Interdisciplinary team (3 designers, 1 product manager, 1 dev) | 8 weeks @ 20% | Grad school coursework | 2013


As part of a Service Design course with Service Design pioneer Jodi Forlizzi we were tasked with envisioning a new service concept for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. 


Based on the initial presentation by the PSO, our team quickly seized on an opportunity to fill a gaping hole in the PSO’s service offering, and its business strategy. While the PSO was very focused on retaining its subscriber base, and moving subscribers up to becoming donors and then increasing levels of support – we had a hunch that the current subscriptions were not a good fit for everyone.

As we dug deeper we realized that while there were shortcomings with the subscription programs, these issues were merely symptoms of larger problem in how the PSO was approaching – and therefore treating – its customers.

The PSO is a non-profit organization, and struggles to bring in enough revenue to support the expense of managing a world-class symphony. Inadvertently, this pressure to make ends meet had caused the PSO to seemingly behave like a greedy for-profit, pushing ticket sales, and taking a very transactional approach to gaining and keeping subscribers.

With this new problem in mind, we broadened our approach and sought ways to engage supporters for whom subscription was a poor fit, and also reframe the PSO’s approach so that it acted more as a vanguard of a community of symphony supporters, rather than a company that sells concert tickets.


PSO Memberships allows supporters to join the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) community without cost or ticket-purchase commitment. This new service experience, highlighted in the videosketch below, serves as the cornerstone of a comprehensive redesign of the PSO’s customer-facing approach.


"This, this is what we should be doing!" was literally what a member of the stakeholder team said as she was watching our videosketch. 

By working directly with the stakeholder team, and having a chance to actually present our research findings to the larger PSO marketing group, our project really helped the team realize that their approach - not just their products - needed to be reconsidered. That's often easier said the done, but I'm proud we were able to help them better understand their fans, and hope they'll be able to put some of our principles into practice.



Our group was one of the most successful with this project, and I think our strategic focus helped tremendously. While other groups chased alot of possibilities, early on we choose to focus on a few specific issues that raised red-flags for us in our research. We found our as-is and our to-be early on, leaving us with plenty of time to dig deeper and really get to know the problem better. Our solutions were therefore tailored to what was really going on, which meant our solution really hit home with the PSO Team. While other teams had some really fun and interesting ideas, they were likely relegated to stay in idea-land forever.

Our research insights won over the client after our first presentation, putting us in a unique position to have our work really have impact with the organization. By demonstrating that we got what they were trying to do, but yet showing we’d seen some errors in their approach we gained credibility right away, and buy-in to make the project really worthwhile.

While sharing our critique directly with the staffers responsible for the issues was a bit uncomfortable, getting invited to the PSO provided us with some great conversations that helped us really understand the PSO staff’s mental models, and the extent to which assumptions and organizational inertia was holding them back.

Our team established a great work rhythm right from the start. We used our time effectively, utilizing meetings to make strategic choices that required consensus quickly, critiquing and improving work, and then divvying up the next round of to-dos. The team trusted one another to get things done, but everyone was also comfortable chiming in and adding to the conversation. Such a smooth process created a fun, encouraging environment that led to top-notch work executed within a reasonable timeframe.



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