A tactile approach to Service Design Thinking – Design Thinking & Lego Serious Play

Service Design Thinking is an approach to problem-solving that allows individuals to rapidly identify challenges and then go big on ideas before picking one or two to ideate, test and evaluate. 
Principles are:
  • Holistic – seeing the big picture in relation to details
  • Empathy – human-centered focus on real needs
  • Co-creation- iterative approach with stakeholders involved
At the intersection are ideas that last, ideas that are surprising, ideas that work. Before moving into the solution space of the Design Thinking process we heavily rely on words: spoken or written.  But words have two inherent limitations.
  1. Firstly most of us filter what we say, only articulating things that will make us sound smart, intelligent and well educated.
  2. Secondly, the part of most necessary for Design Thinking to work, the Limbic System where passion, music, creativity, and love sit – does not have any language capabilities. In other words, it’s almost impossible to articulate love, music, feelings and conceptual ideas.
One of the challenges in Design Thinking is to visualize all the words people use and make them meaningful for everyone involved. We use a set of tools, canvases, visual techniques and a lot of different materials to play with possible solutions and tinker with a prototype. One of the materials we use in prototyping is Lego.
Design-Thinking-Lego-Serious-Play 2

Service Design Thinking and Lego Serious Play

But there is more to Lego than just playing. Lego Serious Play, the methodology created by LEGO over ten years ago, is an approach that allows teams to find creative solutions to open-ended challenges. The real strength of Lego Serious Play is that we don’t use words, we use ‘art’ and creativity to express something – in this case Lego. It allows for more complex and creative concepts and ideas to be modeled.
Design-Thinking-Lego-Serious-Play 1

Building models with Lego Serious Play

Together with Ben Wickham we thought about how we could combine the strength of Design Thinking and Lego (Serious) Play to design ‘a tactile and playful approach to Service Design Thinking’.
We are going to crash these two concepts together: taking Design Thinking as the roadmap and Lego (Serious) Play as the way we execute. The result is a tactile approach to Design Thinking, for those groups and challenges that require a more intensive and deeper approach.
On the 28th & 29th March, at the Design Thinking Centre in Amsterdam, Ben Wickham & myself will lead a two-day workshop to help you get to grips with the basics of both approaches and their collaborative power. To help us, we have identified a global challenge to address: that of urbanization. If we can fix that – we can fix anything…
We would love to see you.
Click here to book, or if you have any questions, drop Ben or me a line.
See you end of March.

Experience the experience or experience documenting

How can we facilitate concertgoers to ‘experience the experience’ instead of trying to ‘document an experience’ they did not really experience.

Jack White has issued a statement through venues proclaiming that cell phones will be banned at all of his upcoming US shows in 2018:

“No photos, video or audio recording devices allowed,” the statement bluntly reads. “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON.”

Here is how it works: nobody has to hand in their phones but they’ll have to be locked away in a special pouch while in the venue.

“You keep your pouch-secured phone on you during the show and, if needed, can unlock your phone at any time in a designated Phone Zone located in the lobby or concourse.”

So you can still check in with your babysitter or send off that completely brilliant tweet before you forget it 😉

The pouches and phone zones are from Yondr a service that creates phone-free spaces for artists, educators, organizations, and individuals.



Picture from: www.yondr.com





This is Service Design Doing – best book for service design – design thinking

After 1 1/2 years of waiting for the sequel to the This is Service Design Thinking, the new book is here: This is Service Design Doing, endorsed by Philip Kotler, Birgit Mager, B. Joseph Pine II, wow!

4 editors, 12 chapters, 33 cases, 96 co-authors, 105 expert tips, 205 contributors and now 54 free method descriptions online. This must be the best book of Service Design Thinking available. Disclaimer: I am a co-author 🙂



And here are my “15 square centimeters” of fame …


This is the Music Thinking Quote!


My original quote is: “Scoping your project is essential, scoping your thinking is fatal” Christof Zürn


Nice people!


Four pictures of the Design Thinking Center.


It comes with a massive free download of methods.




Serendipity & Strategy – Epiphany 2018

Also this holiday season I did not send any Christmas cards or new years wishes. As my friends know this is not about being impolite, but a tradition to do a mailing on the 6th of January and not earlier. 

Today is Epiphany day – the 12th and last day of Christmas. For me it is also the day of changing perspective – a magic pivot. The holiday season is over and we can focus on the coming year.  A good moment to wish you many Epiphanies in 2018!


Epiphany is not only the last day of Christmas, but also stands for an experience of sudden and striking realisation. The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine. Nowadays this concept is used much more often also without such connotations, but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery seems to come suddenly from the outside. More on this see below.

Serendipity & Strategy

The last year was full of epiphanies for me – some good, some bad. Some came ‘all of a sudden’ and some were a logical change that ‘step by step’ approached without noticing in the first place (or wanting to notice ;-). In any case at the beginning of this year I got my freedom back to work again independently as Creative Companion.
And this also gave a boost to finish an idea that too long was postponed: to create an Inspirational Card Set based on Music Thinking principles (as presented in October last year) and the Music Thinking Framework.


First prototype of the Music Thinking Inspiration Cards for Serendipity & Strategy.

In december we started prototyping the Music Thinking Inspiration Cards and this January we will iterate to a set that can be tested in workshops. The idea is to use the cards in very different ways ranging from Serendipity to Strategy in direct connection with the Six Music Thinking Cues from Empathy to Remix of the Music Thinking Framework. The intention is to have the set ready for purchase after the summer vacation.

have a great year
Christof Zürn

PS: an extra project will be the relaunch of both sites:
www.creative-companion.com and  www.musicthinking.com

For all of you who hear the Epiphany story for the first time, below is  a copy from the last years with some explanation and examples about Epiphanies:

A collection of different meanings of Epiphany:

  • EPIPHANY is the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something.
  • PHILOSOPHICAL meaning: having found the last piece of the puzzle and suddenly seeing the whole picture.
  • ARCHIMEDES Eureka! I found it!
  • EINSTEIN was struck as a young child by being given a compass, and realizing that some unseen force in space was making it move.
  • DARWIN An example of a flash of holistic understanding in a prepared mind was Charles Darwin’s “hunch” (about natural selection) during The Voyage of the Beagle.
  • JAMES JOYCE Referring to those times in his life when something became manifest, a deep realization, he would then attempt to write this epiphanic realization in a fragment. Joyce also used epiphany as a literary device within each short story of his collection Dubliners (1914) as his protagonists came to sudden recognitions that changed their view of themselves or their social condition and often sparking a reversal or change of heart.
  • In RELIGION it is used when a person realizes their faith or when they are convinced that an event or happening was really caused by a deity or being of their faith.
  • WESTERN CHRISTIAN Religion: The adoration of the magi, represented as kings, having found Jesus by following a star 12 days after christmas.
  • HINDUISM epiphany might refer to the realization of Arjuna that Krishna (a God serving as his charioteer in the “Bhagavad Gita”) is indeed representing the universe.
  • In ZEN kensho describes the moment, referring to the feeling attendant on realizing the answer to a koan.
  • BUDDHISM Buddha finally realizing the nature of the universe, and thus attaining nirvana.
  • WILLIAM BURROUGHS is talking about a drug-influenced state, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is at the end of the fork (naked lunch).
  • EPIPHANIES is the thirteenth episode of the second season of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica television series.
  • EPIPHANY is a web browser for the GNOME graphical computing desktop.
  • HIERONYMUS BOSCH painted the adoration of the magi around 1495.
  • HOMER SIMPSON has an epiphany, after visiting a strange Inuit shaman, and realizes he has to save the town from Russ Cargill’s plans to destroy Springfield.
  • The last page of THE WIRE magazine with surprising sonic stories about music is called EPIPHANIES.
  • Interesting: if you search for Epiphanies or Epiphany on TWITTER many people talk about that they (just) had an epiphany, but don’t exactly say what it was.

Augmented Reality Magazine

Nice to play with the cover of the Wire Magazine January 2018 edition. If you can’t find the magazine and want to experience the augmented reality feature, you can download the app and a PDF. Have fun.






I invite you to listen – Music Thinking in Service Design

This year the Design Thinking Conference in Amsterdam was held for the first time. With the theme of the conference – EMPATHY – THROUGH DIFFERENT EYES the organizers were aiming ‘to shake you up and enrich you with new insights, not just leave you comfortable and confirmed in your beliefs. No briefing to the converted, but experimenting, experiencing, having fun and being surprised.

In this regard I was doing one of the breakout sessions with the title:

I invite you to listen

“How can you have empathy with someone you don’t like or don’t understand. That is maybe the most difficult way of having empathy. One way to do this is to close your eyes and listen deeply to what they say. I invite you to listen, to a stranger, to the concept of music thinking and to everything that is around you.”

The Music in You
We started with a short exercise I call: ‘the music in you‘, this is to get to know each other, but also to see if we have a diverse group or not. So with sharing our favourite music and our least favourite music, we gave the stage to every participant to share one by one why they love the music they love.  The other participants were deep listening and empathising with that person, the music or both.  I have done this in many sessions and it is a great way to share things others may not know or like.

John Cage 4’33”
The next part was the introduction of the composer John Cage and his famous piece 4’33’’ from 1952; 4 minutes and 33 seconds of tacit (not playing) in three movements. I explained his quest for the total silence and the disappointment that there is not such a thing. We then did a rehearsal and experienced the piece from a performers point of view.

The Music Thinking Framework
As a third part of the one hour workshop I gave a very short explanation of the music thinking framework and especially two of the six the cues EMPATHY and SCORE which connected the theme of the conference and the score to the silent piece. Feel free to read my other post about the Music Thinking Framework.

I invite you to listen II

Performing John Cage 4’33”
After the lunch break we performed Cage 4’33’’ in front of the complete conference audience of approximately 100 people without telling them what Cage 4’33’’ is all about. What happend the more than 100 attendants of the conference were listening for 4 minutes and 33 seconds to a tacit performed by the Music Thinking Workshop Band. What they heard was not silence, they heard a musical piece, that was composed through their ability to listen what is in the presence.
Please click on the picture below to hear the recording of this memorable moment.


I conducted the piece like written in the score and giving a cue for every movement. What happened is that some of the people misread my last cue and thought the piece was over and started clapping, a nice moment and beautiful sound appeared that quickly faded away and gave the piece an extra tension.

There was no announcement before or after the piece explaining what we did or what the context is. So 4’33” was treated like a ‘normal’ musical piece. Like if you had a short musical intermission by, lets say a small piece from Bach, or a singer songwriter piece, you also would not explain what the piece exactly is about, you were just listening and enjoying.

I recorded the piece with my iPad and uploaded it directly on the John Cage platform. Here is the audio recording and a picture of participants including philosopher André Klukhuhn, who joined us in the workshop (he told me he once also conducted the piece ). We talked about the link between 4’33’ and what he called the ‘god shaped hole’.

Before-the performance.jpg

Right before the performance

During the performance

Performing John Cage 4’33”

thanks to all the participant & the performers of the ‘Music Thinking Workshop band’ you made this a memorable moment!

Christof Zürn, Creative Companion


Note: The next Design Thinking Conference will be held in Amsterdam on 11th and 12th of October 2018


Design Thinking meets Music Thinking

What a pleasure to watch this video of Nigel Stanford. It is a nice way to show music and technology, but also for me a personal connection (one of the many) of Music Thinking and Design Thinking.

Why? The video is supported by two companies. Sennheiser the (high end) headphone company and KUKA the company that has the most versatile robots. This year I facilitated for both companies design thinking workshops; for Sennheiser a 3 day design jam about young sound lovers in the Design Thinking Center and for Kuka a 4 day design sprint in their headquarter in Augsburg. Great to see them connected.


BTW: as we speak I am planning for both companies follow up activities 😉

Mmm, I did not yet collaborate with Nigel Stanford, anyone an idea how to connect? 😉

Let me know @ChristofZuern


Design in Technology

Design in Technology is the ‘leitmotiv’ of John Maeda. Here are the slideshares of the last 3 reports  and a few books he has published. A great read for designers, business people and the curious digital mind.








Here to the website of The Laws of simplicity

John Maeda

For people who have absolutely no time to read a book (also if it is only 100 pages), here is a Mindmap with the essence of the book:



Creative Code was the first book I have read about generative design. This was even before processing.org was invented/developed.

John Maeda code