Interview with service designer Yonatan Kelib — the Service designer at Fjord behind and more

Apr 30, 2018 · 11 min read

In my previous post, I covered, a highly successful e-service by the Finnish Immigration Service that made it possible for the people coming to Finland to submit and handle immigration application all on one website. In this post, I sat with down with Yonatan, the service designer behind EnterFinland, and talk about his experience as a service designer in the fast-evolving field of service design and digital design.

Yonatan Kelib | Photo Credit: Maarit Kotiranta

Seungho Park-Lee (SPL) Thanks for taking time with me on this. Can you introduce yourself a little bit?

Yonatan Kelib (YK) Sure, my pleasure. My name is Yonatan Kelib, I am a service design lead at Fjord, the design and innovation consultancy. The industries where my clients are range widely, including consumer service and products, heavy industries, private wealth management, banking and financial services, automotive, start-ups, pharmaceutical and non-profit.

SPL I’ve learnt that you’ve done your studies in the US. What brought you Finland?

YK That’s right. I grew up in New York City, and I completed my master’s study at the Interactive Telecommunication Program at New York University. After graduating with my degree, I worked at the New York studio of Frog Design for 2 years and was then recruited to join the Advanced Design Team at Nokia headquarters in Finland. I wanted to move to Finland because I wanted to learn more about Finnish culture, better understand its history, meet new people and learn about the country that gave the world such amazing creatives, such as Eero Saarinen and Aino and Alvar Aalto. I’m also quite fortunate to have family members who live in Denmark and Sweden, so having them visiting my family in New York, helped expose me from early on to the Nordic European mind-set and lifestyle, and so it wasn’t that hard for me to imagine myself living in Finland.

SPL I reported on in the last post thanks to the material you’ve provided me with. You and I are both foreigners who came to Finland some years ago, and in that sense, I think the EnterFinland project could have felt somewhat special to you.

YK Definitely. It really was quite special for me because it’s a service that touches upon so many people’s lives — over twenty thousand a year. So, it was both exciting and challenging at times to work on but overall, we all felt like this was a project that was too important to fail. Link

SPL A lot of responsibilities. Who do you mean by “we” and what was your role in the process by the way?

YK Within complex projects such as this, “we” can be defined the combination of teams from Fjord and Accenture, including service designers, visual designers, strategists, backend developers, and creative technologies. In this project, “we” also extends to include the amazing people from the Finnish Immigration Service, with whom we worked throughout the length of the year-long project.

In most projects, I am often leading to bring about a user-centric innovation internally within the client’s organization. My role as a designer is to help organizations form a long lasting and meaningful relationship with their current and future customers. In order to develop this relationship, its crucial for these organization to understand the realized and unrealized needs of both of these groups. I use my expertise to help organizations see the big picture, and develop and nurture a design thinking approach to truly address the needs of their customers, and I usually do this onsite over an extended period of time.

SPL Can you elaborate on how you help your clients to see the big picture?

YK Sure. Clients in some cases are under the impression that releasing an app or an online service will automatically solve whatever problem and market challenges they are facing. Well… that’s not true at all. I help my clients see the bigger picture by helping them learn to ask and answer the right questions that impact their customers. These questions can be, for example, ‘who are your customers?’ ‘what are they trying to accomplish and why’, or ‘what would you do if you were in their situation?’.

I feel at times that we designers are not dissimilar to detectives in that we try to uncover certain things that can help us better understand what experiences, services or products can have meaningful impact for our customers. And, of course, we include the clients into this process, especially since they are subject matter experts in their respective fields.

SPL Can you take an example?

YK For example, I am not a private wealth manager, but when working with wealth managements related projects, I would depend on the expertise of my teammates and also my client to help me answer such questions as ‘why is it this way?’ or ‘what this person is trying to achieve at this moment?’.

I don’t believe that it’s wrong to say, “I don’t know”, and for expert opinions to gain insights. Both listening to people with 10–15 years of expertise in a certain area and using our own expertise as experienced designers are equally important to help our clients achieve their goals. After all, we as an external team and the client personnel as an internal team have a common goal, which is to help address the needs of the customers, and we do that in an open and honest manner.

Student application form at in a tablet resolution

SPL How does this apply to your project with EnterFinland?

YK We’re in the era where businesses truly understand the impact of design thinking and invest in design in all aspects of their organization. Clients now more than ever make it quite clear that any investment in projects needs to have a measurable impact, not just look beautiful. Migri, the Finnish Immigration Service, was by no means an exception in that matter. Though not a commercial entity, they had very clear key performance and experience indicators for the project and we had to make sure we did everything we could to fulfil them.

SPL Was there difference in terms of these indicators, as Migri is a public-sector client?

YK When we work with a public-sector client, we’re aware that it’s tax payer’s money that could have been spent elsewhere. So, we want to make sure that we truly make a positive impact on the client’s organization and the society as a whole. I can honestly say that I am proud of and all the amazing team members who worked so hard on making it become a reality. It was a career highlight for me to lead the project and to know that I’ve made a positive contribution to my adopted home country in my own little way.

The war room–the result from a co-design workshop (image courtesy: Yonatan Kelib, Fjord)

SPL And you’ve exceeded all those goals set by Migri, which is amazing. Now I would like to talk about the exploration phase of design. What are the methods you use often?

YK I use a variety of methods depending on the project and the client’s needs. But the ones that I often find myself using are empathy maps, observation in all forms, persona creation and validation, journey mapping, value matrix, concept cards, round robins, crazy eights, and any other methods that may help uncover answer the key question of what matters to whom, when and why.

SPL Can you take some examples?

YK When we were working on, we really wanted to carry out contextual inquiries, meaning that we observe and converse with the users when they are actually applying for a residence permit in real-time. But they are all around the world, and we cannot know whom those will be before they actually do apply.

Also, the Finnish Immigration Service cannot reveal the identity of applicants to us. It is against the law. So, we had to do the next best thing, which was that we went through ourselves the existing application process of Migri back then.

We also went through the application process for several countries in order to better understand what the experience was like, and to learn from them. What worked and what didn’t, what caused us the biggest frustration and why. This type of immersion was beneficial because it allowed us all to know first-hand the challenges faced by people that are applying to move to a new country. Additionally, we recruited those who recently entered Finland and with them carried out extensive user tests and follow-up interviews.

Adidas Smart Run (image courtesy: Yonatan Kelib, Fjord)

SPL Can you also talk about an example from a project for a commercial sector client?

YK Sure. When I designed the Adidas Smart Run with my team, Adidas pinpointed the demographic from their own marketing research. Since this was a new type of consumer group, professional or semi-professional athletes, I found out that I had to be creative in order to understand the needs of this group. I found myself reading countless blogs of athletes trying to learn what information they are after at which stage of their workout regiments, watching countless hours of YouTube videos featuring reviews of all types of sport related devices and equipment. The best part was when I went running with different types of watches on my both wrists trying to understand what information to me was important. For me that was a great way to immerse myself into the mind-set of these type of athletes beside interviewing them.

SPL Having empathy seems to be challenging when you cannot be in the shoes of the end-users. In case of, you know the frustration yourself because you’re not a Finnish-born person, but when it comes to such a professional gear like the sports tracker, it must be harder to imagine what it would be like a professional athlete.

YK That’s true. But I think service design is also about common sense. We of course listened to the experts in Adidas carefully, and did our best to include their feedback in the final design, but at the end of the day, the amateur and professionals share a common goal, which is to do better than their last run, their last set, their last triathlon and so forth. I believe that’s why as we designers need to be as creative as possible in order to immerse ourselves into the into the context of the users, so that we can help them achieve everything they are striving for.

Adidas Smart Run in real-life (image courtesy: Yonatan Kelib, Fjord)

SPL That is a great insight, and I guess that is what earned you and your team the “Best of the Best” Red Dot Award in 2014. Now, the fields of service design and digital design are evolving rapidly. What is the biggest change you feel in your work?

YK I’m super proud of my team, my clients and of course myself for earning the award. It’s wonderful to know your work is appreciated and valued by your peers.

As for the field of service design, yes, it’s changing rapidly, and I think there is now a great overall understanding and appreciation for it. More people are learning about and studying service design, helping countless organizations, government agencies, and others, and launching meaningful and impactful services, which I am super happy about.

As for the realm of digital design, I think that the access of lightweight design tools and services has extended the realm to include a variety of people who may not have had the chance to explore and express themselves. That is a wonderful thing for the marketplace and for society as whole.

What excites me also is to see the future capabilities and impact of computational and of data driven design exploration and also the role of design in virtual realm. This for me is the next frontier for all designers.

SPL Very interesting. I guess that kind of push can also be supported by the fact that now Fjord is a part of Accenture Interactive, but I guess it wasn’t only positive for either side. How has it been being?

YK That is true. As a part of the larger consulting group with lots of experience and resources, I think we can make this happen more easily and smoothly for our clients better. Of course, the merger has been a journey of a sort for both sides, culturally and structurally.

For us designers, there are more procedures internally for smaller things and a certain way of approach that can be at times quite frustrating, but I think we have to see the positive aspect of these type of relationships. It has taken some time for both sides to adjust to the ways of thinking and working of each other, but we are learning from each other as well, so that’s a clear benefit. I think we can also make a more meaningful impact, ensuring the insights from the explorative design research phase actually gets to the implementation phases and into the lives of the end users. We now have a great opportunity at Fjord to form longer-term engagements with our clients and truly play a part in their transformation and ensure the needs of their end users are addressed.

SPL Accenture is not an exception. Other big business consulting firms are buying up design consultancies.

YK Not only business consulting firms, but also Silicon Valley companies are doing that, too. Google, Facebook, you name it. What people tend not to realize is that this is not necessarily a new phenomenon. When I joined Frog Design 10 years ago, I thought it was an independent design studio, but it wasn’t. It has already been acquired by a technology company called Aricent.

So, the development is going from a weak signal to the mainstream, which is not insignificant, but still it is not a totally new phenomenon. But as I said earlier, I think the relationship is symbiotic and it is only happening because more and more people see the synergy and power of coupling of design and business and beyond.

When I meet with designers and friends in independent consultancies, we joke about that fact that’s it’s only a matter of time before they are acquired by or merge with a consultancy with an expertise other than design. And look what is happening in the public-sector, they are building internal capabilities to integrate design into their daily operation. InLand and D9 are examples that are near us, but similar experiments are happening all around the world.

SPL That is so true. I’ll be looking forward to the changes that will bring to the field over the coming years. Thank you so much for your time and valuable insights. Much appreciated.

YK You’re welcome and it’s been a sincere pleasure as always talking to you.

This post was originally written in Korean and published in two parts (part I & part II) for DesignPress, a joint venture between Monthly Design magazine and a popular portal & search engine, Naver.

Seungho Park-Lee

Written by

Design researcher. Founder of Design for Government at Aalto University. Demos Helsinki Associate. A former small-time entrepreneur.

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