Games as tools to facilitate problem solving in Service Design

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Games as tools to facilitate problem solving in Service Design Haider Ali, Akmal

Service Design may be identified in different ways according to its application or need, as Stickdorn and Schneider (2011) have cataloged, there is no common definition or clearly articulated language of service design. The UK Design Council (2010) expresses it as a means to make the service you deliver useful and efficient, while Mortiz (2005) is more of the opinion that service design is a holistic, multi-disciplinary, integrative field. Engine Service Design (2010) refer to it as a design specialism that helps develop and deliver great services; improving factors such as ease of use, satisfaction, loyalty and efficiency. The general consensus is that it is about facilitating innovation and/or improvement through, and to, services. This facilitation is done through the means of design tools and methods which vary for each situation and need; an inherent quality to all these tools is problem solving. One particular framework used for facilitation, which is the focus of this essay, is Design Games; they fall under a unique area of Participatory Design. This essay aims to address a few key aspects on what a game is and how design games can better help derive an outcome that is situationally beneficial to solve a given problem. The problems being discussed are those related to organisation and ideally where service design methods would be introduced to resolve. In other words how can games be used as potential tools to facilitate the problem solving process in service design. But first, what is a game? Within many of us there is an undeniable fascination with the act of play, one that grows from childhood and stays. These acts of play, or games, are of various kinds but follow a more or less similar pattern of actions with subsequent consequences. There is often ambiguity when explaining what a game is and what isn’t. For instance it is often the norm to accept that a game is something not part of the grave world we live in but resides in its own dimensions. For instance Ferrara (2006) explains how there are strong cultural biases towards games being frivolous. Suits (1967) explains a game through a more philosophical approach as: … to engage in activity directed toward bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by specific rules, where the means permitted by the rules are more limited in scope than they would be in the absence of the rules (p.148) Anthropologist Johan Huizinga (1950) better describes games as creating their own reality, walled off from the real world within what he called the “magic circle” (Ferrara 2012, 22). Basically what he says is that players of a game commit to the specialised rules of the game world “for the sake of the game experience”, they leave rules of their everyday lives behind; in this way immersing themselves in it. Games are designed to serve a particular purpose, and while generally that purpose is entertainment, in truth the potential of games can be controlled to derive results that could be of benefit for a particular situation. After all playing a game is a participatory session of acts conducted by its participating members, which brings us to our second question.


What about Design Games? Games are in some sense essentially non-serious (Suits, 1967) but the underlying fact to remember is that, to play a game is to engage in activity directed toward bringing about a specific state of affairs (Suits, 1967). This aids the definition of a Design Game to some extent. Regardless of the widespread use of the term, there is no clear definition of it (Vaajakallio, 2012) but most descriptions agree that design games are about: staging participation, there is seldom competition over who wins, and there are (as with regular games) rules and tangible game pieces that guide the design moves (Vaajakallio, 2012; Brandt, 2006). Vaajakallio further explains them as always being context specific, goal oriented, active in process, they involve decision making and above all involve conflict or contest. Those traits allow design games to be comfortably settled in participatory design. Design is a collaborative effort where the design process is spread among diverse participating stakeholders and competences, participatory design started from the simple standpoint that, those affected by a design should have a say in the design process (Bjögvinsson, Ehn and Hillgren, 2012). With its roots in Scandinavian Participatory Design it bases itself on Scandinavian design principles of, democracy and democratisation; explicit discussion of values in design and imagined futures; and, the idea, that conflicts and contradictions are regarded as resources in design (Gregory, 2003). Therefore a design game can be concluded, as Vaajakallio (2012) places it, into four distinct types as per their purpose; design games as a research tool, for building design competence, for empowering users, and for engaging multiple stakeholders Vaajkallio (2012) further extends this definition supporting games to service design needs as a facilitation tool; she argues that firstly, design games work as boundary objects among participants, allowing a transition into, the abstract phase of early design; second, the materials and rules open up a fresh approach for familiar things, they invoke creative thinking both direct and indirectly by encouraging user involvement; and thirdly, dialogue may be mediated through game pieces, which promotes action-oriented language use besides verbal communication. The Game Metaphor and Service Design The metaphor of a game is very powerful as it allows one to remove themselves from their current realms and enter new limitations which they can contest and contradict. Why would this be needed in service design? Klaar (2015, p.28) explains the key to service design like so: In order to find what a small child has hidden, it is best to view the world from the child’s viewpoint. Sit on the floor, What is the most inaccessible point you can reach? What he’s saying is that in order to understand the problem in a service you need to see it from the perspective of the customer or user of that service. Brandt (2006) further presses that, the game metaphor as a way of understanding and/or organising participation. Therefore, a carefully crafted and designed experience in a game can result in players focusing more on given problems than they normally would. This is helpful in a co-design session that could be arranged to come up with potential service design solutions. Co-design as the term suggests is a method where, ideas are not generated by the users, designers or researchers alone but in the interaction between several people representing different backgrounds and skills (Vaajakallio, 2012). The participatory element of games therefore have the potential to be exercised in a designed manner around a given situation.


Application of Games as design tools Habraken et al. argue that designing is a social activity among people who have different expertise and responsibilities and therefore the participants negotiate, make proposals, and set rules for the work to be done (Brandt, 2006). This opens up the possibility for designers when preparing participatory design sessions as Brandt (2006) further explains that, central for designers within this field are the staging of a design process involving participation of people. Upon applying design games into practice there are certain criteria that are anticipated to be met by the game itself, this is present in order to apply the game effectively so that it can resolve problems. Brandt, Messeter and Binder (2004; 2008) have proposed a feature-set which can further define a participatory design game: 1. They propose that, a diverse group of players gather around a collaborative activity guided by simple and explicit rules, they are assigned roles and supported by predefined gaming materials 2. The game materials typically point to either or both existing practices and future possibilities 3. The games are played within a confined and shared temporal and spatial setting often removed from the everyday context of the players 4. The purpose of the game is to establish and explore novel configurations of the game materials and the present and future practices to which these materials point 5. At the end of the game, the players will have produced representations of one or more possible design options. The following are a few design games, as suggested by Brandt, Messeter and Binder (2004; 2006; 2008), that have been crafted to be used as frameworks in participatory design sessions. Each game is played in a unique manner and is meant to extract specific information relative to the way it is applied. The Silent Game is described by Brandt (2006) as a game that is played in silence.

Players are not allowed to speak to one another while playing, one uses the game materials provided to design a pattern while the second player is to decipher that pattern and understand it. The object is to expand on the pattern using whatever is understood in silence. Thus the game is about implicit understanding among the players through their design moves. The Delta Game is meant for teaching engineering design students. Played by four

each player has a different role; an architect, a project manager, structural engineer, and thermal engineer. The common task is to design a residence suitable for inhabitants of an imaginary world known as the Delta Plane. This world comes with its own unique limitations and each player has to use the skills associated with their defined roles to come up with potential solutions. This process involves communication, negotiation and entering compromises, which can not be solved using solely technical rationality.


The Exchange Perspective Game comes from the 1920’s surrealist movement in

art, literature, and film. Surrealists used chance and surprise as guiding principles in their work. These were a variety of games created to explore imagination and intensify collaborative experience by subverting methods borrowed from for instance sociology, anthropology, and psychology (Brandt, 2006). One particular game as Brandt describes worked with open-ended fragments. In a game called Exquisite Corps; a group made a drawing together taking turns on a folded piece of paper, each time the paper was folded in a way that the prior drawing was seen only partially. The end result was a combination of all the players thoughts in the drawing. The above games are brief explorations into games designed for a specific, research oriented purpose. But there are more focused applications of design games as can be seen through Brandt (2006) in the User Game. The User Game is intended to help stakeholders develop a shared image of their

intended users, it is grounded in ethnographically inspired field data regarding the users. This game is used to develop a deeper understanding of a specific user group as well. Being essentially a card game the players are provided with Moment and Sign cards; the Moment-cards are numbered and attached to video footage coming from field data, the Sign-cards have potential keywords such as ‘closeness’, ‘vibrant’, ‘despair’, the purpose being to provide a conceptual framework for the stories that are created using both sets of cards. This allows the Sign-cards to be versatile and may be changed to relate more to the client the user group is to be attracted to. Gameplay is defined by placing cards so they create a story, players then intersect stories with their own according to the cards they have. The game moves on till no further stories are created that can add or change anything to ones already on the board. This way it is possible to see a a holistic view of the user being targeted, further prodding through design methods may lead to potential solutions in the service. As Gregory (2003) puts it design is fundamentally a collective activity, in which the various practices of the participants meet in a process of mutual learning. This meeting creates conflicts that create new possibilities in design. From the above examples it can be seen that design games have a potential to aid service design through participatory design tactics due their primary focus being the participatory, co-creative and immersive environments they provide. Lego® Serious Play There is one particular design game I would like to focus on now, it’s a game designed by The Lego Group in the 1990’s. Being a very versatile medium for play and learning, Lego has the potential to ‘express anything’ (Swann, 2011) in its unique blocky format. This struck the curiosity of researchers and The Lego Group to tap into its potential for solving internal problems in the Lego organisation, this was envisioned in the form of Lego® Serious Play (LSP). Today LSP is used by major companies and brands to solve their organisational problems and improve their services; organisations such as, Google, eBay, The International Red Cross, Roche and NASA (James, 2013) are but a few which have been exercising LSP to its fullest. LSP is a facilitated workshop where participants respond to tasks by building symbolic and metaphorical models with LEGO bricks and present them to the other participants (Frick, 2013). Frick (2013) further explains its workings which can be summarised in three pieces; the answer is in the system being scrutinised, everyone has to express his/her reflections in the process, and there is no ONE right answer.


This might seem confusing as how a toy as Lego can be incorporated into resolving and improving big business services, but in truth the workshops are custom designed to fit each and every situation boasting the versatility of the medium. Frick explains it as being, about participants expressing themselves and listening to each other. Gauntlett and Holzwarth (2006) further stand by this argument saying, it gets participants communicating more fully, creatively and expressively. But how does that happen? During the workshop, which can last for up to a week or more, facilitators provide problems relating to the participants organisation. As a result they are to resolve them through a set of activities combining metaphorical modelling, building with Lego and peer discussion to explore, those, complex issues (James, 2013). By allowing the participants the freedom to imagine their problems in an indirect way gives them the opportunity to express themselves as they normally wouldn’t. Therefore, a green plant, modelled by the participants in Lego, may signify growth, inspiration, abundance, or it may not even be a plant at all, but hair or energy (James, 2013). This allows for gaps in the organisation to become apparent through analysing the models. This works because LSP is grounded on principles of constructivism, by resolving problems through metaphorical means through construction. Frick (2013) argues that it allows for an ‘out of the box thinking’ since, while descriptive imagination allows us to see what is there in a new way, creative imagination is the kind of imagination that allows us to see what is not there, and that is what is needed in order to innovate on a problem. Case Study: In December 2008 NHS East Riding of Yorkshire introduced

neighbourhood care teams (NCTs) to remove the need for patients to travel to a hospital to receive their frequent treatments: managed care, rehabilitation and urgent care (Swann, 2011). The primary research of this project was to build upon ethnographical fieldwork and come up with potential design solutions facilitating service improvements and a new product development for the NHS. It was necessary to understand the problems from the perspective of the NHS employees as they were the ones who would be using this particular product. Swann (2011) expresses that LSP was chosen due to its expressive potential, and upon analysis of the results reoccurring metaphorical themes were discovered in the architecture of the models. Vehicle models in particular were built haphazardly and inconsistent, which related to the ethnographical data collected placing the NHS vehicles as being poorly maintained for their particular needs. Swann mentions that, one aspirational Lego model highlighted a need for a ‘product’ that provided a professional, organised and uniformed work environment. The model formed the foundation towards designing a future nursing bag. He finishes his assessment of LSP by saying that the, inclusive and democratic nature of the process proved to be a perfect tool to initiate a co-design programme. It can be seen through this brief case study that the abstract nature of LSP allows it to be very versatile with regards to how it can be implemented. Of course there are limitations to it as well. It’s not at all like the kind of business consultancy where a troubleshooter turns up, looks around, and announces what the problems are and what needs to change (Gauntlett and Holzwarth, 2006) rather, due to the creative nature of it certain participants can find it frustrating, and as James (2013) puts it certain more creative participants might find the medium limiting to what they would want to express. Furthermore she mentions that the metaphorical nature of the results requires them to be interpreted and those interpretations might not necessarily tally with the participants initial intents in the model.


A final though All in all, playing games and designing are both social enterprises, they, evolve over time and are based on a set of rules (Brandt and Messeter, 2004). Vaajakallio (2012) echoes Keinonen (2009) saying that design methods can be perceived as an instrument, a competence, or an agenda (Vaajakallio, 2012), these instruments are crafted and applied for particular purposes in particular situations. The premise of this essay has been to think around the lines of what a game entails as a design method in the realm of service design, how it can be applied and with what benefits or consequences. Though the merits may be varied due to the versatility in design games, the demerits still do remain, a game needs to be crafted meticulously in order for it to accurately envision a potential solution. The players need to be committed to the gameplay and that can only happen if the game itself is playable (and subsequently enjoyable). Ferrara (2012) expresses concern saying that, not everything can be redefined as a game, since, trying to force a game structure onto, something, that’s just not suited to it won’t work. Therefore a deep understanding of, the players, the situation they are to be placed in, and the given situational problem needs to be present in order for efficient gameplay. As a whole, design games do present a potential as a tool in service design, where they are to be implemented is all dependant on the situation, the service, and the users of that service.

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