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.”

Contact details:

Maastricht University: dé Europese universiteit van Nederland

UMIO is onderdeel van dé Europese universiteit van Nederland, Maastricht University. Met ons internationaal georiënteerde en toegankelijke onderwijs dragen wij ons steentje bij aan het internationale karakter van deze universiteit. Onlangs is Maastricht University gestart met een landelijke mediacampagne, waarin zij aandacht vraagt voor haar bijzondere internationale positie.

De campagne is erop gericht duidelijk te maken dat de universiteit haar maatschappelijke verantwoordelijkheid serieus neemt en daarbij kiest voor ontwikkeling en vernieuwing gebaseerd op een sterke regionale profilering vanuit een internationaal perspectief.

Deze koers past bij een universiteit in een grensregio. Als dé Europese universiteit van Nederland is Maastricht University een erkende ‘gateway to and from Europe’. Vanuit die context dragen de studenten en medewerkers hun steentje bij aan een sterkere regio, een innovatief en krachtig Nederland en een beter Europa.

Dynamische, internationale leeromgeving

Ook UMIO draagt bij aan deze koers van de universiteit. Met onze hoogwaardige leertrajecten brengen we academische experts, professionals uit het bedrijfsleven en studenten samen in een dynamische, internationale leeromgeving, die gericht is op het bouwen aan een regionale kenniseconomie vanuit internationale perspectieven.

Ten gunste van de regionale kennisontwikkeling zetten we kennis in voor partners in het publieke domein, zoals Provincie Limburg en Gemeente Maastricht. Tegelijkertijd bieden we effectieve, internationaal georiënteerde programma’s voor business professionals, zoals de Executive MBA, de Executive Masters en het European Management Residency-programma.

De campagne

De mediacampagne van Maastricht University bestaat onder meer uit radiocommercials op veelbeluisterde radiozenders, verschillende online activiteiten en campagnepagina’s op de eigen universiteitswebsite. Ook verschijnen advertenties in De Volkskrant, NRC Handelsblad en het Financieele Dagblad.

Meer informatie

Ga naar de website van Maastricht University voor meer informatie over de campagne.

UMIO Learning Voucher verzilverd

Even voorstellen: Gijs Hendrikx, eigenaar van Theater Hotel Venlo en winnaar van de ‘Young Professional Of The Year’ award, editie 2018. De award is een initiatief van PRO77, de Venlose ondernemersvereniging voor Young Professionals en in april door de gemeente Venlo uitgereikt aan Gijs. Hij mag zich daarmee een jaar lang de meest toonaangevende Young Professional uit Venlo noemen.

Deze week kwam Gijs in het genot van zijn prijs: het Learning Voucher dat door UMIO beschikbaar was gesteld, is door Gijs verzilverd met deelname aan de derde editie van het Excellence Programme Brightlands, dat zopas van start is gegaan.
Het programma biedt 20-25 Limburgse top potentials de mogelijkheid om zich verder te ontwikkelen, hun netwerk te versterken en een bijdrage te leveren aan de ontwikkeling van de regio in een triple helix format.

Als partner in de Kennis-As Limburg en Brightlands is UMIO| Maastricht University, samen met mede opdrachtgever de Provincie Limburg, het vliegwiel om de ontwikkeling van deze Limburgse top potentials te faciliteren.

Goede keus Gijs!

Customer-centred innovation in the B2C market

After last falls’ UMIO’s brand launch, there was one visitor who went home with a surprise-gift: Frozen Brothers sales manager Nick Bölkow was the lucky winner of the Learning Voucher, good for a free half-day team session in one of UMIO’s incompany programs.

Creating impact

In its incompany programs, UMIO draws on its expertise to go beyond traditional business school disciplines in creating an impact for organisations. Small-scale, interactive learning journeys with an effective, high-level transfer of knowledge, skills, behaviour and experiences create real added value for the participants and their organisations and immediately applicable results.

Frozen Brothers choose SSF workshop

Recently, the Frozen Brothers sales team visited UMIO to redeem their voucher with UMIO’s Service Science Factory (SSF) in the form of a fully customised workshop “customer-centred innovation”. Nine participants, including Nick Bölkow and Pieter Corstiaans (General Manager Continental Europe) went into the practical details of customer-centred innovation with trainers Sabine Janssen and Gordon Miesen.

Design Thinking

The program is based on SSF’s (Service) Design Thinking method, which creatively prototypes new product or service offerings from the perspective of the end-users. It provides participants with the necessary mind-set, processes and tools to improve the innovation capacity of their organisation.

Frozen Brothers’ challenge

Frozen Brothers consists of a frozen drinks division with global brands Slush Puppie, Coca-Cola and Fanta Frozen, and an ice (cream) machines division with brands Carpagiani and Orion. Frozen Brothers cater to a wide variety of customers, ranging from movie theatres, to indoor children’s playgrounds and key leisure sites.
For Pieter Corstiaans the main aim of the workshop was to align the recently merged teams of Frozen Brothers and Slush Puppie Benelux, giving them the opportunity to learn from each other’s varied experiences and expertise.
“We’re looking to enable a change of perspective and encourage different views, also on our own colleagues, by getting the whole team together. A first plus is the very nice setting and location, not what at all what I expected from a university (small stuffy rooms – haha). A more concrete objective is developing our customer proposition from “just” selling machines to selling solutions with added value for our customers and our customers’ customers.”

Enhancing the customer experience

With these objectives in mind the workshop customer-centred innovation was built around enhancing the customer experience in the B2C market. Three teams developed their ideas independently and validated them between each other during the sessions. The best ideas were taken up for further detailing.

Expectations met?

So let’s hear from the team if the objectives were met:

Michael Adriaans (key account manager) and Rob Ophof (area sales manager ice cream) both felt triggered to take a step ahead in the customer journey and think about their customers’ customers. “Outside-in thinking becomes very tangible in this way and can offer some real eye-openers.”

Nadège Bremen (account manager Slush Puppie): “the challenges today were twofold: on the one hand developing concepts for integrating both divisions, and on the other hand renewing the focus on the customer experience in novel ways. We focused on immediately applicable, short-term actions and one of the lessons was that social media offer a lot of concrete opportunities to tailor the customer experience and engage with our customers.

Nick Bölkow: “The workshop offered us the opportunity to think outside the box and delivered some concrete handles on the challenges we face. It certainly broadened our horizons in terms of advising our customers on a broader level and finding fitting solutions.”
“Things went very different compared to standard company meetings. The way the workshop was set up ensured everybody was involved, situations were dynamic and solutions emerged with backing from the whole team.”

“A lot of companies could benefit from this”

For what kind of organisations would Nick recommend this workshop:
“For organisations on a fast growth path, who want to innovate in their markets this is a very simple and accessible way to challenge and adjust their own methods and approach. Basically I think there are lots of companies which could benefit from this.”

Introducing our MaastrichtMBA students to Service Science

Innovative thinking is an important part of the MaastrichtMBA programme, in particular through the module ‘Sustaining Competitive Advantage’. In this module, UMIO’s Service Science Factory (SSF) provides participants with the necessary mind-set, processes and tools to improve the innovation capacity of their organisation. This is far from a theoretical exercise. Because participants practice service design tools and experience all stages of the innovation process during these sessions, they become empowered to implement processes and tools in their own organisation.

Bridging academia and practice

This is typical for the approach of SSF: it bridges academia and practice, facilitating companies to gain sustainable competitive advantages through service innovation. SSF has realized the potential of service innovation in different organisations through more than 50 projects, using a state-of-the-art project approach, making use of proven service design tools and multi-disciplinary teams that stimulate co-creation.

The right perspective

As a method, (Service) Design Thinking addresses complex challenges, by embracing the perspective of the end-users, when creatively prototyping new product or service offerings. Industry leaders such as Apple, McKinsey, and Mayo Clinic, place this approach at the centre of their business activities, and IBM even proclaims it wants to become “the world’s largest and most sophisticated design company”.

Practical results

The MaastrichtMBA innovation module consists of five sessions. During the final session, the teams present their innovation ideas and underlying business concepts to an expert panel, which provides practical tips for improving and implementing the ideas. The best ideas were rewarded with a panel prize and an audience prize.

Get in touch

There are several ways SSF can support you and your organization in exploring the value that ‘Interaction Design’ can provide. For instance by facilitating innovation projects for the improvement or development of new services which incorporate the ‘Interaction Design’-perspective.

Learning opportunities

There is a range of educational trajectories available where we train professionals to incorporate the ‘Interaction Design’-perspective into their daily work and specific projects.
As an introduction to the world of ‘Interaction Design’ we have developed a hands-on inspiration day for professionals, where you will work on a case, take the customer perspective and start designing interactions for delightful experiences. Feel free to contact us for more information.

Session Instructors

Dr. Dominik Mahr, Scientific Director Service Science Factory
Dominik is an Associate Professor at the Marketing and Supply Chain Management department of Maastricht University. As Scientific Director of the Service Science Factory (SSF), he is responsible for a wide range of services that create new and improve existing offers of companies.



Dr. Elisabeth Brüggen, Professor of Marketing
Elisabeth (Lisa) Brüggen is Professor of Marketing at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE). She is an internationally recognized expert in services marketing and financial well-being, particularly regarding pension communications.




Damien Nunes, Service Designer Service Science Factory
Damien has a background in design and is currently project leader and service designer at the Service Science Factory (SSF). He facilitates projects, workshops and inspires creativity within (project)groups to develop new innovative service concepts.



Sabine Janssen, Msc, Project Leader Service Science Factory
Sabine has a background in strategic marketing and business experience in corporate communications, strategic consultancy and innovation management. Her focus as project leader at SSF is design thinking, service innovation and project management and educating professionals in these respective fields.



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South-African Stellenbosch MBA students visit Maastricht

In the first week of June, UMIO welcomed Executive MBA students from University of Stellenbosch (USB) Business School for a European Management Residency, focusing on EU business themes and entrepreneurship. The residency is part of a fruitful and ongoing partnership between Maastricht University School of Business and Economics and University of Stellenbosch Business School, which also includes international exchanges in undergraduate programmes as well as research collaborations.

The European Management Residency offers our visiting delegations a European perspective on a changing world and provides them the tools and new insights for solving business or societal challenges on home soil. It encompasses balanced mix of interactive lectures, discussion forums, company visits, social events and a practical action-learning project.

The tailor-made programme, developed with University of Stellenbosch Business School, covered subjects such as the Macro-economic Environment in Europe, the European Economy and Brexit, Entrepreneurial Spirit and a week project dedicated to the toolbox of the Design thinking methodology. Company visits connect theory and practice.


There are a couple of things that stand out when talking to our South-African visitors: the value of the European perspective of the programme, the exposure to a different kind of entrepreneurship and the strong sense of cultural immersion which expresses itself in genuine enthusiasm about the city, its atmosphere and people.

It matches well with the objective of the international module from USB Associate Professor Marlize Terblanche-Smit’s point of view: “cultural, social and academic activities all are important parts of the program”.


The students attach great value to the European perspective of the programme. MBA Student Edwina Schoeman: “the visit to the EU offices were very interesting and offered some real eye-openers”.

The group had lectures and exchanges with Professor Michael Kaeding (professor in EU politics), high-ranking officials from the European Commission (Gaël Owen Du Bouëtiez, Directorate-General for Communication) and the European Economic & Social Committee (Alexander Alexandrov, Administrator in the ECO Section).

MBA Student Gerhard Landman observed: “I was impressed by the calibre of the people we talked to. It is very exciting to get a feel for the inner workings of the EU, to be actually there. In South Africa we tend to focus a lot on our own continent”.

As Marlize Terblanche-Smit remarks: “The program has a good flow, covering the economic situation in Europe, and the visits to the EU-institutions in Brussels give a good grounding for the rest of the program. The company visits and practical learning assignment make for a balanced mix of theory and practice, which makes the experience so valuable.”


The element of entrepreneurship from a Design Thinking perspective, offered to the students by Damien Nunes and Sabine Janssen from UMIO’s Service Science Factory, also proved very valuable according to Marlize Terblanche-Smit: “It offers an immersion in entrepreneurial thinking, with case studies, in a different approach from our own university. Visits to international companies in the region link theory to practice. The module also provides the tools for integrating academia and business practice from a different angle. All students are very positive.”


Then there is the cultural immersion part, or “Maastricht Experience”. The genuine enthusiasm about the city, its atmosphere and people is palpable in the group. For the Afrikaner students it is of course a special experience to be able to communicate with the locals in Afrikaans and Dutch, without the need for a continuous translation. Another shared feature is the well-developed beer culture, which invites “scientific” sampling.

These students are nearing the end of a long two-year MBA programme, with 20 hours of additional work a week, on top of their busy professional lives. Therefore, it should not surprise us that here and there, the satisfaction and enthusiasm are tinged with a sense of relief… Who can blame them! We wish this warm and outgoing group of MBA students the very best, both personally and professionally.