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Bench of Awkward Conversations – Global Service Jam 2018

9th to 11th March 2018 teams around the world were jamming it up on six continents on the Global Service Jam.


In Helsinki, around 30 participants and a mentor/organiser team met up on Friday 9th after a hard week’s work to immerse in a weekend of ideating, prototyping, and having fun. With some intros to the ways of jamming and getting to know our newly-formed teams we dived straight into the process.

Talk about a fuzzy front-end…

IMG_0788 The theme for this year’s Jam, revealed to us in the form of a video, was a little vague and mysterious to say the least. After the initial slight panic and confusion (disclaimer: speaking for myself here only) over the ambiguous theme, we set out for the first ideation session. From there we kept building on the ideas and moved on to grouping the generated post-it storm under a few headlines.

The ideation ran around themes that divide people, ranging from immigration to lonely people’s funerals. Despite, or perhaps because of, the somewhat morbid themes, right from the start our team had a few laughs and it felt surprisingly effortless working together. However a good night’s sleep was definitely necessary, so we had to call it a day to return the next morning.

Dragging a bench down the road

On Saturday morning we continued working on our ideas and moved on to some online and field research. With a strict deadline of having to submit and present a prototype on the following day, we had to move fast. Our idea started to formulate around reducing loneliness, potentially in the context of also facilitating easier immigration. One idea was a physical meeting place, a bench or so, where people previously unknown to each other could meet and have flash cards on funny or easy conversation topics. IMG_0791
Soon we were building our first prototype, The Bench, and taking it to the test – in the process carrying a physical bench from the Think Company to Esplanadi to observe and interview the people who were passing and perhaps connected with it. The results guided us to make some adjustments and modifications, with some more testing and iterating also left for the following day.

As in any old Design process, iteration did take a fair bit of our Jam time. Adjusting our prototype and validating our ideas or letting some go were a central part of the process, and although sometimes hard, it was good practise in letting the testing and users guide the results instead of the ideas of the designers themselves. This seems like a continuous lesson that one can’t think about too much!

Presenting: Bench of Awkward Conversations

IMG_0801On Sunday we kept improving our prototype and preparing for presenting it to the judges. The day ended with each team presenting their idea and prototype, all in their own way clever and unique. The judges’ feedback helped us to finalise our idea and change the ideas’s name back to the original working name, Bench of Awkward Conversations. The feeling at the end of the weekend was that of euphoria and exhaustion. Many left this Jam already looking forward to the next one, me included!


The author Kaisla Saastamoinen is a Service Design Masters student with a passion for human-centric design, co-creation, and coffee.

Design Kit: The Course for Human-Centered Design, by and +Acumen

Late last year I felt I could use a little recap on some of the things learned on the very first courses of the Service Design Masters degree. At the same time I was longing for some fresh thoughts and a push to jump start my thesis – a way to get creative and actually do some design stuff instead of just planning it. The free Human-Centered Design course by and +Acumen, mixing online and in-person teamwork, seemed like a good way to do that.

Described as an “intensive, hands-on learning experience“, the course description promised the participants would “leave this experience equipped and energized to apply the human-centered design process to challenges across industries, sectors, and geographies to generate breakthrough ideas.” Well, that sounds great, but would someone with quite some earlier knowledge and experience in Service Design and in general human-centered design projects get something out of it too, besides a repetition of things already known? I was also wondering how the theme and topics would feel, as the focus seemed largely to be in humanitarian and social welfare – a hugely important topic, however sadly not my forte previously.

Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation

IDEO mini challenge 1The course started in January and, thanks to all sorts of online groups and forums, it was fairly easy to find a team to do the meet-ups with. We ended up being 5 in our group, all previously unknown to each other. The course platform provided us with instructions on the different phases, “classes”, we were to go through to complete the course. The first meet-up went in a bit of a haze, getting to know each other while trying to follow the guidelines from the somewhat confusing set of material piles (for each “class” there being 2 separate packs of materials). Lucky we had a group leader of sorts in our group, making sure we had agreed on specific days for our future meetings so we could keep up with the course deadlines.

The course followed a set structure and timeline, with the design process following the steps Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. The second group meeting was missed by a couple of us, but the ones attending divided the research between us all and we all managed to do our parts before the following meeting. And on the third meeting we finally got to a classic – you guessed it – post-it party!


Latest at this stage it was fairly clear the methods and principles of the course were very familiar to a Service Design student, but doing research and ideating was in any case tons of fun and not at all that easy. It was great to work together with a group of people not previously familiar with each other, building on each other’s ideas and hearing about new ways to look at the same things.





In the following meeting we moved on to How Might We questions – this brought us another interesting conversation, as some in the group had somewhat unknowingly used a similar approach to problem-solving. After that it was time for creating a story board and moving on to prototyping.

The course finished with an energising afternoon over brunch, making a pitch for our solution, followed by reflection and discussion on our learning.


To summarise the experience, here’s a little list based purely on my personal thoughts:

+ Nice and easy way to recap a human-centric design process

+ Practical and structured guidelines and tasks

+ Basic background info and examples on methods and process

+ Great to work in a new team and learn from others!

– 2 separate material packs for each class didn’t feel like the best way to go

– No new methods or insights for someone already familiar with Service Design

– End result and experience would depend a lot on the team: in my case it was wonderful but it could have been totally different if e.g. there was someone really bossy or other characters that can make ideation etc. difficult.

All in all, I was very happy with my experience. And the team proved to be so good that some of us have already met at a couple of other Service Design events, and we plan to meet with the whole group again soon!


The author Kaisla Saastamoinen is a Service Design Masters student with a passion for human-centric design, co-creation, and coffee.

“Memorable experiences, meaningful life”. But what is an experience, exactly?

Aalto Experience platform fosters and promotes a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding and designing for experiences by combining scientific, artistic, business, and technological angles to human experiences.”


13th February marked the day of the Aalto Experience Platform Kick-off. With the mission of making Aalto University a world leader in multidisciplinary experience research, Experience Platform is an open community for experience research. Besides a brief introduction on the platform itself and networking, the kick-off offered insights on some of the multifaceted approaches to experience research by presentations on User Experience, Citizen Experience, and Consumer Experience.

What is an experience?

In their opening intro session Markus Ahola (Project Manager, Aalto University) and Virpi Roto (Professor in Experience Design, Aalto University) started head-on by addressing the not-so-simple question of What is an experience. Not surprisingly there was no conclusive answer but a mixture of responses and definitions by the multidisciplinary Experience Platform academic board members – each of them giving a different perspective to demonstrate the complexity of the question on a video that was shown.

A general trend behind the research and the Experience Platform seemed to be the growing investments (not only monetary) in experiences while material possessions are being less and less valued. Through my human-centered and soft-value-focused glasses the slogan of the platform “Memorable experiences, meaningful life” seemed like a breath of fresh air in the often cold and money-focused world of ours. On a practical side, it was also interesting and inspiring to hear that the platform will have a physical, multidisciplinary working space after the summer.

Hannu Seristö, Vice President External relations at Aalto University also gave a short speech about human-centricity being needed not only in business but also in the public sector while pointing out that humans have not exactly been in center of business traditionally. However, times are changing, and with that feelings and experience, and particularly ease of buying, continue to be increasingly important.

Who do we design for?


With that it was time for Kristina Höök, Professor in interaction design at KTH Sweden to step on stage for her presentation on User Experience – designing with aesthetics through bodily and emotional engagements. Her presentation content and style was exactly what the Experience Platform introduction highlighted in their operation in general: human, brave, and crazy. At times provocative (and in my opinion, in a good way: keeping the audience interested, trying to shake us a little and question our own beliefs), her presentation gave plenty of examples on the importance of movement and of understanding oneself first in order to design for a (separate) end-user. Movement was not a focus in design I had previously, in all honesty, thought about too much – except for e.g. potential limitations in one’s moving that might affect a service perhaps. But following the presentation it made sense and I found myself reflecting on many thought-provoking parts of the presentation.

From the service designer point of view one of the most memorable parts of Kristina’s presentation was the statement “you can’t design for someone else if you don’t know how it is or how it feels yourself”. This statement at first sounded to me almost as the total opposite of empathy and putting oneself in the other one’s (=end-user’s) shoes – traditionally one of service design’s main guidelines! And that made me think: fine, if one is naturally emphatic and would consider the other and their needs, wishes etc. naturally anyway, but what if the designer is a selfish one with no regard of other points of views than their own? However, throughout the rest of the presentation the point became clearer and actually was very close to, not the opposite of, empathy: using oneself as the end-user, researcher, designer at the same time, but through empathy and compassion. Perhaps for a more traditionally scientific research field this could be provocative in a totally different way, as one of Kristina’s main points was “research through design” – not having research done separately and in isolation, then followed by design based on the results. Another interesting point was the interest in designing things that are not only reading your emotions but create technology to make people experience new things about themselves and their body – not just things like like facial recognition or counting your steps. In hindsight this had a nice connection also to the following presentation from Anne Stenroos, Chief Design Officer at City of Helsinki, who also spoke about the shift from high-tech to human-tech. Add a Feldenkreis video with a baby and a sitting bone exercise and you’ve got the most interactive and perhaps memorable presentation of the kick-off.

Citizen Experience – From Audience to Actor


Next up was then Anne Stenros from City of Helsinki. Her presentation was around citizen experience and in particular the shift from audience to actor: city-users becoming city-makers. Her quirky and well-spoken style was a hit in my opinion, with her topic being both fascinating and well-presented. She went through some current trends and emerging signals of the city universe and the citizen experience, with a note of human-centricity visible in each scenario. This presentation too arose many thoughts and reflection as well as shared practical examples of some of the trends already visible in the city design today. Personally I was a little relieved to hear that the era of “Smart city” was about to transform to “Responsive city” – reinforcing the previous presenter’s point in the shift from high-tech to human-tech. According to Anne, the shift was about responding to needs of citizens rather than optimizing technology for users.

A brief look into the trends in consumer experience

Lastly, Eric Arnould, Professor in Marketing in Aalto University gave a presentation about consumer experience based on the perspective of theory. Some of this was familiar from the service design studies but it was a good recap nevertheless. A groundbreaking thought in 1982, consumption not being about making rational choices but about “fantasies, feelings & fun”, was a good reminder on how things have indeed changed from consumption being seen as a purely economic exchange like it had been by marketing thus far. The presentation discussed some perspectives on defining ‘experience’, for example highlighting the narrative, material, social and political aspects and on the other hand the cultural, situated and relational nature of experiences. In the end though for me the thing that made me think the most was actually in the Q&A session after the presentation, when an attendee asked Eric about his thoughts on the “new work” and new work spaces. “Consumerification of work”, aka new work spaces that look like leisure-time or consumer space, was a concept that I would like to continue to ponder on also after the event.

Topped with circus performances, demos and some snacks, the event was a wonderful experience. Now we just have to figure out how to define ‘experience’…

The author Kaisla Saastamoinen is a Service Design Masters student with a passion for human-centric design, co-creation, and coffee.

Hand me the Legos – I’m in!

Starting new studies after years of steady working life can without doubt force you out of your comfort zone as it is. Enter the first course on a subject not familiar to the student at all – and see if you end up with innovative ideas and new motivation, or despair and feelings of incompetence. Luckily, the Design Thinking course by Katja Tschimmel and Mariana Valenca resulted in the former.

The start of the two-day course gave us a summarised yet comprehensive theoretical base to build our knowledge and practical assignments on. To start with, my head was full of questions about what design had to do with my field – it sounded like something visual that graphic designers do, and working in hospitality I had not connected the theory fully to my own working environment and needs. Those questions started to fade as my brain began to grasp the idea of design thinking being applicable for different disciplines, assisting with not just visual but any design process and giving tools for developing all sorts of products or services. It was also a relief to hear that we do not need to be experts on design thinking to start to apply these practices and tools to our own fields of expertise.


After introducing us several design thinking models we learned more about the Evolution 6model developed by Katja Tschimmel.


We had plenty of practical activities to familiarise ourselves with some of the tools of systematic design process. Familiar activities such as mind maps were happily accompanied by things like Lego Serious Play that made a couple of us giggle as some had not touched Legos since their childhood.


The theoretical framework combined with the exercises in small groups showed us how design thinking could assist us to better develop services in our own field. The two days with Katja Tschimmel and Mariana Valenca opened my mind to how beneficial it would be to adopt approaches from the world of Design Thinking across different disciplines, and to continue learning I went on to read more about design thinking and service design.

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