Abisko Layers - Service design
<Abisko Layers> is a service that aims to help tourists learn in different depths about what Climate Impact Research Center in Abisko does and why it is important. The service engages visitors at three main touch-points with different ways of conveying information: multi-sensory learning in a virtual elevator, in-context learning with signages and in-depth learning with an app.

Skill: Service design | Ethnographic research | Movie production and Storytelling
Partner: Climate Impact Research Center (CIRC)
Duration: 7 weeks of service design project
Time: 2014 spring
With: Kevin Gaunt | Migle PadegimaiteYedan Qian






Service teaser





Service overview




Essentially, the tension of a potential outreach service is to educate tourists that do not necessarily want to be educated. To achieve this ambitious goal we expect to design a series of three experiences that gradually increase the time of engagement of the tourists with the service. 


Touch-points walk through

1. Multi-sensory learning: Virtual elevator

HOW: The first part of Abisko Layers is a virtual elevator that metaphorically takes visitors on a tour through the different layers of research. On each layer visitors are introduced to short, engaging stories that are supposed to salivate their appetite. Finally, visitors are introduced to the other components of the service.

WHY: The goal of the multi-sensory experience is to give the tourists a quick 3-minute introduction to CIRC’s research in an entertaining way and spark their interest for further learning session. The idea of multisensory learning is to enhance one’s story-listening experience inside an elevator simulator (a dark box) through visual and auditory channels.

2. In-context learning: Signage & App

HOW: Visitors are encouraged to download a smartphone app containing pointers to research–related locations in Abisko. These locations are marked with interactive signposts that help visitors make sense of what they see at that context. 

More dynamic information related to these spots will pop up on the app with animations and audio. For example, people can check how the thickness of permafrost under their feet changes from 1900 to 2050.

WHY: The goal of the in-context learning is to point the tourists to some research-related locations so they can experience and learn more about CIRC’s climate impact research in the real context.

3. In-depth learning: Tablet & Phone app

HOW: Both smartphone and tablet apps allow visitors an easy way to access more information about the scientific experiments and the greater context in which the climate impact research is being done. This information is curated by CIRC and ideally offers different levels of detail based on the visitors engagement and level of understanding.

WHY: Followed after the multisensory and in-context learning experience, in-depth learning provides an opportunity for visitors who seek for the details of the climate impact research stories and findings conducted in Abisko.

4. Sharing the experience

Within Abisko

HOW: Sharing one’s experience within Abisko is encouraged by the phone charging stations (that visually resemble of research layers) strategically placed across the area in location where tourists gather and wait a lot, such as Abisko Tourist Station, Aurora Sky Station etc. 

WHY: The aim is to trigger conversations with strangers and other tourists by reminding them of the “Abisko Layers” experience in a subtle way. We believe that reinforcing those learning memories by sharing what one learned is also important for reaching more tourists in Abisko.


Outside Abisko

HOW: “Abisko Layers” postcards serve as a way of sharing information and experience outside of Abisko. Possibly sent out to family and friends or kept as personal souvenirs. Postcards are designed to look both visually attractive and informative at the same time - providing further links to the service at the back of the card.

WHY: Since our research findings support the fact that tourists like to bring postcards home already, we fulfill yet another need identified within our target audience.


Structure of science stories

1. Air
Related to weather and the atmosphere (temperature increase, precipitation, rapid temperature changes)

2. Land
Related to flora & fauna (rising tree lines in Abisko, change in vegetation, caterpillar infestations, plant species invasion)
3. Soil
Related to permafrost & bacteria: (melting permafrost, installations on the mire, Methane deposit, greenhouse gases, oldest living bacteria)



Our persona, Jane, is generated based on the material we collected from the ethnographic research.

Jane is a middle class British in her forties, who visits Abisko for aurora watching and leisure. She has little interest and knowledge in climate impact research. During day time, she doesn't have other planned activities to do other than waiting for aurora. She cares about the quality of services and prefers "take-it-easy" attitude.

The reasons we chose her as our persona are:

  • Jane represents a large group of visitors' motivation and behaviour in Abisko during winter.
  • We had the richest material over Jane for the time we conducted our ethnographic research was in winter. 
  • The fact that she has little interest in climate impact research challenged us most among all type of visitors.

Design guidelines

4. Respect the tourists' goals
Many tourists arrive with a very clear expectation and goal of their stay. It is very important that our concepts will not interfere with that goal. Thus, we aim to target the moments in which tourists are waiting for their planned activities to begin, rather than creating completely new activities from the ground up.

5. Different levels of engagement
A large number of visitors, both national and international, visit the Abisko region year-round. The types of tourists vary a lot as the winter conditions are very different from the summer. With this diverse set of tourists we also expect them to have very different levels of tolerance to engage during their stay. It is important to provide different depths of learning for different people.


1. Destigmatize science and research
For many tourists, the words Science and Research trigger memories of dull lectures and lessons from back in school. It is understandable that this is not something they would want their trip to Abisko to be associated with. We aim to find ways to introduce tourists to these topics without explicitly mentioning it.

2. Involve the brain and the heart
Many tourists describe their stay in emotional words. This is a stark contrast to the fact-driven research being done at the research station. We aim to find more engaging and relatable ways to reach out while remaining true to the facts.

3. A guilt free experience
The topic of climate change tends to evoke an emotional discussion about politics. We believe that our concept should take a blame-free approach on the topic and focus on the research being done rather than the causes for it. 




Fot the researchers, they are not expected to be fully involved in the service which distracts them from their main research tasks. Besides, researchers are not trained to be storytellers and might have some difficulties in describing their research findings to the general public. Most of the work during the whole service journey is only to provide the primary content for the stories used throughout the service.

On the tourist side, benefits include a chance to learn more about the research done in Abisko from different perspective, without feeling intimidated. Also, the service can serve as a waiting-gap-filling experience or even an alternative experience if there is no aurora.


Personal reflection

The project was framed to try out service design methods and got introduced to interactions in a systematic level. For me service design is almost like a playground. Conversations happen on different surfaces, in different time and location with multiple stakeholders and evidences. It is complex but and the same time flexible enough for designers to experiment and figure out the most meaningful solution: interactions that don't only occupy a screen space, interactions that have a sense of time and space in a sequence, interactions that happen between people, objects and system.


Service blueprint


Design learnings

  • Ethnographic research and powerful service design tools help a lot as a preparation for ideation. The more material we have in hand, the better the solution will be.
  • Using service design tools to map out information and communicate concepts

Things I would have done differently:

  • Set up a more proper and close to real user test session would be beneficial.

  • Communicate with stakeholders as frequently as possible to get feedback and make sure that we are on the right path to create the ideal solution for them

My contribution

As a team we tried out together different methods in service design and took turns in ethnographic research in order to learn. In the final deliverables I was responsible for movie production and defined the style and flavour of the service.


Design opportunity: science outreach service for visitors in Arctic Circle about climate impact research


The Climate Impacts Research Centre (CIRC) is a natural science centre in Abisko in the north of Sweden. Their research revolves around studying climate related impacts on arctic ecosystems. International tourists visit Abisko to see the northern lights (in winter) or the midnight sun (in summer). Tourists have no clue about the research activities going on in Abisko and why they are relevant. 

The aim of this project, Science Outreach, is to design services, artefacts and installations that create curiosity, awareness and engage visitors in environmental questions related to the surrounding Arctic environment and, maybe also allow them to explore research related issues on a local as well as global scale.


Design challenge: introduce a service that sparks curiosity and raises visitors awareness of climate impact research


1. How to make the on-going research from CIRC more visible to the tourists in the area?

The research centre is situated far from the tourist facilities. The connection between research and tourism seems weak. The final solution would be introduced as a new service, rather than improving an existing one.

2. How to spark curiosity, raise awareness and create an immersive experience for climate impact?

Climate impact seems intimidating to tourists who seeks for relaxation and fun. They can relate to the topic while they have little knowledge and understanding of what's truly happening. Science facts, terms and research need to be translated into a language that can be digested by the public.

3. How to reduce the effort for maintenance afterwards?

It's important that these activities do not distract researchers from their primary task. This is because outreach activities is not recognised by the academic community yet. 

Design process
build up empathy with main stakeholders in ethnographic research and participatory design - service design methods to approach - user testing sessions for feedback - storytelling the experience


Research & synthesis phase

1. Listening: Research activities and Ethnographical methods

Throughout the project we had the opportunity to visit Abisko four times. We interviewed and observe nearly two dozen of tourists, a couple of researchers and locals – some of them even multiple times. We held workshops using established Service Design techniques with the main stakeholders of the project in Abisko and met with representatives of the touristic industry within the national park.


2. Building empathy: Personas, Scenarios, User journey & Role-Playing

We looked to our research stories and observation to create a persona – an established empathy tool – to ensure we were all agreeing on whom we were designing our service for. Second, we created an elaborate user journey (covering pre-travel, booking, travel, arrival, stay and return) for our persona again based on the research stories. 

We used an elaborate role-play to validate our user journey and uncover critical pain points. Most importantly, we realised how difficult many outdoor activities become when it is dark for most of the time, and we were able to uncover some critical waiting moments during the persona’s stay.


3. Research insights: Summary of key research insights & Themes

  • Stressed Phenomena Tourists

Tourists tend to visit Abisko for a specific reason and their experience hinges on getting to see the phenomena. Since tourists are staying for two nights on average, this can result in them feeling stressed about if their trip will be a success.

  • Waiting Spaces

Since tourists are very goal-driven during their Abiskostay, there are also ample moments in which tourists are waiting around – anxiously awaiting for their phenomena to happen. For Aurora tourists we have identified two main moments:

1. tourists waiting in the lobby of the STF tourist station until the aurora appears at night.
2. tourists waiting around the fireplace in the Aurora sky station for the aurora to appear at night.

  • Exchanging Experiences

Interactions between tourists occur frequently in Abisko. Especially within the waiting spaces, tourists tend to exchange their past Aurora experiences.

  • No Idea About CIRC

Our stakeholder maps show that the worlds of the scientists at CIRC and the aurora tourists are far apart. The only overlap occurs during the summer months, when tourists accidentally stumble across the research experiments. 

  • People think Research is Boring

From interviewing a science outreach provider in Umea we heard that the main challenge for them is to make science immersive and relevant to their visitors. 

Preparation for ideation: service design approaches

Stakeholder's map: bring together the potential stakeholders in the service scope and prepare a workshop to understand their point of view and concerns.

Service journey map: map out the activities, quotes and emotional level of the persona and the visible & invisible service providers that included in the journey to get a holistic understanding of what could happen and what are the potential opportunity areas.

Ethnographic stories: listening to the stories of the the individuals to understand their concerns and inspire ideation

Elements map out: map out all the potential elements from the stories in four categories: people, places, activities and motivations to break down and generate new scenarios.

User test phase

In order to improve our ideas we were testing the concept by simulating the service and the use of artifacts within. We have simulated the multisensory experience by setting up the atmosphere in the actual elevator, trying out various binaural/surround sound systems, combining auditory stories with ambient music, creating immersive environments in small spaces with different lighting, as well as exploring ways to project visuals.


Storytelling the experience: an exploration in script and style

To balance the toughness of science language, we aimed to stylise the movie in a funky and welcoming tone. The script was set in a space traveling background, which brought together different touchpoint in a range of spread out locations. 

We decided to green screen the actors for the reason that we weren't able to get the footage in winter and travel to Abisko solely for film making. The semi-realistic style fits into both the storyline and the enjoyable and accessible experience that we aim to provide for our target group.