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.

Week 7, 2/28: PROJECT BEGINS

  • Project briefing
  • Team formation

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.

  • Begin secondary research on brief
  • Projects and precedents: read case studies and find existing services, interfaces, and projects
  • Recruit for primary research


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