Tag Archive | current topics

Future at work: What are the new skills service designers will need?

A webinar by Perttu Pölönen, futurist, inventor and author.

When thinking about the future, we might assume that the skills we need to have will be related to AI, Robotics, Coding, and everything involving technology, however, Perttu Pölönen has a different view on the skills of the future. The question he posed to everyone during his Thought Leaders’ Talk was:

“What can I get from you that I can’t get from a computer?”

This question immediately made me think of a future in which an AI could easily replace the work of a service designer.  However, is this thought something real or is the field of service design too human-centric to be replaced by computers?

Pexels Stock Image, Danny Meneses, March 2018

According to Perttu Pölönen, the working environment is shifting from an information era into a human revolution working environment in which the main skills will be our personality, our characters, and what we have to offer as humans. We will evolve from information professionalisms into creative problem solvers. Leveraging the silent knowledge computers don’t have, will be our main focus for future years.  

With all this in mind, one can only wonder: what will change in the field of service design?

In order to prepare for the future, we shouldn’t focus on the skills and professions which will change in the future, rather we should focus on the skills that won’t change at all. According to P. Pölönen, these are some of the skills of the future we should really start nurturing now.

List by Perttu Pölönen, December 2020 Online Webinar

However, how can we validate these skills, and most importantly when this change will start to happen?

No one can verify one’s levels of humility and spontaneity, however to develop and nurture these skills so that we can take them into use in the working environment, we need to update our mindset. Change is happening right now and we can see this with the younger generations. Instead of them being though by adults on how to use technology the tables have turned and the younger generations are teaching and guiding the older generations how to adapt to this new developing digital native era.

With the rapid evolution of technology and the future fast global internet connection, we will be able to bring online half of the global population and drastically increase the innovation happening worldwide. We have gained the potential power to change the world through our ability to connect, which was merely impossible 30 or 40 years ago.  Our creativity, courage, motivation, enthusiasm cannot be measured or achieved through a university degree, but it can be encouraged and showcased by easily connecting to people from all around the world from the comfort of your sofa.

Pixbay Stock Image, Tumisu 2014

Thus, to boost these skills P. Pölönen has envisioned a future curriculum that might be a bit different from what everyone might have thought for the future.

List by Perttu Pölönen, December 2020

Taking a closer look at this curriculum we can clearly see that the field of service design develops many, if not all of these skills. Problem-solving, teamwork, and curiosity are some of the core skills that every service designer should have when starting a service design journey. Adopting this future mindset and focusing on these human-centric skills to develop is already putting us on the right path for the future. 

Service Design might change over the years, and many tools and methods might be simply applied and executed by an AI. However, having in mind the five main service design principles: user-centric, co-creative, sequencing, evidencing, and holistic, we can discover, define, develop and deliver from all corners of the world at all moments in time.

Published on 11. 01. 2021

Written by Andreea Cozma on 12th of December, 2020


Thought Leaders’ Talk by Perttu Pölönen

Streamed live on Dec 2, 2020, Youtube videosharing platform

Current Topics in Service Design.

Innovation and human centered design in the fight against HIV and AIDS

The International AIDS conferece, AIDS2020Virtual was organized 6-10 July 2020. Thousands of scientists, activists, policy makers, people living with HIV and others came together to share the newest information on HIV and AIDS. I attended the virtual conference and in this post I will discuss one of the sessions on human centered design.

Innovation has fueled medical advancements

Innovation has shaped the course of the whole HIV epidemic. In the 1980s getting an HIV diagnosis meant a certain death. Since then we’ve come a long way through several crucial innovations in HIV treatment and prevention, one of the most crucial ones being antiretroviral medication. Today thanks to effective treatment, a person living with HIV can live a long and healthy life.

Through further innovation, we can reach the end of this epidemic. There is much research in the pipeline around an HIV vaccine, a possible cure and preventive treatment, such as different options for PrEP. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a medicine that people who are at a high risk of HIV can use to prevent infection. Read more about PrEP here

Reaching the most vulnerable through human centered design

Although medical advances have been made in the treatment and prevention of HIV, the development has been unequal and many people have been left behind. Therefore, HIV service provision is now gaining more attention, so that the ones that have been left behind during the past 40 years of HIV work, can be better included in the response in the future. This is where I believe that human centered design can play an important role.

During the #AIDS2020Virtual conference I attended a discussion on human centered design and how it can be utilized in HIV prevention and testing. Throughout the conference, the importance of empathy came up in discussions with people living with HIV, key populations in terms of HIV, activists and specialists. As human centered design is grounded in empathy and since it puts the person at the center of the service that is designed for their benefit, it brings a lot of value for designing HIV services and programs. Human centered design does not only take into consideration what people say, but beneficiaries of services can actually impact the final service through their actions, based on their needs, motivations and desires. The session included speakers from USAID, JSI, Matchboxology and Ideo.org. They all introduced case studies in advancing HIV treatment or prevention through human centered design.

Designing an HIV prevention program with and for young women

I will share with you the case study introduced by Matchboxology. The case study focused on young girls in South Africa, as women and especially young girls have a higher risk of HIV infection than men in the country. (Avert 2020)

A multidisciplinary team came together to develop the methodology, conduct user research and in the end develop a concept and brand to increase PrEP use among young girls in South Africa. One of the main successes in the human centered design project was that they flipped the script and redefined the patient as the consumer. Through the user research they found that the young women did not see themselves as patients and they did not feel like they needed medical interventions. Taking a strictly medical approach to preventing HIV would therefore be challenging.

Screenshot from Matchboxology’s presentation during AIDS2020Virtual. Redefining the patient as the consumer in an HIV prevention campaign.

The team redefined the paradigm of HIV prevention as something that focuses on self-empowerment rather than on the message of not getting HIV. They collaborated with young people across South Africa and the private sector to create a brand that presents PrEP as something equally as fun and desirable as makeup and fashion. The successful project developed the brand V, which included visuals, messaging, packaging and brand ambassadors to help young women protect themselves from HIV by using PrEP.

Screenshot from Matchboxology’s presentation during AIDS2020Virtual. Branded materials used in the South African HIV prevention campaign “V”.

When you understand consumers better, you can disrupt, innovate and generate behavior change!

When asking one of the participants in the design process what she thought the best part of the human centered design process was, she fittingly described the process as follows: “It’s about what I like, how I define myself, not about how others define me.” 

Additional resources and references


The AIDS2020Virtual materials, presentations and cultural exhibitions are now available for free at: https://cattendee.abstractsonline.com/meeting/9289/meeting-info

Read more information about the “V”- campaign and the design process here: https://www.prepwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Research_and_background.pdf


Avert. 2020. HIV and AIDS in South Africa. https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/south-africa#:~:text=South%20Africa%20has%20the%20biggest,and%20people%20who%20inject%20drugs.

Hivpoint. Pre-exposure Prophylaxis for HIV. https://hivpoint.fi/en/hiv-and-aids-information/pre-exposure-prophylaxis-hiv-prep/

Written by: Michelle Sahal Estimé

MyData 2017 – Health Profile Hackathon

Juha-Pekka Ahvenainen, Markus Alavaikko, Markus Torkkeli

The National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) is a state agency that promotes the wellbeing and health of the population, prevents diseases and social problems, and develops social and health services. It also is the statutory statistical authority in health and welfare in Finland maintaining a knowledge base within its field of operation.

We among roughly 25-30 others participated in MyData 2017: Health Profile Hackathon on September 4th 2017 organized by THL. We enrolled in hackathon through Facebook. It was THL’s first attempt arranging a public hackathon in trying to get new ideas on how to reach out to people more efficiently.


According to Wikipedia a hackathon is usually a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and others, often including subject-matter-experts, collaborate intensively on software projects. Participants usually form groups gathering around a subject that has being set beforehand so that each group consists of a heterogeneous mass. Service designers may act as facilitators to the groups enabling their fertile work flow. A form of service design process is followed to keep things holistic and a set of methods are used to get on and beyond.

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Playfull innovation

Play has evolved as an advantageous and necessary aspect of behaviour. Why is it then that we so often leave it on other side of the office door? (Michlewski & Buchanan, 2016)


The power of Design Thinking

Design Thinking is as a creative way of thinking which leads to transformation and evolution of new forms of living and to new ways of managing business. Designers not only develop innovative solutions by working in teams with colleagues and partners, but also in collaboration with the final users.

Its visual tools (drawing, sketching, mapping, prototyping, brainstorm, etc) help professionals to identify, visualize, solve problems and preview problems in innovative ways. Enable designer inquire about a future situation or solution to a problem and transform unrealized ideas into something to build on and to discuss with colleagues, final customers and other stakeholders.

Design Thinking characteristics are analytical and emphatic, rational and emotional, methodical and intuitive, oriented by plans and constraints, but spontaneous.


Several process models have been presented. The criteria used to choose the more appropriate model include the characteristics of the task, its context, the number and composition of the team and its dynamic and the available time for the innovation process.

Some examples are: IDEO’s 3 I and HCD Models; Model of the Hasso-Plattner Institute; 4 D or Double Diamond Model of the British Council; Service Design Thinking (SDT) Model; Evolution 6² Model.

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Robot Ethics, Emphatic AI and The Importance of Multiple Perspectives

In her keynote speech in Interaction16 conference Mrs. Kate Darling from MIT Media Lab opened up a topic of social robotics. She started by reviewing common concerns that humans currently have – that robots will take over the world and eliminate human race. This concern was quickly dismissed by showing the state-of-the-art robots autonomously playing football. They cutely and clumsily stumble and fall even before reaching the ball to kick. That much about taking over the world, for now.


Humans empathize easily with cute, physical robots

Social robotics has its background in fundamental human property of being able to empathize with nearly anything. Physical objects are easier to empathize with than virtual ones. If the extra effort is made to make robot move, be cute and give it big eyes, there is no way human can resist it. This is why people behave like robots would be alive, even though they know this is not true. This is also what makes it possible to use social robotics to provide obviously value adding services like cheering up sick children, helping autistic children, being company to elderly people and easing consequences of demention.


Empathizing with a robot.

However, Mrs. Darling raised several ethical concerns and inconsistencies with the above use cases. Is it ethical to leave elderly in company of social robots and can that ever replace human to human interaction? And how it is different from leaving them in a company of a living animal? Will the people feel uncomfortable sharing personal data or undressing in front of a robot and will they feel like not having privacy anymore? And how is that different from satellites that can already take high definition pictures of nearly anything on earth? Is it really just the matter of design, i.e. making it hidden from people? Is it ethical to let people empathize with a robot and thereby leave room for emotional manipulation of human behavior?

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Participation, Narrow AI and Machines That Design

The opening keynote speech of Mr. Marko Ahtisaari in Interaction16 conference started with a piece of music. And not just about any piece but recently recomposed Vivaldi’s Spring part of the Four Seasons. How appropriate for any beginning, and especially at the time spring still needs some encouragement to show its face to the streets of Helsinki. It is not by chance that music is chosen to open the event. Mr. Ahtisaari is the CEO and cofounder of the Sync project whose aim is to untap the potential of music as a precision medicine. Yes, you read it right! Music as a highly personalized alternative to pills! A research has shown that music has powerful effect on our brain and can even unlock the people out of the motoric inability caused by Parkinson’s disease. The project is building a platform which will map music characteristics on their biometric effects. The machine learning will then be used on this set to create and deliver personalized music therapy for sleep, pain and movement disorders, to name a few.


The Sync project

In addition to the above wonderful value proposition, Mr. Ahtisaari touched on several other topics and issued several calls for action. What resonated the most is call to shift our attention from User Centricity and Objects to Participation and Systems. We need to finally realize that we coexist on this world and any action we (do not) take impacts environment around us. As Mr. Ahtisaari pointed out, we are heading to the age of Entanglement, where we highly interact with each other. Being only user-centric and optimizing experiences for the (possibly selfish) needs and wants of a single persona might not be enough anymore. This only reinforces the importance of being actively present, connected and constantly learning. In other words, being now-ists and using effectual thinking at least as much as being futurists. Fellow service dominant logic enthusiasts, doesn’t this sound familiar?


Call for action: Participation over user-centricity

Learning to live and co-create with intelligent machines is another must. As Mr. Ahtisaari puts it, we are destined to live in the world where machines will have power to surpass us and shape the world for themselves in a previously unimagined ways. This will mark the end of the era of Enlightenment.

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IoT service kit in action

Few days ago I had a great privilege to participate in the workshop sponsored by Futurice, the powerhouse of digital services. The workshop named “Creating tomorrow’s services, together” was organized as part of IxDA’s Interaction Week and Interaction16 conference, which is taking place 1.-4.March in Helsinki.

It takes a framework and toolkit …

The workshop hosts Ricardo Brito, Paul Houghton and Jane Vita kindly gave us an introduction of service design process in Futurice. The process is based around three fundamental pillars, namely Business, Technology and Service Design. The key ingredient of their success is Lean Service Creation, which has its roots in lean startup, lean agile development and service design. The process enables teams of T-shaped individuals to look at the service in a holistic way and thereby maximize chances of service success. At the same time it makes it possible to “succeed faster by failing early” and pivoting if needed.


The three pilars of a successful IoT service design

While it only sounds logical, our hosts assured us that getting people of different background to talk to each other in a meaningful way can be a nightmare. Futurice’s IoT service toolkit is an attempt to attack this problem. Its purpose is threefold. First, it establishes a common language for people with different backgrounds. Second, it guides participants’ thinking and gets them used to the fact that nearly everything around us might be connected to the Internet. Last but not least, it enables team to work together and co-create.

… And getting hands dirty …

We were given a ready set of trend cards, well known tool of Futures Thinkers. Each selected the ones that resonated strongest with one’s own interests and the teams emerged around those. Our team focused on the smart cities and the future of mobility within them. We started divergence phase by ideating the most pressing mobility problems of the smart cities. After a while we converged and decided to focus on the problem of people with limited mobility. We identified two personas, “native digital” and the “old school”.


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IoT service kit in action

IoT service kit came into play to help us diverge again. With it’s ready set of cards and 3D printed models it quickly enriched our conventional thinking with urban connected furniture, wi-fi stations, beacons, drones, self-driving cars, assistive robots, kinetic suits, horizontal elevators and all kinds of connected sensors. After quick post-it brainstorming and clustering we converged again and decided on the core enablers of our service offering, i.e. autonomous cars and assistive robots. We moved on to create storyboards and journey maps for the key use cases. We did another quick round of divergence around the business model and relatively quickly agreed on the mixture of the private-public funding and related value network.

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The Network As a (Service) Design Material

The afternoon of Interaction16 workshop day offered the event named “The network as a design material: distributed systems UX for the internet of things”, which I had a pleasure of attending. According to the workshop hosts, Claire Rowland and Helen Le Voi, it is predicted that 33 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, three times as many as in 2014. The range of services that will be built on top of this enormous mass of devices will range from smart homes, over wellbeing assistants to emergency services and beyond. Some of these will be extremely critical and will be saving lives. Others will be less critical and simply making lives more convenient. One thing is common for all of them: they will require network connectivity to bring all the devices together into a seamless experience.

Can we assume that the network connectivity will always work as expected? Certainly not. Network connections in most cases involve a heterogeneous mix of complex protocols and technologies.


A roleplay illustrating technological complexity of communicating over network

Outages, glitches and delays are part of network’s everyday. When they happen the digital service user might be experiencing unresponsive connected physical objects that were otherwise responding immediately in an unconnected world. This might be difficult for a user to accept, once it was taken for granted. Take an example of a light bulb, which is turned on and off by a physical switch in an unconnected scenario. In IoT world, that same light bulb might become unresponsive to the switch implemented as a mobile application. Reliability and latency of the network connection and limited power of the connected devices will translate into unreliable user perception of the real environment being sensed and controlled through these devices. The dimensions that should be understood and explored in the IoT case range from most visible like are UI/visual design, interaction design, industrial design, over medium-visible interusability and conceptual modelling to least visible like service design, platform design, and productization.

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From designing with an impact to investing with an impact

Public sector austerity measures are very much a reality all over Europe. This means that many of the projects that have the potential to positively impact wider populations’ well-being are short of investment. Alternative models are needed, as pointed out in a recent article, where stronger cooperation between public and private investors is made possible. Impact investing is one possible way to untap this potential, and it is gaining significant ground all over the world.

Why now, why here?

In Finland, this model has emerged in form of Impact Accelerator Programmes, a joint effort of Sitra (Finnish Innovation Fund) and FiBAN (Finnish Business Angels Network).


A danger of looking for purely financial returns (Mompi 2016)

The aim of the programmes is to support companies and organizations that solve the well-being challenges of the Finnish society. The  first three-months programme started in October 2015. It aimed at improving the ability of participant companies to develop effective services, as well as sustainable and investment-ready business model. The first programme culminated in the first ever Impact Investment Pitch in Finland, held on 23.February in Startup Sauna, where participant companies had a chance to pitch their business ideas to the investors.

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Bringing big data back to the customers

The amount of digital trace we leave behind us every day is no doubt already large, growing and increasingly unstructured. In other words, it is big, as Big Data term proponents like to say. At the same time humans have a need to create information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom out of any data (Ackoff 1989, Rowley 2007, Bellinger et al 2015), big or small. Luckily, technology which enables us to do it at scale is there. So things seem to be all right and a lot of value seems to be generated on a daily basis. But is it really so? In search for fresh answers I attended the Aalto Digital breakfast on Big Data in the Industry where data experts from Yle, Smartly, M-Brain, Supercell and Tieto presented their uses of Big Data to create value for their customers.

It is everywhere, and the companies benefit from it

Based on Rossi et al (2015) big data has found its applications in nearly every field of business (see Figure 1) through digitalization of services. An example is gaming industry which remains the frontrunner with using the data to figure out who, when, where and how is playing their games. Another example are media and retail industry which are finding out which content the customers are likely to like and purchase next based on their earlier preferences. Further example is market and media intelligence which uses massive datasets to identify trends and assist and simplify decision making within companies.

Big data in business and society

Big data in business and society (Vakkuri 2015, Digi Breakfast on Big Data in the Industry)

It therefore appears that both businesses and end-user customers benefit and realize value from Big Data, big time. Business users mostly benefit by being able to more precisely target their offers to customers that are most likely to (dis)engage, or validate whether the existing offer has sufficient engagement. End customers eventually benefit from the offer that might best fit their own aspirations and needs. Most use cases are, however, still largely business driven. It is still not that often that end customers fully consciously give up their digital-trace in order to be offered tailored data products and services. The general feeling is still that of companies being in the driver position and end customers merely following them. This does not look like co-creating value with the customer but still very much trading goods for money. Humans’ behavior is considered to be mere sequence of numbers, and a lot of them. The general focus is on quantity of data since it gives sufficient statistical significance. The assumption is thereby that humans are statistically predictable creatures, which will behave the same in the future as they have behaved in the past. But is that really true? It is almost commonly accepted that most of the human decisions are based on emotions at least as much as on facts and numbers.

But how to really bring it back to the customer?

While being powerful, Big Data analytics technologies still seem to mostly generate information and at best knowledge, at least based on definitions of Ackof (1989). They seldom stretch to answer the question of “why (does the customer behave like she behaves)“, based on pure numerical data. The data which, when brought together, could eventually answer these questions is locked into corporate silos. As suggested by Vakkuri (2015) efforts similar to data.gov and Helsinki Region Infoshare could be extended nationwide to bridge this gap. Even if available, in order to answer the “why” question a lot depends on the domain knowledge and intuition of a data scientist. As summarized by Valtonen et al (2015), the huge amounts of data can be analyzed automatically to generate information and knowledge which gets outdated fast, but it is still human touch that is needed to make sense of it and turn it into longer lasting wisdom.

Some of the key skills to reach to level of information and knowledge mentioned by Rossi et al (2015) are statistics, scripting, software development, parallel computation platforms, presentation skills and last, but not least, domain knowledge. While these may be sufficient to communicate with the customer indirectly, i.e. through data, one has to remember that the gained insights are thereby bound to be “thin”. In order to collect “thick” data and get to the level of wisdom one requires ethnographic research methods as well (Madsbjerg & Rasmussen, M.B. 2014). This still seems to remain out of the big data scientist toolkit, without obvious reason.

The customers nowadays offer their digital existence to businesses, and pretty much for free. But is their story understood by the businesses? Are customers getting in return what they really value? We might be just a conversation away from finding out.


Rossi A., Ojala M., Kärkäs P., Valtonen K., Vakkuri M. Digi Breakfast on Big Data in the Industry, http://digi.aalto.fi/en/aalto_digi_strenghts/data_science/, Accessed on 14.Dec.2015

Ackoff, R. L. 1989. “From Data to Wisdom”, Journal of Applies Systems Analysis, Volume 16, 1989 p 3-9.

Rowley J. 2007. The wisdom hierarchy: representations of the DIKW hierarchy, Journal of Information Science, 2007, 33(2), p 163-180

Bellinger G, Castro D., Mills A. 2015. Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom, http://www.systems-thinking.org/dikw/dikw.htm, Accessed on 14. Dec. 2015

Madsbjerg, C., Rasmussen, M.B. 2014, The Power Of “Thick” Data, http://www.redassociates.com/press-1/2015/8/18/wall-street-journal-the-power-of-thick-data, Accessed on 11.Dec.2015