Photo Studies. How to make them useful. [Inside 31Volts]

A photo study is an important tool in many service design challenges. You use the collection of photos to inspire your design process. With a photo study you can make the intangible tangible and it helps you to capture behavior of people.

Create something to point at

The challenges in service design are often intangible. For instance; make good services or make our customers feel at home. A photo study is a good way to make the intangible, tangible. It helps to look at photos that captures a feeling. It gives you a better context to discuss your findings. With a photo you have something you can point at. Which is a great for building common understanding.

Don’t go outside without your glasses

Start by formulating the thing you want to capture in your photos, which story should they tell. That could be a hypothesis you want to test or a question you want answers for or just something you’re curious about and want to explore via these photos. In a good photo study you’ll see that one photo you make will inspire you for the next photo, and so on. The hard thing with photo studies is to find that sweet spot in your story.

Shoot first ask questions later

Volume (and diversity!) counts when it comes to photo studies. You actually want to make ‘bad’ photos too! You’ll need a broad spectrum of photos to find the really interesting things. Basically you need enough photos so you can compare and see patterns. It’s like brainstorming on post-its, but with your camera. You can apply the same brainstorming technique to photo studies: whatever stands out for you, even if it’s for a second, you write it down or in this case you click and make the photo.


The goal of a photo study is to capture reality. When conducting a photo study where you have to observe people you need to respect their privacy. Don’t intrude peoples private space (too much) and be careful where you use and show the pictures. Yes, privacy is an issue. But if you respect that, you can still make great photo studies and capture reality.

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Als medeoprichter van 31Volts houdt Marc zich bezig met het verleggen van grenzen binnen service innovatie. Marc helpt organisaties om waarde te creëren voor hun klanten door middel van design.

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31Volts [Service Design]