From Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, 1759–67. Throughout the nine-volume work, Shandy attempts to tell his life story but finds that he can never do it in a straight line. He discovers too many twists, turns and diversions.

Design for Service Syllabus

Spring 2016, Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Professor Molly Wright Steenson
TA: Catherine Shen

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?

When you have 2 coffee shops right next to each other, selling the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk into the one and not the other, come back often and tell your friends about it. —31 Volts, a Dutch service design studio

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 project, in which you design and prototype your own 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
  • Develop a service concept and prototypes that you test along the way

This syllabus is a living resource. I will continually add to it over the coming weeks with more information about readings, assignments, guest speakers, as well as about service design case studies, methods, and practices. You can add to it as well, and I hope that you will, over the weeks to come.

Group Project Theme

From the George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library Digital Collections,

This semester, the theme for the class is Fixing What’s Broken: service design for support. Remember up above, when we talked about services that went wrong? It becomes apparent to you in that moment the couple of things that might’ve made it better. So what if we take that people-centered approach to the design of support or repair?

Support doesn’t need to be a boring, shunting-off to who-cares land. In the last few years, a number of companies have developed unique approaches that better enable them to support their customers when things go wrong. Moreover, these companies frequently have unique corporate cultures that enable and empower the backstage service providers to get things done for their customers. (Automattic, the company that runs Wordpress, comes to mind for their distributed structure and their ability to solve problems).

We will explore physical-digital hybrid services that you will prototype in real space and on screen, exploring a variety of service themes. The domain you choose is up to you.

Required Readings

There are two books that you should buy. They will be eventually be on reserve in the library. If there are articles listed that don’t have a direct URL, CMU students can find them on the Box account for the class:

Also: lectures are available here to people with a CMU login:

  • Andy Polaine, Lavrans Løvlie & Ben Reason, Service Design: From Insight to Implementation (New York: Rosenfeld Media, 2013). This book is available in digital and physical (or both) forms. Students in the class: refer to your email and in-class communication for a 20% discount.
    Andy Polaine is Design Director at Fjord’s Service Design Academy. and Lavrans Løvlie and Ben Reason co-founded Live|Work, possibly the first service design consultancy. Both are vital organizations in the development and promotion of service design.
  • Lucy Kimbell, The Service Innovation Handbook (Amsterdam: BIS Publishing, 2014). 
    Lucy Kimbell is an associate fellow at Oxford’s Saïd Business School. She is a designer, researcher, artist and educator who focuses on service innovation will be in Pittsburgh on April 4 to give a Design the Future lecture. She’ll join our class the following day.
  • There will be other articles, case studies, and pieces that you will be expected to read. See the week-by-week below for other pieces and links either online or on the class Box account.


Visit this site frequently! I will be updating this website with frequency throughout the class—there will be examples, case studies, articles, and so on. If you have good examples, share them! I will also create a class email list, and am running a Slack channel for the class at This is a good way to get quick information from other people in class, and it’s often a good place to catch me for questions of clarification.

Tristram Shandy, outlining the arc of the first five volume of his life’s story.

Schedule, week by week

Part 1 (weeks 1–5): Service design fundamentals

Week 1, 1/12: What is a service (and what isn’t)? An introduction to service design

Read (in time for the Thursday, 1/14 class—grad students have seen the first two but should reread nonetheless):

  • Polaine et al., chapter 2. [this time on Box].
  • Hugh Dubberly & Shelley Evenson, “Designing for Service: Creating an Experience Advantage,” (2010).
  • Speaking of everlasting services: Zeynep Tufecki, a professor of information & library science who grew up in Istanbul, wrote in the New York Times about her wonder at the US Post Office when she moved to the US as an undergrad. She experienced as a marvel of service and infrastructure. What I like about Zeynep’s piece is that it underscores the kinds of things that good services strive to provide.

Due for Thursday, 1/14, by 9 am: Before our next class, 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. In the last few minutes, if you can surreptitiously and unobtrusively take photos, do, but it isn’t necessary. When you are done, give yourself a few minutes to reflect on the experience, doing some free writing for yourself. Finally, compare notes with your partner if you have one, and together, post a brief writeup (250–500 words) on Medium that documents the service. Include some sketches or photos (if you took photos). We’ll be talking about your experiences on Thursday in class.

A service infrastructure and postal service bonus: here’s how mail was sorted in 1903. Watch that guy throw!

Week 2, 1/19: Service Concepts

No class on 1/21 due to conference travel. I strongly encourage you, however, to use the time to work on the week’s assignment, due 1/26.

Some service design vocabulary to notice:

What’s a service design touchpoint? Chris Risdon of Capital One Labs defined it as “a point of interaction involving a specific human need in a specific time and place.” Another definition (either from Albert Tam, formerly of frog design, picked up by Rachel Powers) defines touchpoints as “the moment upon which a sensory interaction results in an emotional response.”

What’s a servicescape? The physical environment in which a service takes place, the relationships it brings into being. Without realizing it, many of you were writing about the typology of servicescapes—the interaction of physical environment, service and experience.

Why do we say “enactment” when we talk about services? It’s not like running a piece of code—it’s more like getting everybody orchestrated, choreographed, coordinated. When a service is enacted well, everybody is performing their roles, ostensibly at the right place and time.

Read for Tuesday, 1/19:

  • Kimbell, chapter 2
  • 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 your experiences in cafés and restaurants last week and the relationship to physical space.

Due for Tuesday 1/19 by 9 am: Document three service experiences. Your mission: choose three service experiences and document them graphically and with a paragraph of text. One service should be digital-only. One may be hybrid digital-physical, and one should be something that has existed far longer than the digital realm. The more that you investigate the different possibility modalities, the more interesting our discussion will be when we share in class on Tuesday, 1/19.

And here’s a provocation for you to consider: if everything is service design, then nothing is service design. Here’s Louise Downe, Head of Design for the UK Government, on what service design isn’t. Over the weeks to come, what will you include and exclude in your own service design work?

Also: we talked a lot about services and kiosks. Our intrepid TA Catherine found these two pieces: “How Self-Service Kiosks Are Changing Customer Behavior” in the Harvard Business Review.

and then this, via The Verge: a Lego Chicken McNugget Dispensing Machine!

Week 3, 1/26: Value Propositions and Mapping Methods

We will look at several techniques for mapping the dynamics of services: the customer journey, the stakeholder map, and value flow diagrams. We will use these different maps to build up an understanding of a service from the point of view of the different people and value exchanges involved.

NOTE, updated: I’d like to encourage you to hear Ed Felten give the Privacy Day keynote at the Cohon University Center on 1/28 from 1:30–2:30. He is Deputy US Chief Technology Officer and a professor at Princeton, where he directs the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy (and which is where I got to know him). His research and interests at Princeton are wide-ranging, and the issues that he deals with have an impact on the whole sphere of design and the digital world.


  • Polaine et al., chapter 5 & 6 (note that this chapter intermixes customer journey mapping with service blueprinting, but get a jump on reading about both—the techniques are not done in isolation)
  • Kimbell, p. 118–124 & 152–3

To do in class on 1/26: Postmates exercise: you will be given a stakeholder contingent to learn about and map, as a part of a 4-person team of grads and undergrads. You will start this work on whiteboards and Post-its both on the 26th and 28th, and then you will formalize the work with your team for our class on 2/2.

To discuss in class on 1/28: Diagramming examples and more in-class work.

Due on 2/2 (each group produces):

Each of these should be diagrammed using InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop. UPDATED on 1/28, see below.

  • Problem/proposition (see Kimbell, 152–53)
  • Stakeholder Map/Value Flow Diagram (typically the same thing)
  • Journey map
  • Are there other diagrams or maps that would help to tell the story of your group’s element of the service? Create it. Give your method a name.

And here’s a really nice example of a student design project (and I’m not just saying that because he’s a CMU grad): Zach Hyman’s HomeStart project that he did for the MA Interaction Design Studio. Zach is now a design strategist at Continuum in Boston. Take a look: there’s a lot of detail in his case study about the project.

Week 4: 2/2: Service blueprinting

We will take forward our work on Postmates into a service blueprinting exercise. You will be a part of a 5-person team composed of each of the groups from the previous week.

Jacquelyn in our class.

2/2: Guest speaker, Jacquelyn Brioux, Capital One Labs.

She will also be giving a talk that you should attend that evening at 7:30, as Capital One presents three PAM (People & Money) talks.

Jacquelyn researches finance and happiness, and will be sharing her story about how she became passionate about the topic. Brandon Schauer, head of Adaptive Path, will be the MC for the evening. (Free Jimmy John, too.) She also mentioned, which is a site that looks at different personalities and their emotional preferences.

Read for 2/2:

  • Review Polaine et al., chapter 6
  • Others to follow
  • Due: Interviewing and preliminary (post-it) blueprinting exercises. We will be working on this during class time on 2/4. Formal documented blueprint (in time for 2/11 class).

Week 5: In-Class Service Blueprinting

  • 2/9: In-class service blueprinting on Postmates continues. Our focus here is on the process of blueprinting (using Post-Its and markers). You will create your own informal and formal blueprints later, in your class project.
  • 2/11: Walkthrough with Molly & Catherine of service blueprints; follow up with class discussion. Introduction of service design project.

Summary of Postmates mapping

Catherine wrote a summary of the Postmates assignments.

During the last few weeks of the Service Design class, students worked in four teams to look at Postmates, a startup founded on a service innovation business model. The teams each looked at the Postmates service from four perspectives and created a value flow model, a journey map, and a value proposition chart based on their review and analysis.

By looking into the different groups of stakeholders, students were able to develop empathy by taking on a perspective different from their own, looking deeper into the values, journey, and perspectives of the groups, and start to apply critical lens to examine how a particular service system works.

The customer group not only looked at the traditional customer journey, they also brought up issues of transparency into the driver experience and pricing information. Meanwhile, the driver group struggled with coming up with what felt like an authentic statement of the value proposition for drivers and the partner group looked at how Postmates acted as a value capture intermediary between the partners and customers. Reflecting conversations going on in the graduate Transition Design Seminar, the partner group mapped negative value flows in their model. Finally, the developer group took on the perspective of the technology and mapping out what work the technology performs in this service system. By looking at the underlying infrastructure/architecture provided by the system, the developer team was able to analyze the flows of information as value.

Service Design Project: Fixing What’s Broken

You will be applying what you’ve learned in the first part of the class to your group project. Each week, you’ll focus on a task or deliverable related to the project both inside and outside of class. It will culminate in a set of prototypes that are experiments for services. You will then do a 5-minute pitch for your service, and present a longer case study that outlines your process.

The top of this syllabus (look for the broken teacup) has some general information on the topic of fixing what’s broken. But it’s not just shunting people off to a customer service representative. It’s a matter of anticipating and preventing problems. How do you develop a service for repairing a bicycle… or a broken heart? There are a wide variety of possibilities for you to delve into with this topic.

You’ll be designing and prototyping hybrid digital-physical services. You might explore multichannel services that could include web, mobile, chatbot, connected objects. You will delve into how these channels and touchpoints play out by making a set of experiments to learn from and iterate upon.


Furniture reuse: Lisa, Hannah, Chris, Saumya

Housing transitions: Allison, Angela, Gabe

Travel & illness: Tracy, Ming, Courtney, Zai, Yoon-ji

First-time and college voters: Justin, Brian, Diana, Helen

Migraines: Lauren, Julia, Shruti, Gina

Complaints as Innovation

What can we learn from complaints? Above, the Helsinki Complaints Choir. Below: a report from Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, titled “Grumbles, Gripes and Grievances” (PDF on Box, but link goes to page with report). Here’s what the authors say:

Complaints are not often associated with innovation and creativity. When we think of complaints, we tend towards negative association — frustration, failure, poor service, something to be dealt with promptly and filed away. receiving lots of complaints is seen as something to be wary of, not celebrated.
But getting complaints is much better than not getting complaints — they show that people think it’s worth complaining and that they will be listened to, and that they believe that they have power to influence the system. They are a good sign of democracy in action.

Project Schedule

… picking this up from above…

Week 5

  • 2/11 Group formation and topic brainstorming.

Week 6

  • 2/16: Continue group formation. Initial user & stakeholder research. Begin secondary & competitive research.
  • Skype guest: Sarah Hatter, Founder & CEO, CoSupport. Here’s what CoSupport says about itself: “CoSupport is run by people who love people. We’re experts in customer support coaching, hiring, user experience, technical writing, and taco eating. Since our start back in 2011, we’ve helped companies of all sizes learn how to respond to customers better and make the web a better place.” Sarah was already a well-known blogger when she ran 37Signals’s support team, and she left to found CoSupport to change how companies work with their customers. I’ve asked her to talk to us because there’s importance in considering that things do go wrong, and designing a service with that in mind leads to more empathetic and authentic interactions.
  • Reading: Please take a look at CoSupport’s site and look at the Customer Support Handbook by Sarah Hatter [PDF on Box]. Give a quick read to pages 43–49, 98–103, and the manifesto at the end of the book on pages 224–25. You might also leaf through the Best Practices section .The book is written in a conversational manner and the essays are easy to skim.

Service design examples & experience prototyping. We’ll talk about different examples of service design projects. The majority of these are student projects, some for shorter courses, some for longer projects. Many of these are Core77 award winners from the last several years.

  • UPMC FAQ Forum & Career Truck. Liz Wagstaff, CMU (Master’s in Science, HCI, now at NASA Ames Research Center). We’ve learned about different campus recruiting efforts, such as with Capital One. Liz’s project aimed to help UPMC improve their hiring process.
  • Quick Fix. Arunima Singh, Claudia Ciarpella, Francesca Desmarais, Myoungeun Kim, CIID, Copenhagen. How could you quickly get your bike repaired? Design students in the CIID master’s program designed this multichannel, hybrid digital-physical service.
  • 312Park. Jorge Angarita, Lauren Braun, Russell Flench, Janice Wong (who we’ll have in class during Confluence), IIT ID, Chicago. Chicago’s parking system is a pain in the neck: how might a more user-friendly service be designed? This project preceded digital parking apps that are now deployed in Chicago.
  • Designing for dignity in a sexual violence response system. Manuela Aguirre and Jan Kristian Strømsnes, AHO, Oslo, Norway (student project. The sensitivity and care in research and design is noteworthy, as are the elements that the students designed.
  • Designing for Doctor and Patient Experience During Leave-Taking Moments. What happens when the patient is discharged from the hospital? It turns out that this is an important but frequently overlooked moment in patient care. In this MBA capstone class on design management, students engaged in deep research that suggested different potential touchpoints, ranging from a journey document to a dignity blanket.
  • Welcomesburg: Offsetting Gentrification
  • Society of Grownups. IDEO, MassMutual. How do you sort through financial planning and life insurance when you’re under 40? Society of Grownups is a sort of master’s degree for life stuff, “where the curriculum covers everything from investing in a 401K to having that hard talk about a budget to how to pick good, cheap wine.” I listed last because it’s a substantial professional project led by IDEO, but the level of thought and detail is excellent.

Week 7

Initial service proposition and scenarios. (Confluence week.)

  • Tuesday, 2/23: Work session
  • Thursday, 2/25, we will have a debate! We’ll find some good statements for this group of designers to tackle. Our guests: Janice Wong, Doblin (Toronto); Jamin Hegeman, head of service design, Adaptive Path/Capital One; Jacquelyn Brioux, Capital One Labs; Mitch Sinclair, Design Director, IDEO Boston; Renna Al-Yassini, co-founder & UX/strategy lead,

Week 8

3/1: Service proposition and scenarios. User research and competitive research to support your service proposition.

  • 3/1: [POSTPONED TILL AFTER SPRING BREAK. APOLOGIES THAT PIZZA WILL ALSO BE POSTPONED.] Joint session with Gideon Kossoff’s Holism seminar on Christopher Alexander and design for complexity. PIZZA.
  • Instead: 3/1 is a work session on possible service scenarios. You will come up with multiple service scenarios. This week, you will also engage in user and competitive research to support your scenarios. This is partly exploration (seeking inspiration and unmet needs) and partly validation (learning about what will—and will not—work) as you examine the assumptions you’re making in your service.
  • 3/3: Present scenarios and updates on research exploration/validation in class for critique.

Week 9, NO CLASS. Spring Break. Enjoy!

Week 10

Business canvas & innovation workshop. Stakeholder mapping, customer journey maps & value flow models.

  • 3/15: We will have a session led by Hannah and Catherine on innovation systems. Hannah will conduct a Business Canvas workshop & Catherine will lead us on business innovation modeling, with the goal of cracking open the potential opportunities in your services, seeking pivots, where needed, and keeping you exploring. By the time you go on spring break, you should have stronger ideas for service propositions that you will deepen and explore upon your return.
  • 3/17: complete stakeholder map, customer journey maps & value flow models. Present maps in class. Identify touchpoint opportunities.

Week 11

Experimenting and visualizing. How will you bring your service to life? Beyond maps and flows, your prototypes and experiments of touchpoints will help you and your users to explore. We’ll chat more about this in class and I’ll provide additional examples.

  • 3/22: Designing first service experiments, touchpoints, and prototypes. Guest: Simon King (CMU Design Center) on service experiments and prototyping to learn.
  • 3/24: Continued development of service experiments. Class will start with each group briefly sharing work. Guest: Miso Kim, Ph.D., service designer and CMU PhD graduate.

Week 12

Continued prototyping, start journey maps, value flows and service blueprinting, informal (Paper & post-its & whiteboards)—this will be an iterative process. As you learn from your service experiments, you’ll document your service through maps and flows; examining the maps and flows will highlight other potential interventions and touchpoints, and lead to your next prototypes. (Got it?)

  • 3/29: Guest Zach Hyman, Continuum (Skype). Zach is a CMU MA grad who will talk about how to champion service design inside of a company without a service design practice—a situation that many of you may find after design school.
  • 3/31: UPDATE: Special session with pizza on Christopher Alexander, held in conjunction with Gideon Kossoff’s seminar on holism. This is going to be a historical take on some of the practices we use in service design and more broadly in interaction design. Did I mention that there will be pizza? Our class will meet for 1/2 hour before we are joined by Gideon & his students at noon. Readings will be provided.

Week 13

Continued experimenting and prototyping of touchpoints and gestures, at higher levels of fidelity. Updating service blueprint where needed.
Consider this article by Livework on piloting services (which is what we would be doing if we were within a consultancy or company).

  • 4/5: Guest: Lucy Kimbell. Continued service experiments & prototypes
  • MONDAY 4/4 5 pm: Design the Future lecture, Lucy Kimbell. Required attendance.
  • 4/7: Molly is out for a conference on this date but class will meet so that you can continue to work with teams. Possible guest: Rag Kandala, who will speak about his research on environments and service design.

Week 14

Formal service blueprint (digital/printable)

Week 15

  • 4/19: Finalize service prototypes for in-class private critique. Share formal blueprint with class. Possible brief visit from Philips Healthcare team (Netherlands/Pittsburgh)
  • 4/21: Molly is out but you will use class session for project work.

Week 16

  • 4/26: rehearse final presentation for crit
  • 4/28: Crit and celebration of your hard work! This presentation will have two parts:
  • A five-minute pitch of your service.
  • A 7–10 minute case study of what you’ve done throughout the semester: what you did, what worked, what didn’t, how you pivoted.

Everybody on your team must speak in both the pitch and the case study. Rehearse it. Timing will be strict so that we keep things energized and lively.

By May 6 at 5 pm, all of your deliverables for your service, as well as a case study delivered on Medium or another web platform, must be turned in to Molly & Catherine.

Course policies


  • Participation, including the module work due in the first part of the class: 50%
  • Team service design project: 50%

Grading criteria for service design project

  1. You have a clearly articulated service proposition that makes sense, one that includes a mission, a clear definition of the customers and stakeholders, and what it provides to them. Everyone in your team can articulate the proposition clearly.
  2. You developed the service in conjunction with users, using a variety of different methods. You did user research, you’ve prototyped and used provocations, you’ve brought your touchpoints back to your users. You shifted and pivoted your service in response to what you’ve learned from your research, and you can share these decisions in your case study.
  3. You create diagrams and deliverables to help you design the service and to represent the decisions you’ve made, including: a service blueprint, customer journey map, and value flow diagram, and anything else you might need to map to demonstrate the strategies that your service follow, what is backstage & front stage, etc.
  4. You designed and prototyped touchpoints for the service at increasing levels of fidelity: and may include role-playing, speed-dating, workshops, sketches, paper task flows, paper prototypes, digital prototypes, physical environment mockups. These should start rough to enable speedy feedback. As you approach the end of the semester, they should be at a more finished level of quality. You tested your prototypes with your stakeholders and users. In the end, your service must have a name and some manner of branding for your service.
  5. You do a good job on your final presentation. You practice it with your fellow group members in advance.
  6. Although this is a group project, it is possible that group members may have a different grade based on their participation.

Attendance and participation

The attendance policy for this class is simple: please be here. If you’re not here, you will need an excuse, preferably in advance, to the professor. The class is heavily focused on participation and teamwork: your teammates and classmates need you. Similarly, I expect you to be present not just in body but in mind and spirit. Bring your creativity and your critical thinking to class, and be prepared to share them with your fellow students.

I will ask someone each week to provide a 5-minute critical synopsis of the readings that we have assigned. Please be prepared.

A reminder about academic integrity

No form of academic dishonesty will be tolerated. You must cite where your ideas come from. When you use words, images, videos — even ideas and thoughts that are not yours and that you do not credit or properly cite, you are guilty of plagiarism. CMU’s policies are available here for your review. While I do expect you to look out to other examples of service design in the world, if you adapt a model for your own, let us know where it came from.