Design for Service Syllabus

Spring 2017, Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Professor: Molly Wright Steenson, PhD
TAs: Francis Carter & Silvia Mata-Marin

Fritz Kahn’s phenomenal visualization of the human body: The Human as an Industrial Palace, 1926.

Service design is hard but rewarding work. It will give you a chance to flex all of your design muscles, the conceptual to the concrete, from thinking to making.

We all have an idea of what a good service is — when everything clicks into place, when you feel a little surprised and delighted because of the thoughtfulness and smoothness. And we know what it’s like when a service goes wrong — missed flight connections leading to sleeping on an airport floor, sitting for too long in a doctor’s waiting room, a website or app acting tone deaf in a sensitive situation. So what does it take to get a service right? And how can our services best communicate and reflect their interactions with us when they’re integrating different streams of data?

We will explore the fundamentals of service design in this lecture/studio class. In the first part of the class, we’ll begin with a set of modules on tools and practices of service design. Then, you’ll put them to use in a 9-week group project with a client, in which you design and prototype a service. Our goals (and the objectives of this class) will be to learn service design fundamentals by hypothesizing, experimenting, building, testing our assumptions, sometimes failing, tweaking, and improving. Some great visitors will join us too, in person and virtually, to provide real-world insights about service design.

In this class, you will:

  • Understand the fundamental tools and practices of service design
  • Learn and experiment with service design models
  • Work on a group project to develop a service concept, scenarios, blueprint, maps, and prototypes that you test along the way
  • Learn and practice fundamentals and basics of data analysis and visualization

Required Reading

Course readings will be posted on Box and are available to CMU students and faculty:

  • This Medium syllabus and the Course Policies. I will update this syllabus multiple times a week. You should visit it as you prepare for every class session.
  • You must purchase or otherwise acquire one book: Service Design: From Insight to Implementation by Andy Polaine, Lavrans Løvlie, Ben Reason.
  • Other readings on Box or elsewhere on the Internet, week by week (noted below)


Schedule, Readings, and Assignment

Fritz Kahn’s diagram showing the respiratory cycle.

Week 1, January 16: What is—and isn’t—service design? An introduction to service design

  • Tuesday: Intro to service design and getting to know each other.
  • Assignment, to complete before Thursday’s class: You must complete this assignment in time for Thursday’s class because we’re going to be using your observations for Thursdays service jam. Spend an hour in a busy cafe or restaurant, paying attention to the service experience. Go with a partner from class if you can. What roles do you see, and what roles might support those roles (onstage/backstage)? What don’t you see? Where do people interact with the service and through which touchpoints, physical, digital, informational, and otherwise? What little details do you notice — the service gestures? What infrastructures might be supporting these services (including ones you might not see)? You’ll want to spend some time doing what anthropologist Genevieve Bell has called “deep hanging out” — just hang out and pay attention. Acclimate yourself. Stay off text and email during this observation! After you’ve settled in, make notes in a notebook. Sketch things that you see. If you can take photos without being intrusive, do. When you are done, give yourself a few minutes to reflect on the experience, doing some free writing for yourself.
  • Thursday: 100-minute service design jam. In one class period, we’ll move very quickly through the components of a service design project. (The Global Service Jam is usually a 48-hour sprint for designing new services and there will likely be one in Pittsburgh during the semester, if you’d like to take part.) We’re going to do an extremely condensed version. You will be using your observations from the assignment in this class.

Week 2, 1/23: Service design concepts

To read for class on 1/23. There are several links but they are very quick readings. I will call on students at random to provide a brief summary of each piece, so please be ready.

From Tuesday: There were lots of examples of the ways that services provide care, access or response—often all of the above, to use the framework by Polaine, Løvlie & Reason. But even better, here are some of the examples that your groups compiled.

Week 3, 1/30: Value propositions, mapping and blueprinting

We also began talking about the role of data in services, and this week and last, you’ve begun to think of flows of value exchange.

This article in Motherboard, “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down” shows how data and social media can affect major events like our recent presidential election. Previous articles in previous elections, like this one, “The Nerds Go Marching In” talk about how President Obama’s team hired folks from Twitter to run the data team—and the role it played in helping Obama win the election.

I’ve mentioned the documentary Generation Like on Frontline. I highly recommend watching the whole documentary.

Week 4, 2/7: Introducing data visualization

  • Molly is out this week at the IxDA Interaction 17 Conference in New York. You are responsible for working Tableau 10 Essential Training and submitting the assignments to Francis, Silvia and Molly. You have information in your email about getting Tableau installed: you will have a license till mid-May.

Week 5, 2/14: Touchpoints and servicescapes


  • Mary Jo Bitner, “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees,” Journal of Marketing 56 (1992): 57–71. This article precedes the birth of the Web & commercial Internet, but is helpful in thinking through today’s digital and physical interactions.
  • Richard Normann, “Reconfiguring the Value Landscape,” 2001. [Box]

Week 6, 2/21: Service dissection

Read: Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur, Business Model Generation. Introduction to the business model canvas and its building blocks

Tuesday: Dissecting a service and business models, in class.

Thursday: Possible in-class visit from service design employers visiting for Confluence. This session may crossover with other discussions, but it will be worth your while to meet them in a smaller, focused setting.


Developing Services with Data for Children with Asthma

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways of the lungs. Nearly 25 million people in the US suffer from asthma—16% of all Americans, and 8.6% of children, according the CDC—or even 1 in 10 children, according to the AAAAI. It is a number that is growing, more so in children than adults and in multiple-race, African American, native American and Alaska natives, and in families below the poverty line (see this report). Asthma accounts for almost 2 million trips to the emergency room a year (—it’s the #3 reason for children’s visits to the ER. It’s also a major reason for children to miss school days.

Medication can help to keep asthma under control for children (inhalers, oral medication, alternative medication). But it requires a family learning about the child’s triggers for asthma, such as allergies or other environmental factors. And once a treatment regimen is found, the child needs to actually follow through on medication. Ideally, the hope is for children to move toward self-management, as they start to move toward their preteen years (from age 4–10). This is a process in which the whole ecosystem around the child can participate—parents, teachers, coaches, doctors, pharmacists, camp counselors, and so on. Integrating and visualizing data sources that range from self-tracking data to environmental data available from the Environmental Protection Agency and the CDC will provide additional data and knowledge within the service.

What is asthma? A video from the American Lung Association

The Brief

About 10% of children in the US suffers from asthma, and the amount of kids with asthma is expected to grow until 2025 at least. Besides health issues and discomfort, asthma also causes a $56 billion in healthcare and productivity costs. For kids, the main challenges are to remember to take the medicine, to take it in the right way, and to understand the amount and types of activity they can engage in, without causing an asthma attack. For parents and doctors, it is important to understand how to best support the child in managing their asthma. It is therefore important that children, parents and medical professionals do not only get the right information, they also need to receive it in the right context, timing, and presentation, and maybe even other aspects play a role in this.

Main challenge

How can we support transition of children (4–10 years) from parental management to self-management in their asthma care.

We expect students to pick children of a specific age and phase in their condition, i.e. being recently diagnosed, veteran user, or post-event state. Students should consider all stakeholders and touch points, but focus in their design activity on creating one or two touch points that fit in their envisioned service flow. We are primarily interested in how, when and what data to present to the stakeholders in order to address the challenge. Students could consider the following, as a starting point:

  • Type of asthma and length of treatment
  • Geolocation impact; polluting industry nearby; smog; etc
  • Genomic background
  • Medication usage per age/area/cultural background; per state, per country
  • Social issues and opportunities later in life; type of work, length of career, etc
  • Population health (USA / Worldwide)
  • Progress of disease and corresponding events

Questions to begin exploration and scope

  • Which are the main stakeholders? At least consider child/parent/doctor. Which others are involved?
  • Which stakeholder relationships will you focus on? Which are key to solve the main problems?
  • What is the service flow across different stages of the patient/user journey?
  • How can data collection/processing/visualization support the different touchpoints?
  • Aside from user-data interaction, how could technology and data visualization support dialogue between stakeholders?
  • How to present data and information in such a way that it leads to a change or maintenance of user behavior?
  • How can a solution support the parent/child relationship and not hinder daily life?
  • What is the primary concern of each key stakeholder? What are their goals?
  • What are the main environments they interact in?
  • What data/information is most important in different environments and at different moments? Why? How can the visualization support this?

Asthma sources (we will add to this list)

Data sources (we will add to this list)


Week 7, 2/28:

Week 8, 3/6: Research & initial service ideas

Visit from client. Also required this week: all students must attend the lecture by Sarah Hendren on Monday, March 6.

  • Continue secondary research, including on data sources
  • Projects and precedents: read case studies and find existing services, interfaces, and projects
  • Recruit for primary research

Resources on designing for children and design research with children


Sometime before you’re back from spring break, listen to this podcast.

It’s from the VC firm a16z on Honor, a company that provides the service of home healthcare. The Head of Design for Honor is on the podcast. It’s relevant for our purposes here, even though the market segment is different.

Week 10, 3/20: Service propositions & scenarios

  • Present initial service proposition & scenarios
  • Primary and user research

Week 11, 3/27: Mapping & service experiments

Molly out for conference travel, 3/27

  • Retool and finalize service proposition
  • Deepen scenarios
  • Complete stakeholder maps, value flow diagrams, journey maps

Week 12, 4/3: Service experiments

Possible guest lecture: Simon King, Sr. Product Manager, Duolingo

  • Plan & conduct first service experiments
  • Retool maps and scenarios with what you learn

Week 13, 4/10: Touchpoints and service prototypes

Read: Polaine, chapters 5–6

  • Touchpoints and prototyping
  • Begin data visualization prototyping

Week 14, 4/17: Service blueprinting

Week 15, 4/24: Video prototyping

Week 16, 5/1: Pitch and case study

Critique: Design Week, Week of May 8, date TBD