Help from Design Thinking for the Creation of Digital Services

Professor of Applied Art and Design Satu Miettinen is leading the University of Lapland’s research project in which service design methods are being developed to meet the needs of digital production for the companies of the N4S programme. With the aid of service design, customer understanding is increased in product development and the design of new products is speeded up.

The University of Lapland is on the Arctic Circle itself, but most of Lapland is to the north of the Arctic Circle. It’s normal in winter that the temperature falls below -25C. In Lapland, blizzards and frosts are no reason to stay at home instead of being at work or school. Society works in all conditions. The Arctic service design at the University of Lapland means a type of design that begins with understanding the Arctic environment and conditions and also takes into account the adaptation of people to the Arctic conditions.

Satu Miettinen

Professor Satu Miettinen and her group considers how and which service design tools help to speed up the service production of the company and how the service design process should be constructed.

“Arctic design means the development of northern well-being and sustainable development. For me, Arctic design is crystallised in the idea that design is no longer used just for aesthetics – nowadays it’s used for staying alive,” says Hanna-Riina Vuontisjärvi, a service designer at the University of Lapland. Vuontisjärvi works in Satu Miettinen’s group, which studies and applies service design in the requirements of different companies and public administration bodies.

Design thinking is an integral part of a new kind of management. The methods used in service design, such as scenarios, storytelling and prototyping, help decision-makers to see the changes in the operational environments of the future. It’s a question of collecting the existing data and analysing it in a new way. Service design is of help in the IT field when it is necessary, for example, to familiarise oneself with a new technical ecosystem and begin to use its applications.

The Importance of Prototyping

According to Satu Miettinen, prototyping serves as a platform for co-creation, and it helps to convey the emotional components of service value. Prototyping and simulation methods are experiential learning and teaching tools that enable the emotional engagement of participants.

Satu Miettinen on service design

“Prototyping can provide emotional value to businesses through the conscious and subconscious information it can reveal and communicate to different stakeholders. A dedicated place and time for prototyping, a skilled facilitator, and the active participation of stakeholders are the practical requirements for co-creation sessions. Personal experimentation and collaboration is emphasised in eliciting emotional insight in co-creation. Prototyping sessions can support decision making, help in bridging functional silos in big companies and help in using tacit knowledge as a resource in these mutual learning sessions.” 

The research group of Miettinen considers how and which service design tools help to speed up the service production of the company and how the service design process should be constructed. The starting point is considering how the methods of service design support the birth of customer understanding and the development of the business idea.

"Design thinking is a solution-centred activity in which use is made of expertise from many fields with the aid of creative, visual and concretising methods," says Hanna-Riina Vuontisjärvi.

Finland, the UK, Denmark and Germany are all forerunners in service design. For example in the UK, Denmark and Finland, service design methods have already been used systematically to improve public services. In Finland, the Association of Local and Regional Authorities has used service design in forecasting and identifying coming changes in society and customer relationships.

Service design will be needed in the public administration of Finland because a part of the public service business activity has been transferred to different unincorporated state enterprises in the last few decades. At the same time, new models for ordering and producing services have been designed. In this way, service design creates possibilities to make use of and apply new working methods in the planning of services that connect the public and private sectors.

Service design works as a tool for the production, forecasting and development work of the municipality’s or town’s new content. It is part of decision-making. In municipal administration, new ideas come into use when the decision-makers are involved in the service design itself.

The satisfaction of municipality members can be increased by identifying their hidden needs and producing services for them as easy service paths. A service path means the progress of the service from the perspective of the client. It takes into account things which can be affected by planning and which the service user encounters.

Arktikum Rovaniemi

Arktikum in Rovaniemi is a museum, science centre and conference venue right on the Arctic Circle. The Arctic region is examined in light of the Arctic research of today and the future. The exhibitions provide a comprehensive section of the history and culture of Finnish Lapland as well as of Arctic knowledge.

“Service design is of help in the IT field when it is necessary, for example, to familiarise oneself with a new technical ecosystem and begin to use its applications.”

Orientated towards the Future

Service design is orientated towards the future. Financial decisions are often made looking back into the past – with the aid of design methods, the view is directed towards the future instead.

According to Vuontisjärvi, a fundamental question is how to study something that does not exist yet.

“Research is done with the aid of artefacts, sketches, different environments and models. It focuses on everyday user problems, such as how to get used to new technical ecosystems and how to learn by doing.”

Miettinen’s group offers different kinds of visualisation tools for the use of companies.

“The tools can be, for example, visualisation in the form of photos, videos, scenarios and profiles – in a different way from using text or speech, images, i.e. visuality, make it easier to create mutual understanding between, say, the development team and the client,” says Vuontisjärvi.

An example of the efficiency of service design methods is making the product development process of a large company visible, recognising challenges and solving them together with the personnel of the organisation.

“Both time and money savings are created. In addition, we have brought customerships closer to the company by, amongst other things, identifying potential user groups and bringing their product/service experience closer to the development teams of companies through videos, interviews and workshops. Customerships could be brought even closer to the product development and testing processes of companies – not only by means of big data but through a real, face-to-face interaction,” comments Vuontisjärvi.

The Cardboard Hospital as a Prototype Brought Significant Savings

At the University Hospital of Tampere, there was a wish to design a patient-centred hospital environment. Service design was used to map out the treatment path of a sarcoma patient.

In the project carried out co-operatively by the hospital and service design researchers from Aalto University, the staff and patient took part in projects together. The methods employed included interviews, joint discussions and games. The core method in the development of the premises, service and experiences was prototyping. A large cardboard hospital was constructed in the large studio of Aalto University, in which patients, staff, researchers and architects together thought about and tested the features of good hospital premises.

As a result, new patient materials were created that describe the treatment in a better way from the perspective of the patient and a sarcoma nurse was taken on, whose job advertisement was drafted by the patients. The information and skills acquired in the project will be used from here on in the hospital for its own development work. The treatment path of the patient became shorter, processes became more rational and the hospital saved money.

Service Design in Companies

In northern Finland, the clients of the research group have been among others Danske Bank, Norrhydro, Santa Park and Lapland Safaris. Prototyping sessions were held in these companies, which helped to make the internal processes of the companies transparent.

Levi igloo interior

Arctic design. The glass-ceilinged Levi igloos are 10 kilometers from ski resort of Levi in Finnish Lapland. The constantly changing Arctic landscape is the roof. The triple-windows of the igloos are insulated and electrically heated to keep them from frosting.

“Ideally, the sessions helped the development management realise what is actually happening in the company regardless of formal guidelines or service manuals. On the other hand, the participants were able to identify and suggest good practices and successes worth spreading across the entire company. This was not limited to increasing customer satisfaction, but also includes potentially increasing job satisfaction and helping employees achieve personal sales goals,” says Miettinen.

According to Miettinen, prototyping sessions also serve as an internal benchmarking and platform for analysing and developing the customer experience of different existing business sites of the company (e.g. travel destinations).

“The use of prototyping methods was also identified as a new educational tool for training the actions of service staff during interactions with customers. This is important because the mood of the customer service person has an impact on the customer’s emotional experience.”

Miettinen’s group also did development projects, in addition to the ones for these four companies, for the lift manufacturer Kone Ltd. Furthermore, interview questionnaires were done for professionals who worked in service design in different companies in Germany, the United States, Italy and Finland. These were among others GE, Intuit, IDEO, Adaptive Path, LVL Studio, Volkswagen, Whitespace, BetterDoctor, Experientia and Diagonal. In these companies, service design is part of the company’s strategy or business activity. Volkswagen uses it in the development of its own products while IDEO sells service design, as do Experientia and Diagonal.

The research created a case for understanding both the designer’s role in value creation and the service design approach that enables this value creation. Research data were collected through thematic interviews and participatory observation and were analysed using theory-driven content analysis. 

"These preliminary results indicated the absence of the field of co-design research in digital ecosystems: there is the necessary infrastructure and machinery in place in global corporations, but the tools and methods for thinking “in terms of programmes” are still lacking"

According to Miettinen, value co-creation models have changed. New models place the customers’ needs at the focal point of the development process.

“There is more pressure to engage and involve the customer in the innovation process. This places the designer in a more central and strategic position in the company. This has also changed the role of the designer and added new skills and competences to their professional portfolio.”

Currently, Miettinen’s group is working in co-operation in the N4S project with F-Secure and Elektrobit in particular.

”Different prototyping techniques enable us to speed up the service development process. The service design approach gives us the tools to concretise the service offerings that are delivered through different digital channels and smart devices. The service design approach gives us the means in the project to look at how the service experience is formed both through the customer journey and at different touchpoints.”

Ari Turunen
October 15, 2014