Service design and architecture create our future smart cities

What can a service designer and an architect learn from each other? And how can their collaboration benefit society? By crossing two different disciplines, new ways to design the future's physical environments by addressing modern desires and needs are created. A new residential area in Laholm in Halland County is the first one to be sketched out in collaboration between service designers at Halmstad University and the architecture firm Krook & Tjäder.

”Architects have worked with the physical space for thousands of years and developed a large knowledge base and method bank. But now, when the digital and physical merge more and more, it will be exciting to see how digital service design methods can contribute to the design of physical environments.”

Pontus Wärnestål

Portrait of man standing in a bright indoor environment

Pontus Wärnestål, Associate Professor in Informatics at Halmstad University.

A year ago, the action research project Participatory Urban Design started. In the project, Pontus Wärnestål, Associate Professor at Halmstad University and an expert in Service Design, participated actively in the work of the architecture firm Krook & Tjäder. The unique collaboration has had a specific goal – the design of a new residential area in the outskirts of Laholm, a town in Halland County in southern Sweden.

”I have been a part of the architect team for the past year. Together we have used methods used within digital service design and applied them to the architects’ mission to create the new residential area Östra Nyby in Laholm”, says Pontus Wärnestål.

New ways to determine needs

One of the methods is Impact Mapping, which is an analysis of behavior patterns and needs of the target group in order to design for positive impact for all involved stakeholders. The analysis is based on interviews with potential users, in this case ten people who are considering moving to a smaller city. The questions have for example been about what they appreciate in life, what their dreams are and what factors are essential to a move. Many of the questions focused on health. The answers to the questions varied, but some similarities could be distinguished:

”The desire to be close to nature and the possibility of growing your own crops were regular responses in our interviews. The responders also want to be able to gather larger groups of friends and family in for example a rented party room”, says Pontus Wärnestål.

Architects do not generally use deep interviews in their assignments. They usually rely on quantitative and demographic analysis, which may not always reflect the user’s lifestyle and wishes.

”Demographic and quantitative analysis capture what, while our methods focus on why. The traditional analysis can distinguish certain lifestyles, but do not explain why the user has that lifestyle. Our methods can help with that”, says Pontus Wärnestål, and continues:

”Impact mapping can for example show that a resident of a new neighborhood wants to solve the family’s transportation needs in a flexible manner. Because of that, we can design the possibility of borrowing an electric bike to complement the car – whether the resident is a senior, student or a parent of young children. In this way, the traditional demographic analysis is enhanced with new ways of mapping users' needs before the new neighborhood is built.”

Different time perspectives

A challenge in urban planning and construction is that the actors involved often have different time perspectives. The city or municipality have long-term plans, often several decades ahead. Construction companies want to complete their mission as quickly as possible, for financial reasons. The architects are somewhere in the middle – they want to create sustainable and yet attractive solutions that fit both in the short and long term. In these new service design methods, the architect group found a good basis for discussion with the other involved actors.

”The Impact Map, with its clear definition of target groups and their needs and behaviors, enabled us to support our proposals for the new residential area. We could with greater clarity than usual show why different solutions are preferable. This way, we were able to approach each other in discussions about time, sustainability and costs”, says Lina Lindegren at the architecture firm Krook & Tjäder in Halmstad.

Krook & Tjäder will compile the results of the research collaboration with Halmstad University in a method book, so that they can continue working in a similar way in the future.

A chance to develop the service design field

Pontus Wärnestål believes and hopes that the two disciplines, service design and architecture, will collaborate even more in the future:

”Architects have worked with the physical space for thousands of years and developed a large knowledge base and method bank. But now, when the digital and physical merge more and more, it will be exciting to see how digital service design methods can contribute to the design of physical environments. I believe that interdisciplinary collaboration is the key to future smart cities and societies.”

The service design discipline has also benefited from the research project. The researchers at Halmstad University have been able to test their methods on a specific architectural project and verify that it works to use impact mapping when it comes to the design of physical environments.

”We have gained important insights into urban planning and the design of future housing. Digitalisation permeates everything around us, including physical environments. Service designers must learn how to create housing and public areas that sucessfully integrate digital solutions”, says Pontus Wärnestål.

The research project is now entering the next phase, which means a greater focus on the border between artificial intelligence (AI), health and physical environments. Pontus Wärnestål explains:

”We will look at how AI supported digital service platforms affect how physical environments are being built. One example is services that facilitate transportation of both people, goods and food. This is entirely in line with Laholm municipality’s long-term sustainability goals as well as the result of in the interview analysis.”

Text: Louise Wandel
Photo: Joachim Brink

About the Participatory Urban Design project

The research project Participatory Urban Design (PUD) is part of a series of research projects under the same umbrella, led by Jens Nygren, Professor of Health Innovation at Halmstad University. Pontus Wärnestål, Associate Professor in Informatics at Halmstad University, is the project leader for PUD. The project runs between 2016 and 2019 and is funded by the Knowledge Foundation. It is well in line with Halmstad University’s pronounced profile towards smart cities and communities.

The main purpose of PUD is to investigate how methods and tools commonly used in the service design of digital solutions can be used in the design of new physical environments. One of the methods tested is impact mapping based on deep interviews and qualitative analysis.

The research group has seen three clear results of the project:

  1. Methods commonly used in service design of digital solutions work well on the architects’ projects. The group’s mapping and prioritisation of behavior patterns define target groups in a different way than the more traditional demographic methods that architects have so far relied on.
  2. The group, through the Impact Map, could define measurable goals based on end users’ behavior and what they consider valuable. The objectives that were formulated also define the municipality’s sustainability goals and make them easier to address and measure.
  3. The architects were able to use the impact map in a successful way in discussions with other actors involved in the planning of the new residential area Östra Nyby in Laholm.