Planning on developing a new digital service? Designing for the Digital Age may just be the handbook you are looking for

Thousands and thousands of new digital services are developed each day, by well-known design agencies, by new start-ups as well as by individual designers or developers in different organizations, projects and associations.  Everyone on these aims to design services that are “easy to use”, “attractive” and “appealing”. However, it is rare to have a comprehensive understanding on how to actually do that in practise. Designing for the Digital Age: How to create human-centered products and services by Kim Goodwin provides concrete guidance and instructions on those ”how to” questions, for running the design process, for designing successful services, for finding ways to deliver great user experiences and to minimise risks of driving customers crazy with complicated, confusing technology.

In her book Goodwin covers the whole spectrum of digital service development process, from gathering the design team all the way to developing detailed design solutions and documenting them into specifications for implementation. One of the main benefits of the book is precisely that it offers a very comprehensive overview on the whole process, as well as practical guidance and concrete, real-life examples connected to the different stages. This makes the book to be very usable in various situations.

Goal-directed design

The book is based on the method of goal-directed design developed in the Cooper design agency (where Goodwin works at). Goal-directed design is a collection of good practices  useful patterns, tools and techniques that can be used as a framework to lean on in variety of design processes. As it is stated in the foreword “a big part of designer’s skills is knowing what tools are available and understanding which ones to apply”.

Main idea in goal-directed design is to focus on users goals as a key success factor and starting point for design.  Goodwin defines design as ”a graft of visualizing concrete solutions that serve human needs and goals within certain constraints”. The book provides instructions on how to find out, understand and analyze those goals and needs (as well as constraints related to e.g. time, money and regulations) and how to develop and visualize solutions to match them.

Main process steps: planning – research – modelling and requirements – framework definition – detailed design – implementation

1. Planning phase is important for setting the basis and overall framework for the whole design process. Planning includes also determining the main goals and parameters of the project and creating joint understanding on questions such as: what are we aiming for? e.g. to increase revenues, cut costs, improve customer satisfaction or to create totally novel solutions? And with what kind of timeframes and resources?

2. Well-defined, conducted and communicated research can be like the navigation map for the design. As Goodwin states ”in order to solve a problem you must first understand it”. Research can also greatly reduce the risk of surprises towards the end of the process. The book introduces various methods and very detailed instruction for gathering information on users goals, behavior and context service is to be used. Goodwin emphasizes especially ethnographical methods and role of immersion. In addition to user research the importance of understanding the larger business context, constraints and discussions with stakeholders as part of the research phase is also underlined.

3. In modeling phase the aim is to make sense of the gathered data, analyze and synthesize it and turn it into visualized models, which can be clearly communicated and used to direct the design decisions. The aim is to understand and communicate the implications data should have on service functionalities and design. With modeling techniques such as personas, use flows, context analysis and scenarios user insights and domain analysis are turned into practical tools for designing. Goodwin instructs how personas and scenarios can be used to determine user needs, which together with business goals and constraints can then be expressed as service requirements to guide the design trade-offs.

4. After defining the users and what the service must accomplish for them, the focus shifts on designing the main framework for the form and behavior  functional elements and design language for the service. Goodwin recommends beginning with multiple solutions, narrowing them down and developing interaction outline on how different functionalities are grouped and and how the personas can accomplish their main tasks. Design solutions are visualized e.g. with sketches, prototypes and storyboards. Focus should be on defining the high level design and structure first. Solutions should also be tested and evaluated together with users and stakeholders.

5. Detailed design phase is about making ideas real, with focusing on the big picture but looking at the details, with the use of even more detailed scenarios, design patterns and principles. Detailed design involves also considering the feasibility from the engineering and developer point of view. Thereby the role of collaboration between various actors is emphasized. The book offers a lot of very detailed guidance on important questions such as communication flows, information design, managing information and categorizing it as well as for graphical design decisions.

6. Important part of successful design is also documenting how the service functions and looks like in specifications to be given to the developers, and discussing and revising those specifications together with them. Designer need also be involved in the implementation phase, supporting and clarifying the design issues when needed.

Useful tools and techniques: personas, scenarios, sketches and prototypes

The design process includes a search for answers on multiple questions, such as: what user goals and actions the service aims to support? Where and how the service is to be used? What are the important attributes to take into account? What kind of interface solutions will best suit user requirements? Goodwin introduces a wide set of tools and techniques that can be used to define and communicate answers to those questions. Especially the chapters describing creation of personas, scenarios, design requirements, prototypes and other modeling alternatives provide very useful guidance on how to turn user insights into design solutions.

Tools such as personas, scenarios, use flows, context analysis and prototypes can be used to guide the design process.

Check that you have the needed skills and persons for a successful design process

Designing digital services requires a combination of various skills and disciplines: understanding human needs and behaviour, interaction, content and visual design, writing, understanding the technological and market constraints etc. Usually truly successful design project requires a diverse team. Goodwin recommend that a good design team should be kept rather small, but with good connections to a larger group of experts, also from the domain area. Integration of especially interaction design, visual design, and industrial design is a central theme in the book. One very interesting notion in the book is that Goodwin introduces also a role of ”interaction design synthesizer”, a team member leading the analysis and communicating the design. Goodwin emphasises also the role of “softer skills”, collaboration, stakeholder interactions and involvement and project management.


As a comprehensive handbook the book is especially useful for designers in early phases of their design paths, as well as for project and development managers or organizations that are not so familiar with design processes and practices, but still need or aim to develop digital services. The book provides a useful framework and checklists also for more experienced designers. Goal-directed design offers a method to bring clarity to potential chaos, enhancing both the quality and effectiveness of design processes.

On the other hand the comprehensiveness may also be the book’s challenge, the large volume of very detailed information is lot to absorb. The book may be best used for forming a general understanding on the important steps, tools and aspects of the design process and for checking special guidance on more specific questions when needed and applicable.

Blog post by SID students Jane Vita and Terhi Pennanen

This book review was written as an assignment for the course New service development and innovative service systems.


Book: Goodwin, K. (2009). Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services. Wiley Publishing.

Some additional links that you may find useful:

Goal-Directed Design: An Interview with Kim Goodwin by Christine Perfetti.

Designing A Unified Experience – Bringing Interaction, Visual, and Industrial Design Together from Kim Goodwin

Kim Goodwin It’s Our Research interview from Tomer Sharon on Vimeo.

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