Service Design Process Online – Tips for Designers

Service Design is all about interacting and co-creating with your users, right? So how do you as a designer implement a service design process when we are increasingly facing to work on distance and avoid each other at all cost, in order to lessen the impact of COVID19 on our communities? 

Despair not, there are ways. In this article I have gathered a few ways on how you can think about the different phases in a service design process, and how different service design tools and methods can be implemented online/ on distance.

SOME GENERICS ABOUT ONLINE SERVICE DESIGN PROCESSES

Before we dive into the process, here two term that are important to understand when we talk about virtual facilitation.

SYNCHRONOUS – an online interaction that happens with the participants there at the same time, like an online meeting, a webinar etc. Could even be an AMA, or Twitter chat. 

ASYNCHRONOUS- this is an interaction that takes place over a longer period of time, and the participants can define themselves when they participate. A familiar form of an asynchronous interaction for many people is commenting on a document, but there are many online workshop tools that are based on asynchronous interaction. Also interactions and conversations on social media groups or other similar platforms can be considered asynchronous interactions.

Our current situation with whole organizations working remotely might be an interesting opportunity to use more of the asynchronous mode for your process. So, instead of say, inviting people for a 2 hour ideation workshop, you could send them an online ideation tool and give them the whole day to put their ideas in the tool, and then congregate shortly online to make sense of the whole. This could potentially create more original thinking with those individuals (like myself!) who would like to think about the ideas more than just 2 minutes, as it often is in a workshop. 

WORKING WITH CANVAS METHODS ONLINE

Basically, in Service Design Process we use a lot of methods that are canvas-based, meaning that we have a canvas and then we use that in a workshop to create different kinds of insights about our data (e.g User Journeys, Service Blueprints etc.)

All canvas-based methods can fairly easily be converted to online – simply create your canvas with Powerpoint, Canva etc. and upload it to a tool that allows your workshop participants to write their thoughts on it. Some tools that allow for this are for example Miro, Flinga, Google Jamboard and even Google Slides or Docs. Miro also has a several layouts for canvases available.

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Example of Value Proposition Canvas in Miro. Canvas uploaded as image.

If you are using Zoom, Adobe Connect Pro or Gotomeeting for your meeting, you have also the possibility to create break-out groups and actually mimic quite closely what would happen in a face to face workshop. Just create a canvas for each group and send the link to them. Also in Teams there are workarounds to do this by creating multiple meetings for your attendees. 

Online Tools for the Phases of Service Design Process

PROBLEM EXPLORATION AND DEFITION 

So, you are launching into your design process by exploring and defining your problem. Some commonly used tools in this phase are Desktop Research, Ethnographic Interviews and Observation. It goes without saying that Desktop Research doesn’t require any face-to-face interaction with your users. When interviewing users, you can take the approach of Skype/FaceTime/Zoom/Teams/Google Hangout/WhatsApp or even phone calls – just think about how you record or take notes on interviews. Observation can be trickier, but you could always take a Design Probe -like approach and ask your users to send pictures or videoclips of their everyday life, which, btw can look very different in the coming months than what we are used to! Experience Fellow or some survey tools can be used for this, as well as some common messaging tools. 

When your design team is collecting insights from interviews and observations, you can easily create and online Affinity Wall. There are many different tools suitable for this, for example Miro, Padlet, Flinga, Mural etc. Just pick your favourite! To make sense on the insights gather online with your team. At this stage you may also want to analyze your data with for example Stakeholder Maps, different kinds of User Journeys, or create Personas etc. Just follow the general advice above about uploading your canvases to a tool that allows the participants to edit them.

Affinity Wall created with Flinga

There are also tools that exist specifically to create mindmaps, which can be useful in problem exploration stage, for example Mindmup, Bubbl.us and several others. 

Example of Affinity Wall in Flinga, with clustering. 

IDEATION

After you understand your user and the problems, it’s time for ideation! So how are you going to do this online? You could gather your team for an online ideation session and use one of the tools mentioned before (Miro, Flinga, Padlet, Jamboard etc.)as post-it wall replacer, or you could also do an asynchronous (I got to use the word!) ideation session, since there are some online tools specifically for this purpose, for example Stormboards or Stormz, where there are are available different processes for ideation and prioritizing your ideas. 

Also Padlet and Miro allow for creating an online environment, where your team can put up their ideas and and vote on them, if that’s your chosen method for idea prioritization. If at this stage you want to co-create with your users, it’s quite easy to invite them along to the process, where ever they may be.

PROTOTYPING AND TESTING

Alright, now you have some great ideas to answer your problem statement and you want to start developing them further and test them with your users. This might be where it gets tricky, especially if you are thinking about a brick-and-mortar concept instead of digital. No building with Lego, creating customer experience plays or Desktop Walkthroughs! You might want to think about creating something like a Desktop Walk Through or play and film it, and send the video to your potential users or team, and ask them to comment it. Maybe your individual team members could create concept models out of Lego or other prototyping materials. People can also draw with pen and paper and show those drawings to each other online, upload them to a Google Drive folder etc. Some tools that can be useful in collecting user feedback can be Mentimeter and Slido, that allow creating scales and asking questions from participants. 

How would you do prototyping and testing without interacting in person?

SOME TIPS ON HOW TO CREATE ENGAGEMENT IN A VIRTUAL SERVICE DESIGN PROCESSES

  • If you are working with people who don’t know each other yet, create an asynchronous getting to know each other -process. Before your workshop, ask people to use Padlet to put up a picture of themselves and answer a few questions. At the beginning to the workshop you can all take a look at the Padlet Wall and get an idea of who is present. Saves time in large groups! 
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Example of a Reflection Task with Padlet in a process (asynchronous). People reflected on the theme of dialogue with images and writing.

  • Drawing very clumsily on your mousepad on a common canvas (Zoom has a built in white board, or Google Jamboard is good for this) can be a fun energizer activity – or used with similar pegagogical purposes we do a lot of exercises with drawing each other or coffee cups in workshops (shitty first draft, not looking for perfection etc). 
  • Online sessions should not be too long – try to have some breaks every 1,5 hours at least and use asynchronous modes of collaboration. 
  • If you have enough bandwidth, always have cameras on for everybody – it’s a really big difference and helps with communication. 
  • For important online sessions, have a backup plan and tool! We are currently all working online, so many common tools are at maximum capacity. 
  • If you are using many different tools, breakout rooms etc it can be good to have a tech facilitator in addition to the workshop facilitator. The tech facilitator can help with putting participants in groups, dropping links to different tools you are using in the chat etc. 
  • In an online workshop you can really save a lot of time by asking people to write things down in a suitable tool or even the chat of the tool you are using – it’s actually even better than post-it notes and illegible handwriting. You get a feel about what the participants are thinking easily, and it doesn’t matter if someone has spotty sound.
  • Finally, if you are in a situation where you’ll have a workshop with participants both online and in person – try not to, it’s tricky and generally not as good for the distance participants, instead have everybody participate online. If you must do it, enlist a facilitator to help with the distance participants. Also, right now you should not congregate with any number of people in the same room!

SOME TOOLS FOR ONLINE MEETINGS

  • Zoom (the best, in my opinion)
  • GoToMeeting
  • Blackboard (clumsy)
  • Adobe Connect Pro (clumsy as well, but has a lot of functionalities)
  • Skype for Business (always some problems)
  • Google Hangout (requires Google account for participants) or Meet (no sign-in required, free until July if you create G Suite account)
  • Teams and Teams Events (you need to have a specific licence for Microsoft for Events)
  • Jitsi Meet 
  • Whereby 
  • Discord (it’s for gaming but could be a good option!)
  • Miro, in addition to all the other functionalities there’s also a online meeting tool.

Thanks for reading, I hope this was helpful! Stay strong and safe, and keep on designing!

Who am I?

I’m Salla and I have worked with online and virtual facilitation for quite a while, since I’ve been employed by many international organizations. I find online facilitation and interactive trainings to be quite fascinating, and I’m very curious and eager to learn new tools.

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