THE Designing for series

by Elizabeth Meehan of coffeenosugar

The ‘designing for’ series began when I started to look at services through the eyes of the customer and quickly discovered that the intangible was overlooked. So the series then became a way to highlight the crucial role the intangible (softer human elements) plays alongside the physical in the design of services. Combined, they evoke the feeling for customers of being treated as human beings (not just customers), bringing untold rewards. The extracts from the series that follow, showcases a mix of customer experiences and service design initiatives that look at the intangible and it’s impact in designing for services. e.g. designing for legacy, trust, loyalty, change.


Turning a problematic issue into a strength that is actionable and affordable is a challenge, but it may well be the essence of Service Design, and the aspect I most enjoy. Tasked with the challenge of discovering why international visitors at the Museo di Scienza in Milan were leaving the museum early in their visit, I set out with my team to understand more about the museum’s market segments and their journeys as customers. After a period of observation, and use of tools such as the service safari, customer journey mapping, interviews with consumer groups and in-depth conversations with staff (at all levels) our team discovered the root of the problem, the lack of café in the Museum. This was going to be a tall order, it’s hard to solve around the lack of something as significant as a museum café.

Applying the *Dramatic Arc, Boom - Wow - WoW - WOW - BOOM (recognisable in James Bond films) to our task, we set about understanding how could we make the customer experience go BOOM in all the right places across the duration of the visit. How could we manage the café-less experience when our emotional customer journey map illustrated “Boom, Wow…what? Oh?” and left. Our first proposal comprised a map highlighting a variety of restaurants in the vicinity, which we co-designed and subsequently prototyped with our user group, adding all the information the customer identified that they would need to plan lunch in advance, restaurant type, cost, distance, etc. And by handing the map to visitors upon entry, we could manage customer expectation at the first museum encounter, avoiding frustration at a later, more crucial point. 

Our second proposal, ‘space food’ sought to connect and extend the thematic experience of the museum, but was only there to inject a little novelty and a small wow factor to the journey. Two solutions up, I couldn’t help but reflect upon Apple and their success in customer service. They work hard to get this right, so how could we draw upon their wisdom in this example? Two particular tactics came to mind (perhaps most evident in their genius bars): 1. manage the clients expectations. 2. surprise and delight where possible. The first we had already attempted and applied. But perhaps the second aspect ‘surprise and delight’ could really save the day. If for instance the museum offered a token at the point of entry for people to have a free coffee, they could effectively turn the current message, ‘just make do’ into ‘we really do care about your experience’. Better again – what if, if you needed the vending machine a second time but didn’t have enough change to buy a snack, you had the opportunity to get change from a coin machine in the same room? What a surprise and delight that would be, it would certainly leave a more enjoyable aftertaste knowing the staff had considered your visit and experience. 

Thoughtful, considered gestures do have the power to turn a scenario around. Make no mistake customers do expect a lot, but with the right touch, businesses could end up with a grateful, maybe even charmed customer rather than disappointed ones. The project made me wonder too if customers aren’t disappointed because they are often oversold experiences? Surely if expectation is managed at the outset, it makes room for a different, more daring encounter, even a more relaxed one? After all, we exist in a time when conflict tourism and all sorts of unthinkable experiences are sought after. 

  • The concept, sometimes called the ‘arc of suspense’ is most often used by professionals in the entertainment industry to manage the overall story impact.