A group of people standing around a bar and smiling into the camera.

Understanding gender to design tourism services: an interview with Sylvia Prunthaller

October 25, 2022

Professionals working in the experience innovation field represent an array of skills and knowledge: designers and managers, researchers and engineers, data-driven and creative folks, CX, UX, EX… the profession has many faces. We are thrilled to have a truly inspiring CX expert share some of her background, her learnings, and a few insights into her work: please meet Sylvia Prunthaller!

My job / my role / how I call myself

I am a member of the Upper Austrian Tourism Board. I’m part of the team ‘Strategy and tourism development’.

Portrait of Sylvia Prunthller smiling at something above her to the right.

My service design background

I have been an enthusiastic practitioner and service design trainer for the past 12 years, mainly in the tourism sector.

How I got into service design 

It was a discussion panel with Birgit Mager in 2008. Her vivid input on the different needs of men and women during holidays affected me deeply. Consequently, in 2009 I attended Birgit's first service design training in Austria. Since then I work in service design. Luckily, Upper Austria Tourism has become one of the few tourism organizations that use service design as a method in product development.

Tools and methods I use 

My toolbox varies depending on the situation. 

I love trying out different methods over and over again. Face-to-face workshops, online training, product development with partners, train-the-trainer, service design challenges: different needs imply different ways leading to a solution. 

In addition to the standard methods, I like using:

  • Lego / Lego Serious Play setting: this is an excellent way to represent situations, personas, and prototypes. The real advantage here is that the brain and manual knowledge are better linked.
  • Personality models and value targets expand the spectrum of human behavior with a well-founded (scientific) background. They substantiate and expand assumptions and results from interviews and desk research.
  • Trend insights / foresights (mega, macro and micro trends) to enable the product development team to think out of the box.
  • Multi-day training, during which the participants always get a brief overview of the use of visualization tools. The result is a simple visual representation of workshop inputs and outputs.

Learning resources, books, blogs, and podcasts that I like

I love taking my inspiration from books. I have a small but steadily growing library of method manuals. My collection also includes plenty of books about flipcharts and sketchnotes that help me to prepare engaging workshops. 

I take “seeing the big picture” very literally and prepare oversized flipcharts for workshops, or let the participants make them during the session. 

Also, publications on the subject of gender are always on my radar, such as books by Diana Jaffé. One inspiring book is "Different Brains, Different Approaches" by Huub van Osch, which includes many practical examples. Furthermore, recently I added "The Patriarchate of Things" by Rebekka Endler to the library. 

Exciting practical insights into the world of neuromarketing are provided by, among others, the writings of Hans Georg Häusel and Martin Permantier. They do a great job of presenting human motives, values and desires in a very comprehensive and descriptive manner.

My favorite project that I look back on very fondly

To me, an exciting (and underrepresented) theme in product development is the topic of „women and their needs“. 

Much too often, the reality of life and the needs of women are overlooked or ignored. Consequently, persons of male gender are primarily taken as the benchmark in product development and marketing. 

In our projects, we try to diversify beyond stereotypes, for example when designing services in the areas of beer drinking and mountain biking.

To solve the question „What inspires women when visiting a brewery and drinking beer?“, we conducted intensive deep-dive research. After countless interviews with women and beer experts, we gained remarkable insights for product development. Together with a group of women, we have developed new guiding formats and short breaks. 

The mountain bike project was also a great success. We’d been working on it in cooperation with the development team from KTM BIKES (all men), outdoor enthusiast Anna Weiß, and a group of passionate female mountain bikers. We were able to gather rich insights from visiting the KTM company, test riding (bikes and outfits) and finally during a product development workshop with the women. 

Condensing the insights let us achieve great results, such as a new bike line for women and adjustments to the MTB outfit. Those were definitely three sensational days for everyone involved.

The most joyful realization in my projects

Two phenomena keep coming up with project partners: doubts about interviewing guests/customers in the exploration phase; and a misconception that everything revolves around a service’s price tag. 

Reality shows: insights from customer service safaris are always great wow-moments. On the one hand, there is a lot of unexpected praise and recognition. On the other hand, errors and weaknesses are discussed at eye level. Moreover, employees participating in this process perceive these sessions as being extraordinarily positive and motivating. 

However, when fully involved in daily business, the time for exchange and feedback sharing with guests consists mostly of rare moments – even though we know that the participating guests and travelers are happy to share their experiences and knowledge. This positive momentum can fluently be transferred into the workshops. 

Finally, I think building / developing prototypes is undervalued. The insights from this process is great to learn and iterate further. 

Both activities, conducting real customer research and prototyping, regularly lead to great wow-effects and high enthusiasm.

A service design moment of success

For years I have been working in cooperation with many colleagues to spread the word of service design. I had lots of fun and luckily was also successful at imparting knowledge. 

A big moment was the Service Design Challenge 2019. 

Katharina Ehrenmüller, Kordula Gaiseder, Birgit Wagner and I implemented this event for high school students (German: „Oberstufe“) on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. Our source of inspiration was the Global Service Jam, which we have carried out and participated in several times.

The challenge: designing product ideas from the perspective of young people. 

Practical relevance and professional supervision of the students were of highest importance to us. Thus, we collaborated with 6 partner companies from the tourism, automotive, and banking industries, as well as from rescue services and MTB. They came up with tasks for the school groups. 

160 students plus teachers gathered from all over Austria to work on this challenge. We hosted these two days together with 13 colleagues from the Service Design field – working together, celebrating the results together.

Here’s a glimpse into Sylvia’s work

In this slide deck practical insights talk you get insights in six projects of the Upper Austrian Tourism board where they often used service design methods for better and more targeted product development.

You can connect with Sylvia here