In a rapidly changing world, success requires a wide variety of competences (knowledge, skills and attitudes) and their combinations. As the ways of doing service business change, new flexible forms of higher education are also required to transform.
Universities of all kinds are increasingly required to cooperate with businesses to develop relevant competences and learning environments. This newfound academia-industry cooperation allows real life projects that develop students’ innovative and entrepreneurial mindset and competences.
Many universities around the world have made enormous advancements in including entrepreneurship and design in their curricula. Either by including studies of entrepreneurship and service design or by creating entire streams, paths or specialisations in entrepreneurship to their degree programmes. This trend is fuelled by a recognition that entrepreneurship and design play an important role in employment and socio-economic development.
Development of the Experience Designer specialisation
In line with Haaga-Helia’s strategy and strong profile as an expert in entrepreneurship and service business development and design, the experience designer (ED) specialisation was developed. The ED consists of 30 ECTS of studies during one semester, and it brings together students and teachers from all its campuses. The main goal is to learn to design super experiences, which truly enhance the customer engagement.
The ED started from the desire of developing a specialisation truly innovative and different from traditional specializations. In addition, it had to involve students from different campuses and degree programs as well as current Haaga-Helia business partners.
The design of the specialisation was carried out using the design thinking framework in such a way that both students and industry representatives were involved. Students got a course-shaped assignment to think first about what competences the ED should have and how these competences could be developed.
During the assignment, students researched, interviewed, and sought information about the needs of working life, based on which they formed insights of the required competences. These were further developed together with industry representatives.
One of the concepts suggested, involved adding strong elements from games into the studies by including levels, player avatars and profiles whilst developing competence meters and, as it turned out, most importantly, life points.
The students are informed upon applying to the specialization that their performance is constantly reviewed and acting irresponsibly would lead to losing many life points, while being an engaged team member would be rewarded with a few life points. Losing all life points leads to immediate exclusion from the ED studies. The life points are measured weekly by giving points for active participation as well as peer evaluation points. The constant peer evaluation is also designed to help less active students to correct their behavior in good time.
Experience Designer competences
As economies shift from services to experiences, new kinds of competences are needed by future graduates. In the ED, representatives of students, teachers and service industry managers co-developed five core competences for future customer experience designers. These five competences function as beacons to all learning activities, which also included the generic competences of all Haaga-Helia’s degree programmes.
- Empathy is about the ability of truly and deeply understanding the life, needs and desires of customers, the company partner, and other stakeholders. Empathy also includes teamwork dynamics: how well the teams and the individuals enhance each other’s strengths and respect each other’s differences.
- Sense-making is the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed by customers, the company-partner and other stakeholders. It involves the rationality, profitability and do-ability but also the meaningfulness of the actions, ideas and concepts created by the teams.
- Curiosity measures the initiative and fearlessness of the designer. It is about approaching people and challenges with an open and accepting mindset. Curiosity is also about daring to see and try unconventional and unexpected solutions.
- Volition is about actually getting things done. It is about taking control of the task and not waiting for orders.
- WOW-ness is the ultimate competence of an experience designer. It shows as an ability to create something for customers that really affects their feelings.
To ensure full focus of the students, the ED studies are their only studies during the entire semester. The ED specialization is structured as a game with three levels.
Level 1, the Tutorial (10 ECTS), includes an intensive 3-day team-up camp, where students participate in various in-class and outdoors workshops on team building, the fundamentals of experience economy and service design. The Tutorial phase lasts for five weeks and the main task for the students is to apply the service design process to design a game experience for a given target group of customers. The learnt skills and tools in the tutorial are needed further in the process.
In level 2, Super Experience Challenge (10 ECTS), real business challenges from carefully selected business partners are introduced to the students. The company challenges are pitched to the students and round-table negotiations are held. Subsequently, teams are formed for the next six week period. During this phase, teams receive coaching from the company representatives and from teachers. In every company-case the ED teams apply the service design process from empathising and ideation to prototyping and testing, and in the end present the best concepts to the commissioners.
In the third level, Super Experience Boss Challenge (10 ECTS), the teams dive deeper in the company cases, and during the last six weeks of the semester they work on the implementation of the concepts designed during level-two. Before the final presentations ED teams work on the documentation and visualisation of the solutions using video, collages, presentation decks, etc. Each commissioner receives a solution that can be utilized immediately by the company.
Experience Designers as future entrepreneurs
Interviews with participating students reveal that they have learned a lot about goal-oriented teamwork, understanding the customer needs, how to cope with uncertainty and what it means to have a business-oriented mindset. The students have developed a strong sense of ownership for their projects and many of them state, that they want to continue working as entrepreneurs whilst using service design.
Based on round-table discussions between teachers and industry representatives, the following themes have been identified as possible reasons for the emergence of entrepreneurial competences in the Experience Designer:
- Cross-campus cooperation, multidisciplinary teams.
- Real companies with real challenges.
- Focus on customer centered solutions relying on the process and tools of service design.
- Combination of intensity and autonomy.
- High level of motivation and purpose amongst students who have applied and been chosen to the specialization.
- Some amount of chaos and necessary support.
- Working close with companies and being in charge of the project.
After several rounds of the ED specialization, there is evidence showing that participating students develop and show strong self-directed behavior and show intrinsic motivation to learning, which are central to entrepreneurs.