Service Design meets Futures thinking # 3

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 #3: The Process Perspective

Our two previous blog entries have been summarizing the purpose of our study and the main findings including the synergies of service design and futures thinking, thus why it is beneficial for the two disciplines utilize approach and methods from one another and learn from each other. This third post introduces Service Design Process that is enhanced by futures thinking. Additionally we illustrate how service design thinking benefits foresight process.

The big picture: Becoming a human-centric innovative trendsetter

Uncertainty seems to be the number one concern in companies nowadays. In this area where Futures Research is aiming at regocnising the unknown unknowns, clarifying the causes for change (Bell, 2005, xxxiii) and making uncertainty easier to approach lays the primary cause for Service Design to utilize Futures Thinking. Having said that, the future is not being created by outside forces. Instead, it is being created with the help of individuals, communities and businesses themselves. By proactively anticipating and acting on trends a company can influence on their own and customers’ futures – and become a forerunner, the one that sets trends not the one who follows them. Therefore, Futures Research helps Service Designers to develop services which has been tested in future contexts. Service Design, on the other hand, provides people focused and systematic toolkit to utilize Futures Research insights in creating services that are build to last. In other words, building sustainable business. As presented in our first blog traditionally foresight has been strongly attached to innovation, which is no doubt one of the most important reasons why it should be utilized also in the process of service design.

Service Design Process supported by Futures Research

Principles of Service Design and Futures Research in mind we approached different processes (altogether 16 of them) and ended up to base our thinking on the one we run into most: Service Design process by Stefan Moritz (2005). We wanted to illustrate the process phases with three elements: 1) Indicating how critical it is to get input from Futures Research insights, 2) Indicate the most useful and effective Service Design principle and methods, and similarly 3) indicate Futures Research methods and tools that we found especially beneficial.

Picture 6


Why and how

Deep understanding of the future needs and motivations

Service Design is human-centric and emphatic, whereas end users do not necessarily play the key role in Futures Research due to technology hype and environmental and infrastructure related focus. This is an area of improvement for Futures Thinking. As it is stated in Service Design literature only by deeply understanding the motives and needs by the end users one is able to offer services that will succeed. Thus, we see that Service Design would provide human-centricity throughout the process for Futures Research, which at the moment is not emphasized enough.

Bringing strategic level and vision tighter to the design process

When insights are being gathered in a holistic and comprehensive way to increase understanding, Futures Research brings obvious benefits and essential substance into the design work in terms of anticipating and offering optional futures for designers. Trends and PESTE (Political, Economical, Social, Technological and Environmental) analysis support the probable developments that designers can base their thinking on. Hence, Futures Research brings elements to build the vision for the design work and link it to more strategic level, which is highly critical in Service Design process (another thing we find not being emphasized enough). At best Service Design is done in a strategic level when the company’s mission and vision guides the project and futures thinking is taken into consideration from the start.

Inspiring innovation

Trends should be utilized also in the generating phase, which is about co-creative workshops and brainstorming in order to produce plenty of new ideas. Futures Research provided insights in the form of trend cards, weak signal presentations and alternative futures stories are excellent for many reasons: they inspire, invite out-of-the-box thinking, give food for thought and act as evaluative tools by asking “what if”. People are able to challenge their thinking and break conventions with the help of Futures probes.


For Explaining and Realising phases Service Design holds a very strong and systematic tools and templates. Though there is vast amount of information about weak signals, trends and even about alternative futures, many times the information does not lead to actions which is considered the fundamental problem in the field of Futures Research. As Jim Dator (2012) stated Futures Research seldom leads straight to decision-making. However, by utilizing concept design toolkit the foresight can be transformed into business thinking and into products and services. Additionally rapid prototyping seems to be a rising trend at the moment in which Service Design has great tools to offer.

Sustainable (business) solutions: evaluation against futures

In filtering phase concept designs are being evaluated after which the selection for service implementation can be done. IDEO, one of the leading design thinking and Service Design agencies, utilize feasibility, viability and desirability as three angles to discuss the potential of each concept design. Futures Research provides means to evaluate ideas and prototypes against anticipated trends and their influence on functional requirements, expected customer value and needed business model for the service. There is a placeholder also for understanding and utilize the approach of Diffusion of Innovation and observing the diffusion of innovation types. Similarly, monitoring and scanning trends, weak signals and diffusion curve are crucial for the already launched offerings in Operation phase if the company wants to be proactive and stay competitive.

Sustainable success from synergy

To conclude, the process approach targeted for new value and offerings creation both in Service Design and Futures Research fields is somewhat similar: observation and gathering information, processing the findings, structuring alternative possibilities or futures and finally make a selection for implementation purposes.
According to Meristö et al. (2009, 12) the foresight process includes four main stages: 1) information collection, 2) information processing, 3) structuring alternative futures, and 4) selecting/evaluating alternative futures. According to Moritz (2005) Service Design process contains four phases: 1) Understanding 2) Concept Design 3) Design, and 4) Operation (Figure 20). However, looking more in depth to processes it can be argued that they supplement each other. By utilizing Futures Research methods one is able to build services on a sustainable foundation since the changes have been taken into consideration in a holistic way.

Towards wider awareness: more collaboration is needed

Service Design and Futures Research are relatively young both in academia and in practice. Currently, practitioners in private and public sectors as well as academics are all developing methods and tools to support their own contexts, goals, motivations, time span and operational targets. In order to make the change towards new value and better futures requires collaboration and open dialog especially among enthusiasts within the fields and between the both fields of ambassadors.

Next steps

As we stated already in our first blog post there is a need to elaborate Futures Research methods in Service Design related literature and practices. We need to elaborate and investigate more about the possibilities between the two fields through enhanced literature review covering more articles and practice based books as well as Business Management sources in the areas of innovation processes and Business Thinking in order to bring decision making and business case creation closer to the target driven Service Design process. Secondly, case studies in collaboration with different kind of organizations could be established and funded already around Service Design and Futures projects to further explore the synergies and best practices. Let us know if you have one to start with!

Next post: Design Thinking & Futures Thinking in action

As some of you might noticed. The first test environment for combining Futures Thinking with Design Thinking took place in Helsinki at the beginning of November. The event was LaFutura, an annual event for design thinkers, futures thinkers, strategic minds and innovative leaders. Both authors acted as organizers at the event. A more thorough blog entry about the event coming soon.

PS. Again 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. Thank you already for giving us valuable comments and motivation to proceed with this topic we are so passionate about. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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.

4 thoughts on “Service Design meets Futures thinking # 3

  1. Pingback: Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators - Social Innovation Minnesota | Social Innovation Minnesota

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

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s