UMIO brings Design Thinking to Cape Town

In November, UMIO’s Carmen Vonken and Dominique Meyers taught an elective course about Design Thinking and Innovation at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. We spoke to them about their experiences in South Africa. 

Design Thinking is a method for solving problems or developing new products and services in a practical and creative way. “It is a user-centered discipline that is very practical and pragmatic”, Carmen Vonken explains.

During the Elective Week of the Executive MBA programme at University of Stellenbosch Business School, the students had to go through a so-called design sprint. Carmen: “This is a process in which you work from a challenge to a solution within a fixed time frame. The students worked in groups on a fictional case that they could fill in themselves. The starting point had to be a challenge for a company near the university, for example a shop or a restaurant. Part of the design sprint is the development of a customer journey. This is the path a consumer follows before, during and after purchasing a certain product or service. Many students indicated in advance that this was nothing new, that they already knew everything about customer journeys. However, immediately after the session they discovered that they had never worked out a real customer journey and that much more is possible than they knew from the books. That was an eye opener for them.”

How it started

Every three years, UMIO welcomes Executive MBA students from the University of Stellenbosch Business School for a European Management Residency. The residency is part of a fruitful and ongoing partnership between Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics and University of Stellenbosch Business School. For the July 2018 residency, the content of the programme was adjusted; the focus was shifted from EU Business Themes to Design Thinking and Innovation.

The week in Maastricht turned out to be a great success with many positive reactions from students. “During the residency, professor Marlize Terblanche-Smit concluded that her business school was in structural need of more depth in the field of Design Thinking”, says Dominique Meyers. “I then suggested devoting an elective to this topic for the Elective Week of their Executive MBA programme. At the end of 2018, we received a request to prepare a proposal for the Elective Week of 2019. The continuation of the elective depended on the interest of the students. Ultimately, no fewer than 26 students chose our elective, which meant that Carmen and I could travel to Cape Town in November.”

A great success

The elective about Design Thinking and Innovation was a great success, with both trainers receiving many positive reactions from the students. Dominique: “It was a bit exciting in advance, since it was the first time that we taught this elective abroad. In addition, we were warned that South African students usually first see which way the wind blows. That also appeared to be the case during the first day; many students were enthusiastic but also critical. On the second day, they came loose. We had apparently shown that we knew what we were talking about. The atmosphere became more relaxed and we laughed a lot. The students asked many questions, they were also constantly busy with the question: what does this mean for my business? That was very inspiring to see.”

“What the students really appreciated is that we, as teachers, have a good command of the knowledge and the material because we implement it within the business community through our projects”, says Carmen. “This allows us to quote many examples of what we have experienced ourselves and what we hear from companies. They also appreciated the interactivity of the elective. They found it useful to be able to apply the theory to their own case. That was a nice change from the theoretical methods that they normally deal with within the MBA programme.”

Next year

In principle, the elective was a one-off assignment, but given the positive reactions from the students and professor Terblanche-Smit, Carmen and Dominique expect that they will also be able to submit a proposal for the 2020 Elective Week. “The official feedback has yet to come in”, says Dominique. “With bad evaluations we would no longer receive an invitation, but the feedback in class was very positive so we do not expect that at all.”

Erasmus+ Grant for developing executive study module on Service Design Thinking

Implementing Service Design Thinking at the highest level of organisations; that is the goal of the study module that the Department of Marketing & Supply Chain Management (SBE) and the Service Science Factory (UMIO) will co-develop. A consortium that also consists of Tallinn University, Stockholm School of Economics and design consultancy firm Brand Manual received an Erasmus+ Grant to realise this study module. On behalf of SBE and UMIO, Prof. Dr. Dominik Mahr and Damien Nunes are involved in the initiative. They explain what the project entails.

“As a consortium, we have submitted a proposal aimed at developing an executive study programme in the field of Service Design”, says Damien Nunes, who is (Strategic) Service Designer and Innovation trainer at UMIO’s Service Science Factory (SSF).

“In short, Service Design means developing new services or improving existing services using creative design tools. As a methodology, Service Design always starts with a customer-centric approach: who belongs to the target group, what needs do they have and how can we serve them better? Recognisable examples of Service Design results are the self-scanner at Albert Heijn supermarkets and the digital way of ordering that is standard nowadays at McDonalds.”

Creating awareness at a higher level

As Service Design is new to many organisations, they often do not know where to start. In addition, design disciplines are generally not represented in the highest layers of an organisation, while customer experiences do affect the entire organisation.

Nunes: “Therefore, we must create awareness at a higher level. That is why we are going to develop this study module for executives. It will be a programme at a strategic level, where you must be able to manage and inspire. Executives who will complete the programme, understand how to implement service design projects, what is needed for that and how they can inspire other teams to get started. They also know how to ensure necessary funding at the highest level. This will be a unique programme with a lot of depth; it will not just be another masterclass.”

Representatives of the consortium during the kickoff of the project in Tallinn. Maker of the selfie is Dominik Mahr, Damien Nunes is standing behind him.

Strong academic base with practical experience

Tallinn University is the initiator of the project and the main applicant for the grant. They decided to contact Prof. Dr. Dominik Mahr, because of his expertise in Service Innovation and Design at the Department of Marketing & Supply Chain Management of Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics (SBE). This department is a worldwide authority in the field of Services. Stockholm School of Economics (the branch in Riga, Latvia) and design consultancy firm Brand Manual also joined the consortium.

“It is a nice combination of a strong academic base with the more practical experience of the Service Science Factory (SSF) and Brand Manual”, says Mahr, who is also Scientific Director of SSF. “Our department is top notch when it comes to service innovation, but that is not enough. We need to find out how it ties in with the actual problems that organisations have when it comes to Service Design. SSF helps us in making the course operational.”

“Although Tallinn University contacted our department, we would not be able to optimally participate without SSF, which is part of who we are”, Mahr continues. “With the combination of research, education and practice, we have a unique triangle at Maastricht University of which I am extremely proud. Ten years ago, we wondered: if we know so much about services, how can we bring that out to the world? That is how the idea of SSF came up. Ten years later, our department and SSF work closely together on innovative forms of knowledge creation and dissemination. People and the inspiration to develop new activities are the connectors. I am happy that it worked out like this, because SSF is shining brighter than ever.”


The programme of the Service Design Study Module consists of six educational weeks that are spread over a period of six months. Each university organises two separate educational weeks, which means all participants travel to Maastricht, Tallinn and Riga twice. As part of the grant, each country will recruit six participating organisations, half of which must come from the public sector and the other half from the private sector. This creates a great mix for learning.

“We very much believe in the combination of learning with head, heart and hands”, explains Nunes. “This means that we will not only teach the necessary theory; we also let the participants experience the relevance of (Strategic) Service Design emotionally. In addition, we let them work on different personal and generic cases in which they apply their new learnings in practice. Their personal case work will already be the first organisational change that we hope to achieve through this executive course. That is why it is very important that we have a full buy-in from senior management to invest in this customer-centric transformation that is fueled by Service Design.”

Maastricht University’s contribution

In October this year, Mahr and Nunes were present at the kickoff of the project in Tallinn. Together with the other initiators within the consortium, they discussed the content of the study module. Maastricht University is responsible for week 3 and week 4 of the programme, in which the topics Strategic Service Design and the Future of Digital Services will be covered.

“For the two educational weeks in Maastricht we are responsible for the entire cycle”, says Mahr. “We will develop and teach the content on the two subjects. However, as we are a main content contributor to the project, we will also advise our partners on the other subjects. Furthermore, we try to bring in the more innovative, leading edge pieces by involving other colleagues from Maastricht University.”

Digital teaching platform

In addition to the study module, the consortium will also develop a digital platform. “We think it is important to create a free platform where people can teach themselves about Service Design”, says Mahr. “This platform will present all the teaching materials from the study module. As the participants will work on actual cases during the module and will apply them directly into their work practice, it is also our plan to add these cases to the platform. It will be very interesting to see how the different ideas and projects work out in the end. Did it turn out to be a success story or was it a failure? It is very useful to have many of these cases on the platform to see what works and what doesn’t. That will be a valuable output of this programme as well.”

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UMIO’s Service Science Factory onderzoekt draagvlak voor tweetalig onderwijs

Is er in Limburg een voedingsbodem voor het aanbieden van Nederlands- én Duitstalig onderwijs op vmbo-niveau, nu en in de toekomst? Dat onderzoekt Service Science Factory (SSF) sinds begin oktober in opdracht van Provincie Limburg. Begin december presenteert het verantwoordelijke projectteam de onderzoeksresultaten.

Waarom dit onderzoek?

Duits is een belangrijke taal in Limburg. Werkgevers aan beide kanten van de grens zitten verlegen om tweetalige werknemers. En waar elders in Nederland het vak Duits afneemt in populariteit, blijft het in Limburg een stabiele factor binnen het middelbaar onderwijs. Op sommige Limburgse scholen neemt de populariteit zelfs toe.

De invoering van tweetalig onderwijs binnen het vmbo zou op termijn kunnen zorgen voor een betere aansluiting van vraag en aanbod op de Euregionale arbeidsmarkt. Aangezien Provincie Limburg een goed onderbouwde beslissing wil nemen over dit vraagstuk, is Service Science Factory (SSF) gevraagd om het te onderzoeken. 

Wie voert het uit?

Service Science Factory (SSF) is onderdeel van UMIO, de onderwijstak voor professionals van Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics. SSF is uniek vanwege zijn eigen methode om innovatieve oplossingen te ontwikkelen, genaamd Double Diamond. De oorsprong hiervan ligt in de Design Thinking-methodologie. Double Diamond bestaat uit vier fases: Discover, Define, Develop en Deliver. Tijdens dit project voor Provincie Limburg wordt vooral gewerkt in de eerste twee fases.

SSF heeft een projectteam samengesteld dat onder anderen bestaat uit masterstudenten van Maastricht University en studenten van de Hotel Management School Maastricht. Ook dr. Trudie Schils van de School of Business and Economics maakt deel uit van het team. Als projectexpert houdt zij zich onder meer bezig met de kwaliteitsbewaking en de analyse en interpretatie van data. Provincie Limburg legt als verbindende partij de contacten met scholen en andere stakeholders.

Hoe wordt het onderzoek ingevuld?

Het projectteam pakt het onderzoek holistisch aan. Dit betekent dat deskresearch wordt gecombineerd met uitvoerig kwalitatief en kwantitatief onderzoek. Deze aanpak levert een volledig en onderbouwd resultaat op.

Alle belangrijke stakeholders worden bij het onderzoek betrokken. Denk daarbij aan leerlingen, ouders, scholen, Nederlandse én Duitse werkgevers en grensinformatiepunten.

Wanneer zijn de resultaten bekend?

Begin december presenteert het projectteam de onderzoeksresultaten in de vorm van een rapport. De belangrijkste resultaten worden ook op deze website gepubliceerd.