Take note, designers: the future is theirs! – Insights from the Service Design School

Anniina Ojutkangas4.3.2021DesignReading time 6 min

When our service design school project came to an end in December 2020, we were feeling wistful but inspired. What was actually done and what was the outcome of this interesting design project? And ultimately: what did we learn?

Service Design School is a service design concept that was implemented for the first time with sixth-graders from Tampere during autumn 2020. In the pilot project, the pupils designed digital solutions that support their own well-being.

A design sprint of its kind

The structure of the service design school followed loosely the structure of the design sprint, well-known in agile software development, but we adapted it to better suit the school setting. 

Design sprints are usually carried out within a week, but we stretched the schedule to cover the whole fall semester and split the workshops between different classes. The time available for a single workshop was quite limited, which affected the content and materials of the workshops. We answered the given challenge by focusing on extra clarity in all materials and instructions.

The workshop structure can also be viewed from the Design Council’s double diamond model perspective. The project was started by studying the well-being theme and continued with ideating and delimiting the right problem, all the way to building the prototype.

A double diamond depicting the progress of our service design school

The structure of the service design school

Creating prototypes, and then testing them with classmates turned out to be a particularly fun part of the project. This was probably due to the concretization of the early vague stages of the design process into tangible application prototypes through which pupils received feedback and development ideas.

Finally, the service concepts were crystallized based on the test results. The pupils prepared to present their concepts with scenarios and prototypes. 

Accessible service design

Teaching children was a new experience for both me and my service designer colleague Emma Laiho. One of the questions that came up right at the beginning of the project when designing the teaching materials was how should service design be verbalized for primary school children?

In service design, as in many other fields, a lot of special terms are used that can be foreign to uninitiated adults as well. So how could we assume that an 11-year-old understands what facilitation or prototyping means? We couldn't.

We made the materials as clear and understandable as possible. This meant avoiding more specific design terms – or if advanced terminology was used, the meaning of the terms was first thoroughly explained. Service design alone was an unknown concept to the pupils, so it was introduced through concrete examples.

The development stage of the sixth-graders also had to be taken into account. It was clear that they do not have the same experience of working methods as adults. Adopting new ways of working and thinking can sometimes be heavy, so we lightened and simplified the materials a bit. For example, journey map was called course of the day, and scenarios were talked about as future stories.

Innovative solutions based on genuine needs

The design work was guided by two design drivers that were defined already at the beginning of the project: well-being and digital services. After all, the goal was to design digital services that support well-being. The well-being theme ran through the workshops and was returned to as needed. There was no need to guide pupils to design specifically digital services: these kids are digital natives who have grown up surrounded by the internet, so they took their designs towards that direction naturally.

By the end of the project, three well-being-themed applications based on the pupils’ own needs were created.

  • The support app for bullied children provides an opportunity to talk to others who have experienced bullying and to chat with professional helpers. The purpose of the app is also to make bullying more transparent in society.

  • The school meal related app aims to increase the interaction between the pupils and kitchen staff, gathering information about food preferences and encouraging children to lead a healthy lifestyle.

  • The app aiming to slow down climate change helps its users to reduce their carbon footprint by providing organic recipes, tips, and an online store for organic products.

A prototype for a school food themed app

School meal themed app

Inclusion and influence through design

The services designed by the pupils surprised - at least us the facilitators - with their progressiveness, innovativeness and social significance. The experiences of sixth-graders as users of digital services were evident in the interesting and detailed features and functionalities of the designed user interfaces. 

The pupils also turned out to be experienced project workers, right down to the presentations. All designed solutions received positive feedback and further development ideas from the executive team of the city of Tampere's Education and Learning Services.

The pupils’ ability to a comprehensive and wide-ranging problem solving and the freshness of the ideas certainly delighted every adult who participated in the experiment. Here, the ideology of learning “not for school but for life” materialized very well.

–Kristiina Järvelä, Director of Education and Learning Services

It also turned out that solutions of the two planned applications were already being developed. The innovative ideas were promised to be carried forward to application developers and to involve them in development. 

This was important particularly from the perspective of experiencing inclusion. The sixth-graders made their voices heard through an inclusive design process and were able to make a real contribution in promoting the well-being of children and young people in the future through their design work.

A prototype for an environment-themed app

Climate change themed app

What did we learn?

  1. When teaching a new subject, it is important to take into account the starting level of the learners, both children and adults, and avoid unnecessary jargon.

  2. The innovativeness and experiential expertise of children and young people should be utilized by involving them in the development of services more often.

  3. Service design is well suited for children and the school setting and brings new perspectives on learning.

So if you’re a digital service designer, you might want to take care of developing your own skills - one of them can be your co-worker in a decade. And that is just the beginning.

The service design school is also suitable for companies that need new perspectives on development and want to increase their design maturity through service design. Would you like to hear more about the concept? Contact us!

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