Frontstage during intense situations like job interviews or backstage with interpersonal relationships, humans perform according to specific social rules.
These interactions require different symbolic social masks under multiple contexts. These masks inform our identity or the ways we view ourselves. The employment titles we hold, in turn, shape core cognitive abilities beyond our identity. But should our jobs have that impact on us?

Starting with a content analysis of Service Designer portfolios and then Discourse Analysis on job descriptions, this thesis explores the realms of self-presentation. Autoethnographic or personal experiences with neurodivergence, chronic illness, and burnout led to the eventual creation of a freelance studio.

This thesis questions whether we can redefine societal expectations of employment and productivity through a more critical lens.

Theoretical Background

“Design is … outer stimuli thrown together into the mixer of the human brain. The result is something that is various parts intellect, inspiration, and obsession.”
Paula Scher, Graphic Designer
Service is a philosophical mindset.

Surrendering to the mystery of life.

I am not stronger than you, I do not know more than you.

We are equals.

Employment & Identity

Those with Service Designer in the title had higher rates of job satisfaction, despite making less than those without.

Primary Research

What does it mean to be a Service Designer?

To explore this topic, I approached it from two perspectives.

Candidate Self-Presentation


I always intended to include a reflective portion of my research. I never expected an autoethnography to become the core research method.

In April 2021 I experienced a full mental and physical breakdown, burnout, whatever you want to call it. I was hospitalized for 20+ days that year.

Not long before that, I learned I was neurodivergent (AuDHD) and going through the typical about-to-graduate-need-a-job stress. But I was masking so heavily that I started feel physical consequences.

My gallbladder was removed, then also diagnosed with a rare chronic illness. Fun year *sarcasm*

Insights & Mapping

Utilizing the Levels of Understanding table, I incorporated  autoethnographic confessions as microcosms of larger systemic events happening under late stage capitalism.

The purpose was to identify the most immediate "fires" and ideating potential ways to extinguish them.

Click to learn more.

Ecosystem Map

When I got lost in research while sick, I turned to mapping as a way to re-center the project. It made the intangible complexity, a little more manageable.

I mapped out everything I could think of, the actors, the touchpoints, the artifacts, and the different types of interactions we have throughout the process.

The candidate sits in the system’s center and has a rich internal world or world within. The heart represents where most of this project focused with portfolios and that initial part of the process.

Finally, the star is where I identified an opportunity space for further introspection and self-reflection as part of this employment ecosystem.
Employed persons with a disability were more likely to be self-employed than those with no disability
Bureau of labor statistics 2022

Prototyping & Artifacts

Basically, I started the thesis, got really sick and needed to focus on myself, before serving others as a designer. It may be seen as selfish, but it was more like placing my own oxygen mask on this airplane

I cannot be my best creative and curious self when I am unable to function. The prototyping I did failed every time, because I was trying to fix, the world of Service Design. All while I was in and out of the hospital, anxious for what would happen next.

After I spend some time healing, I began creating my own freelance service design studio. Its an untapped opportunity space that I identified during the mapping phases. Thus, this new portfolio and Brielance Design LLC were born.

But, because I am a service designer
I needed to make something that did serve others so I could graduate...