What is a Service?

The first thing you need to know as a Service Designer is what you’re designing.

Usually the first place to start teaching any topic is with a definition of it. Remember being in highschool and the teacher saying “chemistry/economics/geography is…”

However, if you ask 5 service designers “What is Service Design?” you’ll get 10 different answers.

Therefore, when I start teaching Service Design I like to start with an even simpler question:

What is a Service?

I’m aware this is like a geology teacher starting a course with ‘so what is earth?’

But pause for a second and try and define a ‘service’. It’s hard, right? So hard I made up my own definition.

Here it is:

A service is a series of organised touchpoints across time and space intended to achieve a specific outcome for both a user and a provider.

Read that again. It took me awhile to craft.

So why this definition? There are three concepts I feel a definition of a service needs to encapsulate:

  1. A service must span time and space, otherwise it’s more like a product.
  2. A service must be organised otherwise it’s not something intentionally controlled and designed.
  3. A service must hope to achieve an outcome for the user and a provider otherwise it has no purpose.

So for example…

… I’ve previously written about why I personally love the service of the airline Qantas. All airlines fly people from one place to another. That is their utility.

But their ‘service’ is everything else a traveller will encounter on a particular trip, but it doesn’t start when the traveller boards a the plane. It doesn’t even start with their airport.

It starts with the first interaction between the traveller and qantas that pertains to that trip.

This could be using the app:

This could be looking at the website on their phone:

At the extreme it could even be the google search result for ‘qantas’.

From there it includes literally everything else – every touchpoint – until their journey is over.

Examples include the check-in counters:

Bag drop:

The boarding experience:

The seats:

The inflight entertainment:

The (epic) safety video:

Waiting to deplane:

Luggage Collection:

… and it kinda ends when you decide to stop.

The obvious next question is…

… “what is design?”. That’s harder. The one after is “so how do you design a good service?”. That one will take my career to answer.

Still, a definition is an important place to start. A graphic designer knows what they design. So does an industrial designer. So does an architect.

Having a good grasp on what you are designing is the first step to becoming a Service Designer.