The main piece of feedback I remember from my first ever professional development review – you need to work on your confidence.

This is a comment that’s followed me around for the last 15 years. But it wasn’t until recently I began to better understand this idea of ‘confidence’.

I recently completed Lauren Currie’s UpFront course. This happened to coincide with me starting my own business and buying my first home – yes I decided to do both of those things at the same time!

This experience has taught me a few things.

Women knock other women down

This is a simple learning but a…

I always used to think design was about problem solving. I’ve spent 14 years working to solve problems. Problems I didn’t care about much, like how to sell more fizzy drinks to young people, right through to problems I cared a lot about but couldn’t solve like connected healthcare services.

Don’t get me wrong, these 14 years have given me so much. A valuable set of skills, a much clearer understanding of my values and plenty of real world experience of designing everything from chocolate bars to vaccination booking services.

But it’s time for a change. One of my earliest…

This is a picture of my Dad and I on their 60th birthday. We went to the ballet. My Dad recently turned 65 and last week they received their first dose of the Coronavirus vaccination.

I recently worked with a team at NHS Digital to help deliver the ‘Book a coronavirus vaccination’ service. A booking service accessed via the NHS website that allows you to book your appointment once you’ve received your invitation.

The trans community had already experienced difficulties ordering coronavirus tests, with some councils setting up alternative provision for trans people. It was therefore important to me that…

Ten weeks (ish) ago I wrote about finding my feet at NHS Digital. A matter of days after I wrote that piece my role changed and I moved full time onto the COVID-19 Vaccinations Programme.

After 12 years working primarily in small, independently owned design agencies, being involved one of the biggest programmes in the NHS felt like a gear shift to say the least.

Feeling like you’re working on something career defining is both exhilarating and horrifying all at the same time. I joined the programme when teams were still being established and a vaccine was a faint hope…

NHS Digital – 10 weeks

Ten weeks ago I started a new role as Lead Service Designer at NHS Digital. I started that role from the ‘comfort’ of my spare bedroom during a global pandemic. It’s been difficult. It feels important to state these last two points because life as a remote designer sometimes feels like it’s been normalised – for me it feels anything but normal.

Shaping my role

I’ve spent the last 10 weeks figuring out the shape of my role. I feel lucky to be joining a corner of NHS Digital that has a fairly high level of design maturity. Over the…

A year ago I embarked on a 12 month secondment from Service Design agency Snook to drug, alcohol and mental health charity, WithYou (formerly Addaction). All the way through, I’ve had the overwhelming feeling that secondments are a huge opportunity for both individuals and organisations, especially charities.

This piece is written for designers looking to take up a secondment or organisations looking to organise one. It tackles some of the practical considerations. When it comes to my personal experience as a designer, you can read my reflection on my time at WithYou and the impact it’s had on my practice.

A year ago I embarked on a 12 month secondment from Service Design agency Snook to drug, alcohol and mental health charity, WithYou (formerly Addaction). At the time, I spoke openly about the reasons for my move. As I come to the end of my secondment I want to reflect on my experience.

The first 6 months were hard. I didn’t write much because I couldn’t put what I was experiencing into words. I attempted to speak publicly way too early which was difficult for me. I was in a completely new world and I struggled to adapt.

I was…

What we learnt by researching the experience of starting treatment in drug and alcohol services.

By Emma Parnell and Christina Herold

When you walk through the door of a drug and alcohol service you will likely experience all sorts of feelings in a short space of time. These feelings may fight with each other as the elation of finally getting help is mixed with the fear of not knowing what to expect. And for those coming back to services you might layer on feelings of shame and regret around relapse. It’s a really difficult step to take.

“I was scared to death. I didn’t know what to expect. I couldn’t stop crying but they were so understanding. That first day I…

We’re exploring the first four weeks of drug and alcohol treatment. This is what we’ve learnt.

Earlier this year our organisation’s digital and design team were thinking about how to make the first 4 weeks of treatment less daunting for people. We carried out some research to better understand people’s experiences of entering treatment.

What we found was a real need for reassurance. People told us how “unnerving” it was not knowing what to expect. They didn’t know what would happen when they walked through our doors for the first time. This meant they may put it off for months until they couldn’t cope any more.

Fast forward 6 months and what have we done?

Letting people know what to expect


For the last two years my professional development objectives have contained something around public speaking. Historically I have failed to meet this objective. Last week I delivered three talks in a week – I’m counting that as my annual allowance!

Last Thursday I spoke at Create Leicester, a lovely community organised event arranged by a bunch of bloody kind people. Some of you reading this will have seen on Twitter that my Create Leicester talk was difficult. And that’s because on that particular day – my anxiety was running the show.

Speaking at Create Leicester. Photo credit Paul Moran.

I’d like to be clear here that I do…

Emma Parnell

Designing services that work for people. Design Lead @nhsdigital. Director at Aqua Garden. Previously @wearesnook @wearewithyou She/her.

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