Esteban Solís
Service Design Tour
23 min readJun 13, 2018


7 lessons from Northern Europe.

The Service Design Tour is alive once more and came back on Thursday 7th and Friday 8th June 2018 this time in Helsinki, Finland. A group of 12 postgraduate students and recent design graduates from all over the world answered the call to attend. They discovered what Finnish Service Design has to offer by visiting 7 of the most relevant Service Design companies in Helsinki. The participants visited both agency and in-house professionals to share their questions and learn from the experts what and how Nordic Service Design is doing.

Fun fact: This was the first time the Service Design Tour visited Finland.

View from the Torni Hotel in Helsinki


Finnair is the main Finnish airline and a big name in Finland when it comes to design. Finnair offices are conveniently located next to Finnavia Airport in Vantaa from where the in-house Service Design team works to make the best out of every detail of a flight for the thousands of daily customers who travel to and from Finland from destinations across the globe.

Morning discussion with the Finnair team

For the first visit, the group was received by Lead Designer Maria Lumiaho along with Mikko Kiviniemi, Teemu Maikola, Jeremy Montoir (and other amazing members of the Finnair design team) with coffee, Karelian pies and a nice dynamic to create name tags based on who had experienced different ‘design-related situations’ during a previous flight.

Following a round of introductions, the group learned how the in-house design team worked throughout the offices of Finnair, to enhance the collaboration between different business areas. They discovered how designers support the development of services and experiences ranging from the physical space to the content in the in-flight screens we all interact with when flying.

Maria explained how the environment encourages collaboration between different workers such as UX designers, developers and service designers, and how the company culture and physical space play a crucial role for this matter. The group learned about the importance of teamwork in an in-house design department and how projects are determined based on research and goals set by the company. In this regard, Maria explained how the team works towards making customer flights more pleasant by the adoption and use of technological advances, analog services and/or digital content. She explained how the development process works different in each case, i.e. the implementation of a new technology can take a long time, whereas digital content can be figured out more quickly through design sprints, development and testing. Maria went on to highlight the importance of research and the convenience of having an airport situated right next door.

Every Friday afternoon, the team has a ‘DC-meetup’ (an internal Design Critique) in order to reflect on what has been done in the week. They do this because they believe it is important to look back and reflect on what could have been done better. The team uses this time to give constructive feedback and also to share knowledge acquired from conference events and articles they have recently come across.

Then the group learned from Mikko Kiviniemi about the importance of the Global Distribution System — an IT system for distributing tickets that was developed in the 1980’s in the United States. Mikko showed how the team had to map out the system in order to understand it, since it had a large impact within many projects.

Finally, the team showed a little bit of what they have done. Maria showed an example of an empathic project for customers who lose their luggage. She also shared how, by observing a group of German users stuck in the airport, their eyes were opened to think about how could Finnair reduce all the paperwork associated with claiming lost luggage into an action that customer can perform with one hand. This led the team to think about ways to scan tag and claim luggage using their app. They then demonstrated how they make special efforts to test their products on as many devices as possible, revealing the care and attention they put into design.

The visit ended with a session of questions which let the group know about Finnair commitment to research and foresight development. The group learned that Finnair is an international company that is open for hiring not only employees, but also freelancers to work alongside their design team, welcoming talent from across the world. Finally, the group were given a chance to visit a full-scale replica of a plane interior, where Finnair’s digital services are tested exactly as they would work on board. The group were delighted to learn about Finnair’s approach to design and to discover more about the responsibilities, requirements and take-aways of designing services within the air industry.

Great time with our Maria, Mikko and the great design team at Finnair


Founded in 2007, Nordkapp defines itself, as told by Creative Director and designer Sami Niemelä, as an advanced design studio which works combining foresight, strategy, products, services and technology together for the benefit of their customers.

Sami Niemelä explaining the way Nordkapp works

The second visit of the Tour brought the group to the Nordkapp office in the heart of Helsinki, where they learned about what the studio is doing to bring great digital products and services into the world. The group was received by visual designer Maria Lomakina, designers Panu Korhonen (PanuK) & Satu Anttonen, and Creative Director Sami Niemelä, who began with an interesting presentation about Nordkapp: what drives their work and their philosophy. Sami told the group how the company combines design experts and new talent to face the challenges that the fourth industrial revolution as defined by the World Economic Forum. Sami emphasised on the importance of this accelerated growth and disruption we are having as society in almost all the industries and the need of design in the context of problem-solving. The group learned then how Nordkapp is redefining the design conception and process by understanding these changes and applying all the research to their way of work. For instance, the need of transforming the design process like passing from a “Waterfall” process to an “Agile” one or replacing hierarchies for networks. Finally Sami explained how every client shapes the way Nordkapp team works, the roles involved and the deliverables which clarified how this studio works and approaches design briefs.

Designer Satu Anttonen took the stage for the second talk of the visit bringing a little bit of what she has been doing in Nordkapp and her experience researching and exploring relevant topics for her. The group learned about what is it to work in Nordkapp and the responsibilities of a designer in this studio. Among these responsibilities is research and writing about relevant topics which encourage designers to bring new insights and topics to their colleagues every once in a while. Satu shared with the group her personal project and journey on re-thinking design roles in the professional context. The group listened to Satu’s approach to the topic and some of her reflections on the topic and different parts of it like her curiosity about hierarchy and its role and effects in the work culture. Also the team had the chance to know more about her personal project on the topic reflected on the business cards Nordkapp designers currently use. She shared her insights on how the working title is constantly changing depending on the company or project designers work in and how many times choosing the right one turns out to be problematic and even misleading. In this sense, Satu asked around her colleagues and came up with a new concept of business card with many working titles applicable to Nordkapp in which the designer can highlight their current job title or titles by covering the rest with a black marker. This also allows them to keep a track of what they have worked on during projects. The group enjoyed the example and opened the discussion on their experiences with design job titles.

The third and last talk had designer Panu Korhonen taking the lead and guiding the group through his research on Re-thinking Design Thinking and the development of an upcoming open-source toolkit mentioned in the first part of the visit by Sami Niemelä. Panu, who shared professional experience with some recognized names in Aalto University, questioned the group about their design methods and which one they used. The group then found itself in a deep conversation of what they learn in school versus what working and reality looks like. Panu shared his thoughts about the traditional design methods and the idea that “million files can be wrong” meaning that the infinity of methods we currently have are not perfect and leave plenty room for discussion and improvement. The group learned about Panu’s vision on the current linear method that most digital service designers approach which is portrayed as emphasize > define > ideate > prototype > test which can be translated into the common double diamond diagram and how many times designers aim to start defining with a solution already in mind which makes the whole order meaningless. For this matter, Panu proposes a method that focuses on four design arenas (artefacts, purposes, beneficiaries and evaluators) applied over time to different phases of a project. The group was introduced to these arenas and how important it is to understand them well and map them out in a new tool called the Design Arena Canvas. After a session of questions and answers, the team received Panu’s final message regarding design methods and processes: Think! Don’t copy.

The group was pretty satisfied from this visit since Nordkapp is not frequently visited by students and the learnings were very interesting for all of them. The discussion was very fruitful and even described as a clear link between what academia teaches students and what the real world looks like. After some shared minutes the trip continued not without reminding the group to stay tuned for the upcoming Nordkapp toolkit and the group couldn’t be more excited about it.

Second stop full with insights by our friends Panu, Sami & Satu at Nordkapp


Since 2007, Hellon has been growing up and has become one of the strongest Service Design independent studios in Helsinki and London operating in over 20 countries around the world. Hellon main focus is human to human relationships which is their main differentiator and the core of all their projects.

Hellon office features many signs supporting their work culture

The group was welcomed to Hellon by Design Director Zeynep Falay von Flittner and HR Director Tiina Hahtovirta who introduced themselves and explained the holistic approach of Hellon. The group was surprised to know that the company name is a word-mix of the two cities where it operates: Helsinki and London /Hel-Lon (not from “hell on” as many thought). Director Zeynep explained the group a little bit of the story of Hellon and how they have remained as an independent studio despite the offers of other firms to buy them. Alone Hellon has taken place within the Top 15 Design agencies in the world for what they are not thinking in being acquired by any big firm in the coming future. Along the curiosities about Hellon, the group was told that 40% of Hellon projects are for the public sector like gamifying the public participation or the course Design for Government in Aalto University. Zeynep also shared with the group Hellon’s compromise with services that enhance human relationships and interactions instead of placing technology in the center of the design process. “It can’t be the technology that drive behaviours, but we need to design things by putting the human first and not driven by technology” she affirmed.

Talking about the values within the company, the group learned that Hellon has three key ones which are:

1. Empathy, in order to help customer to adapt.
2. Smartness, find always a way to make things better.
3. Courage, empower their client to empower their customers.

These values are accompanied by a strong focus on the people working in Hellon and the work culture. According to Zeynep, it is important for Hellon to make their employees feel part of the team and comfortable. The best example of this statement is the annual trip the company does in which the team shares their point of view and can contribute to the current vision, mission and values of the company while having fun and spending time together. Also Hellon is launching this year internally the Human Academy, an 8 months traineeship with three trucks: A.I., self confidence & wellbeing (how to manage stress, recover from being tired, etc) and business design. Besides these last two initiatives, designers at Hellon co-create often with clients and also internally. Every two weeks there is a skill share session internally at lunchtime, where colleagues can present a topic. The group got excited at the attention and care Hellon is putting on their designers and more than one expressed to be interested.

When it comes to news, Zeynep shared with the group that Hellon does a lot of qualitative research. This is particularly hard since the amount of compiled data is huge for what they have created an A.I. solution called AINO with the hope to use it to try to see patterns in these amounts of data. However it was shared with the group that this idea is still new and they are exploring it and selling it already but only time will bring clarity to it’s efficiency.

Finally, Zeynep showed the group as a study case a project about autonomous vehicles and how to build trust in order to make them successful. She remarked the importance of understanding different groups of users, which was part of the process during their project, and the reasons behind their decisions, their motivations and their fears. Only then, good understanding can be built around the users. The group also had the chance to check another project related to Finnavia Airport. The project was centered on bringing attention and attract people to it. For this matter, many disruptive activities and dynamics were implemented such as a yoga class. The curious part of this project, according to Zeynep, was the fact that the yoga lessons, for instance, was very successful so when asked to the participants if they would be willing to pay for it, most of them said yes, but when they decided to replicate the same activity with a cost, no one wanted to pay. This led the group to think on different ways to proceed with the project and they come up with the idea that the business opportunity was not on charging for the service but to rely on partners interested in supporting the activity to announce themselves to the customers since an airport is a great channel of communication. Despite the project was not fully implemented, Zeynep shared with the group that the success was their client affirming: “We stopped assuming and started trying”.

The third visit of the first day concluded with a nice round of questions about future trends, design research and job opportunities after which the group had a little guided walk through the studios and had the chance to see where and how Hellon designers work to craft some of the future services in Helsinki.

Staying sharp with our third hosts Zeynep Falay at Hellon


Among all the names in Service Design, Futurice is a well known giant. Founded in 2000, Futurice is one of the main digital services and innovation agency with offices in places such as London, Munich and Stockholm. To close the first day, the group visited Futurice office in Helsinki City Center to learn about the company and their famous Lean Business Model.

The participants getting familiar with Futurice’s Lean Service Model

Service Designer Sofi Perikangas and software developer Juha-Matti Santala welcomed the Tour at Futurice’s headquarters with some smoothies and began explaining the history of the company from its foundation in 2000 and all the way to becoming a very well known agency known for their strong focus on digital products. The group learned that Futurice has clients from very different industries such as energy, construction, automotive and many more which has given them a good amount of experience on how services should be approached. Relatively new to Futurice and with less than 4 months in the company, Sofi and Juha shared with the group their excitement and happiness for being part of one of the biggest service design agencies in Helsinki. They shared with the group the openness Futurice gives to their employees to explore new areas and work in those they believe they can develop in. This along with the constant support to the employees at Futurice like, for example, the Chillicorn movement which allows employees at Futurice to start a “startup idea” and get economical support from the company.

For the second part of the visit, Sofie introduced the group to the Lean Service Creation open source book made by Futurice also called Lean Business Model. For this special occasion Sofi explained the various tools or canvas contained in the book and shared the reasons behind it. She made the group aware of a book Futurice is about to release by the hand of service designer and facilitator Risto Sarvas and the uncertainty of the use Futurice is going to give to the book. “Either we could use it for internal reference or maybe monetize it somehow” said Sofi. In this context, and in order to put the learnings to practice, Sofi gave the group a challenge which consisted in choosing one of the canvas within the Lean toolkit and use it in the context of launching the book as a product. The groups took the canvases they found more interesting in pairs and filled them with the task in mind. After 15 minutes of filling them in, the pair presented their ideas and shared their impressions on the chosen canvases. The group had the chance to experiment what the canvases are in a design context and to ask about them. It was explained that the canvas are not meant to be used as a whole but to be thought and adapted according to each context.

Finally the visit concluded with a small chat where the group could raise some questions regarding the life as a designer in Futurice, the projects being held at the moment and the different projects being tested in the Chillicorn initiative. After an interesting discussion and a group picture, the group concluded the first day of the first edition of the Service Design Tour in Helsinki.

Fun evening learning along with Sofi and Juha-Matti from Futurice


OP is one of the oldest and representative finance institutions in Finland serving people with different services from banking to insurance. OP beginnings go back to 1902 and ever since it has growth to become one of the most important in-house service design forces in Finland and house of many business, strategy and culture designers and a perfect example of what Nordic Service Design is as portrayed in 2018’s documentary with the same name.

OP loves design is a key part of Ulla Jones job as Design Culture Lead

The second day of the Service Design Tour in Helsinki had Design Culture Lead Ulla Jones welcoming the group and giving a big overview of the very new architecture of OP headquarter.

As a Design Culture Leader, Ulla has the challenge to transform the company from Systems to Customer Centred Approach, this includes workshops and topics like legal design. She says: “It’s about shift in perspective, from a dominant thinking to a design-thinking. We stopped to ask what went wrong and started to ask what could be possible. From a reactive approach we switched to a proactive.”

Design resources in OP have grown from 2011. The lesson learned is to use the world ‘User Centric’ rather than ‘Service Design’ in order to get more consens from an internal point of view. In a bank context design is seen as a support to the strategy. Related to this, Ulla introduced the group to the main points shaping OP’s work culture called The 3 C’s and are described as following:

  • Culture: Which defines roles and ways-of-working
  • Courage: When dealing with understanding and tools
  • Continuity: Referring to repetition and interaction

Ulla briefly explained how the role of the designers are changing and how difficult it is sometimes to understand what the different design-related roles do in such a company like OP. This is why someone needs to take on the role of supervising the working culture and how it converges and means the same for everybody. Formerly a Business Designer, Ulla now dedicates to this task as a Design Culture Lead and is part of the group dedicated to Transformation Design. Other groups mentioned include Strategic Design, Solution Design & Design Systems and each one including different kinds of expertise and a different focus.

Finally, Ulla shared with the group one of the biggest efforts to shape a good design culture in OP. The OP design days. So, twice a year OP holds a ‘design day’ to educate internal staff with talks and workshops that raise awareness about design and its importance for the company. The most recent one was held on April 25th, and it was done under the theme “anything can be design”. Ulla also mentioned that a specialist comes at the design day to teach ‘positive presence’ which means how to be present and have a holistic approach to life which also speaks about the importance OP is giving to concretising the design culture in the company.

After some discussion, the group had the chance to ask about the company’s approach to the future, research and the opportunities for non-Finnish speakers, the visit concluded leaving the group with a clear picture of what is it to apply Service Design in such a complex scenario as the Financial Services sector is.

It is possible to see videos from OP-design-days on their YouTube channel.

A perfect beggining for the second day by the hand of Ulla in OP


KONE is one of the biggest service and engineering companies in Finland with a strong focus on the users and the urban flow. The Service Design Tour had a chance to visit their headquarters in Espoo to learn how Service Design and Engineering meet and complement each other in their in-house offices.

Nargis Guseynova explains the group how is it to teach Service Design culture to business and tech people

Senior Service Designer Nargis Guseynova and Service Design Specialist Adalgisa Santos welcomed the participants of the Tour and started the conversation with a question “Why Service Design?”.
after hearing all the, quite similar, opinion of the participants, Adalgisa and Nargis explained how they are using Service Design to make a cultural change inside the company. They both agreed on the added value that the co-creating sessions of service design brings, something that product design doesn’t have because mainly it’s a solo design.
The main core of KONE is to think about the costumer as someone that wants to move from A to B. Recently Kone is working on a very new project called Residential Flow, where going back home is the main journey.

Nargis and Adalgisa told the participants how as a service designer in a big company like Kone, you need to promote service design in workshops, convince and show that it has value, this activities alone take 90% of time and energy. As a designer you have to understand which tools can be used for business people, so they started to use Excel deliverables; prototypes, service blueprints and huge files of research. How to communicate is essential. The role of the designer is to disrupt things and go against the ‘normal’, even if there is resistance, designers need to show the value of what they can do. This goes hand in hand with what they described as their 8 points for enhancing customer-driven culture through service design, which is one of the main challenges for the Service Design department in KONE.

“It’s important to handle on the Blueprint because it needs to be alive, I will not be in that project for ever.” — says Adalgisa.

While talking about design tools, Nargis told: “The ‘personas’ tool appeared to miss out certain things, so we go for the behaviours, not the personas. We try to understand the challenges of the users and try to find opportunities. ” This opened the discussion about how using the tools means to be wise on how to do so. The KONE duo agreed that most of the time they didn’t use the tools as they are but adapted to their own tasks and projects in order to make them clearer or more efficient.

Learning how to deal with business and tech people with Nargis and Adalgisa at KONE


Gofore started its operations in 2002 with a group of three friends as told by Advisor Mari Wuoti and ever since has grow to become one of the strongest names in digital services in Finland and Europe. With offices in Finland, Germany, Spain and the UK, Gofore focus on bringing good services to Businesses and customers while ensuring the best working experience for their personnel.

Comfortable environment for a good design talk in Gofore

The last visit of the Tour was hosted by Mari and Service Designer Janne Palovuori. Mari guided the group through the history of Gofore and how it began with three friends and now is one of the most recognized agencies in Europe with offices in Finland, UK, Germany and Spain and awarded one of the best workplaces in Europe in 2017. Mari explained that Gofore help clients in 4 main ways described as:

  1. Lead transformation in organisations by implementing a comprehensive cultural change from the top of them.
  2. Designing attractive digital services that bring value and generate new businesses.
  3. Build different solutions but also to help with the technical development and an agile service architecture that answers nowadays needs.
  4. Enabling a Cloud infrastructure that help the client managing and accessing their digital products easier.

As a Former Lead Recruiter and now advisor and a culture & work redesigner, Mari knows perfectly how working in Gofore is and shared with the group the main two values every Goforean should be aware of:

  1. Gofore is a great workplace.
  2. Gofore thrives on customer success.

Regarding these, Mari shared how becoming a Goforean means to become part of a family and to be aware of it and how the company is dedicated to create and enhance these feelings. “Our culture is what shapes our work” says Mari while introducing the group to the wheel of assets Gofore is holding onto when defining their way of working. The wheel included:

  1. Transparency among all the levels in Gofore and in the actions like projects or even some personal matters such as employee wages.
  2. Self-Determination to take on different tasks and challenges.
  3. Sense of Community since Gofore is a huge team and Goforeans should understand that they are playing for the same team regardless the project they’re in.
  4. Enthusiasm and curiosity to explore new areas of development but also to contribute in any task the team requires.
  5. Discipline & Resolve when it comes to times and business.

For the second part of the visit, Janne took the stage and shared a little bit of his background and how serendipity placed him in Gofore after Leadin was acquired by the company. In his experience, Janne has worked with many B2B clients and found out that there was so much he didn’t know along the way and that was his motivation to share with the group his 9 lessons about B2B that they don’t teach you in University. Janne shared them in the following order:

  1. May user research be your sword and your shield: Janne referred to user research as the most powerful resource when presenting or defending a concept.
  2. “it’s too <insert adjective> to go there. Can’t you just interview our <insert role> instead?: Janne is convinced that half of design work is convincing the customer to go ask their customers instead of relying on second hand data but he understands that in the end customer relationships are still human relationships for what many times accessing or to other people’s relationships can be hard.
  3. It never goes as planned: Just as many know, things never go as planned and so in B2B design. Janne highlighted the importance of being able to change course quickly and never to fall in love with a concept.
  4. Never go solo: “Hero designers will not go far” says Janne when sharing to the group that the team in a project includes everyone in the company and beyond. He said that it is important to rely on these people and teams everytime and never think that there is a thing such as keeping the customer “too informed”
  5. When in doubt, draw it out: Janne suggested to keep the work as visual as possible. “If you have the ability, use it as much as you can”.
  6. Sometimes good enough is just perfect: This one rose a little bit of polemic since designers are used to tailor all the details, but Janne explained that many times it is ok to not show a final product since you might need to change it or simply because it is not of great importance for the customer to see the final product and fall in love with the looks and not with how it works or the value it brings.
  7. Why does your grandma want you to taste the tomato sauce?: This metaphor refers to the need of validation as much as possible. Even when you are an expert it is always good to validate with colleague, users and the client.
  8. You’re not everyone: A small reflection on empathy and how important is not to generalize and always consider the extreme users in every project. “If it works for them, it will work for everybody” says Janne.
  9. Being a pain in the ass is part of the job: This final part refers to the role of designers as active professionals and how it is often their duty to insist on many things and to challenge common notions. The group took this phrasing in good humor, and were able to agree and identify with this final point.

The group had a great time listening and sharing experiences along with Janne about these points and concluded that it is useful to know that the real world, in the context of B2B can be so different from what they are told in school. Looking through the eyes of a more experienced designer was a fresh experience for everybody and after some discussion the last visit came to its end not without getting an invitation to stay and listen to a Master thesis presentation.

Goforean for a day and enjoying professional tips with Mari and Janne


The Service Design Tour concluded with a pleasant gathering in Teurastamo, where the group enjoyed live music and even some sauna in the Helsinki-based, Alvaarin Sauna. After two intensive days of visiting some of the most prominent names on the Finnish service design scene, the group agreed that the tour had been highly fruitful and interesting for all. Each company provided something different to the discussions and contributed in an original and unique way to the general learning of the group. The expertise of both, agencies and in-house design departments contributed greatly to the group’s understanding of what service design is and the way it is transforming industries and the role of design itself.

Live music and a great last evening in Teurastamo. Photo: Saga Santala


“I liked the people and the learning. The community feeling between the tour participants, getting to know companies more intimately and getting new contacts for the future. It was a very teachful experience and I had the chance to get answers to important questions I had in mind.”

“My greatest learning was how one has to find a way to differentiate yourself in this ‘hot’ world of service design. Find an angle to approach the basics.”

“I learned that to work as a service designer you don’t need special skills. You just need to understand people and their behaviours. Also, work hard.”


A BIG ‘thank you’ to the companies and great team of professionals who hosted the Service Design Tour, each of whom delivered great insights to all of the participants. We wish them success and plenty of new discoveries in the future. To all the readers: we strongly suggest that you take a look at each of the company websites, to stay tuned for news, articles and possible job openings.

Sharing knowledge and having open, informal discussions is the goal of the Service Design Tour, and forms that aims to bring value to the professionals and to students.

Esteban Solís and Angelica Braccia united their forces to make this edition in Helsinki possible and were very happy and satisfied with the outcome!


Service Design Tour is an initiative that exists to provide current and recent postgraduate students with opportunities to connect with design companies around Europe. The initiative aims to enhance the understanding of service design between the academic world and professional practices. Each tour offers opportunities for students to learn how service design exists and is applied in real-world situations, and offers companies an opportunity to increase their profile among the young professional service design community.

Learn more and keep up-to-date with Service Design Tour via the official website or by following the initiative on Facebook / LinkedIn.