Service Design in University setting developing future-proof work-life competences

Work-life is changing rapidly. The concept of work, employment and organizations are changing. AI and digitalization change the way we work, and the future of work might seem diffuse. Educators cannot prepare students for specific future professions, and they do not know the future work entails even for themselves. What educators can do is follow trends and industry reports and embed work-life competences and meta-skills into curricula to help prepare for the future. The top skills in demand for the job markets (World Economic Forum 2020) are analytical thinking, active learning, problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis, and creativity, originality, and initiative.

Service Design as a part of curricula can be a way of teaching future work-life skills and competences. Service design as a method offers a fast way of solving business problems and developing services. It focuses on customer centricity, creativity, co-operation, and co-creation in multi-disciplinary teams. The skills needed and competences developed are the very ones mentioned in the World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report (2020). The process of Service Design prepares students not only with insights into service design but gives opportunities to gain experience and develop their work-life competences. In addition, they work with genuine business challenges reporting to an industry partner.

Business and educational institutions implement Service Design in diverse ways, and it has been part of the curricula at Haaga-Helia UAS since 2018. Service Design is visible throughout the studies, especially in project courses with work-life commissioners. The various implementations include face-to-face, online, and blended versions on institutional, national, and international level. The university also offers corporate training and applies service design in developing its own services and processes. Most of the service design courses offered are blended (online and face-to-face learning), and the students work with pre-assignments learning about service design online. In one of the implementations, a university consortia Service Design micro-course comprised of a MOOC, seven days of intensive work and a learning diary documenting the design and learning process. Then digitalizing of services was the topic. Another university consortia that operate on Nordic-Baltic level has brought students together on intensive programs to develop e.g., sustainable travel services and food tourism. In all the service design cases, real life commissioners are present in intensive programs brining in a real-life problem to be solved with an innovative concept.

Further, we have at Haaga-Helia UAD use service design in workshops to give quick insights into the method. Half-day workshops for e.g., associations and in organizational settings online or face-to-face can offer experts hands-on experience on how the method works and how to develop their own work and motivate them to learn more about the method. Short workshops simulate service design challenges with challenges of the participants’ daily work. On the workshops and intensive programs, we use online service design tools and templates such as LAB8 Haaga-Helia and Design Sprint, and work with virtual communication systems such as Microsoft Teams or Miro.

The following gives examples of how work life competences might be developed in the intensive programmes.

1. Teamwork competence: In the programs, students work in new multi-disciplinary teams tackling the design challenge. They adjust their communication and work style according to the team and task at hand. Also, they bring their own expertise forward in the new team and might take new roles such as project manager, communication specialist.

This competence is clearly transferable to other projects and work life. In the future will is like to comprise of project and entrepreneurial work rather than long time employments with same responsibilities. Working and learning together, co-creating new practices, are needed in changing work life.

2. Problem-solving: The major goal of service design projects is solving design challenges and creating viable business concepts. As students work through the design process, they move forward through many other, small challenges and problems. The process requires fast but well-motivated decision making. Teams comprise of students (experts) from different fields who all bring in their knowledge. The possibility of failure is present in problem-solving, and students also learn to fail quick, and then start the process anew.

Competence to solve problems is a very central competence needed not only in work-life but also in our daily lives.

3. Analytical and creative thinking: Analytical skills and creative skills are needed to analyze customer understanding, ideate solutions, and test concept ideas. Service design is about developing services, products or concepts in a rapid and creative way.

Overall, studying and learning in settings resembling work life helps students adapt and have smoother beginnings of their careers. We want students to learn 21st century skills and be prepared for the future. In the process learn valuable skills and build networks too. Also, the trainers teaching, coaching, and facilitating are widening their views and developing their skills.


LAB8 Service Design Laboratory. Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences.

Wallenius, L. & Tigerstedt, C. 2022. Design Spring in Higher Education, Going from face-to-face to Remote Mode. INTED2022 Proceedings, p. 4952-4958.

Wallenius, L. & Moilanen, N. 2023 Role of creativity in professional competences development. eSignals. Work.

WEF (World Economic Forum). (2020). The Future of Jobs Report 2020

Written for OEB Global 2023 by Liisa Wallenius.

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