Service Design meets Futures Thinking #2

A research based series of posts discussing the statement “Futures Research supports the Service Design process in multiple ways and throughout the whole process” by Minna Koskelo and Anu K. Nousiainen.

Part #2: Synergistic Principles of Service Design and Futures Research

We start our second blog post with where we left you in the first opening part of the series:

“Service Design and Futures Research ensure sustainable business, because they provide tools and processes for innovation through effective visual and anticipatory stories by means of co-creative research methods and iterative processes that nurture the unthinkable.”

We identified lots of synergies between the two disciplines as well as many areas where the fields supplement each other. While investigating selected literature and talking with experts, we faced also very similar vocabulary when discussing about the approach, principles, processes and tools of both Service Design and Futures Research. We created a table along the way to record our findings (see below). This blog post starts to unwrap the principles of Service Design and Futures Research which both aim at better futures and better business success.


Service Design and Futures Research these days trust more in nontraditional and qualitative research methods in order to create remarkable insights. Both fields avoid so called ‘white noise’ (prevailing mass behaviors  in their research and rather focus on extremes in order to provoke disruptive thinking and out-of-the-box mentality. For instance, Futures Research is interested in working with niche experts and leading edge consumers (not to mention wild cards and extreme events). Service Design, on the other hand, observes people with special requirements and even disabilities for gaining insights and nurturing innovation.

Furthermore, the word ‘explore’ is very common in both fields. Researchers aim to perceive the contexts holistically and thus, sense the contexts especially through ethnographic methods and emphatic conversations in order to understand new practices, latent needs and hidden motivations. We see empathy, or sensibility, as an important factor also for Futures Research since futurists need to recognize new signals of change on how people perceive things and further, to anticipate changes in their values and attitudes.

Sensibility develops over time and through practice – and so does intuition, which is an important ability for experts in both fields. Trusting ones’ own intuition is common when applying different methods and harnessing professional creativity. Martin Raymond (the founder of Future Laboratory) presents that intuition, especially in its most refined form strategic intuition, is needed in Futures Thinking. Also Service Design is analytic and intuitive in nature.


Dialog plays a significant role in Futures Research and Service Design because of their holistic approach. Multidisciplinary thinking and co-creation require means to engage and collaborate with various stakeholders and diverse backgrounds. Further; services, trends and scenarios are systems with interrelated elements. In order to understand roles and relations in the big picture, integrative thinking and systemic iteration between analysis and synthesis (dialog) is needed.

While Service Design simplifies complex and intangible experiences into evidences through blueprinting, prototyping and staging services, Futures Research tells stories about yet unknown territories, alternative futures and anticipated changes. Storytelling and visualization are effective means in selling ideas and in committing relevant stakeholders to decision making dialog. Furthermore, illustrating proposals and simplifying multiple insights enables mutual understanding that assists and enforces the decision-making process.


Due to the so called ‘wicked nature of design problems’ in today’s society (see picture below), the  ambition level in Service Design is high: the goal holds a strong future orientation by designing offerings that are economically, socially and ecologically sustainable (Tuulaniemi, 2011). Indeed, the emerging economy appears to be founded on the following three pillars: social innovation, green revolution, and technological breakthrough (Meroni & Sangiorgi, 2011). The motivations and drivers for designers to pursue their ambitions at work seem to be very target oriented, constraints driven and solution oriented.

Service Design and Futures Research are both opportunity and target oriented: They always aim at creating actionable insights and solutions. Moreover, both of the fields have an optimistic attitude towards creating options for better futures. The book “Creating Desired Futures” (Shamiyeh, 2010) discusses how Design Thinking revolves around what does not yet exist. In the book it is stated that creating desired futures can actually be seen as a design process. That is, designing desired futures. Therefore one could argue that Service Design (like Futures Research, obviously) is truly future oriented.

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. The next blog entry for the series is to do with Futures Enhanced Service Design Process.


Minna Koskelo (LinkedIn)  Experienced in marketing and branding. Specialized 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 K. 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. “I’m exploring business opportunities and concepting meaningful solutions for both the existing and future contexts, from strategy to implementation orchestration, and always value(s) in mind.”

8 thoughts on “Service Design meets Futures Thinking #2

  1. Pingback: Service Design meets Futures Thinking – IN ACTION | Service Innovation & Design

  2. Pingback: Service Design meets Futures Thinking #2 « fred zimny's designing design thinking driven operations

  3. Pingback: Mennyttä, tulevaa ja muotoilua « Ilmiöitä – Minna Koskelo

  4. Thank you for great post. About the Professor Ezio Manzini slide: “Problems are growing in numbers and complexity”. Is there any further reading about this available? Would be great to hear more about this. : )

  5. Pingback: Cut the corners first – Harness the power of futures thinking | Service Innovation & Design

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

  7. Pingback: Katse tulevaisuudessa - tarinankerronta ennakoinnin työkaluna - Storytelling työkaluna - vaikuta tarinoilla bisneksessä

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