Integrating Service Design Prototyping into Software Development
Tanja Sauvola1, Simo Rontti2, Laura Laivamaa3, Markku Oivo1, Pasi Kuvaja1
1M3S research unit, University of Oulu
2 University of Lapland
Abstract—Customer-driven service design is becoming an
integral part of continuous software development. The
fulfilment of needs is manifested through customer behaviour
patterns that are often difficult to identify and validate for
R&D. This paper investigates how customer involvement in
software development can be achieved through experience
prototyping. First, participatory action research with four
cases is presented. As a result, the benefits, challenges and
critical factors for successful service prototyping are identified.
Second, a practical model is proposed for integrating service
design as sprints within the software development process.
Based on the study, the deployment of these methods can be
adopted through an organisational culture that invests in the
needed mindset, expertise, timing and placement. Contextual
and motivating user involvement is important throughout the
software development process. A number of important subjects
that need further studies, such as service design performance
measurement and customer data management, were also
Keywords—customer involvement; service design; software
development; experience prototyping
Today, software is transforming almost all industries and
is the main driver for innovation . Elbert stated that all
companies are in the software business either directly with
IT solutions or indirectly with products in which software is
critical for value creation, such as embedded systems, or
value delivery, such as services. In today's highly
competitive and fast-changing markets, software intensive
industry is evolving towards a value driven and adaptive
real-time business paradigm . Hence, we live in a world of
data overload, where any argument in product development
can find supporting data. It is easy to find information to
support our assumptions, but testing them with customers
and then taking corrective actions is still hard . Customer
involvement and understanding customer needs are essential
in software development in order to build successful
products and services. According to Humble, after failing to
deliver value for customers, the second largest risk in
product development is building the wrong thing the right
way and overinvesting in unproven opportunities. For this
reason software companies need to continuously collect
customer feedback and validate assumptions during the
development process in order to build a product that is the
best fit for customer needs . However, customer
needs are often difficult to identify and they can change
rapidly. Obtaining tacit and complex knowledge from
customers is hard, as interacting and talking to customers
may often be misleading, e.g., asking customers for
information that they are not able to provide, such as what
product to develop or technologies it should contain .
Agile methods  and Lean Startup  philosophy are
addressing these issues by offering a range of techniques for
more flexible ways of working. The aim is to produce a
definition of a new service concept or the 'minimum viable
product', which is to be implemented in markets as fast as
possible with minimum effort, allowing us to measure how
customers react and then validate findings.
Service design (SD) is an ascendant field of research
where cultural, social and human interaction are connected
. The customer-driven SD approach aims at products and
services that are useful, usable and desirable from the user's
point of view and efficient from the service or product
producer's point of view . Service design has already
taken place in the business-to-consumer (B2C) context, but it
is also recognised as a useful approach in the business-to-
business (B2B) context as well as in the internal
development of organisations' processes . More recently,
a few process models and working practices, such as Lean
UX , user story mapping  and design sprint models
, have been introduced under both service design and
user experience (UX) design titles and attempt to synthesise
service design thinking, agile software development and lean
In this study, using four case projects from Finnish
companies, we examine the role and impact of the
experience prototyping methods of service design in
software development contexts. Therefore, the main research
RQ: How can service design be integrated into software
development through a collaborative experience prototyping
In exploring this we also ask:
What are the benefits, challenges and critical factors
of collaborative experience prototyping in software
What is the position and role of service design in
The contribution of the paper is twofold. First, we present
a participatory action research study with four cases, where
we identify the role of SD and benefits, challenges and
critical factors of experience prototyping in the software
development context. Second, we outline a practical model
for integrating SD in the software development process in
order to increase customer insights and solve problems that
are relevant for customers and thereby deliver value.
The rest of the paper is structured as follows. Section II
presents the background and related work for this study.
Section III presents study design and research method. In
Section IV, we present and discuss our results from the
empirical study and outline the findings in a practical model
for integrating service design in software development
projects. Finally, Section V concludes this paper and
suggests topics for future research.
II. BACKGROUND AND RELATED WORK
A. Customer involvement in software development
Today, software is developed in rapidly changing and
unpredictable markets, with complex and constantly
changing customer requirements and the added pressure to
shorten time-to-market . Agile methods, which are
widely adopted in the software industry , facilitate more
flexible ways of organising software development activities
in order to better meet the dynamic and unpredictable
conditions in the business environment. Many different agile
methodologies have been devised, such as Extreme
Programming, Scrum, Kanban and Lean software
development, which to some extent share the underlying
mindset but use different implementations . As stated by
Nerur et al., agile methods are people-centric, recognising
the value that competent people and their relationships bring
to software development. In addition, agile methods focus on
improving customer satisfaction through collaboration,
active participation of relevant stakeholders and embracing
change. The value of agile methods depends largely on an
organisation's ability to learn. 
In the Agile software engineering literature ,
customer involvement is seen as the direction software
companies should take to transform their practices
throughout the development process. Typically, this is
addressed by having a product owner represent the customer
point of view . However, recent studies show that even
though ways of learning about customers are increasing,
software companies often find it challenging to obtain timely
and accurate feedback from customers to support research
and development (R&D) decision-making processes
continuously . Customer involvement is studied widely
in areas such as participatory design, user-centric design,
usability engineering, human aspects of software engineering
and requirements engineering .
Customer involvement is an abstract concept that refers
to ways in which customers play roles in the software
development process and the extent of their participation.
Customer involvement is referred to as direct interaction
using techniques based on active customer participation .
Through the years, a long list of practices and methods has
been introduced to enable user participation and
involvement. Although user participation seems to be a
beneficial and well-understood approach in product
development, direct user involvement may not always be
feasible. The situation is especially difficult in business
markets when a wide physical or cultural gap exists between
suppliers and customers and there can be multiple
organisations and management layers between developers
and users. The SD approach introduced in the next section
offers a method to bridge this gap.
B. Service design approach
SD is a methodological approach, which can be used for
customer involvement during the software development
process. It is a holistic, multidisciplinary field that helps to
innovate and improve existing products and services as well
as make them more useful and desirable for customers .
Service design provides methods and tools for concretising
and understanding user motivations and emotions during the
development process for all the stakeholders involved. In
B2B markets in particular, a large number of internal and
external stakeholders must be considered, such as users,
decision makers, developers, etc. The SD approach
integrates the themes of a customer's emotions and
experiences in the innovation process and concretises them
for the benefit of value co-creation efforts .
Service design offers an outside-in-development
approach, where products and services are developed
holistically from customers' and end-users' point of view. In
the B2B context, it means studying both the client business'
and the end-users' processes, needs and wants. SD views the
entire customer journey before, during and after the actual
service in order to design the process fluently and support
customers' goals . Another key concept is the touchpoint
through which the product or service is experienced;
touchpoints are anything that can be designed in order to
direct user experience in the desired direction . This
includes not only software user interfaces but also phone
service, face-to-face communication, social media, signs,
service premises, prints, physical tokens and their
interconnection from the customer point of view. The
touchpoint concept can also be looked at from the software
development point of view (inside-out), as a link to
customers through traditional product development phases:
requirements, development, verification and validation and
post-deployment where qualitative and quantitative data is
The concept of co-creating value is defined by Srivastava
and Verma as systematic and structured process based on
collaboration with external stakeholders to generate value for
the company as well as for the customers . In the SD
process, customers are not considered merely as feedback
informants but as active participants from the beginning to
the end of the process. In the process, customers may be
targets of study via qualitative methods, such as interviews
and observation, or customers can be asked to produce the
customer data themselves using self-documentation methods,
such as design probes . Co-design is emphasised in SD,
which refers to the process in which stakeholders are
involved in concrete productive design tasks. These
workshop sessions typically include collaborative
prototyping and other means of expressing the information
Figure 1. They key concepts and the research setting of this paper.
needed in the design process facilitated by design
professionals . Recently, the workshop-based SD process
has led to the compression of service design into a short but
efficient design sprint as the pre-development phase in a lean
and agile software development process .
According to Buchenau and Fulton Suri, experience
prototyping is a key method in co-design sessions, serving as
an efficient medium for concretising and empathising with
customer insight. The aim of experience prototyping is to
represent and prototype different design concepts and ideas.
Prototypes are defined as 'representations of a design made
before final artefacts exist'. To them the term 'experience
design' consists of methods that make it possible for
designers, customers and users to reach a common
understanding of the forthcoming results (products or
services) of the ongoing project. Experience prototypes may
include suggestive staging; 'quick and dirty' card mockups,
taking the roles of both customer and service provider and
enacting service situations. Experience prototyping has three
roles in the design process: understanding customer insight
findings, exploring new ideas and communicating concepts
to others. 
Pinheiro lists three main goals for how early experience
prototypes can be used in a project: '(1) set the context for
users to participate in idea generation and co-design, (2)
service enactment, or role-play, to explain or lean from a
complex concept and (3) test to validate specific service
interactions or the entire service journey'. The experience
prototype can serve as an earlier, more inexpensive and
efficient version of the minimum viable product (MVP)
emphasised in Lean Startup philosophy. 
Several methods and facilities have been developed in
order to enhance the facilitation of co-design and holistic
experience prototyping. The Service Innovation Corner
(SINCO) is a service prototyping environment concept
developed at the University of Lapland . SINCO consists
of the environment and a set of tools for co-design and
experience prototyping. In SINCO, technological equipment
and digital material, such as photos, videos, and sounds, are
used to create the atmosphere of actual service moments for
prototyping and re-enactment. The SINCO set-up has two
117' background projection screens perpendicular to each
other to provide the background scenery and enable partial
yet immersive spatiality . SINCO methods and tools
were applied in this research when conducting co-creation
workshops with the case companies. Fig. 1 summarises the
research setting and the interrelations of the key concepts of
III. RESEARCH DESIGN
In this section, research methods and settings, data
collection activities and analysis are presented.
A. Research method
The aim of this paper is to study the role and impacts of
experience prototyping methods of service design in the
software development context. We apply the multiple case
study approach, which adopts an interpretive approach .
The multiple-case study is suitable for this study because it
allows the researchers to study the phenomenon in a real life
setting as well as a cross-case analysis of the data. The
general research framework for this study can be
characterised as participatory action research (PAR), as
described by Whyte, with the research activities taking place
in empirical context advancing both science and practice
. PAR is a social process involving practitioners in the
research from the initial design of the project through data
gathering and analysis to final conclusions and actions
arising out of the research. Methods to achieve the research
goal include end-user interviews, role plays and data and
information visualisations. They also include experience
prototyping in the SINCO environment where both
customers' and end-users' tangible and intangible needs and
wants were examined with scenarios including images, video
and audio material. The approach to these methods is also
PAR, in that it studies a situation and a set of problems to
determine what the facts through self-reflective iterative
cycles. This can also be described as a co-learning process
between researchers and workshop participants resulting to
organisational learning and change .
B. Case companies
The study uses empirical data from four case companies
in Finland. We refer to the companies as Company A, B, C
and D. The four companies were selected using convenience
sampling from a group of Finnish leading-edge companies
participating in two large national research programmes.
Company A is developing embedded software solutions for
specialised markets in the wireless and automotive industry.
It also provides B2B product development services and
customised solutions for wireless communications. The
focus of the case was to increase user insights of special
devices used in specialised market segments, such as public
safety. Company B is an SME operating in metal industry,
manufacturing hydraulic cylinders and offering cylinder
maintenance services for big industry clients. The focus of
the project in the company was to develop a digital
maintenance service. Company C operates in the software
industry, offering a variety of IT solutions focusing on data
security operations, mainly in B2B and B2C markets.
Figure 2. Example of the SD workshops: Experience prototyping public safety communication use cases in the SINCO.
Company D is a multinational bank operating on both B2B
and B2C markets. The focus of the case project was to
analyse and improve online banking services.
C. Data collection and analysis
Empirical data was collected from December 2013 to
March 2014 (Companies B and D) and from November 2014
to September 2015 (Companies A and C), using semi-
structured interviews with open ended questions [n=11],
workshops [n=12], group discussions [n=10], field diaries by
the service design team during workshops [n=13] and
secondary data [n=29]. The interviewees and workshop
attendees were selected by a key contact person from each
company who was asked to nominate experts from various
departments, such as product management, R&D, validation
and verification, sales and marketing and, in some cases,
contact centre and customer counter functions. The interview
guide allowed us to conduct the interviews in the form of a
discussion with each interviewee that lasted approximately
The workshops (Fig. 2), besides being an integral part of
the service design sprints, can be considered as participative
action research cycles, producing data about the research
phenomenon . In the workshops, SD was turned into
action through service design sprints affiliated to the
company's existing R&D, business development or
marketing processes. All workshop participants had a lot of
experience of working in the company on multiple projects.
Workshops lasted approximately between 3–5 hours and
were facilitated by 1–3 service designers. Workshops and
interviews were video and audio recorded and transcribed for
analysis. In addition, participatory observation was used as a
research method in this study. These field diary notes were
important, as the emerged emotions during the workshops,
such as frustration, anger or laughter, were observed and
documented carefully. In addition, secondary data was
collected from the case companies: (1) process models and
other documents, (2) both individual and group interviews of
the potential end-users and (3) material from workshops and
In our study, we assess three aspects of validity, i.e.
construct validity, external validity and reliability, as
identified by Runeson et al. . Prior to data collection, the
research design that also included the data collection process
was carefully considered. The activity involved selecting
appropriate companies and roles for the interviews and
providing all interviewees with introductory materials (e.g.,
study objectives, the structure of the workshops and
interviews, etc.). Threats to the reliability of the study
findings were mitigated by three researchers involved in all
the phases of the research process. In particular, data
collection and analysis was performed in continuous
collaboration following the general techniques for case study
analysis and used the QSR NVivo tool
. During the analysis,
all materials, including transcripts, field notes, audio and
video files and other related material, were stored in NVivo.
All transcribed interviews were carefully read and coded by
themes. The results were produced by looking for themes
related to the research question.
IV. RESULT ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
Based on the empirical findings, this section presents and
discuss the identified benefits, challenges and critical factors
of service prototyping in a software development context
(Tables I, II and III). Additionally, a practical model for
integrating service design sprints into the software
development process is outlined and discussed (Fig. 3).
A. Experience prototyping in software development
The use of SD experience prototyping methods has
benefits and challenges. The findings from each case study
company show, that at their best, these methods can nourish
and support innovation and development culture. The most
important offering of the workshops, according to many of
the participants, was the liberalisation of mindsets.
Experience prototyping methods also allow for the efficient
constitution of a complete understanding of all stakeholders'
viewpoints. These methods were seen as pleasant and
motivating but also challenging because participants had to
step out of their comfort zone. According to workshop
participants, they were able to develop significant
knowledge, skills, and emotions by experience prototyping
in an emergent process that empowered people to engage in
discovery, reflection and even action (Fig. 2). Testing of
business hypotheses and assumptions in product
development could be then turned into faster and more
accurate decision-making and value creation. Table I
categorises and describes the identified benefits and Table II
categorises and describes the identified challenges of
experience prototyping based on the research data. In Table
III, we also identified critical factors that need to be
considered in order to successfully implement experience
prototyping within company processes.
TABLE I. IDENTIFIED BENEFITS OF EXPERIENCE PROTOTYPING
SD methods help to improve communication
between all the stakeholders (e.g., management,
sales, development team, customer and end-users).
Collaborative prototyping sessions also increase
transparency in the organisation by uncovering
grassroots knowledge to be exploited in
development even on strategic and business level.
Presents an opportunity to get instant and direct
feedback from the end-users.
SD methods motivate development teams,
customers and end-users to innovate, co-develop
and more actively participate in the development
process. SD methods also support and sustain
It brings out the user oriented mindset and changes
the viewpoint from insight-out to outside-in.
Customer journey walkthrough and empathising the
customer role inherently leads to customer-centric
development approach (outside-in) instead of just
pushing new technology based features (inside-out).
This accelerates the decision-making, e.g., via more
efficient distribution and understanding of the
information. In the process, tacit knowledge is
converted to tangible knowledge. This is an
opportunity to find behaviours and patterns about
which users are not aware. Learning process with
different levels: individual, team and organisational.
SD methods help stakeholders to identify and
prioritise features as well as avoid building
unnecessary functions based on deeper
understanding of end-user needs. It may also help to
identify new potential products/services or market
segments and even reduce time to market.
Value can be created from intangible end-user
experiences and emotions. Quick and cost effective
way to test new ideas before any development work
TABLE II. IDENTIFIED CHALLENGES OF EXPERIENCE PROTOTYPING
Special skills and environment are needed to
facilitate SINCO workshops. Companies do not
have the premises nor facilitation capabilities.
Due to increasing demands and hectic business
schedules, it may be challenging to find suitable
time for all stakeholders to participate in a
workshop at the same time. In the B2B context,
involving end-users may be challenging.
Lack of systematic ways to collect customer data
and identify metrics for how to measure customer
value and no practices for documenting and
integrating workshop results back to the existing
processes. Video was identified as an effective
medium to document and communicate experience
prototypes but companies' IT systems don't
necessarily offer suitable ways to store and tag
Proper timing and placement of the workshop with
the company's process. In two of the cases, the
involvement of end users and the whole SD sprint
took place too late in the development process.
TABLE III. IDENTIFIED CRITICAL FACTORS OF EXPERIENCE
In-house and outsourced service design expertise is
utilised. In-house service design expertise is needed
to pursue the co-creation model forward and to be
able to facilitate and/or purchase facilitation on
demand. The outsider view was needed to help
companies apply an outside-in customer-centric
Understanding the business challenge and the
context is critical. Preparations phase consists of
brief from the case company, collecting information
(benchmarking, observations, mystery shopping
etc.) and information analysis for scenarios
formation. Defining which information will be
collected as the result of the workshop session, and
TABLE IV. THE ROLES AND THE POSITIONING OF THE SERVICE DESIGN SPRINTS AGAINST THE SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
Role of SD sprint
Novelty customer involvement platform to validate the holistic
user experience of a communication device and its ecosystem
Indirect link to ongoing software development, complementing
product backlog, validating overall product/service quality
(software development being one sub problem of the design,
manufacturing and delivery of the electronic device/platform
Pre-development tool for a new maintenance service concept.
Providing a service vision and come up with a roadmap for IT
SD sprint as a pre-development phase of software development,
online-software concept/backlog as a core deliverable of the SD
Make corporate internal operations and knowledge visible
through gamification and prototyping.
Pre-development phase, online service portal concept/mockup
being a central deliverable of SD sprint.
Validate and finish the user experience of new service concept
consisting of new online channels already being in
Indirect link to already ongoing software development,
complementing product backlog, validating overall
The facilitator must be able to direct the participants
and experience prototyping session as well as
rapidly build mock-ups during the session.
Facilitator defines the point of view through which
matters are analysed. Also, proper rhythm of
different collaboration modes: presenting
background information, enacting and gathering and
analysing insights unveiled in the drama (role play)
and end users
Involving real users to both the customer insight
phase (in workshop and during the preceding field
study) and concept testing is critical in order to
validate the findings.
Our results indicate that, typically in the B2B context,
there is no direct interface between the development team
and users. Often this is due to the intermediaries in the
supply chain. We also noticed that even if the link between
the development team and the users does exist, this
opportunity is rarely fully utilised, and typically users are
involved too late in the process. For development teams, this
may lead to a situation where it is difficult to understand the
reasons behind the requirements and validate which features
bring real value. Experience prototyping workshops acted as
a tool for innovation, communication and interpreter
emphasising stakeholder experiences, thus allowing different
points of views to be discussed. It provided instant and
detailed insight about end-user motivations in different
situations and the possibility to test various different service
or development options. In experience prototyping
workshops, involving real users is necessary in order to
enable deep customer insight efficiently as well as test and
validate the findings. By observing the workshop sessions,
we noticed that sessions that were too long are challenging
and may become a tiresome activity, especially when the
methods used were unfamiliar to most of the participants.
Therefore, it is important to balance the time between the
workshops and discussion activities and provide clear
instructions to the attendees.
Essentially, the challenge for companies today is no
longer how to solve technical issues but rather how to solve
problems that are relevant for customers and end users. This
requires changing the company culture and mind-set from
'insight-out' technology and features first thinking towards
more customer-centric 'outside-in' approach.
B. Integrating service design sprint into software
The role of SD varied with to R&D phase and the
lifecycle point of the software being developed. The roles
and the positioning of the service design sprints against
software development process in the case companies is
presented in Table IV.
Through the findings from the company cases, we
identified that SD experience prototyping could to be
considered as a new development strategy. In all cases, the
companies' company culture was identified as a key factor to
support change and encourage constant learning. SD
methods provide one set of tools for gaining this lacking user
knowledge. As a result of our study, we present a practical
model of how to introduce SD experience prototyping into
Agile Scrum process as sprints (Fig. 3.). In the model, user
knowledge is used for continuous learning during the Scrum
process, which can be used to test, validate and prioritise
features, update the product roadmap, improve the product or
service and ultimately result in better customer satisfaction.
The model builds on the possibility of learning and executing
small tasks that are delivered as an MVP to customers.
In the proposed model, the SD experience prototyping
sprints take place in three phases of the agile software
development process. The first SD sprint focuses on
customer insight and analysing the customer journey through
the holistic service experience in which the software product
is part. The involvement of real customers and end-users is
crucial during this first SD sprint. The first SD sprint results
in the product backlog of the MVP or script for the minimum
Figure 3. Service design sprint as a part of the Agile Scrum process
valuable service. The second position, where holistic user
experience prototyping takes place, happens during the
software development sprint as company's internal holistic
user experience (UX) check point tool. The aim is to validate
and integrate the developed individual software features into
a common vision of the holistic outside-in service experience
at regular intervals. The third experience prototyping sprint
takes place before actual commercial launch of a service.
Depending on the case, this sprint may have different foci.
The first is evaluating the product or service concept with
customers and other external stakeholders in order to accept
and refine the critical points of the customer journey before
deployment. The second purpose is to educate relevant
stakeholders (e.g., sales, marketing and support) of the
software use cases and customer experience related sales
arguments. The responsibility of coordinating the SD sprints
falls naturally to the product owner. The actual facilitation of
the experience prototyping sessions requires hiring or
purchasing special service design expertise, or it may fall
under UX designers' responsibility as new expertise with the
need for education and training.
Users expect nothing less than great products that are
easy to use and bring value regardless of technology,
platform or context. Delivering value in constantly changing
markets and meeting customer needs are key success factors
for any business. The objective of this paper was to study the
role and impact of experience prototyping in software
development projects, including its benefits, challenges and
Our study shows that during the case projects, the role of
SD was to concretise customers' and end-users' needs to
internal stakeholders and to innovate, validate and create
new product or service concepts holistically. The methods to
achieve the aim included end-user interviews, followed by
workshops and role plays, data and information
visualisations as well as experience prototyping during the
workshops in the SINCO environment. In general, SD
methods enhance the software development process and
benefit both the developers and users by enabling companies
to develop customer-centric products and services that are
useful, desirable and competitive in the market. We
identified a number of benefits of experience prototyping in
the software development context, such as instant feedback,
faster and more accurate decision-making, continuous
learning as well as focusing the development effort on things
that bring value to users are some of the perceived benefits.
Furthermore, we identified challenges and critical factors
that could block the use of SD methods during development
activities, such as stakeholder availability, special skills and
the environment needed for workshop facilitation, etc. Based
on the results, we present a practical model of how to
integrate SD prototyping sprints in software development
processes. The model builds on existing software
development practices with short learning and iteration
cycles, where customer experience can be improved by
arcing out the situation, making quick improvements and
prototyping the experience again. In the proposed model, the
SD experience prototyping sprints take place in three phases
(before, during and after) of the agile software development
It is important to note that due to the methodological
nature of our research, generalisation based on the results is
inherently limited. However, our research results offer a
fruitful ground for future studies on using experience
prototyping or other SD methods in software development
practices. Our future research will aim to validate the
proposed model in an empirical context. For future research,
it could be important to identify mechanisms that can be used
to analyse and incorporate workshop results into software
development processes and identify metrics for analysing
This work was supported by TEKES (Finnish Fund for
Technology and Innovation) as part of the 'Need for Speed'
project (http://www.n4s.fi/) and 'Value through Emotion'
project. This work has been done in co-operation with
research group (M3S) from the University of Oulu and
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