What is Service Design?

Mar 24, 2016 · 3 min read

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Most design disciplines draw from other areas and fields. Technology, cognitive science and aesthetics all contribute to design as we know it today. Service design, a more recent application of design expertise, is no different. Service design draws on many concepts, ranging from user experience, marketing and project management in order to optimize new services.

Service design was first introduced as a design discipline at the Köln International School of Design in 1991. As a new field, the definition of service design is evolving in academia. But in practice, service design is:

The activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers. The purpose of service design methodologies is to design according to the needs of customers or participants, so that the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers. — Service Design Network

Five Principles
How does the concept of service design translate into practice? What are the elements that distinguish service design from UX? One of the first textbooks on service design, This is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider, outlines five key principles to keep in mind when re-thinking a service:

  1. User-Centered: People are at the center of the service design.
  2. Co-Creative: Service design should involve other people, especially those who are part of a system or a service.
  3. Sequencing: Services should be visualized by sequences, or key moments in a customer’s journey.
  4. Evidencing: Customers need to be aware of elements of a service. Evidencing creates loyalty and helps customers understand the entire service experience.
  5. Holistic: A holistic design takes into account the entire experience of a service. Context matters.

Tools of the Trade
Many of the tools involved in UX and marketing overlap with service design. Here are a few tools to try if you are interested in innovating a service:

  • Personas: A persona is a summary of a specific type of customer that represents a broader customer segment. After conducting qualitative interviews, a persona is an archetype of a specific aspects about many customers who fall into the same segment. A persona is used to summarize psychographics, like motivations, desires, preferences and values. Personas help you create a design with specific customers in mind and ensure the process is user-centered. There are many persona templates to help you get started.
  • Customer Journey Map: A customer journey map is a tool that shows the best and worst parts of a customer’s experience. The journey starts long before a customer starts to take an action, and shows the entire experience of the service through the customer’s perspective. The authors of the This Is Service Design Thinking, offer a blank customer journey canvas. You can work with customers to ensure your customer journey map is co-creative.
  • Service Blueprinting: Erik Flowers and Megan Erin Miller offer a guide to service blueprinting. A service blueprint goes beyond a customer journey map and allows you to understand a customer from a more holistic viewpoint, including the work and processes that go into creating and delivering an experience.

Even though service design is in its infancy, there are many robust and free resources available online. The Service Design Tools website and the Service Design Toolkit summarize possible design activities to use when innovating services and systems.

Originally published at trydesignlab.com.

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