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#ServiceDesignDay: Helping Ausländerbehörde Serve Better

Which one would you prefer?

Option 1. A service with poor communication, confusions, hectic appointment system, unfriendly staff, a lot of stress and anxiety.


Option 2. A streamlined service with the right amount of information that you need, a pro-active system and many smiling faces — a service that understands your needs and delivers exactly what you need, not just on time but proactively?

It’s almost like a dream, we know, but it’s possible!

According to the UK Design Council:

Happier customers and an estimated £7,000 invested in service design is expected to reap £360,000 savings a year.

To celebrate Service Design Day on June 1st, we hosted a design sprint.

Service Design Day was initiated by the Service Design Network, to create awareness, celebrate and promote the power of service design!

What is Service Design (SD) you may ask? Read our guide to SD here.


For our two-hours design sprint, we went through the process of Design Thinking to identify some key problems with the foreign office (Ausländerbehörde) in Berlin. Being an international team at FTWK, we understand how difficult it is for our colleagues to go through the stressful experience of applying for a visa. Not to mention the recent struggle of LaGeSo to cope up with processing the influx of refugee applications.

BERLIN’S swamped migrant processing centre was close to meltdown last night as officials finally admitted: “We can’t cope.” — The Sun

Hence, our design challenge: How might we improve the services at the foreign office, Berlin? (There are a few different locations, which one?)

You’re right in thinking that the challenge above is a bit vague, but as a starting point, let’s start with a broad question and narrow it down a bit later in the process.

How might we improve the services at the foreign office, Berlin?


It was raining cats and dogs that day so we decided to start with desk research instead of field research. Just googling ausländerbehörde berlin, showed us google review page with 119 reviews and an overall 2.4 stars out of 5. And that’s just for one of the offices. There were very few positive comments and mainly negative ones. Some of them rather dramatic, like those critique quotes you read for a broadway theatre play:

There is also the universal language called “COURTESY”. There is none that can be found here, except amongst foreigners. Be fore-warned, be prepared to be humilitated.

Another one read:

Camping at midnight to que in front of the entrance, taking a day off from work & hoping to get an appointment waiting number.

Reminds us a bit of this illustrated blog post about bürgeramt from iheartberlin.

Desk research — great! But what about talking to users you may ask? This was the moment to grab our international colleagues and interview them about their experience with the foreign office.

Let’s start with Madison:

The first time Madison applied for a work visa, she got away with the system by simply hiring a lawyer to do the job for her. But it was a bit expensive and so she wanted to give a shot herself this time.

To sum up her experience in quotes:

Where am I supposed to go? Oh my god, I don’t want to be late because I cannot find my way around. It took me 10 minutes to figure out where to go — people were freaking out too — I hated that day!

When she finally managed to survive the long queue and get a waiting number:

I knew I was going to wait for a few hours at least, having wifi there would’ve helped me work from there and save time but there wasn’t even a charging plug there.

But even though if she would’ve had access to the wifi and a charging point for her laptop, she wouldn’t be able to work because the machine that announces the numbers pings in every few seconds and calls random numbers instead of calling numbers in order — imagine, you can’t even go to the toilet with the fear of missing your number.

Secondly, we talked to our other colleague, Hans:

His first experience at the foreign office was a bit of a mess — although he was lucky enough to get in contact with English speaking staff and had a German friend to assist him, he did not get what he was looking for at the office.

Why is everyone giving me different information? The website, email reply and talking to one of the officers at the office — they all are giving me three different information. Which one is the right information?

Before moving to Berlin, Hans was registered in Bavaria. The website clearly states that he needs to be registered in Berlin to be able to apply for a visa from Berlin, which he is and knew it. But as he puts it:

The second time when I went to renew my visa, I stood in the que for 3 hours from 7am just to find out that I was supposed to fax in my application and stellenbeschreibung inorder to recieve a letter for an appointment.

There is no such information (about faxing for an appointment) available (as of today) on the website so there is probably quite a few Hans’s every day wasting their time queuing and going through the stress for nothing.

However, when Hans finally managed to fax in his details, there was no communication from the foreign office until his visa was approved — which left him in a lot of uncertainty and doubt.


With the insights collected from google reviews and two interviews, we clustered the information into a few themes and patterns.

However, we do realise at this point that we could not get a hold of any staff insights from the foreign office. But with the experience shared by Madison and Hans, we understand that the staff were under stress too, had to deal with fights, give the same information out again and again, give out waiting numbers manually (there is a machine for this but it breaks down if not used properly), check passports/visas for correct dates and visa category, make sure they give out number fairly and were not comfortable with speaking English.

Top 5 themes that emerged:

1. Appointment System: Pretty much everyone mentioned something about broken online appointment system, queuing, people skipping the queue, pushing, fights, stress and, the list go on. It’s literally the survival of fittest there.

2. Transparency — Lack of Information: Quite many people go there just to get information. That means, queuing for hours, just to get information — keeping in mind that this number could be given to someone who really needs to submit an application. Just that feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen next makes everyone involved freakout.

3. Lack of Internal Communication: For example, if somebody is registered in different state/city, the foreign office in Berlin has to request their information from there until they can process the application. Secondly, different knowledge between different touchpoints — website, phone, email, and staff at the office.

4. Navigation: When you visit the building, there are usually a lot of people and different queues — it’s very confusing and frustrating to find where exactly one is supposed to go. When the waiting numbers are called out, it’s very difficult to find the room you’re supposed to go because they are stretched out across a wing of the building.

5. Facilities: Facilities available there only adds up to people’s misery, as there is one big waiting room where everyone is cramped and they eagerly wait for their turn without having any distractions. There is a food trolley service which sells some refreshment but that’s about it.


We used different ideation methods including LEGO to come up with some ideas/solutions:

1. A pro-active appointment system: The system sees that Hans’s visa expires soon and automatically sends out a mail to him asking if he would like to apply for another visa. Hans can then say yes or no and the system sends him an email confirmation with his appointment details and the list of required documents.

Or the system can offer different categories of appointments, for example:

  • Long-term (3 months+)
  • Mid-term (1–3 months)
  • Short-term (2–4 weeks)
  • Immediate (1 week)
  • Spontaneous (On the day or night before)

2. Breaking it down for the user: Having a dedicated team to give out information — face-to-face, on the website, via phone calls and emails is one of the obvious solutions but why not also connect old visitors with new visitors to have some self-sustaining knowledge transfer? Think about all those Facebook groups where people ask for advice on their visa applications.

3. Diverting the traffic to post offices across Berlin: People could apply for visas and submit their applications online. But then can go to the nearest post office to confirm their identity with the original set of papers that a post office personnel can check and approve. This point could also be used to collect the biometric information.

4. Keeping the users onboard: It’s always less of an anxious process when you’re aware what to expect next. A blueprint that could help users see the process with which they could prepare themselves or constant updates on their application.

5. Facility Upgrade: Did you know even the Evangelic churches in Germany have free Wifi called GodSpots! Having the same at least in the foreign office can help people make the most out of their waiting time. After all, if someone is not able to work while waiting, then it’s costing the company they are working for and eventually the country!

So what did we learn from this sprint?

  1. We should re-design services more often and not only on #servicedesignday.
  2. Having more people in the sprint could make the sprint more fun — hey, maybe we could host an event next year!
  3. We could’ve arranged some interviews with the staff of foreign office to understand their side of the situation as well.
  4. We could work in sprints for our project MVPs and could be way faster.
  5. Often there is already a lot of basic information out there, you just have to find it (online reviews, customer feedback,…)
  6. We don’t like rain.

You’ve got questions, comments or any suggestions for us? Get in touch!

Hanshuman Tuteja, Service Designer


Michael Martens, Resident Consultant


Originally published at on June 5, 2016.

Cover photo.

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