What is Service Design?
Service design is a process where designers create sustainable solutions and optimal experiences for both customers in unique contexts and any service providers involved. Designers break services into sections and adapt fine-tuned solutions to suit all users’ needs in context—based on actors, location and other factors.
“When you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sells the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk into one and not the other.”
— 31Volts Service Design Studio
See how effective service design can result in more delightful experiences.
Service Design is about Designing for the Biggest Picture
Users don’t access brands in a vacuum, but within complex chains of interactions. For example, a car is a product, but in service design terms it’s a tool when an elderly customer wants to book an Uber ride to visit a friend in hospital. There’s much to consider in such contexts. This user might be accessing Uber on a smartphone, which she’s still learning to use. Perhaps she’s infirm, too, lives in an assisted living facility and must inform the driver about her specific needs. Also, she’s not the only user involved here. Other users are any service providers attached to her user experience. For example, the driver that customer books also uses Uber—but experiences a different aspect of it. To cater to various users’ and customers’ contexts as a designer, you must understand these sorts of relations between service receivers and service providers and the far-reaching aspects of their contexts from start to finish. Only then can you ideate towards solutions for these users’/customers’ specific ecosystems while you ensure brands can deliver on expectations optimally and sustainably.
In service design, you work within a broad scope including user experience (UX) design and customer experience (CX) design. To design for everyone concerned, you must appreciate the macro- and micro-level factors that affect their realities.
A service design experience often involves multiple channels, contexts and products.
Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider, authors of This is Service Design Thinking, identify five key principles—for service design to be:
- User-centered – Use qualitative research to design focusing on all users.
- Co-creative – Include all relevant stakeholders in the design process.
- Sequencing – Break a complex service into separate processes and user journey sections.
- Evidencing – Envision service experiences to make them tangible for users to understand and trust brands.
- Holistic – Design for all touchpoints throughout experiences, across networks of users and interactions.
Designers increasingly work more around services than around physical products—e.g., SaaS (software as a service). Meanwhile, with advances in digital technology continually redefining what users can expect whenever they proceed towards goals, brands focus on maximizing convenience and removing barriers for their users. A digital example is Square, which unbundles point-of-sale systems from cash registers and rebundles smartphones as potential point-of-sale systems.
How to Do Service Design Best
First, identify these vital parts of any service encounter:
- Actors (e.g., employees delivering the service)
- Location (e.g., a virtual environment where customers receive the service)
- Props (e.g., objects used during service delivery)
- Associates (other organizations involved in providing the service – e.g., logistics)
- Processes (e.g., workflows used to deliver the service)
You’ll need to define problems, iterate and address all dimensions of the customers’, users’ and business needs best in a holistic design. To begin, you must empathize with all relevant users/customers. These are some of the most common tools:
- Customer journey maps (to find the customers’ touchpoints, barriers and critical moments)
- Personas (to help envision target users)
- Service blueprints (elevated forms of customer journey maps that help reveal the full spectrum of situations where users/customers can interact with brands)
You should use these to help leverage insights to account for such vital areas as accessibility and customer reengagement.
Service blueprints are an important tool in the service design process.
Do Service Design for the Complete Experience
Remember to design for the complete experience. That means you should accommodate your users’/customers’ environment/s and the various barriers, motivations and feelings they’ll have. Here are some core considerations:
- Understand your brand’s purpose, the demand for it and the ability of all associated service providers to deliver on promises.
- The customers’ needs come ahead of the brand’s internal ones.
- Focus on delivering unified and efficient services holistically—as opposed to taking a component-by-component approach.
- Include input from users.
- Streamline work processes to maximize efficiency.
- Co-creation sessions are vital to prototyping.
- Eliminate anything (e.g., features, work processes) that fails to add value for customers.
- Use agile development to adapt to ever-changing customer needs.
Service design applies both to not-so-tangible areas (e.g., riders buying a single Uber trip) and tangible ones (e.g., iPhone owners visiting Apple Store for assistance/repairs). Overall, service design is a conversation where you should leave your users and customers satisfied at all touchpoints, delighted to have encountered your brand.
Learn More about Service Design
Learn all about service design by taking our course: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/service-design-delivering-integrated-service-experiences
Here’s an insightful piece putting the rise and power of service design in perspective: https://boagworld.com/digital-strategy/service-design/
Discover more about service blueprinting here: https://trydesignlab.com/blog/what-is-service-design/
Read this eye-opening piece exploring more areas of service design: https://articles.uie.com/service-design-thinking/
See Uber in a strictly service design context: https://medium.com/@kzynakamura/uber-service-design-teardown-c5777a9a9527
Literature on Service Design
Here’s the entire UX literature on Service Design by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Learn more about Service Design
Take a deep dive into Service Design with our course Design Thinking: The Beginner’s Guide .
Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric, have rapidly adopted the design thinking approach, and design thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford d.school, Harvard, and MIT. What is design thinking, and why is it so popular and effective?
The overall goal of this design thinking course is to help you design better products, services, processes, strategies, spaces, architecture, and experiences. Design thinking helps you and your team develop practical and innovative solutions for your problems. It is a human-focused, prototype-driven, innovative design process. Through this course, you will develop a solid understanding of the fundamental phases and methods in design thinking, and you will learn how to implement your newfound knowledge in your professional work life. We will give you lots of examples; we will go into case studies, videos, and other useful material, all of which will help you dive further into design thinking.
This course contains a series of practical exercises that build on one another to create a complete design thinking project. The exercises are optional, but you’ll get invaluable hands-on experience with the methods you encounter in this course if you complete them, because they will teach you to take your first steps as a design thinking practitioner. What’s equally important is you can use your work as a case study for your portfolio to showcase your abilities to future employers! A portfolio is essential if you want to step into or move ahead in a career in the world of human-centered design.
Design thinking methods and strategies belong at every level of the design process. However, design thinking is not an exclusive property of designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it. What’s special about design thinking is that designers and designers’ work processes can help us systematically extract, teach, learn, and apply these human-centered techniques in solving problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, in our businesses, in our countries, and in our lives.
That means that design thinking is not only for designers but also for creative employees, freelancers, and business leaders. It’s for anyone who seeks to infuse an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly accessible, one that can be integrated into every level of an organization, product, or service so as to drive new alternatives for businesses and society.
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