Behavioral Groups: A Tool For Great Generalisations

As a Service Designer at Transformator Design, I often work with improving services that lack accessibility and diversification. We work with an iterative method, starting with customer interactions, that we analyze and find insights from. These insights are then the base of the concepts and ideas that we develop to improve a particular service. Even though the service design method we use is customer centric, it necessarily involves quite a bit of generalisation.

Historically, both services and products have been developed for the “average customer,” a quantified definition of who the user is, that altogether says little about the single individual. The S/M/L clothing size system or can openers which are made for right-handed persons are two examples. Being aware of this is the first step in avoiding generalisations that are too general. In this text, I am going to present some examples of how I work to increase the understanding of different needs when working with Service Design projects.

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Include All Relevant Perspectives

When working with a user-centered research methodology, it is important to talk to all relevant users and not only to those who say yes to a phone interview during office hours. By limiting our availability as designers, we close the doors to customer groups that might have a different point of view. In order to involve all relevant perspectives, it is important to start out by identifying them. Which are our target groups and what possible obstacles do we have to get input from them? What is the best way to approach them? Think about the customer group that is the least willing to talk to you about the particular service and come up with a plan on how you can get to understand their perspective, because their opinion matters just as much as other relevant groups.

Right Level of Generalisation

Even though we want to identify the needs that are representative for the customers, there is still a necessity for some level of generalisation. The important thing is to generalise just as much so that all basal needs are taken into consideration in the developing process.

One way we generalise is by creating behavioural groups. In contrast to personas, which are commonly used in design processes as a way to concretise and personalise customers, behavioural groups are more flexible. A persona is a static representation of a certain kind of customer that explains their background, areas of interest, and basic needs, but also their socio cultural context. It is an excellent way to personalise and gain empathy for the customer groups, but in reality, very few customers actually match the defined persona. Behavioural groups, on the other hand, are as the name reveals, based on what behaviours customers can have. These behaviours are based on the fundamental needs, the reasons for the customers to use the specific service. The difference between personas and behavioural groups are mainly that a customer can have different behaviours in different situations, therefore a service needs to respond to these differences. Behavioural groups can be a way to map out what these differences are and how the service needs to be adjusted according to them.

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Case Study Ung Framtid (Young Future)

During 2016 I’ve been a part of a team at Transformator Design working with Arbetsförmedlingen, The Swedish Employment Office, in a project called Ung Framtid. It is part of an EU-funded project (ESF) that aims to reduce youth unemployment (ages 16- 24), ongoing from 2014 until mid-2018. Our mission was to map the effects of Ung Framtid and the most successful initiatives developed within the project so far, as well as areas for improvement. This resulted in a number of concepts that are now being tested in the daily operations. We did our research by involving three different perspectives: the unemployed youths, employers, and the administrators at Arbetsförmedlingen. But most important for our design process in this project, Ung Framtid aims towards an equal labor market. Together with the fact that young unemployed are a very vulnerable social group, we saw a great need for focusing on how we could design inclusively.

We started out with trying to understand how we could come in contact with the young adults and decided to conduct in- depth interviews, both through telephone and by visiting Arbetsförmedlingen offices. At our visits, we observed both group activities and individual meetings between youths and the administrators. After the sessions, we sat down and had interviews with both parties separately, in order to understand their needs and challenges. We learned that it was of great importance to the young unemployed to be prepared for our talk, not necessary by knowing what questions we would ask, but at least who we were and what we wanted. Giving them clear information was one way in which we increased participation rates, but also how we could gain trust and have more qualitative interactions with the young unemployed.

To keep track of the characteristics of each person we interviewed, we used cards where we filled out main needs, challenges, social backgrounds, and a quote that summarized the talk we’ve had. These cards were used to create four behavioural groups. During a workshop together with project managers and administrators at Arbetsförmedlingen, we understood that they could relate to the behavioural groups, but also had a clear vision of who couldn’t be identified with either one of the groups. This helped us broaden our generalisation to one additional behavioural group, which defined a particular need of some youths. We had found a good balance in our generalisation and a great tool for Arbetsförmedlingen to understand the needs of the young unemployed.


My name is Hedda Selder and I work as a Service Designer at Transformator Design. I started working here while studying Interaction Design and early found interest in designing services rather than products. What really triggers me is when I get to help and design for groups that often are marginalized. To include their wishes and needs, by customer interactions, interviews and workshops, is how I broaden my own perspectives. And I’m sure that the empathy I retrieve from these interactions makes me a better designer.