Senior Design Researcher

  • 1401 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA
  • Full-time

Company Description

A best-in-class city that attracts best-in-class talent, Philadelphia is an incredible place to build a career. From our thriving arts scene and rich history to our culture of passion and grit, there are countless reasons to love living and working here. With a workforce of over 30,000 people, and more than 1,000 different job categories, the City of Philadelphia offers boundless opportunities to make an impact. 

As an employer, the City of Philadelphia values inclusion, integrity, innovation, empowerment, and hard work above all else. We offer a vibrant work environment, comprehensive health care and benefits, and the experience you need to grow and excel. If you’re interested in working with a passionate team of people who care about the future of Philadelphia, start here

What We Offer:

  Impact - The work you do here matters to millions. 

  Growth - Philadelphia is growing, why not grow with it? 

  Diversity & Inclusion - Find a career in a place where everyone belongs.

  Opportunities in Tech - Don’t wait for the future, shape it.

  Benefits - We care about your wellbeing.


Agency Description

The Office of the Chief Administrator (CAO) strengthens the City’s administrative functions and enables resident-facing departments to continually improve service delivery. The Service Design Studio is positioned within the CAO to support its work in enhancing the City’s resident-facing services.

The Service Design Studio is a team of design research practitioners and service design activists who are dedicated to making government service delivery more accessible, human, and just. The Studio is an internal strategic design consultancy that tackles service improvement projects from a person-first perspective—ranging from action-based research and service redesign to strategic implementation and change management.

In practice, the Studio supports and expands the work of City colleagues by partnering with: 1) Agencies: We advance their strategic goals and service improvement efforts; 2) Policy-makers: We help prototype policy ideas before implementation; 3) Program directors: We evaluate the effectiveness of service delivery through our holistic service design lens; and 4) City employees: We empower colleagues with strategic design methods and tools for use in their work. 

For more information on the team’s past work, please read our 2019 blog series: 

Job Description

We’re looking for a Senior Design Researcher to be a founding member of the CAO’s Service Design Studio. 

We believe the act of designing is never neutral, service access is a social justice issue, and people closest to service challenges should inform service improvement efforts. As a result, we’re looking for candidates who are passionate about evidence-based decision-making, who are dedicated to ethical and inclusive design, who are effective communicators and collaborators, and who are committed to the in-depth work required to drive lasting change within a large organization and complex service environment. 

As a Senior Design Researcher, you’ll report to the Director of Strategic Design and lead the design research phases of service design projects. You’ll collaborate with team members to ensure the design research practice area is rigorous and sustainable. In addition, you’ll mentor emerging team members—helping to expand their skill-sets and deliver exceptional work. Lastly, you’ll amplify the Service Design Studio’s approach and project work—publicly.

Essential functions
As a senior member of the team, you’re responsible for leading all aspects of design research and evaluation. You’ll empower the Studio’s service designers to perform rigorous design research, and you’ll help build the design research practice at the City of Philadelphia.

Below are the primary duties of this position:

Designing and facilitating research

  • Write protocols that draw from a mix of qualitative and quantitative research techniques, including cross-channel needs assessments, contextual inquiry, usability testing, pilot evaluation, and participatory design (among others).
  • Define sample size and participant focus.
  • Plan the logistics of design research—including recruitment, scheduling, and facilitation.
  • Perform ethical design research to understand the service-related needs of residents, staff, leaders, and other stakeholders.
  • Do no harm in your design research work; meaning, protect participants and the data they share.
  • Effectively analyze results and lead the analysis process with team members.
  • Synthesize research into strategic insights and well-defined opportunity areas that inform holistic service design interventions.


  • Visualize research analysis throughout the course of a design research process.
  • Develop compelling narratives that communicate the human experience to decision-makers, so they can make clear decisions that align with evidence.
  • Create insights reports and deliverables that document process, learnings, and intervention points.


  • Communicate work without jargon or pretense.
  • Ensure design research processes include the right people, at the right points in time.
  • Offer and take constructive feedback.
  • Respect team members and stakeholders’ time.
  • Communicate with clarity and honesty around the status of work.
  • Cultivate and maintain respectful relationships with project stakeholders.

Project managing

  • Break down projects into reasonable project plans with clear deliverables, milestones, and deadlines.
  • Lead project partners and team members through design research processes.
  • Clearly communicate project plans and their status to leadership, team members, and other stakeholders.
  • Effectively navigate through ambiguity and project challenges.
  • Deliver projects on time.


  • Set standards of practice for design research with Studio team members.
  • Expand team members’ skill-sets through regular feedback, learning sessions, and one-on-one mentorship.
  • Design and facilitate skill-shares with City colleagues, so they can apply design research methods to their work.


  • Disseminate lessons learned, tools, and best practices of the Studio to the public.
  • Actively contribute to the field of service design and design research through journal submissions, conference participation, and community skill-shares.


Qualifications (education and experience)

  • A design research-related degree or relevant industry experience
  • 5 (+) years of professional experience at a design consultancy or a graduate degree plus 3 (+) years of professional experience
  • 5 (+) years managing project relationships with colleagues, clients, and project stakeholders

Nice-to-have skills:

  • Bilingual 
  • Strong visual design aesthetic
  • Experience with community-based and participatory design
  • Experience working in the social impact space on complex service challenges

Competencies, knowledge, skills, and abilities
  • Perspective on craft: Have a seasoned perspective on design research tools, methods, and processes.
  • Creative: Ability to push against dogma, think beyond what has already been done, and creatively problem solve within known constraints.
  • Excellent communicator: Ability to articulate jargon to general audiences, explain the logic behind decisions, craft compelling narratives, and write/speak clearly.
  • Relationship-builder: Ability to work with a variety of people and personalities and cultivate strong relationships to ensure seamless collaboration.
  • Curious: Ability to practice active listening, ask questions to get at the root of a problem, be open to receiving/giving constructive feedback, and have a sincere interest in learning new skills and growing old ones.
  • Compassionate: Ability to empathize with people’s experiences, and based on that understanding, take appropriate action.
  • Rigorous: Ability to be detail-oriented and intentional in your work.
  • Organized: Demonstrated ability to manage multiple projects, estimate timelines, rework a project approach based on unforeseen challenges, work well under pressure, and set/meet reasonable deadlines.
  • Proactive: Ability to see opportunities, navigate barriers, be self-directed, and problem solve solutions that enhance the Studio’s deliverables, processes, and practices.
  • Broad spectrum: Know enough about the design, communication, and technology fields to effectively collaborate across disciplines. 
  • Resilient: Ability to learn from mistakes and return to work after experiencing a setback.
  • Amplifier: Ability to amplify others’ strengths and successes and operate beyond ego and self-interest.

Additional Information

Salary Range: $80,000 - 90,000

The City of Philadelphia is interested in hiring the best possible candidate. We recognize that experience, education, and qualifications can be attained in a variety of ways and that many skill-sets are transferable. If you feel you’re a good fit, please don’t hesitate to apply.

All applications should include the following:

  • A one-page cover letter explaining why you’re passionate about being a founding member of the CAO’s Service Design Studio and what role design research can play in improving public sector service delivery.
  • Your resume or curriculum vitae

  • At least three work samples that demonstrate your expertise in designing and facilitating research that informs human-centered design decisions. Samples could include design research protocol, workshop playbooks, and findings and recommendations reports.

Please note: Only complete applications will be considered for review, so read the above application requirements carefully.

Did you know?

  • We are a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program qualified employer
  • 25% tuition discount program for City employees (and sometimes spouses and dependents as well) in partnership with area colleges and universities
  • Comprehensive health coverage for employees and their eligible dependents
  • A wellness program that offers eligibility into the discounted medical plan
  • Paid vacation, sick leave, and holidays
  • Generous retirement savings options

Successful candidate must be a city of Philadelphia resident within six months of hire

The City of Philadelphia is an Equal Opportunity employer and does not permit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, marital status, source of income, familial status, genetic information or domestic or sexual violence victim status. If you believe you were discriminated against, call the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations at 215-686-4670 or send an email to [email protected] For more information, go to: Human Relations Website: