Design, Gamification

How board games will improve your service design skills

by Anne-Louise Fyhring, Service Designer at Backelite Sweden

Board games are fun, exciting and social, but can they actually improve skills used in your professional life?

Once upon a time, designers were just asked to make something beautiful, but today this is no longer the case. Today, a designer’s work can include developing and improving complex systems within the field of service design. Service designers adapt entire ecosystems in order to deliver the experiences and flows intended by that system.

Why board games?


A few years ago, I fell in love with gaming. In particular, with playing board games. There are many kinds of board games but the ones that speak to me the most are strategic board games, which heavily rely on strategy and can’t be influenced by luck.  (Incidentally, luck also plays a role in design but I’ll leave that discussion for another time).


“A system in which players engage in an abstract challenge, defined by rules, interactivity and feedback, that results in a quantifiable outcome often eliciting an emotional reaction.”


This is how Karl Kapp defines a “game”. A board game consists of many different game elements that the player can use in order to reach his goal.  The ability to use these elements in the best possible manner and combine them in various ways will lead him to either win or lose the game.

As many board gamers know, you are unlikely to win a complex game by focusing on one single game element, you must consider the entire set of elements within the game and understand how they affect and relate to each other.

Another important aspect of board gaming is to know your competitors : how have they been playing the game, what might their next move be and what are their weakest points?


Service design


Are board games and service design so similar? To me, they are. If you look at the previous description of a “game” and compare it to the Service Design Networks definition of service design there are a lot of similarities:


“The activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers.”


As a service designer you need to explore the ecosystem you are designing for; instead of game elements, we look at touchpoints. If you spend all your energy on a single touchpoint without considering the ecosystem as a whole, you might miss or forget something important and wind up “losing” by creating a service that people won’t like or use.

As a designer, you create solutions that exist in an ecosystem with many different variables that affect the outcome of what you are designing.


How will playing board games make you a better service designer?


Playing board games can make you a better designer by helping you:

  1. Learn complex systems and behaviours/observe and adapt
  2. Improve your sense of strategy
  3. Increase your cognitive flexibility


– Learn complex systems and behaviour/observe and adapt

When getting to know a new game, you need to be able to quickly understand the system (rules) and plan a strategy for how to win. Throughout the game, your strategy will change based on the feedback you receive from the game and your co-players.  This type of iterative thinking and the ability to quickly react and adjust to rapid direction changes are part of everyday life for agile designers.

– Improve your strategic sense

Trying to win a complex board game with no strategy very often fails. However, having a strategy and being able to rapidly implement it to achieve results is not something we as designers are often able to do, due to time and cost restraints. In board games we can practice this ability freely. There is a clear reason why successful companies show interest in design and it’s because of the designer’s ability to turn strategy into concrete outputs for customers and employees. Bridging the gap between aspiration and reality.

– Increase your cognitive flexibility

Cognitive flexibility will help your design skills by enabling you to learn faster, switch between multiple concepts simultaneously and, more importantly, boost creativity and problem solving skills. Cognitive flexibility also helps you to adapt and respond to new situations more effectively, which is very important when designing as well as playing a board game.


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While board gaming is just one method among others to improve these vital designer skills, to me it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to play and learn. Use board games to improve some of your most vital service design skills and at the same time have loads of fun. What are your favourite board games and what do you think they help you learn?


Happy gaming!