Service Design

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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.

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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:

  1. User-centered – Use qualitative research to design focusing on all users.

  2. Co-creative – Include all relevant stakeholders in the design process.

  3. Sequencing – Break a complex service into separate processes and user journey sections.

  4. Evidencing – Envision service experiences to make them tangible for users to understand and trust brands.

  5. 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:

  1. Actors (e.g., employees delivering the service)

  2. Location (e.g., a virtual environment where customers receive the service)

  3. Props (e.g., objects used during service delivery)

  4. Associates (other organizations involved in providing the service – e.g., logistics)

  5. 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:

  1. Customer journey maps(to find the customers’ touchpoints, barriers and critical moments)

  2. Personas (to help envision target users)

  3. 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:

  1. Understand your brand’s purpose, the demand for it and the ability of all associated service providers to deliver on promises.

  2. The customers’ needs come ahead of the brand’s internal ones.

  3. Focus on delivering unified and efficient services holistically—as opposed to taking a component-by-component approach.

  4. Include input from users.

  5. Streamline work processes to maximize efficiency.

  6. Co-creation sessions are vital to prototyping.

  7. Eliminate anything (e.g., features, work processes) that fails to add value for customers.

  8. 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: Service Design: How to Design Integrated Service Experiences.

Read this insightful piece, Service Design: What Is It, What Does It Involve, And Should You Care?

Discover more about service blueprinting in Service Design 101

Read this eye-opening piece exploring Service Design Thinking

Examine Uber’s service design in Uber Service Design Teardown

Questions related to Service Design

What is a service design diagram?

A service design diagram is a visual representation of the overall structure and components of a service, including the interactions between different elements. It provides an overview of the service and helps stakeholders understand how different parts of the service fit together. It may include information such as user interfaces, system components, data flows, and more.

What is an ecosystem map?

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An ecosystem map visualizes the entirety of an ecosystem in which a service operates. It focuses on understanding all the connections, dependencies, and exchanges of value within the service ecosystem. This mapping tool captures:

  1. Actors/Roles: Entities bringing the experience to the customer.

  2. Information Flow: Details of data shared, required, or used.

  3. Interactions: Between people, systems, and services.

  4. Devices & Channels: Tools and mediums of communication.

The diagram is essential for understanding the current state of a service, emphasizing the intricacies and interdependencies, guiding service blueprint creation, and identifying potential breakpoints or areas for enhancement.

What are frontstage and backstage in service design?

In the context of service design, frontstage refers to the actions performed by employees that are visible to the customer. It includes interactions such as customer service, product demonstrations, and any other activities that customers can directly observe.

On the other hand, backstage actions are performed by employees that are not visible to the customer. These actions support the service delivery and may include tasks such as inventory management, quality control, and other behind-the-scenes operations.

What does good service design look like?

Good service design is a holistic approach that prioritizes every user interaction, both in digital and real-life contexts. Jonas Piet, Director and Service Design Lead at Inwithforward shares the example of Kudoz, a learning platform to demonstrate backstage service design.

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While the digital platform is a crucial component, the user's journey begins long before they interact with the app. It might start with discovering the service at a community event or through a promotional video. Service designers ensure that every touchpoint, from community events to the digital interface, provides a coherent and positive experience. They focus on the intricate details, be it designing the role of an 'Experience Curator', crafting a compelling story, or ensuring safety checks. In essence, good service design intertwines various interactions, ensuring they align perfectly.

Where to learn human-centered design?

Discover the principles of human-centered design through Interaction Design Foundation's in-depth courses: Design for the 21st Century with Don Norman offers a contemporary perspective on design thinking, while Design for a Better World with Don Norman emphasizes designing for positive global impact. To deepen your understanding, Don Norman's seminal book, "Design for a Better World: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered," from MIT Press, is an invaluable resource.

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How do you develop a service design?

Developing service design begins with 

  1. In-depth user research, often ethnographic field studies, forming personas and journey maps. 

  2. Engage stakeholders early and consistently. 

  3. Utilize tools like the business model and value proposition canvases for a strategic foundation. 

  4. Transition from journey maps to service blueprints, mapping out the entire service ecosystem. 

  5. Embrace prototyping, iteratively refining with stakeholder input. 

  6. Thoroughly test prototypes, launch the finalized service, and continuously measure its impact. 

Learn more from the video below:

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Where should service design start?

Service design starts by understanding all pieces of an activity, centered on a user's need. 

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It involves figuring out systems from the ground up to support the experience, considering digital, physical, and social contexts. In-depth user research, stakeholder engagement, and aligning organizational resources, user needs, and outcomes are vital. 

Why is service design difficult?

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Service design, as discussed in our video, encompasses both the visible interactions a customer experiences and the underlying processes staff engage with. It deals with a complex web of interconnectivity, from front-end interactions to back-end systems and distribution. However, the challenge isn't just about designing services. The organizational culture must be receptive. Even if service designers identify areas of improvement, if the organization isn't prepared or faces legislative and technological barriers, change becomes arduous. Despite having dedicated individuals wanting change, they can often be constrained by larger, intricate issues. Service design requires a holistic approach, and while it can pinpoint problems, actual implementation might be held back by factors beyond the design realm.

What is UX vs CX vs service design?

UX (User Experience) design centers on the digital experience of users, focusing on specific touchpoints (which are often screen-based interactions). CX (Customer Experience) is broader, encompassing every touchpoint a customer has with a brand, from digital to in-store. 

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Service design has the highest scope of the three concepts, factoring in business processes, systems, and other back-end elements that the customer does not interact with. While UX zooms in on digital interactions, service design steps back, integrating everything for a seamless journey. All three disciplines aim to enhance the user's or customer's experience but operate at different scales and depths.

Is service design in demand?

Absolutely! As businesses increasingly recognize the value of delivering exceptional customer experiences, service design has become a pivotal discipline. It ensures seamless and holistic services that cater to both customer needs and business goals.

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The demand for professionals with expertise in service design is growing across various industries, from tech to hospitality. In order to stay competitive and satisfy the current demand, many individuals are looking to improve their skills. For those keen on mastering this domain, Interaction Design Foundation's course on Service Design provides an in-depth understanding and hands-on learning. It's a great way to get started or deepen your expertise!

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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 Service Design: How to Design Integrated Service Experiences .

Services are everywhere! When you get a new passport, order a pizza or make a reservation on AirBnB, you're engaging with services. How those services are designed is crucial to whether they provide a pleasant experience or an exasperating one. The experience of a service is essential to its success or failure no matter if your goal is to gain and retain customers for your app or to design an efficient waiting system for a doctor’s office.

In a service design process, you use an in-depth understanding of the business and its customers to ensure that all the touchpoints of your service are perfect and, just as importantly, that your organization can deliver a great service experience every time. It’s not just about designing the customer interactions; you also need to design the entire ecosystem surrounding those interactions.

In this course, you’ll learn how to go through a robust service design process and which methods to use at each step along the way. You’ll also learn how to create a service design culture in your organization and set up a service design team. We’ll provide you with lots of case studies to learn from as well as interviews with top designers in the field. For each practical method, you’ll get downloadable templates that guide you on how to use the methods in your own work.

This course contains a series of practical exercises that build on one another to create a complete service design 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 service designer. What’s equally important is that 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 service design.

Your primary instructor in the course is Frank Spillers. Frank is CXO of award-winning design agency Experience Dynamics and a service design expert who has consulted with companies all over the world. Much of the written learning material also comes from John Zimmerman and Jodi Forlizzi, both Professors in Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University and highly influential in establishing design research as we know it today.

You’ll earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you complete the course. You can highlight it on your resume, CV, LinkedIn profile or on your website.

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