Futureheads’ Consultant Ebonie Mather sits down with Emma Parnell (Lead Service Designer for organisations like Snook and NHS digital, and now head of design for her business Joy) to talk about the importance of building networks.

To start I would love to learn a bit more about you and your career as a Service Designer.

I started like many as a Graphic Designer, as Service Design as a discipline was still emerging. I was initially designing packaging, but after a while I decided I wanted to use my skills for good – I didn’t really know what that meant, I just knew that was the direction I wanted to head in. Over time, I moved into brand, which morphed more into strategy and in turn Service.
I was living in New Zealand at the time, working in an agency, and there was a lot of noise around design thinking. I was really attracted to the idea of designing things with the user. After moving back to the UK I made the transition to Service Design and had the opportunity to join Snook as their first London employee.

A lot of designers might be out there not knowing where to start – how would you go about starting to build your network?

People talk about networking and building a network all the time, but I feel they are two different things. I feel that starting in the digital space is less scary. Technology has changed things so it no longer has to be about going to networking events and hiding in toilets from embarrassment.
Whilst I have attended networking events, I have found that building my network via digital platforms has been key for my personal success and is a great place to learn and connect. Online communities also allow you to continuously learn and grow from others.
I started growing my network through Twitter initially. It’s definitely a low barrier to entry into a community of great people willing to help.
I only recently came to LinkedIn since I started running my own business and I’ve enjoyed getting to know a new platform. But Twitter has always been a great learning resource for me moving from Graphic Design to Service Design. It’s a great space to give a voice to new designers, and to engage with senior people in the industry to learn and grow. Obviously things are changing with this platform though, and it remains to be seen whether the experience I’ve had with it over the last 5 years will continue.

How do you recommend people start building their own personal brand and making space for themselves with their network?

I think it depends where you are on your journey and career, even just connecting with people on LinkedIn can add value as you can read their content, learn more and reach out later down the line.
If you are keen to start engaging with individuals – don’t be afraid to ask if you need help. The community is normally keen to help, and I try to connect and talk to anyone who needs advice as I know it can be challenging and I want to give back.
If you are trying to get into freelancing and starting to create your brand and network, the key things that have really helped me are:

  • Knowing when to get help and advice, even if that’s paid for, for example I had some great photographs taken by Sarah Tulej that help me amplify my brand. I also paid for some LinkedIn training from Laurie Macpherson, who supports women who want to make change in their careers.
  • Have something memorable about you, it can be as simple as a colour. I try to link my ‘brand’ to who I am as a person and make sure that I create content in line with that. I have always been known for being quite open and honest and I want my personal values to come across clearly when I’m speaking.
  • Consistently sharing what you do and what you are good at. Consistency is one of the areas I struggled with at first, just posting when the mood strikes me, but I have found that posting consistently both about my skills but also sharing interest pieces once a week is a great way to start conversations and get your name out there.


What advice would you give to people who are nervous about posting?

One of the ways I worked on overcoming it was by getting involved with an amazing organisation called ‘Upfront’. They work with people who identify as women to build confidence and to help you to start doing what you want to be doing while overcoming any doubt.
My confidence grew as content began to snowball. With more engagement comes more feedback. That feedback has encouraged me to continue, and I no longer feel like I am just talking into a void.
Women in particular need to lean into being more visible. We’ve been conditioned by society to do the opposite and that’s instilled fear in many of us. If more women put themselves out there maybe that would encourage others to do the same. What’s the worst that could happen eh?!

Emma Parnell runs Joy, a design agency specialising in service design consultancy. She also offers mentoring and public speaking services. You can find out more on Joy’s website.

Ebonie Mather is keen to share your thoughts and insights, get involved, contact via her details below. You can also check out her recent interview with the Senior User Researcher at Spotify.

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