Service Design Tour Köln & Düsseldorf

A glance into different scale Service Design practitioners in North Rhine-Westphalia

Abi Schreider
Service Design Tour


On Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd February 2018, the 8th edition of the Service Design Tour took place in the North Rhein-Westphalia region in Germany. A very international group of 17 service design students visited 7 companies in Cologne and Düsseldorf, aiming to understand how Service Design is implemented outside of the big cities and see how the practice is gaining strength and crossing other areas and disciplines.

The tour included design agencies and teams that advertised Service Design as practice they sell on their websites. The idea was to have a glance at different scale in the Service Design field. Big corporation practice, small boutique agencies, In-house Service design, branding and strategic agency, an Innovation consultancy and add-on practice in original digital design agencies. Each of them had their own particular interest factor.

1 - Deloitte Digital, Düsseldorf

Photo: Angelica Braccia

Deloitte Digital is a global, full-service creative digital consultancy that combines serious creative chops with trusted business sense. “With our unique blend of strategy, creative, and technology, we build beautiful digital experiences for the world’s leading brands.” We will try to find out how is Deloitte bringing service design to their clients, building capacity prototyping new solutions for world brands.

The Tour started in Düsseldorf at the Deloitte Digital offices. There, Alexandra Agafonova, Susanne Schmid and Ekaterina Servetnik, the service designers of the site, welcomed us.

First, they showed us around their new offices, open areas and semi flexible working spaces with a dynamic spirit. As they mentioned, Deloitte Digital is trying to spread a different atmosphere in working environments and although that’s their office style in Düsseldorf, not every office in the same building looks the same.

The team was interested in knowing the participants of the tour, their thesis topics and personal drivers so there was a quick introduction round from part of the students mentioning who they are, where do they come from and what is their focus. After this, the team posted a provocative question to start the meeting:

“What is the ideal setting for Service Design practice within a large consulting organisation?” — They asked the attendants to think about this for a couple of minutes and write down possible answers in a post it.

The service design team mentioned that their work interweaves with several areas, such as Innovation projects, organisational change and customer experience with a focus on digital services. Being a small team in a large environment, their work also includes education and strategic involvement of service design approaches and mindset in their work.

Deloitte Digital has the possibility to work from the inception of a project to the full development and maintenance. They use the agile framework for progressive and continuous delivery and measurements. One of the biggest challenges, in this case for the Service Design team, is to win time to develop the right focus of a project, for example, having time for user research.

To overcome this together, the designers have developed many pieces of training internally to increase the awareness of their practice, to explain what Service design is, and to strengthen the growth of their team and their reach. This also includes educating their clients internally and externally.

To help the sales team and also to increase Service Design incorporation to their project, the team created the so-called “Digital Delivery Engine”, a framework which helps them to find the right entry point for the client’s challenge and to identify gaps in Customer Journey innovation and delivery. In addition to concepts, the service design team provides organizations with a detailed plan of how to identify, understand and execute the next steps for service delivery.

The framework is divided into three parts:

a- First is the service design;
b- Second is the solution design;
c- Third is the agile development.

They put emphasis on the need to tailor the processes and methods for each client, this is also a challenge that takes time since they need to manage stakeholders’ time to get to know them very wisely.

One of the final questions from one the students, was “How is your work measured?” To what they answered: “We set goals for the project. After each project, we analyse what went good and what didn’t. Then we publish it internally and receive feedbacks. Finally, we track our own performance.”

When wrapping up the conversation, the leader made a point saying that a Service Designer at DD must meet technological and business organisation goals. She mentioned that they need “down to earth designers” who are able to talk to stakeholders internally and externally.

They agreed that one of the biggest advantages of working at DD is their open-culture, the existence of many experts to work with and all the knowledge which is shared internally and from which one could learn.

2 - Yello, Cologne

Photo: Angelica Braccia

#MehrAlsduDenkst — Yello’s goal is to supply its customers with the best possible service at a fair price. Said and done.Today yello has around 1M customers, making them one of the top 10 electricity companies in Germany.Yello Strom has established itself as THE power brand on the German energy market.We will visit Yello main office in Köln, and meet the designers that help this company listen to theirs customer and improve their services.

Yello is originally an energy and gas provider that has recently changed their motto to provide #merhalsdudenkst (more than you think).The tour was initially received by Nahal Tavangar and Miguel Lobato, two service design interns that guided our visit.

Yello works completely on multidisciplinary teams and is using agile methodologies for the development of every project. Across the organization, there are several designers within each product team, and a fixed Service Design team which is working hard on spreading a Service Design mindset across all the teams. They showed to the tour participants a new room called “Touchpoint laboratory” where they hope to explore with all the teams their own specific challenges and develop cross-touchpoints strategies to integrate better all the services Yello provides.

Under the new slogan, Yello has expanded their business. “Before we were selling only energy and gas, now we also add products, e-car, wash-machine, etc. In the last 2 years, we changed our team to be more interdisciplinary.” Their strategy is to be seen as more than just an energy provider.

One of their customer experience experts mentioned that since energy is a commodity, Yello always focuses on emotional moments that happen thanks to electricity to understand the value they can create for their users. They also mentioned that their goal is to use transparency as the core message of each communication with their customers to enable them to know their consumption. Talking about transparency, raised the question and a debate with the participants who wanted to understand how transparency about consumption and business goals could be aligned.

One of the services Yello has created is an online shop that focuses on electronic home devices and technology goods that customers can purchase as add-ons to their service contract. This is one way to increase communication with customers and provide a wider service.

Yello introduced us to several colleagues, product owners from digital products, customer experience experts, marketers, UX designers and the Service Design team itself. The open-minded attitude of the company triggered a honest and diverse discussion of the future possibilities for a company as Yello.

“Design is not the work of one, we don’t choose where to start anymore, we should all together be involved in the company design. Maybe we have missed that point in the past but we are working now on it.” Jens Scharnetzki

3 - Interbrand, Cologne


Interbrand is a global brand consultancy with a network of 21 offices in 17 countries. At Interbrand, they believe that growth is achieved when an organization has a clear strategy and delivers exceptional customer experiences. They do both, through a combination of strategy, creativity, and technology that helps drive growth for their clients’ brands and businesses.

The tour was happily welcomed by Jens Grefen, the creative director of Interbrand Cologne. He started really enthusiastic to talk about strategy and how the concept of branding has evolved from Interbrand’s beginning. “Interbrand is a company that has grown to change mindsets”.

He mentioned that together with the clients, they grow brands and businesses with a clear strategy. Their objective is to make the difference and do something remarkable. “We want to be relevant and unite colleagues and clients in a movement because we want to be real and truly connect with our customers”.

Even though Interbrand has no specific Service Design team, the mindset of the company recognizes that having a customer-centric approach is crucial to build a holistic experience. Branding is not and has never been only about the appearance.

Jens described their work as a strategic service that designs livable brands and helps them to be relevant, real and remarkable. Designing from inside companies, understanding the people from within the organizations. — “as a company, you don’t own the brand anymore, we strategically consult our customers”

One of the several strategies Interbrand uses before starting every project is understanding customers expectations very well. He mentioned that by building a promise and developing it as an experience, we constantly shape the expectations of the user. To Interbrand, expectations are far more important that impressions, since their goal is to be in the customer’s mind before they experience the brand. Every interaction with a brand shapes future expectations. These expectations are based on interactions, which are functional and emotional and these two are the reason why branding design has to have a holistic view.

“Branding cannot be a financial thing, it is and should always evolve. That’s why we try to maintain regular meetings with our clients.” — Jens Grefen

4 - Denkwerk, Cologne

Photo: Angelica Braccia

Denkwerk is an owner-operated, award-winning digital agency with offices in Cologne and Berlin. A team of 180 thinkers and doers from 19 nations, with a proclivity for complex problems and simple solutions. “Together we are on a mission to make the digital world more sensible, more beautiful, and more functional”

On Friday 23rd the Tour started at Denkwerk where Alessandra Enriconi and Kokaew Wongpichet received us and gave us an introductory presentation to welcome us.

The design leaders of Denkwerk also presented themselves and spoke shortly about the internal structure. Denkwerk designers are divided into two teams, a Visual Design team and an Experience Design team. The second one hosts the new practice of Service Design within.

Clients usually come to Denkwerk with a solution in mind. Alessandra mentioned that the current challenge of the company is to change specifically this clients’ mindset. To do so, the Experience Team tries to educate their clients and bring them to the beginning phase. They try to gain a deeper understanding of the problem using customer journeys and visualizing the touchpoints in order to understand what happens on the front and backend. This process allows the team and the client to get into a richer discussion and evaluate the right approach towards the problem.

“The idea would be to move from we want a website project to a Service Design approach”.

The designers have several tools and methods prepared and try to use their clients’ time in the best way possible. They presented and explained to the participants their ‘project canvas’ which contains the value proposition, benchmarks, experience profile, success metrics, project goals.

Unfortunately, they do not get to make a deep user research yet, mainly because clients often do not see the value in it and don’t invest on it. The designers in the team have managed to organize Guerrilla research to feed their initial phase and hope to expand it in the future.

Denkwerk arranges many co-creation session with the clients, in order to get them engaged and as involved as possible in every phase of the project. They mentioned that tools like inspirational cards and personas are very useful for these sessions and kind of work. Sometimes the team gets to run a design sprint, when they are lucky to get their clients product managers to stay in their office for a three day process were on the first day it’s all about ideation, on the second day is dedicated to the prototype and the third and last day is dedicated to testing the prototype. Usually, it comes up to several tests and some ‘click-dummies’ prototypes.

Having a Service Design team has opened up several scenarios within Denkwerk. They have created initiatives like RELAB which is an internal space taking one or two hours a week to explore the different way to work on side projects and involving employees from different areas. The agency has also sponsored and hosted the Cologne Service Jam this year and it’s up to get more involved in the Service Design scene.

5 - Minds&makers, Cologne

Photo: Vanessa Espinosa

Minds & Makers is one of the leading Service Design and Design Thinking agencies in Germany that has been working on innovative solutions for their clients for more than 10 years. Together with companies, municipalities, and organisations they develop innovations applying a holistic approach focused on customers and finally achieving a social, economic and ecological impact.

After the visit to Denkwerk, it only took 15 minutes walking and enjoying the sunny day to arrive at Minds&makers. There, Jan Schröder, Andrea Böer, and Jana Stenzel received the group really enthusiastic and with some delicious and healthy finger food.

Jan started the conversation telling a bit about the first days of the company and how it was founded in 2010 with the aim of achieving social innovation, economic and environmental impact. At the moment they are a so-called “Boutique agency” with seven designers and one office manager. After this short introduction from their side, they were also interested in listening a short introduction of each person of the group to be able to start a deeper conversation about their projects and methodologies.

They are very involved and organize experts jams, learning journeys and workshops. The agency’s culture is to stay open-minded and eager to learn from a variety of clients and kind of topics.

Minds & Makers is part of ‘Reach network’, a group of ten agencies founded to provide global innovation, in which they help to organize conferences every one or two years. Within the ‘Reach school’ they offer education in Innovation field.

Being a small agency gives them the freedom to choose their clients in the social and public sector as well as in the private.

“We don’t make projects to grow but we grow to make projects” — Jan Schröder

After presenting the agency mindset and history, they continued the session talking specifically about two projects they worked lately. The first project they talked about was one worked for the energy provider Eon, a job center, and a debts counseling. The challenge was framed as: How might an energy company offer services in cooperation with welfare organizations and job centers to counteract energy poverty sustainability?

Even though the scope of the project was very ambitious, they worked and taught the importance of having a participatory process, distribution of responsibilities and to decentralize the tasks.

During the presentation of their last project where they joined forces with the GIZ, TUI Group and Lab of tomorrow, to tackle the challenge: “More and better-skilled staff for the Egyptian tourism sector“. For this project they worked with stakeholders from the political field, industry specialists and firms of all sizes who came together in Egypt.

To explain the methodology they used for this projects, Jan shared four papers with each one of the phases and explained them. He concluded mentioning that to achieve a goal sometimes “you need the combination of every approach in the right context and the right task at the right moment of the innovation process”

To sum up, they remarked how important is to make a Social Impact Analysis based on the targets, indicators and evaluate these indicators. It is difficult to have a measurement system for social impact which works for every project.

The visit ended in a really natural way with many interesting questions and many book suggestions from part of the agency as “Design thinking playbook”, “Reinventing organizations”, “DIY — Development Impact and You: Practical Tools to Trigger and Support Social Innovation“, and so on.

6.- Innovation Radicals, Cologne

Photo: Angelica Braccia

Innovation Radicals is fully committed to innovation and to take the design thinking spirit everywhere. They work facilitating and igniting design processes with major clients in Germany through design trainings and tools. “We love to challenge the unknown with you driven by #curiosity, #courage & #passion to boost #Innovation using #designthinking & #prototyping”

“We change the way you innovate” The tour started the talk with Mathias, Jessica, and Katharina at Innovation Radicals in a disruptive way with a round of interesting introductions. The question was “What’s your superpower”? -And each of the participants had to find a partner, explain it to them and get drawn with tape the superpower on their backs.

This icebreaker activity was the intro to a deeper discussion on what type of work Innovation Radicals does.

Innovation Radicals is a small innovation agency that is growing Service Design as their main practice to move from workshops and educational instances to cooperation and partnerships.“Our mission with the clients is to transform and innovate. In our own innovation lab we come up with ideas, build prototypes and test them”. One of the methodologies Innovation Radicals uses is Innovation on wheels which gets several colleagues on a bus and tackles a Design problem during a trip altogether. The mood changes along the trip and since no participants can get out of, the mindset starts to evolve into a cooperative environment. They learn to deal with each other and come together to find solutions.

As a concept to continue working with design sprints, Innovation Radicals has developed the “Design thinking playroom” which is a cardboard construction based on the Design Sprint Book (Design Sprint: A Practical Guidebook for Building Great Digital Products). This construction can be set anywhere and help facilitate a design sprint.

“You can use innovation also to improve what you already have, you don’t need to be radical in order to innovate”

The participants of the tour run the shortest design sprint in only 20 mins as a way to end the visit and one participant presented the results to the group. This was a good opportunity to experience a hint of their work culture and test the design thinking playroom.

7.- Service Design Network, Cologne

Photo: Angelica Braccia

The Service Design Network is an international network of organisations & businesses working in and developing the Service Design domain. “Our purpose is to develop and strengthen the knowledge and expertise in the science and practice of innovation and improvement of services.”

For the last appointment of the tour, the participants visited the Service Design Network and were welcomed into the new office by the Service Designer Eloise Smith-Foster, Project Manager Cristine Lanzoni, Event Manager Laura Gedatus, and Digital Marketing Manager Samuel Simon.

The SDN has created many platforms to accomplish its goals. For instance, they organize annually and in different locations, the Service Design Global Conference, which took place last year in Madrid and this year will be taking place in Dublin on October 11th and 12th. Other initiative was creating the Service Design Day which is celebrated on the 1st of June every year.

Another big and valuable initiative curated by the SDN are The Service Design Awards. This is the premier international award for Service Design which recognises the work by students and professionals with an exceptional standard in the field of Service Design and the most important, with a measured impact of the implementation. It is a way to showcase the best practices that are then published then in the Service Award Annual book. This year the Service Design Award winners and finalists will be presented with their certificates and awards on stage at the Service Design Global Conference.

The SDN publishes the Touchpoint Journal, every issue contains articles about Service Design related to a specific topic. And last but not least, the Service Design Network publishes also the Impact Reports, a smaller journal that talks about financial, public, health sector and about design thinking in-house.

In addition to the mentioned platforms, Simon mentioned also that for the SDN is very important to be active and up-to-date on social channels as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Slack, Instagram and also sending the SDN news through their newsletter periodically.

After the presentation, Eloise and Cristine distributed some canvas with two exercises to the participants, who were divided in groups of 4 people. The first exercise was to create the user journey of the Onboarding process for students in the SDN website and the second one was about measuring which of their offered services would be considered for the attendants more useful within a range from 1 to 10.

At the end a couple of groups gave a little presentation of the outcome and all participants got the SDN bag and a free membership for the website as a gift. A really great way to end the last visit.

The special post-tour event

As a closure, Innovation Radicals and the SDN joined forces to organize a really interesting Meet-Up titled “Scaling Design Thinking — How can Design Thinking trainers/facilitators support Service Designers in projects? And how can Service Designers support Design Thinking trainers/facilitators in trainings?” This topic brought a lot of vivid discussion and group work combined with the bretzels and beers, were the perfect setup for every student, host, and people who joined only to the MeetUp, to get to know each other and have a great time.


This edition of Service Design Tour was organised by Abigail Schreider and Vanessa Espinosa. They would like to thank each of the individuals and companies mentioned in this article for their willingness to support the tour and a special thanks to Angelica Braccia who co wrote this article and edited the video sum-up of these amazing 2 days.

Participants of the Service Design Tour Köln/Düsseldorf — February , 2018.


Service Design Tour allows postgraduate students to connect with design companies across 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



Abi Schreider
Service Design Tour

Service experience designer from Argentina — Currently based in Köln, Germany.