Phase 1: Explore service visions

Unit 1: Conducting Lab explorations

Imagining future possibilities

In this unit:

The lab team worked to develop visions of ‘far future’ services that responded to the scenarios and design challenges created in the previous phase. The aim of the future service visions was to allow the entire organisational team to imagine the tangible possibilities of a future that may arise.

The visions grounded the team in a common portrayal of the future and provided insight into the implications and the emerging topics that otherwise would have been too abstract. In other words, the visions are not simply sketches of potentially implementable services, they are tools for exploration which inform the collective imagination. 

The key goal of  this unit of work was to create visions that are diverse enough to scan the landscape and provoke conversation about the huge diversity of potential issues and opportunities in the future.



For the lab explorations, the lab team decided to focus on more extreme scenarios and their design challenges. An exploration is the process of creating  service visions around a scenario and discussing the topics that emerge.

At this stage, they were not heavily focussed on finding strategic alignment with the client. Instead, they were still in the exploration phase, trying to identify opportunities around the future of health and happiness. 

The legitimacy of the visions was not essential at that point because the explorations were used as a mechanism to inspire the client to think about opportunities and prioritise different directions for the process. 

The prioritisation of visions was based on what had more potential and what was more provocative and exciting. Often, these visions deliberately articulate provocative or even implausible caricatures of services because provocation and implausibility can stimulate the dialogue that is necessary for the emergence of new strategies. 

The value of the scenarios was abstract, making it challenging to understand what kind of role the client could have in the contexts they had depicted.

This is why the exploration process first grounds the discussion by visualising future service visions that might exist within the scenarios and creating corresponding narratives. The lab team did not create anything of high-fidelity; instead, they used simple storyboards and sketches to make the abstract exploration of future scenarios more tangible and accessible for the client. 

By creating these visions and visualising them, the lab team was uncovering the potential within each of the societal dimensions of change and identifying  the emerging themes that may be relevant. 

In other words, at this point, they were not testing the visions, they were testing the themes. By making those ideas tangible, the client was able to engage with those discussions and understand which directions and areas had more potential, regardless of the client’s current strategy. 

In sum, the explorations helped expand the client’s understanding of emerging themes and helped them prioritise topics.


Briefing the Lab

The briefing stage for the lab was not only to write an effective guide for the next stage but also to collect all the material, organise it and reflect on it, before moving on.
As already mentioned, the lab only focused on the scenarios and challenges derived from the trends analysis and extreme users research, which formed the ‘Far Future’ time horizon. Strategic alignment was not a priority in this phase because the lab team was exploring the themes further by developing future service visions, to then identify opportunities.


Activity 01.
Review of design challenges

The lab team started by synthesising all the material they had on the scenarios and challenges. With that, they organised a third workshop with the organisation to assess the design challenges for the lab, but also to prioritise themes and scenarios for the studio briefs, which will be discussed in detail in the Studio Explorations stage. 

During the workshop, the lab team reviewed all the steps of their process, from objectives and methodology, to the research on trends and the outputs of the second workshop. They then presented the work done with the extreme users, and the process they followed to create future personas and extreme scenarios.

 Once everyone had a clear understanding of these scenarios, they gave each participant a sheet with all the design challenges. They encouraged all participants to share their comments and questions about the challenges to help them understand how to refine them.

The last task was to vote on the challenges. The goal was not to  make a selection, but to gauge what themes the client seemed to be more curious about, and what kind of opportunities they were considering.

With this in mind, the lab team asked the client to take into consideration what they found more interesting, what they were not familiar with but had potential to be explored, what challenges would best support their strategy and which scenarios they found more provoking.

Design Challenge table

The design challenge table is used to organise all the challenges in order to facilitate conversation and voting. Use the ‘Design Challenge Analysis’ tool to make notes and use this tool to manage voting.

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Activity 02.
Refine the design challenges

Based on the voting results and discussions with the client, the lab started to adjust challenge questions and reframe the topics. By understanding what the client found exciting and provoking, they were able to be more precise in defining problems to frame the briefs around.

At this point, the lab team made an important observation about the risk of being too simplistic when imagining the future, for example, focusing only on utopian or dystopian perspectives. This concern also encouraged the initial decision to engage with extreme users.

To overcome this problem, the lab team focused the design challenges on the needs and goals of the future personas, as the starting point for creating the explorations, instead of focusing on the technologies or the extreme consequences of emerging trends.

Design Challenge Analysis

The ‘Design Challenge Analysis’ tool is used to explore and discuss the value of each design challenge. Use one page for each dimension of challenges. Use the design challenge table to organise all the challenges and vote.

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Creating Service Visions

After the briefing, the lab team was then ready to start envisioning future concepts. These visions were representing what kind of services might emerge in the extreme scenarios they created and how those concepts would help address the design challenges they identified.
The process to create these concepts was mainly an ideation exercise, as they wanted to explore the potential behind each key theme, and they did that by imagining services that were meeting specific needs and goals related to the happiness of the people who will inhabit those futures.


Activity 1:
Brainstorm and ideation

With the design challenges refined and agreed with the client, the lab team started brainstorming ideas for each design challenge. First, they immersed themselves in the future context, by using their signals and trends research to understand the implications of change. Then, they tried to empathise with the future persona, imagining what needs and goals would emerge in those scenarios. 

 Using their knowledge on emerging technologies and other trends that could affect each extreme scenario, they started to brainstorm simple ideas that consider the needs identified and respond, in whole or in part, to the main design challenge.

The ideas at this stage consisted only of a name and a short description. There was no assessment in this process. It was purely an ideation exercise aimed at imagining what services could emerge based on those extreme future scenarios. In some cases, the ideas were immediately problematic but were kept because there was potential for them to exist in the future and could therefore enrich conversation or influence other service visions.

The lab team created  87 ideas, including the ideas from the Envision Sprint with the client.

Future wheel

This tool helps you explore a variety of direct and indirect conseqences that may emerge from trends.
In the centre write down the signal that is of interest and the focus of your topic. Then ideate the consequences of the trend that might emerge (in relation to the topic) and expand outward considering the implications of those consequences.

Initial iterations of this activity should be about ideating lots of alternatives, later versions might be more synthesised by grouping and organising the likely outcomes of a trend.

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Activity 02:
Discussion of implications

Before starting the visualisation of ideas, the lab team had an internal prototyping session. During this activity, they tried to explore the implications of their ideas by discussing them internally. This helped them reflect on which concepts would have more impact for the future persona and whether they respond to the design challenge.

They later realised that a beneficial activity that they could have done at this stage was to use the future wheel to explore the direct and indirect consequences of each idea. This would have helped them cross-reference the concepts and uncover potential interplay between them and possible combinations of multiple ideas.

The team plans to include the future wheel as an activity for this stage in future projects.

Activity 03.
and prototyping

With more clarity on which ideas to prioritise for the prototyping, the lab team started with the creation of a simple template that would allow them to communicate the concepts quickly, requiring minimal resources.

 At this stage, they were not looking for high-fidelity prototypes, as they were not interested in the validation of the idea per se, but more in the exploration of the opportunities and impacts behind each design challenge, and more generally, the key theme.

The template included a name and a tagline, a short description, a simple sketch illustrating the idea, the critical elements involved, a storyboard showing how the user experience would look, and a hero image. They used this template to visualise 33 of their ideas, which were chosen based on what seemed strategically significant and those that responded best to the design challenges.

So, for each idea, they completed the template working from the end of the user story, considering what happiness means for the future persona. They imagined the future persona achieving that happiness after experiencing their service. Then, they worked backwards to define the rest of the journey, identifying the critical elements of the service vision, the main features and the benefits.

With this process, they produced clear and straightforward narratives, showing how the concepts can contribute to the happiness of the users.

These ideas, their representation and subsequent discussion constitute what the lab team called “explorations”. They are the imagined service visions that could potentially emerge in the future as ways to respond to future problems and the implications they may have.

Service Vision creation tool

This tool will help you tell the story of a users experience engaging with the service, considering how the user starts with a problem and how they are influenced by the service.

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Active 04.
Extreme user testing

 The lab team later understood the importance of having a testing phase at this stage where the explorations could be reviewed and reflected on by extreme users. In future projects this step would be included.

Participants would realise these concepts are only provocations that are set in a distant future. However, they would be able to see the kind of impact these explorations may have on their future happiness.

The format of this testing could be interviews, a workshop or even an exhibition. Getting feedback from the general public would be valuable. However, it is preferable to have extreme users engage with the concepts to observe their reactions. These extreme users can be  those that have been already interviewed.

Activity 05.
Evaluation of the explorations

After the prototyping activity, the lab team started to prepare a fourth workshop with the client to introduce them to the explorations. As mentioned previously, the lab team was more interested in an assessment of the topics and areas, rather than specific feedback on the concepts.

They used the ideation of visions as a way to explore and present to the client the potential of each theme and also to uncover the topics that expand, inspire and provoke the client’s thinking — which was the main objective of the collaboration.

In this workshop, they held what they called a Service Vision Safari. This was an activity in which they exhibited their visions by printing them out and attaching them to the walls of the client’s office. They also printed the future personas profiles, so that the client could easily identify what areas they were trying to address for each concept.

Then, they  asked the participants to familiarise themselves with the ideas, reflect on them, and discuss them, by making comments and asking questions. This activity provided them with many insights and suggestions for improvement.

Once the client’s team was familiar with all the concepts, the lab team asked them to vote, either for or against continuing to explore that service vision. The client team were asked not just to consider the viability, feasibility or desirability of the idea, but the opportunities that the idea uncovered and the topics that had the most potential.

Service vision voting and assessment

This tool is used to help the design team collect information about the organisation’s response to the ‘Far Future’ concepts.

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Selecting concepts for the next phase

The lab team and the client reviewed all the concepts, voted and selected their priorities based on client strategy, plausibility, impact, provocativeness and ease of prototyping. These selected concepts were brought forward to the next stage.


Activity 01.
Criteria for selection

The lab team’s primary reference for selection were the voting results from the workshop with the client, although they also used their feedback to refine the ideas and combine some of the visions. 

Nevertheless, other factors influenced their decision. First, by considering the combination of some visions, they uncovered interesting topics worth exploring further, even if a single vision on its own was not valuable.

Second, as the lab team approached the next phase where they would consider the alignment of the visions with the client’s strategy, they assessed the plausibility and impact of the concepts in terms of how they could influence happiness. Other considerations were also made on whether some topics would be addressed better by the students, or if the ideas could be prototyped quickly.

Lastly, they tried to identify which concepts could raise valuable discussion for the client and therefore had more value to collect insights.

They also grouped the concepts using alternative classifications,(i.e theme clustering). In this way, they made sure they covered most of the essential discourse that emerged from the explorations.

Activity 02.
Comparison of results

By taking this more analytical approach to the selection, they were able to define the ten concepts to take forward. Each one brought a valuable discussion and a topic to explore.

All these considerations were then visualised in the form of charts so that the lab team could see which concepts met most of the criteria and which of the emerging areas and topics were the most inspiring and impactful.

Impact likelihood matrix

Arrange the service concepts on the graph based on how likely they are to occur in the future and how much impact (positive or negative) they may have on users.

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