who’d listen and needed help with a challenge. We’ve helped create the space for organisations and teams to explore problem and opportunity areas together by design, when previously, that sort of progressive reflection space did not exist.

A stack of sketch books piled up in red, black and sky blue

About a third of my sketchbooks of stories and notes from over the years at Snook

And we grew from those stories, over a decade and more, into an incredible team of collaborators. Starting out in Scotland where there was a tiny studio above a tearoom for the 2 of us, then 4, then 8, then 12, then 20, then 35, and we kept growing. We now have a team of nearly 100 Snooks working between London, Glasgow and all points between.

When I started out in my first internship in a Government department, no one had even considered talking to users. Fast forward to Snook – now we can’t launch a service without proving we’ve tested it with them.

It’s a completely different era from the one we started the company in. The investment in design by companies now is truly encouraging. It creates the space for us to do our work — which is to help design services that balance people’s needs with the planet’s.

The company has gone through many revolutions that I’ve led with the support of an amazing team to ensure we were able to design in the best way possible – for our clients, our team, the planet and everyone on it.

Snook, like all companies, needs to continue to evolve. It has been my long term project but it never finishes- just like a service really. Always live, always needing iterations.

That’s a somewhat tiring prospect for a ‘finisher’ like me!

I’ve taken the company through many design evolutions, each version better than the last, but never resting on laurels and thinking that it can’t be improved.

There’s a new iteration currently underway — a need to authentically champion diversity, to be actively anti-racist in our work, to nurture foundations that support interdisciplinary work and to challenge clients in including the planet as a stakeholder.

People from Snook on top of pink, yellow and light blue squares from their webcams

Snook is about the team: here they are in a recent incarnation

There’s lots of work to do — that will always need to be done. But I’m choosing to hand the baton on to the current crop of Snooks and the great senior team that supports them;

  • Phee Kinnear, our Interim MD who is leading Snook through its next iteration in a pragmatic and humanistic way. I’m so psyched she’s doing this role.
  • Natalie McFadyen has been bringing together new business and delivery more closely which is needed in any business to ensure what we pitch can be delivered well.
  • Dr Valerie Carr has been leading how we do research and looking after our larger clients. She also houses an infinite amount of knowledge and wisdom of our back catalogue and approach.
  • Gavin Mcguire is heading up our service design practice and providing his wisdom in designing great user-centred services, with a side order of good music recommendations along the way.
  • And Tash Willcox leading our learning at Snook both internally and externally comes with a bundle of enthusiasm and a critical lens on how we teach design.

And, we’re just about to announce our new Chief Design Officer appointment I’m so pleased with who we’ve settled on. It’s really important to me that someone steps into developing our design practice in a way that demonstrates both our collective values and challenges the industry on what good design should be.

Finally, Pete Tucker has come in to support from NEC and invest time over the past 6 months to help ensure Snook is supported to continue to evolve.

Knowing this team is in place makes it easier for me to move on.

So what’s next for me?

I am taking a break until the end of the year. Self-enforced. I still support the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, Withyou and Settle as board members so that will keep me busy, but I’m taking a break from design projects for a bit.

A website showing blue boxes with icons in them that show mental health principles

Design Patterns for Mental Health has launched and I’m going to be taking it forward

I’m going to help nurture the Design patterns for mental health library into a shared ownership model to ensure its sustainability, and grow the community.

In the medium term, there are also some new opportunities presenting themselves which are in film — a lifelong passion of mine that I’m choosing to focus on. I’m going to go and study documentary filmmaking next year and am producing a feature-length film on Section 28. This is equally exciting and terrifying at the same time.

I am hoping, somewhere, sometime, my old world of design and new world of film will re-collide again into something special.

But I’m not disappearing entirely. I will be able to come back and work with Snook next year in a consultant/advisory capacity if and when I’m needed. And of course, if you ever have a party that needs a DJ I’m sure some of you will vouch for me that I play some pretty good bangers!

There’s no easy way to end this

I’m going to miss clearing up after you in Google drive. I’m going to miss the ‘Overheard at Snook’ channel on Slack and bants of the quarter awards at Show and Tells. I’m going to miss hearing about the amazing work you’re doing and having the privilege to share it with the rest of the world.

I’m going to miss the spirit and passion people have about making services more inclusive, more accessible and fighting for social justice around me every single day. I’m going to miss scheming up projects and getting clients to invest in us to work with them. I’m going to miss the friends I’ve made here and getting to know the new people who are joining all the time.

It goes without saying I’m thankful to lots of people — our clients and our team for everything they’ve done to support us to this point. I thanked many of them here a couple of years back, and all that I said there still very much stands today.

I still love this company deeply with all my heart, so you will know it’s difficult for me to share this news and say goodbye. It’s been all-consuming for the best part of 12 years.

The team at Snook are an amazing group of talented people striving to change the world for good. They are part of the extended family of so many Snooks who shares the same story, and I couldn’t be more proud of them all.

Snook is a platform for bringing ideas to life and making them happen and I will be standing on the sidelines cheering it on into the future. It can be your platform to do good things and you can make that happen, you don’t need to wait for someone to tell you to do something, we certainly didn’t when we started Snook.

I’ve written about some of the favourite things we did as a team for you to read about. Beyond the client work, we’ve invested our time into creating global hackathons that improve cycling in cities, had books launched by the first minister, developed inclusive recruitment guides to help the industry build more diverse teams and provided free tickets to conferences to encourage people to get into design. The work — the labour that went into it, the striving for good – highlights what an incredible team we had along the way.

This whole company, its mission and Snook past and present will be with me forever. I’ve just been and will always be your loyal hype-man.

And with that, I will sign off with my favourite Bowie number;

‘Turn to face the strange, Ch-ch-changes’

Sarah Drummond, Co-Founder and CEO

Share your story

It’s hard for me to conceive the impact we’ve had beyond our project work. I’ve had the privilege of meeting people all around the world teaching design, talking about our work and making cool stuff happen.

I’d love to capture some of that, so if you have a moment it would be wonderful to know if you have a story to tell about working with us, attending an event or reading about stuff we produced.

Anything — it would make my day.

Finally, if you just want to write to me I’m still here on Twitter and you can contact me here via my website.

Until my break is over, see you on the other side.

3 Aug 2021