Back to the lab: VW Service Lab

Integrating digital tools to replace analogue ones was a key requirement for AV consultants macom in moving VW to a more agile way of working in its new Service Design Lab in Wolfsburg. Paul Milligan reports.

Buying a car is the second biggest purchase, after a home, many of us will ever make. In a competitive marketplace, and with that amount of money on the line car manufacturers need to be extremely thorough in offering potential buyers everything they want and more. Brands such as Volkswagen are looking beyond the initial car purchase, to deliver digital products and services that are easy to use and satisfy all mobility needs.

To support this mission VW has created the ‘10X - Service Design Lab’ (10X stands for 10 times doing), housed in the IT:City in Wolfsburg, Germany. Digital services for its clients are developed by using human-centred & agile work processes which are facilitated and supported by cutting-edge AV technology.  

VW lab 2

For this project VW has partnered with the German AV consultancy group macom and was initially contacted to create an AV technology concept and technical planning in end 2016. Work on it began in 2017 and lasted approximately 8 months. The project also drew inspiration from the Service Innovation Corner (SINCO), a service prototyping laboratory at the University of Lapland, Finland. SINCO represents a holistic hands-on approach to service design, co-creation and user-experience-driven innovation activities.

So what was it that VW wanted to achieve with the Service design Lab? “The goal was to accelerate VW’s innovation processes and projects internally, and to create some kind of digital playground,” says Christian Schweizer, macom’s head of business innovation.  

During the concept development, the visual collaboration software DEON was a central tenet in enabling digitalised work processes. All the hardware chosen was linked to development use cases and their requirements for a digitised workflow. Service design is of great importance to Volkswagen, as it provides an efficient method of translating complex problems and challenges into concrete customer solutions. In addition to digital platforms, the main working tools of service designers are face-to-face sessions called design sprints. These (perhaps surprisingly) often still use analogue tools such as post-it notes, printed plans, blueprints and whiteboards. The use of such analogue tools can lead to breaks in the 'work flow', costing unnecessary time and reducing the efficiency of the employees involved.  
VW Lab 3

“Expanding the existing analogue tools into digital workflows, which make it possible to visualise all relevant data quickly and easily – you can access, exchange, edit and create all the data in an unlimited digital workspace, made possible by the Digital Content Hub -DEON. At its core, DEON enables every team member to collaborate digitally in real-time," explains Linus Schaaf, Volkswagen Group Autonomous Driving, Smart Mobility.

The hardware was designed and chosen in line with the SINCO methodology, to this purpose the Service Design Lab consists of different zones. The first zone, with two 84-in Microsoft Surface Hub touch displays, is for visualising the workshop process and the contents developed during the workshop. In zones 2 and 3, workshop participants can visualise ad-hoc customer situations and scenarios using five Epson UST interactive projectors. In Zone 4, an NEC touch table is linked to haptic development tools.

The table contains large drawers in which materials such as post-it notes, Lego Serious Play etc. can be stored if not used during the workshops. On the touch table a user journey can be displayed using maps, and Lego figures can then be placed interactively on the table. Workshop participants can use pens to directly add digital annotations to the individual steps of the user journey on the touch table. On a separate configuration workstation, the workshop leader can monitor all digital areas within DEON at a Microsoft Surface Hub and thus control the workshop contents. The central media control and the operation of the technical building services via a Crestron interface are also located there.  

VW lab 4

“By using DEON on Microsoft Surface, it's possible to open up an infinite canvas where you can put all this information, prior, during and afterwards the sprint cycle,” says Schweizer. The installation required a lot of planning on macom’s part, especially as it wasn’t entirely clear in the first place what the use cases for the lab would be says Schweizer. “It was hard to identify what they want to do, because there were so many use cases.”  

There were other technical hurdle to overcome too, “With the additional touch table in the room we didn't know where to route the signals. We didn’t know how to set up the whole digital signal distribution, when you don't know if you want to root every source to every screen, you have to do to make everything possible in theory, and that was a challenge,” adds Schweizer.  

A Crestron control panel, working in tandem with Deon software, drives the AV in the lab. “DEON allows us to place the content within the software on all connected devices, so you don't actually need to control the signals on the Crestron interface.” says Schweizer.  

Facilitators in each session in the lab are responsible for the methodology, process, tools and the technology of the workshops. Interestingly the lab features a mix of interactive touchscreens and interactive projection, normally for ease of use integrators and consultants will specify only one of these technologies, so why did macom go down this mix route? “We didn't know until a specific point which kind of software we would be using on all of the surfaces. We decided for interactive projection because it's not as intense as having displays everywhere. if you shut down the projection you still have the analogue surface which they can to write on as well. We didn’t want to over digitise the whole room,” says Schweizer. Audio in the lab is provided by Yamaha loudspeakers, amps and DSP, and Shure ceiling mics and wireless mics. DEON runs on-premise so it’s all within VW’s internal network, which solved any concerns over the security issues that sometimes arise over collaboration software.  

In moving from analogue tools to digital tools, how do you break the long-term habits of users who feel comfortable with post-it notes etc? “If they're used to using analogue (rather than digital) post-it notes, our challenge was to build a bridge to the digital, that means we have to provide tools and solutions to bring the ongoing processes of those analogue systems into the digital workplace. We have been in contact with DEON to digitise post-it notes, how can we easily digitise that process and bring it into a digital workplace? DEON created a mobile app where it's possible to take pictures, to separate the post-its in single elements and bring them in to a digital canvas of DEON.”

Transformational projects like the 10x - Service Design Lab must juggle and align various aspects at the same time; expectations of outcome, people’s capabilities to evolve, methodology, IT infrastructure and restrictions of space. Despite these challenges there is no doubt the Lab has delivered says Schweizer, “I think the success of the ‘10X – Service design lab’ can be measured by the fact that the space has been fully booked from day one. They have one or two workshops every week and there has been a great adoption of the lab concept within VW. It has really speeded up development processes internally.”  

Kit list


Bose SoundLink Mini II Bluetooth loudspeakers
Yamaha VXS8W, VXS3FW, VXC6W loudspeakers, VXS10ST subwoofer, XMV8280-D amplifier, MRX7-D DSP
Shure MXA910 ceiling array mics, MicroFlex wireless mics


Crestron TSW-1050 10-in touchpanel, DM-RMC 4K scaler, DM-MD32x32 switcher, CP-3 control processor
Epson EB-1460 UI interactive projector
Eyevis 98-in 4K display  
LG PF1500 mini projector  
Logitech C930E USB webcam
Microsoft Surface Hub 84-in  
NEC MultiSync X651UHD-2 IGT 65-in touchtable   
Panasonic AW-HE40HKEJ, AW-HE2EJ PTZ cameras
Sennheiser PC 360 headset
Sony AX 33 4K camera, AX 100E 4K cameras
Wolfvision VZ-9.4F document camera

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