Gaining customer insight through a design game
A design game is an efficient method for deepening our understanding of customers and collecting information about a product’s desired users.
At the end of April, we participated in Service Design Network Finland’s national conference in Helsinki. The key theme of the conference was to examine the evolving role of service design.
We decided to contribute to the theme by hosting a design game around the topic to explore the future of service design three to five years from now. The aim of the game was to gather insights and viewpoints on how conference attendees – including service designers, design students, and clients – see service design evolving and what are the key trends that can be identified from the current state of the practice.
Our key research questions were: What’s going on in service design at the moment, and in which ways should service design evolve?
We had a hop-on hop-off concept for the game to make sure that everyone gets to engage and offer their valuable insights. Altogether we had about 50 visitors playing the game.
The approach was similar to the design games we have facilitated previously with end-customers. We wanted to discuss the main topic by dividing the game into four themes: Missions, Tools & Methods, Environment, and Culture.
Missions theme deals with the problems that are currently solved using service design, as well as problems that it could be used to solve in the future. It answers the question: Why should we use service design as a framework?
Tools & Methods theme maps out the methodologies that are currently working well in the service design practice, and if there are still tools or frameworks that could be used more actively.
Environment theme examines how changes in the operational environment and shifting client needs affect the practice.
Culture theme explores the values service design stands for and the ways of working it brings to development projects and/or teams.
These themes were investigated with the help of question cards that all game participants got to answer at the same time. Everyone wrote their answers on post-its, after which we discussed them together.
To leave more room for imagination and tuning in with the unexpected, we also gave the participants the possibility to visualize their future views with arts and crafts materials. This option was used only randomly, but when it was, the results were delightful and thought-provoking.
When examining the participants’ answers, it clearly came across that by now service design has proved its indisputable importance and value for business.
Many saw good customer experience as an inevitable outcome of using service design, as it brings in customer perspective and insights, and has the tools to interpret that knowledge to inform design and business decisions.
People also saw service design as a powerful tool for businesses to build processes that save time, money, resources, and nerves. Additionally, design’s ability to look beyond existing solutions and build future foresight came up as something not to be overlooked.
What participants considered to be the most crucial benefit of service design was its ability to help forming a holistic understanding of the challenge at hand. As one participant put it, service design takes both the human and the system into consideration and thus creates impactful future solutions that work.
Participants also brought up that service design has an important role in enabling teamwork, collaboration, and participation. It has the tools to engage people in different roles within the organization, both to impact decision making and to create solutions together.
The game participants were confident that service design will be used in all kinds of contexts in the near future. Understanding the core principles of service design will no longer be the domain of designers alone, but an increasing number of people from different backgrounds will be able to participate in its practice and implementation.
Participants reckoned that communities and groups will use it to co-design their everyday lives and as part of decision-making. Especially user groups who might have been ignored in the innovation process due to their weaker direct purchasing power were brought up as important actors in future service design. For example, children and seniors were seen as core players in designing targeted solutions for themselves.
A clear trend was seen in linking service design to societal issues, designing for government, and shaping policy-making.
In this context, the power of service design lies especially in co-designing and quick prototyping. As Andrea Simodnok, head of the UK government’s Policy Lab and a Deputy Director at the Cabinet Office, stated in her keynote The Art of the Possible: Service design can “create testbeds, sandboxes, and trials in real world settings” and “foster a nexus where government, experts and citizens can co-create change.”
In fact, a whole track of talks at the conference was curated around the subject of how service design has been used for common good. To name but a few, the following two case studies were good examples of designing for public administration: Suse Miessner and Mariana Salgado’s experiences on co-designing in Migri (see more on the subject in Mariana Salgado´s blog), and Using Design Sprints with civil servants by Maria Leinvuo and Anni Leppänen from D9.
Several of the design game participants brought up health care as a field that intersects with service design in many ways. We’ve seen service design create solutions, new models, and services for it, surely, but participants also mentioned health care’s human-centricity when asked if there are frameworks or methodologies or fields that service design could learn from. And why not: think of the learnings from Helen Sanderson associates, for example.
In general, the sciences that examine and explain human behavior and the drivers that people have were seen as disciplines that service design could borrow from even more in the future. Although for example ethnographic research methods have long been practiced in service design, anthropology was still highlighted as a study to benchmark. Educational sciences were also seen as a field that helps to understand humans; what motivates them, and how things can be learned or unlearned. Some participants would also like to see psychology experts combine their expertise with service design.
Designing education and ways of teaching at school were also mentioned as a fruitful playground for service design. In fact, service design has already been used in this context and one participant suggested that it could maybe become an export for Finland, just like our comprehensive school already is. Perhaps this thought was inspired by the heart-warming case study talk by Milla Kokko?
As a result of continuous development in technology, the possibilities of AI and machine learning and how these will contribute to service design came up frequently. The emerging technologies were seen not only as an asset for design, but also as generating opportunities for creating new business models.
New technological advancements also stimulated discussion about non-human stakeholders as participants and actors in projects. A theme that’s been touched upon in the UX and interaction design field a lot – recently especially from the viewpoint of designing for voice UIs, and certainly in the context of smart objects and intelligent environments, too. The aspect of non-human stakeholders was also brought up by Birgit Mager in her opening keynote of the day (see slides).
As the participants saw the development of new technologies as a force that will have an effect on the way we do things in the future, there was a call for even tighter cooperation between techies and designers. The more we communicate, understand and learn from each other’s fields and methodologies, the better the services we can make.
The discussions around our design game proved that enthusiasm towards service design is not diminishing. The value it brings through creating great customer experiences has been acknowledged more widely than ever, and businesses from small start-ups to big multinational corporations see the benefits of investing in it. The participants thought that service design will inevitably spread across all industries and people with different levels of expertise will become even more familiar with it.
This doesn’t mean that service design experts wouldn’t be needed anymore – quite the opposite. The skills of empathizing with users, mapping out systems, and synthesizing different aspects into new solutions will remain highly valued.
Also, as organizations and communities are deploying service design practices and experiencing their benefits, the practitioners will be even more in demand, though the designer’s role might shift more to that of a coach, a facilitator for innovation process, and/or a builder of organizations’ internal competencies.
All in all, service design is a shared process that involves people from different aspects of the same challenge to create solutions in a collaborative manner.
This blog post came about from a similar co-effort exercise and would not exist without all of you who came to play the game with us. Thanks for sharing your valuable insights on the future of service design!