Service Design with and for Citizens

The thematic group “Service Design with and for Citizens” focuses on user-centered service design and innovation. We combine expertise from user-centred service design, co-design and innovation in order to better understand and develop service design tools and methods. We see services as complex, dynamic and networked human behaviour systems with tangible and intangible elements. The design of a successful service requires a holistic, human-centred approach that engages users and other stakeholders. Co-design uses various artefacts as boundary objects to assist participants from different backgrounds, create shared knowledge and interpretations, and to build and reflect on future solutions together.

Group’s collaborative efforts so far have led into Co-Design in Service Innovation -doctoral course and ATLAS strategic research project (1.3.2012 – 31.8.2014) funded by TEKES. http://simlab.aalto.fi/en/research/atlas/ Furthermore the thematic group has connections to the WDC 2012 year activities for example through one of the Aalto’s biggest projects belonging to WDC: Wellbeing 365 project.  


The objective of the research activities in the area of this thematic group include deepening the competence within the service design perspective on service innovation and co-design. In addition, the group develops cross disciplinary educational components for master students in Aalto University with new content and examples for the next study years.

  1. To integrate different methods, tools and theoretical perspectives in service design and innovation.
  2. To identify, map and further develop co-design methods and tools.
  3. To promote the point-of-view of end-users in the front-end of service planning processes.
  4. To develop education in these topics.


Research topics


Research on user centricity and co-design has to a great extent focused on method development. However, applied to service design, these ‘human centered toolkits’ need adjustments. Services are complex, dynamic and networked human behavior systems with both tangible and intangible elements. Their design requires a more holistic, human centred approach. It requires methods to engage users and other stakeholders, and a design attitude that supports everyday innovations and human centredness.

Co-design activities need artefacts – so called boundary objects – that help people with different backgrounds to learn a common language, create shared knowledge and interpretations, and reflect and build alternative future solutions together. In design games for instance, game boards, rules and tactile game elements can help the collaboration. In process simulations, process maps serve the same purpose. Services being dynamic and including many intangible elements, benefit greatly from the use of boundary objects in their collaborative design. Boundary objects are one of the first research themes that the multidisciplinary group focuses on.

The emergence of Innovative Knowledge Communities (IKC) on Services Innovation

Service design and co-development are done in collaboration with users and other stakeholders, often in a network of actors. Both front stage and backstage processes of innovation are addressed. In such contexts novel knowledge can be co-created in specific, intentionally built innovative knowledge communities, IKCs, where existing information is shared and new knowledge is co-created with the help of shared objects in the process of trialogical learning (Hakkarainen et al. 2004). The main motive of an IKC is the creation and advancement of knowledge in the field of this particular community.

Design for services

The second research activity aims to widen the service spectrum, from looking at services as a different object of design, to seeing services as human –centred relational entities and further as a means for societal change (Meroni & Sangiorgi 2011). On one hand this activity aims at strengthening the service design research, and on the other, by doing that, supports ASF and the thematic group by reflecting upon and clarifying the role of designerly research as human-centred and generative activity and a strategic mindset. The research enables posing particular research questions on the already existing data and starting new experiments. The questions are concerned how to develop and apply design competence in facilitating communities and organizations in the new situations they face in the need for human-centred processes, innovation and engagement? Who are the new users of design when designing for services? How can design support human-centred service strategies?



Co-Design in Service Innovation -doctoral course

5–8 ECTS

Design has risen as a new approach for the conception of services and products. But what is it exactly that design brings to the fore and what can be learned from it? How important are the design, co-design, participatory design and co-creation approaches for developing successful services and what are their differences? How much new and how much fad is there? This doctoral seminar aims to answer these questions and focus on the use of co-design and co-creation approaches and methodologies for the development of innovative services.


ATLAS -project for analyzing, testing and co-developing a map of collaborative methods for service development, design, and innovation.

  • TEKES Strategic research project: 1.3.2012 – 31.8.2014 / SERVE –program (Serve – Pioneers of Service Business 2006 – 2013)


  1. To integrate different theoretical perspectives regarding the human-centered co-development of services.
  2. To identify and map the tools most adapted to service co-development and innovation, with a user-centric perspective.
  3. To identify how specific context (social, institutional, market, legal, nature of the service, phase of development) influence the co-creation and co-development of new services, and how to find the best process leading to the implementation of new services.
  4. To reinforce the capability of Finnish organizations to develop and offer services that are both world-class and could also be deployed in an international context.


We apply Scrum process including fast development sprints, where the Atlas map is iteratively developed by researchers with steering group and scientific advisory board members coming from private and public organisations and academia.

Participating institutions

Taik: Holistic, human centred approach in service design

The Department of Design (DoD) is one of the global frontrunners in starting academic design research. Its research has been recently evaluated to be as one of the globally leading units of its kind. The research staff currently consists of about 25 people, including 6 post doc researchers, three professors specializing on research, and Design Connections doctoral school. The two core areas of research are: user-centered design, research on design and culture. The unit is internationally integrated and half of the researchers are from abroad. The unit’s research budget for 2010 is app. 2 million euro.

User centred design and co-design has been part of Department of Design’s research agenda for some 15 years and part of the education for approximately ten years. The research on co-design and the cases and experimentations under that title, have been built on user centred concept design and empathic design approaches. Various methods for understanding users and their everyday life have been applied and a large number of stakeholders, users and representatives of partnering companies, have been engaged in these activities. Co-design competence has grown in close connection with the development of industrial and interaction design but the application area is getting wider. Newer practice areas include supporting human centred innovation, with promising results. The kind of co-design activities can also set ground and support various kinds of collaborations outside the more traditional design field, services being one of them. DoD’s research values designerly approaches, thus creative, generative design approaches are often intertwined with academic research. Website >>>

BIT Research Centre

BIT (Business, Innovation, Technology) Research Centre is a separate research institute of the Faculty of Information and Natural Sciences in TKK. It has over twenty years’ experience of multidisciplinary research which combines understanding of technology and human activities. This research, spanning academic and applied domains, benefits both business and public sector. The centre has developed a critical mass (130 researchers) to conduct simultaneously numerous research and innovation projects. In certain research areas, BIT has established itself as a leader in Scandinavia and Europe. Examples of these areas are supply-chain management and logistics, project business, additive manufacturing, and services innovation.

Among BIT’s personnel, about 60 researchers work in the area of services. The researchers participating in this proposal focus first and foremost on the issues of innovation in services. They have examined, among others, the nature of innovation in services, the management of innovation processes in the service context, and the stimulation and control of innovativeness in service organizations. Special interests have been the models of rapid application in service innovation processes and the empowerment of people as a means to support innovativeness. Recently, the concepts of open innovation and user-centric innovation have gained ground in this group of researchers. The group has applied mainly case-study methodology, which means that studies have been conducted in close cooperation with case companies and organizations. These have represented both B-to-C and B-to-B service providers (e.g. from the sectors of retail, insurance, telecommunications, KIBS and industrial services). Website >>>


SimLab is a research and teaching unit of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management in Aalto University. SimLab approaches service innovation research from the view-point of collaborative development and innovation in service processes, both in business networks and public-private networks. The theoretical background consists of organization and management theory, especially focusing on inter-organizational collaboration, innovations in business and service processes, and knowledge sharing, construction and creation. In the theme of ‘with and for’, SimLab puts the following research questions:

- How is knowledge constructed collectively in collaborative service innovation? What is the role of boundary objects (e.g. service process charts, service concepts)? What is the role of facilitator? What are the effects of a collaborative service development workshop?
- How does collaborative innovation take place in virtual organizations? How can distributed creative work be supported by IT-based tools, managerial principles etc.?
- How should the collaborative development and implementation of service innovations be managed?
- How do innovations emerge in collaborative service process development? What is the role of ICT?
- How does proactive contracting enhance the development of new service models in public-private collaboration?
- How does knowledge transfer occur in service process transformations?

In the “with and for” research, we apply the SimLab™ business process simulation method and SimLab’s unique process innovation environment and infrastructure located in Innopoli 2, Otaniemi. The visual centre of attention of SimLab is the 10m wide and 2m high video screen, connected to 4 data projectors and a digital AV-system. SimLab researchers utilize the space and screen innovatively in constructing visually impressive boundary objects of service processes for collaborative innovation.

SimLab’s process simulation is by nature a facilitated group discussion. The collaborating network actors, including customers, are invited to the simulation to build up a temporal knowledge co-creating community for powerful learning and innovation. SimLab’s research provides both developmental results for the participating actors, as well high-quality data for scientific research. In addition, the process simulations are exploited for the education of Master’s students in the Information Networks Degree Programme. Tutored by the senior researchers and teachers, the students participate in the simulation projects as research assistants and facilitators for project based, experimental and experiential learning in networked process innovation. Website>>>