A Service Design Process

From Understanding to Ideating

Jon Barnett
Nov 14, 2017 · 4 min read

Through my work with 23 Design, I’ve become very interested in service design. Mainly because it’s so holistic — combining the experience I’ve been gaining across different design disciplines in a valuable way for our clients.

I wanted to understand the tools and processes better. So, I decided to do a kind of literature review, summarizing three key service design resources:

Back to hitting the books

Why a literature review?

  1. Reading, itself, isn’t that useful. What is useful is synthesis — summarizing ideas into patterns. Writing a Medium article helped me keep everything concise and it might help aspiring service designers.
  2. The more resources I checked out, the more confused I became about actually deploying these tools. On one hand, it’s true that designers need to be critical about models of design processes. Many of the resources mention that it would be impossible to write a step-by-step service design manual. On the other, an ad hoc collection of tools doesn’t help much either — when and how do we deploy them? How do they build on each other? How do I explain the process to the client?

As a result, every resource had a different system for arranging and deploying their tools. And it became hard to get a big picture of how to undertake service design projects. I found myself asking: shouldn’t I just read one book and follow its system?

What I decided to do was map the three different systems from the three different resources in parallel. Not to write a ‘definitive guide.’ But instead to assess the differences and begin to structure a unique approach to service design.

What’s Step 1?

For Insight, the first step is called “Understanding”

There are lots of ways to do this:

For Thinking, the first step is “Exploration”

  1. Understand company culture and goals.
  2. Identify the real problem.
  3. Visualize findings and underlying service structure of company.

For Time, the first step is “Qualitative Ethnographic Research”


On the other hand, if you’re working for a larger client with an established brand and business strategy, then you need to work out where and how you will innovate. The insights come from discovering what’s broken ‘behind the scenes’ and then moving outwards to the users.

What’s Step 2?

For Insight, the second step is called “Describing the Service Ecology”

  1. Create a service ecology map: connect the actors within a service using your insights research
  2. Use the service ecology map to create a service blueprint, which includes:
  • The user journey — phase by phase, step by step.
  • The touchpoints — channel by channel, touchpoint by touchpoint.
  • The backstage processes — stakeholder by stakeholder, action by action.

For Thinking, the second step is called “Creation”

For Time, the second step is a “Service Audit”

  1. Collect all service artifacts (anything the service produces).
  2. Zoom in to identify modules of each artifact (mention documents, people, policies, environments).
  3. Create a touchpoint catalogue, giving each artifact unique identifiers (names, codes, a brief description).


What’s interesting is that, for all the differences in vocabulary and tools, all the processes remain rooted in human-centered methodologies — user research, ideation. But, being services, there is much more emphasis on literal mapping, and the mapping of maps.

Thanks for reading along — would be happy to receive your feedback


A Publication by 23 Design.

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