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Business Origami

A tool for designing complex service systems

by Rachel Jones and Yukinobu Maruyama. Published originally in Touchpoint Vol. 9 N. 3 — Service Design at Scale

Business Origami is a particularly useful tool for designing new services and for exploring new opportunities to extend existing services in complex systems that involve multiple organisations and multiple stakeholders. In this article, we present Business Origami as being specifically created to facilitate service design in complex service systems.

We generally consider a service to exist within the organisational setting that makes the service system possible. The service within the organisation becomes the focus of design and we use tools such as blueprints¹ or service system maps² that allow us to analyse the current and future relationships between resources, processes and actors. Other visualisation tools such as actor network maps³ or service ecology maps “help a team move away from thinking just about people and organisations, and pay more attention to the things that are part of our mutual interactions”⁴.

Few studies have looked into the implications of designing within and for ecosystems or complex service systems. An exception is Multilevel Service Design (MSD) that designs service systems at three interconnected levels: the service concept for value constellations, the service system comprising its architecture and navigation, and the service experience blueprint.³ ⁵. However, MSD involves the design of one service at a time, and in many cases, service design must position itself in complex systems, establishing an integrated multiservice system.

Hitachi’s centre for social innovation aims to tackle society’s challenges, such as creating more sustainable cities and supporting a growing elderly population. Many of these challenges involve developing services involving multiple stakeholders across several parts of multiple organisations. In 2006, Yukinobu Maruyama invented a tool called Business Origami that organisations such as Citizen Experience, SAP, Google and IBM have since adopted.

The Business Origami method involves gathering stakeholders for a participatory, semi-structured workshop about new service models to accelerate shared understanding and decision-making amongst stakeholders. It involves participants arranging simple card components to build up complicated service opportunities, whilst creating empathy and consensus amongst stakeholders often situated in socially complex relationships. Business Origami can be carried out from a generic (objective) perspective, or from a stakeholdercentred perspective. The aim of a workshop is to create a win-win opportunity amongst stakeholders.

Business Origami explores various attributes, including:

  • Stakeholders (service providers, businesses, individuals, service users)
  • Physical locations
  • Relationships between stakeholders
  • Services provided
  • Resources and activities needed to deliver services
  • Transactions such as financial and information exchanges
  • Personal experiences of service users or customers

Each workshop is custom-made and designed in such a way as to create the best potential outcome. Prior to the workshop, by way of preparation, we carry out user research, create a selection of personas and brainstorm ideas, sketching the concepts that have arisen. At the start of the workshop we give a presentation about the Business Origami method and divide the workshop into groups of five or six participants, who work around a table. Each table has a set of Business Origami cards, white paper and coloured pens.

The cards include representations of physical things such as people, devices, transportation and buildings. To begin with, we ask participants to identify as many things as possible. These are then grouped into associated elements. The figure below shows the gradual build up of Uber services from the grouping of things in (1). The layout of the cards can be easily changed, allowing for rapid exploration and experimentation from different viewpoints.

We then ask participants to draw relationships between the elements to describe the services. We ask them to use different colours to represent different relationships, such as green for services and orange for financial transactions. Participants use cards to represent specific attributes such as resource, activity, product, information, payment, user experience and business value (2).

We then ask participants to review the service flows. This entails adding numbers to describe the service flow from the user’s point of view, then adding other attributes, and finally and we ask them to discuss potential issues, risks, challenges and new service opportunities (3). Finally, we ask each group to choose a someone to present the outcome to everyone else.

Outcome of Business Origami workshop

At Hitachi, we use Business Origami extensively to focus on complex problems and create service opportunities amongst multiple stakeholders. We have used it successfully in different sectors with multiple stakeholders from different organisations, to explore the reconfiguration and development of new services, and to explore the service flows and potential business models.


¹ Shostack GL (1984). Designing services that deliver. Harvard Bus. Rev. 62(January–February):133–139.
² Jegou F, Manzini E, eds. (2008). Collaborative Services: Social Innovation and Design for Sustainability (Edizioni Polidessign, Milan).
³ Morelli N, Tollestrup C (2007). New representation techniques for designing in a systemic perspective. Design Inquiries: Nordic Design Res. (NORDES 2007), Stockholm,
⁴ Kimbell L, Julier J (2012). The Social Design Methods Menu (Fieldstudio, London).
⁵ Patricio L, Fisk RP, e Cunha JF, Constantine L (2011). Multilevel service design: From customer value constellation to service experience blueprinting. J. Service Res. 14:180–200.

This article is part of Touchpoint Vol. 9 N. 3 — Service Design at Scale. Discover the full list of articles and get your copy in print or digital format at SDN website:



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