Service Design meets Futures Thinking

A series of posts discussing the statement “Futures Research supports the Service Design process in multiple ways and throughout the whole process”. Part #1: Conclusions based on the first round of literature review
by Minna Koskelo and Anu K. Nousiainen.

This is the first post by the authors regarding the “Service Design meets Futures Thinking” research that they have conducted in summer 2012.

During our Master’s Degree studies of Service Design and Innovation at Laurea University of Applied Sciences we noticed that Futures Research was lightly covered in the literature of (Service) Design Thinking and related practices. Since both of us have a professional background in Strategic Foresight in the private sector we knew that Futures Research can be utilized especially for innovation and for identifying new business opportunities. Therefore, we decided to investigate the topic and our assumption in order to explain how these fields can benefit and supplement one another.

Having said that, we acknowledge two things: First, Service Design as well as Futures Research are both young branches especially in the academic field and they have not been on the top of the research agenda. Second, we see our research report (course work) as a beginning for a wider research. The literature review does not yet cover all the available sources but serves more as a general overview of the situation based on the popular and/or latest sources available in both fields.

Assumption of the linkage between Service Design, Futures Research and Innovation in current literature

Assumptions prior the investigation. Umbrella = Innovation

In current literature and practices the combining aspect for “Service Design Thinking” and “Futures Research” seems to be “Innovation”. Innovation is the umbrella for Service Design and Futures Research since the ultimate goal for both practises in the context of target oriented business is to bring novelty and new opportunities for both existing and future markets.

Before the desk research on selected sources we formulated the following assumptions as starting points: 1) In innovation oriented titles and practices Service Design (or at least Design Thinking overall) has gained awareness and interest as part of the (scattered) toolkit. Further, 2) Futures Research is attached to the innovation process especially through scenario work but the current written sources do not seem to elaborate the full scale of related and various methods. Finally, 3) though Futures Research is visible in Service Design processes it seems that again the whole scale of methods and their optimal placeholder in the Service Design process is not clearly highlighted in literature or in practice.

Focus of our investigation = Processes, methods and tools for service business innovation

However, the practical and most important purpose for our research was to highlight the points where Trends and Futures insights can bring crucial value for Service Design projects and thus, influence the quality of the Service Design process outcomes. Therefore, in addition to investigating and finding principles for both of the fields (which we will get back later with another post in this series) we concentrated especially on process descriptions and related methods and tools in the areas of “Service Design”, “Design Thinking”, “Futures Research”, “Trends”, “Futures Thinking” and “Innovation”.

Another focus was to find out themes and topics where both Service Design activities and Futures Research activities were being discussed together. Based on this preliminary literature review we were able to summarize the findings describing the process, methods and synergy point-of-views on how Service Design meets Futures Thinking. Service Design process by Stefan Moritz (2005) served as a common platform for the purpose.

Service Design process and Foresight process aim at new concept innovation

Post investigation conclusions. Design Thinking + Futures Research = Sustainable Service Business

Design Thinking and Futures Research hold the principles that are required for surviving in business life. Service Design and Futures Research, however, are more than principles and approaches: they provide processes and tools for gaining insights relevant for business, to ideate and imagine the unthinkable in uncertain economies, to model and concept novel value, and to anticipate and realize future innovations. They are disciplines of their own but hold similarities in terms of future orientation and co-creative means to process future opportunities and thus, ensuring flourishing service business.

Futures Research helps designers to develop services that have taken direction and drivers of change already into consideration. In the long run this translates and transforms the business into a differentiated one with a competitive advantage offering unique services that are built to last. In other words, building a sustainable business.

Exploring the fields of Service Design and Futures Research – and how these two fields are discussed together in the literature – we drew the following conclusions focusing on core commonalities:

Service Design Thinking and Futures Research 1) ensure sustainable business, because 2) they provide tools and processes for innovation through effective 3) visual and anticipatory stories by means of 4) co-creative research methods and iterative processes which nurture the unthinkable.

To Be Continued. Welcome.

Based on the literature review and lively discussions around the topic of connecting Futures Research more concretely with the Service Design process we will get back to our findings in terms of process and method specific approach as well as recommendations for practitioners on how to approach the topic.

From the research point-of-view we recommend and invite the following actions in order to both further elaborate and investigate the possibilities between the two fields, since there is a need to elaborate Futures Research methods in Service Design related literature and practice:

  1. Enhanced literature review covering more articles as well as practice based books by professional agencies in the areas of Service Design, Design Thinking and Futures Research.
  2. Literature review covering Business Management in the areas of innovation processes and Business Thinking tools and methods in order to bring decision making and business case creation closer to the target driven Service Design process.
  3. Case studies in collaboration with different kind of organizations in order to find the best practice process and tools for diverse Service Design projects and to further explore the conclusions presented.

PS. We warmly welcome discussion around our findings and suggestions especially for the continuation for the work that we both see very promising for the design thinkers, futurists and for businesses and organizations keen on revisiting their strategic visions, value creation processes and offerings. Interestingly, a special event took place when we were finalizing our research and report for “Futures Research enhanced Service Design process” when Lahti University of Applied Sciences in Finland launched two publications for their series about Service Design.  Surprisingly, the project team profile was heavily futures oriented experts including recognized academics. Hence, one can make an assumption that futurists at least in Finland have realized that there are elements in Service Design that can be utilized in creating alternative futures

Authors:
Minna Koskelo (LinkedIn)

Experienced in marketing and branding. Secialized in customer insights and futures thinking. Approach is multidisciplinary applying various of methods  including service design, futures research, marketing and branding. ”My mission is simple: to help people and organizations with my knowledge and expertise. ”  The past 9 years worked with brands from various fields both focused on b2c and b2b. Driven by meaning and purpose. ”To understand the world I live in is my passion. The quest starts always with why, not how.”

Anu Nousiainen (Linkedin)

A practitioner combining and harnessing various toolkits for the purpose of better business, for the sake of better life – and always for and with people.

7 thoughts on “Service Design meets Futures Thinking

  1. Thank you very much for your encouraging comments :) We – Minna and I – are very curious and excited about the topic and will soon post the second blog article concentrating on synergies between the principles of Service Design and Futures Research. Hope you find it relevant, helpful and interesting, too!

  2. Pingback: Service Design meets Futures thinking # 3 | Service Innovation & Design

  3. I really liked the idea of building a future context in order to bring new ideas and situations to design thinking processes. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us :)

  4. Pingback: Service Design meets Futures Thinking #4 | Service Innovation & Design

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