Natalie Söderlund

Natalie is making design thinking everyone’s affair at OP – this is how Finland's largest in-house design agency was born

“I had the kind of itch that this would be something great,” says service designer Natalie Söderlund, thinking back to how she felt three years ago, when she began working at OP and started to promote design thinking in the house.

After having worked as a freelancer for many years, Natalie chose to opt for OP, because she considered the financial services provider that was expanding its operations beyond its traditional lines of business a very attractive option. In her opinion, all the signs in the air indicated that the speed would be getting even higher in the future.

She had every reason to trust her intuition.

“This gives a grandstand view to the most interesting place there is in this sector at the moment. The Design Unit has grown at an incredible speed, and new people are coming in all the time. These are clear signs that there is demand for our services,” Natalie points out.

As her first task at OP, Natalie had the opportunity to reform the customer contacts in the employee channel using the service design methods. Even today, the customer contacts at the brick-and-mortar level are close to her heart.

In design thinking, the customer is at the core of everything. Natalie and her colleagues have taken up an ambitious goal that they promote actively every day, progressing one step at a time.

“In the near future, we want the customer-focused design approach to be the basic way of thinking among all employees.”

Natalie was quick to join the development work that has been stirring up the operating culture at Design & Software and at the level of the whole OP Group, turning it in a more customer-focused direction.   

Provider of joy

According to Natalie, design is about listening to people and understanding them. The sense of empathy is the most valuable instrument that experienced service design professionals use in their work. Natalie feels her work as significant particularly when coming up with design solutions that the final user would not have come to think about, but that will have a major impact on how smoothly things are running and experienced in general.

“Even boring things can bring joy to people's everyday lives, when they have been made in a nice way. They are like rays of light,” Natalie notes.

In her work at OP, Natalie seeks to create excellent customer and employee experiences by producing seamless service and space concepts. She is currently working on the reform of OP’s brick-and-mortar services. She will not make a distinction between the digital design and the service design work related to the premises but combining the two is challenging in a pleasant kind of way.

“It is a question of how these two things can be merged in a smart manner, without the digital aspect just being glued on top of everything.”

Service design in the financial sector has also brought a suitable amount of challenge to Natalie’s work, with its own needs and expectations, since before OP she had not had any experience from the financial sector. Serving as a counterbalance to the new line of business, the work does entail many familiar elements, since the collective operating culture and the core of the work in the world of service design are universal.

“My approach to the matter was that a basic-level understanding of the financial sector is enough,” she says, thinking back to her early days in the context of a new line of business.

Natalie has had the opportunity to learn new things and to develop in her work almost without noticing it, while carrying out project work.

New perspectives

“Here, the opportunities are unlimited. There are a lot of opportunities on the offer all the time for those who want to seize them,” Natalie describes the extensive range of options available at OP.

She believes that large projects in various business areas guarantee that there will be meaningful things to do for a long time to come. Natalie feels that it is simply her obligation to shake up the old approaches and modes of operation, so that OP will be able to provide services that produce maximum value for the customer.

“Simplifying things and examining them from different perspectives does not benefit our customers only, but it also benefits us.”

Natalie took a new viewpoint on her work a year ago, when she expressed her willingness to work in the Health and Wellbeing team, which focuses on the Pohjola Health's service development.

“I thought it was a thing where I absolutely wanted to be involved. It almost felt as if I had started in a new job, because having the opportunity to change the sector gave me such good vibes,” says Natalie, explaining her feelings after having changed the way she approached her work.

Natalie believes that, in the near future, digitisation will practically revolutionise the way people manage their health issues and how health is monitored. Customers want to be in control of their own matters, and their expectations of services will be growing all the time.

“From our point of view, the interesting thing is how we can support the customer. The digitalising customer path will change the traditional doctor-patient relationship. It entails a number of interesting aspects on how this will affect the planning of, say, the design of premises or the way Pohjola Health's customer paths are arranged.”

Common language

“The work culture is very relaxed. People here support and spar each other, and we pull together,” says Natalie, describing the Design & Customer Experience Unit of design thinkers, which she is a part of as well.

“This is a place where it is very easy to breathe and to be who you really are."

The collective consisting of UX designers, copywriters, service designers, business designers and other design experts is divided into smaller teams, which specialise one project at a time in accordance with the various lines of business.

They are all connected by design thinking and the will to promote it. At OP, the demand for design thinking has been so great that, little by little, the unit has grown into the largest in-house design agency in Finland, where the people involved share the same collective passion.

“All the employees are very pro-development. We follow closely how design is developing outside OP, and we even strive to be ahead of our time,” Natalie tells about the operating culture.

Design thinking does not live in its own silo only among the experts of the field, but, in practice, it has become an overarching operating philosophy throughout OP. Natalie has been contributing to the new way of thinking herself and seen how the change has begun to roll forward – eventually, without much of an effort.

“Within three years, the whole company has undergone a huge change in the corporate culture in terms of design thinking. I have been positively surprised at how well the matter has been received.”

Freedom to focus on what is relevant

Natalie’s everyday work consists of encounters with people. She is involved with the representatives of the business lines and OP employees on a daily basis, striving to respond to their expectations by means of service design. She spends time in the customer interface almost every week to seek better understanding and areas that could be developed further.

“I test prototypes in different stages of development and collect feedback from people. We collect a lot of feedback on the design work and qualitative responses related to it.”

As an expert, what Natalie appreciates in OP is the fact that in its strategy the company gives the highest priority to customer and employee experience among performance indicators. To her, it signals that the direction is right. After years of having worked as a freelancer, Natalie is able to focus fully on those aspects of her work that she feels passionate about.

“I can focus on what is relevant. As a freelancer, a large part of my time was spent selling my competence and on general arrangements. The facilities provided by OP enable ease of work in a totally different way,” she says.

An experienced service designer is delighted to see the joy experienced by customers that stems from small insights and solutions. A positive reaction is direct feedback on whether we have approached things the right way.

“I find the greatest joy and pleasure, when I walk around in the world of customers, and I can give them joy and insights by certain solutions. That is extremely rewarding. "

A design thinker’s work has a meaning that derives from the responsibility to redeem customer expectations – and to exceed them.

“It is the new normal that things not only function, but that they produce added value,” Natalie sums up.