An international network of partner institutions from Germany, Belgium and Finland has been yearly hosting Blended Intensive Programmes (BIPs) in different countries with different themes. This year LAB’s partner VIVES from Bruges, Belgium organized a BIP on Service Design in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises to which nine LAB students participated.

Author: Jaana Häkli

BIPs must include online and offline sessions offering theoretical and practical knowledge before the physical mobility period takes place. In online sessions the focus was on theory as well as on getting to know fellow students joining the BIP.

What is service design?

Service design thinking requires the person to think outside of one’s own box and to stop giving one’s own box a preferential treatment. The importance of stakeholders and their feelings and reactions are the basis for how service design should approach problems that have occurred. The holistic approach involves identifying pain points, designing solutions, and continuously iterating based on feedback. (Chen, 2021.)

Service design starts with understanding the needs, preferences, and behaviors of users. By empathizing with users, designers can create services that meet their needs and expectations. In service design the entire service experience from the initial contact to the final interactions with the customer are addressed. All touchpoints, both physical and digital are touched upon to ensure a seamless and cohesive experience to customers providing at the same time a blueprint for the service provider. Stakeholders are often included in the design process to create solutions that are relevant and effective, but that might have been unseen before. Solutions to problems are prototyped, tested, and refined based on feedback from users. Hence, continuous improvement and adaptation occurs to meet the changing needs of customers and the circumstances. System thinking is applied in broader context in service design so that designers can identify opportunities for improvement and innovation. Storytelling is used as a powerful form of communication to enhance e.g. marketing. In today’s world service design is crucial in creating services that are not just usable but that genuinely meet people’s needs. This does not just improve customer satisfaction but can lead even to happier employees and a smoother operation overall. (Wunder 2023.)

Academic content of the BIP was presented to students by various professors from different countries as the BIP was partially connected with the international week called Tour n’ Tasting hosted by VIVES. Case studies such as automate order processing for a restaurant in peak seasons highlighted how order tracking, identifying best-selling dishes, or optimizing ingredient preparation can be improved and rationalized by creating a website utilizing service design. In addition, a session on cross-cultural differences in tourist behavior provided students with insights on how tourists understand e.g. a sporty activity differently or how their wants and needs can vary depending on a customer profile even if we talk about the same tourism region as a travel destination or the same service product. Understanding cultural variations is crucial for tourism and hospitality businesses so that they can thrive in the market.

Providing solutions for a real-life case study

In a case study students got to apply design thinking principles to identify problems, generate ideas and prototype solutions in a service context for the student canteen at VIVES where only about 50 % of students and staff members have their daily lunch. Students were divided into multicultural teams consisting of German students from htw Saar, Belgian students from VIVES and students representing different nationalities such as Bangladeshi, Russian, Vietnamese and Finnish from LAB University of Applied Sciences. Differences in communication styles became very clear when pre-assignments were presented during the first day of the physical mobility. During teamwork it could also be observed easily how some students were very direct and opinionated in their communication whereas others liked to talk things through calmly until a consensus was achieved.

Multicultural teamwork can be challenging. Students had their own diverse opinions, experiences, professional competences, and personal pools of knowledge as well as diverse perspectives and approaches to problem-solving which caused perhaps more challenges in teamwork compared to cultural differences that were expected but were overcome even if minor language barriers and differences in cultural nuances existed. Diversity is a richness in multicultural teamwork and often solutions offered by a multicultural team are clearly more profound than solutions provided by a culturally homogenous team. Diversity in teams added on creativity and more versatile solutions that pleased Sodexo’s representative and employees of the student canteen.

Touristic observations on service design

During the BIP the beautiful, medieval city of Bruges – also a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site – was shown to participants in a way that puts many package holidays to shame. A visit to brewery De Halve Maan and a boat tour on canals were some of the highlights shown. During cultural activities students had a chance to observe also how service design is applied to practice from a customer’s point of view or how it should be applied better to meet the needs of foreign tourists for example. During the canal boat tour the touristic experience was enhanced by providing informative commentary that highlighted city’s history but also shared on everyday life in the city. Then again service design thinking should have been utilized a bit more by Belgian bike garages and our hosts regarding finding, identifying, and picking up the right, pre-reserved bike. Such a simple issue is probably a piece of cake to Belgians who probably use bike garages every day, but for foreigners a bike garage is more like a jungle with no rules and order whatsoever!

In addition, an entire day was spent in a neighboring town Ghent where participants had a tour to see the famous sights of the big student city with a unique vibe and they got to experience e.g. a cathedral’s famous altar piece God of Lamb enhanced with VR. A religious painting opened in a completely different way through VR and gave many new forms of interpretations to its viewers.

Overall, the BIP provided great opportunities for students to network with fellow students from different countries, to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world scenarios, to interact with industry professionals and to provide them valuable, realistic development suggestions including observations that they had made in their home institutions e.g. related to food waste, choice of meals and portion size, how to shorten queuing times and how to provide valuable food-related information to international students with special dietary requirements for example because of their religion. It is wonderful that Erasmus+ programme has funding for BIPs and provides opportunities for shorter mobilities especially to those to whom e.g. due to family obligations a longer student exchange might not be possible. Countless memories from the entire BIP were recorded into digital photo albums.


Chen, H. 2021. A beginner’s guide to what service design is not. Cited 5.6.2024. Available at

Wunder. 2023. Service design in a nutshell. Cited 5.6.2024. Available at


Jaana Häkli is a Senior Lecturer at LAB University of Applied Sciences. She is an active organizer and participant in Blended Intensive Programmes and wants to provide internationalization opportunities to everyone.

Illustration: BIP students are ready to conquer Bruges. (Photo: Ngoc Le)

Published 12.6.2024

Reference to this article

Häkli, J. 2024. Service design in theory and practice in Belgium. LAB Pro. Cited and the date of citation. Available at