MindBlog Dansk


citizen-centred innovation - anthropological methods - service design - public development - communication - idea and concept development - innovation strategy - cross-institutional collaboration

Laura Winge


By March 14th 2014

How can a magic straw be a tool for Service Innovation?

- Prototyping as a method in Service Design.

Putting what we do not know into words can be a challenge, and can mean exposing on our blind spots. Design games, scenarios and prototypes can guide us into this unknown area and allow us to retain an open mind to ideas that can be crucial.

A prototype is an early sample, a model or an exemplification, which is constructed for the testing of a new design, a concept or process. MindLab uses prototypes in order to gather citizens’ understanding of issues that affect their everyday lives.  By using prototypes, we can investigate the idea’s impact on affected parties at an early stage and implement any adjustments ahead of the final implementation.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Education MindLab facilitated a process where we gained feedback from teachers in state schools about how a simplification of the ‘Common Objectives Programme’ in state schools would best support the teachers in their planning, so that ‘Common Objectives’ could become a dynamic tool . ‘Common Objectives’ is a plan for the overall aims of learning and skills to be achieved by state school students, it is a tool for planning, organizing, and evaluating everyday teaching.


First we asked ourselves: What do the users really need? And how do we gain insights? Not into what users say they do, but what they actually do when, for example, teachers form a plan for the year.  We developed a design game that translated the teachers’ everyday language as well as their technical language into a tool that aroused curiosity and that motivated teachers to experiment their way towards ideas that were usable. At the same time, the teachers’ professional skills was incorporated into the actual tool, because we, based on field work, had selected the terms and potentials for development that had the greatest impact on teachers’ daily working routines.

The game included words familiar to the teaching staff, such as learning objectives, students, grades and teaching plans. In addition the design game pushed forward a number of overall functionalities that teachers were able to use according to their needs. For example ‘the magic straw’ was introduced, which gave access to all sources of knowledge in the world. A funnel was used as another metaphor for the functions and dynamics that allowed teachers to cut corners in their work with the ‘Common Objectives’ . Another one was a fork used as a metaphor for the extraction of relevant material from a given topic in order to make it easier to continue to working with it. All in all, well-known factors and open metaphors, which stimulated the participants just enough for them to begin to build and invent content and dynamics on the website based on professional needs.

The task was: ‘together, you are now going to build a website that helps you prepare an annual plan based on ’Common Objectives’ – anything is possible‘. ‘The magic straw’ turned out to be a distraction that was just playful enough to enable the co-production to be experimental at a highly professional level. Through the design game we were able to access professional knowledge and the Ministry of Education continues to work on the ideas that were developed. The involvement of the teachers in the development process enabled the current needs of the profession to be the focus, and the process was based on the teachers’ professionalism and insight into their own practices in relation to ‘Common Objectives’ usage.

As a designer, I am often asked how to design a prototype. Made simple, I have sketched a model describing the general workflow:

Fieldwork + Research > Insights and Ideas
+ Communication Design * including semiotics and empathy with users
> PROTOTYPE > Coproduction
= tested insights and ideas, anchored to the needs of users

Prototypes are developed uniquely for each process and actual needs. Such irregular factors as humour, provocation, the interview situation, and the participants’ readiness come into play. In my example the state school teachers were motivated to participate in the co-creation based on a large degree of professional commitment. They had the opportunity to contribute to the development of tools that they themselves use actively when planning their teaching.

Through prototypes we can support the relevant factors, by carrying out contextual features in the design game itself. In addition we can take into account that co-creation is also experience design, as the prototype implicitly implies the conversation based interview. Just as the experience of co-creation is designed by taking into account the target audience with aesthetic and dramaturgical leverages, such as storytelling and process design , thus, the prototype will become an actual and usable tool for the exchange of opinions and a catalyst for the development of ideas.

The design game was created with help from Jakob Schjørring. Read his blog about prototyping.


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