Design Thinking: From Service Prototypes To Service Roleplay

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Design Thinking offers a diverse variety of tools. Read our final part of techniques this method gives you to improve in both: innovation and business.

Three fourth of Service Design Toolbox we have already worked through. We explored the consumers and all the service shareholders, their lives and problems. Now we reached the last but the most crucial stage of service testing and prototyping. Before getting to the costly development of a new or improved service, we are to validate our ideas and test them quickly and cheaply. The tools used for service prototyping can vary from evocative simulations to realistic descriptions. However, the goal is the same:

  • To identify problems and challenges before final service construction.
  • To get the rapid feedback and improve the service incrementally.
  • To reduce uncertainty.

There are different tools from rudimentary acted-out scenarios (e.g. hand-sketched screens or improvised props) to detailed mockups of the service. Here we will cover only the major ones: service prototypes, staging, blueprints and roleplay.

Service Prototype

It is a simulation of a service experience in the real time and place. Usually the prototype will vary in form, tone and complexity. Although the common element of any service prototype is to approach as much as possible the “real-world” environment. The major goal is to verify what will happen if the external factors interfere during the service delivery, what that factors will be. The principle of service prototype is to “learn by doing”. As an example, there was a service like “Travel Global | Read Local” by Dickson, Little, Muthyala. It was a library project for hotels and their guests. To test which, the designers distributed the brochures, mini order forms and questionnaires. When guests checked into the hotel, they observed the reactions, how many of guests had made book orders, what the feedback was. The deliverable was highly valuable for the further service improvement.


Service Staging

It is a kind of theater rehearsal of the service in the real life surroundings. The design team with shareholders or even potential customers take part in it. Due to the “safe” environment all the participants feel free and open enough for pure experimentation. They are invited to change roles from the customer to service provider and follow the different scenarios. Every scenario may be iteratively played by each pair of participants. Moreover, there are also group methods like, for ex., the “forum theater”. It’s a discussion for the sake of idea generation and everyone’s involvement. Alternatively, one person can serve as a director. He or she is the one to orchestrate the service staging, ask questions, change the direction or solve the problems revealed. Any method is worth and it only depends on the team what to use.

Service Blueprints

Service blueprint is the most detailed visualization tool of service testing. It incorporates all the perspectives from the customer to other relevant parties. Moreover, it details all the points from the customer contact to the backstage processes and consolidate them. As an outcome, we have a detailed visualization of all the interactions and processes, without any emotional component.

For better understanding of this tool, let’s have a look at the Carnegie Mellon University’s case:


In this case, for the sake of understanding the big picture, the design team mapped the clinic experience for patients and all of the supporting staff. Thanks to the service blueprint, they figured out the breakdowns in the clinic experience: the chaotic backstage processes, too much dependence on one doctor as well as the lack of patients’ engagement while they were waiting. Consequently, these findings facilitated and improved the final service delivery.

Service Roleplay

The roleplay is the final step before launching the service on the market. By now we have already checked for the inconsistencies and breakdowns in service delivery, tested the prototype in the real environment and explored the impact of external factors. The last but not the least for us to do is to train the service provider and its staff. The roleplay is the theatrical workshop, in which we work through all the documentation we generated while exploring, reflecting and implementing new ideas. We make the service stuff play different roles, exaggerate possible reactions, build empathy with customers and fine-tune all the service design thinking deliverables to themselves. Finally, we can be sure it will work well.

Summing up, the service design thinking is a bit of a buzzword these days and has gained a lot of interest from various fields. I did my best to present you the maximum I gained from a set of 23 international authors who created and wrote the book “This is Service Design Thinking”. That book is a vivid example of design thinking in itself. However, it’s not the end. There are lots of interesting use cases of service design thinking and not only in that book. I invite you to continue the investigation or even better to start implementing the principles and tools we learned here. See you soon!



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