This is not Service Design

In my work as a service designer I encounter very different ideas of what service design is in action. The methodology is increasingly viewed as a credible process of service product development, but this has not always been the case. In this blog post I want to address a few of those misunderstandings.

“We wanted to try out service design and arranged an ideation workshop”

I heard this quote while participating in an event looking for new ideas to improve healthcare. Although ideation workshops are often used during a service design process, on their own they are not effective. The ideas need to be connected to a deep understanding of the customer and service context. If not, they don’t leave the design desk and are forgotten.

It is important to understand that service design, along with more traditional product design, is a process that brings together various levels of design expertise and combines it with customer needs to create service products that support the client’s strategy. To shorten this to a single-use nice method such as ideation does not serve our clients or us service design professionals.

Check out this book for more on the service design process.

“We started service design by asking people for experiences and ideas”

When talking about service design, one often refers to customer insights in the early part of the process. However, by simply asking people for ideas one does not gain a deep understanding of customer needs. They mostly don’t understand how the business works or what technological opportunities might be available. Often they are not even aware of the needs they might have themselves.

Instead, customers are the sole experts of their own experience. The task of service designers is dive deeply into the world of customers and to surface with an understanding of needs that arise from differing lifestyles, values, feelings and other deeply hidden traits. This is the stuff that new service innovations are made of.

Find out more about design research techniques.

“Service designers only listen to the customer and don’t consider if it’s profitable for the business”

The latest research on services states that value is created through a co-creation process between the organisation and their customers. This theory is called service-dominant logic. According to this view, placing customer value and business value against each other is not constructive.

Service design processes should always be collaborative in nature, and we bring our clients together with their customers to co-create ways for improving the service. That way ideas that do not provide value for both parties are discarded among the first ones.

Read more about service-dominant logic.

“Can you train our staff as service designers in five days?”

Our Ambassador trainings are highly popular among our customers since they give a good overview of service design and some practical training in the methods. However, it is important to understand that service designers graduate with a bachelor’s or master’s degree from programmes that are highly competitive and last for several years.

Five days of training helps you in taking your first steps, but more importantly they initiate a change process towards a more customer-oriented organisation. We have found that once our clients have a better understanding of service design, collaboration becomes more productive and the results are more tangible. In our Transformation Design Programme we support our clients in making this change.

Check out universities offering service design degrees near you.

“Service design is just a fad created by product designers.”

The ongoing change from an industrial society to a service economy is getting stronger and affects the design world as well. The share of services in GDP is rapidly growing and successful products increasingly resemble services (Iphone, Nest, Fitbit). Service design is created in response to this megatrend and it elevates the capabilities of designers to a strategic level.

Designers are expected to understand how services operate, even if they only design products. Service design — developed during the past 30 years — is still new and not without growing pains, but interest in its utilisation is booming as tangible results start stacking up.

The writer is a senior service designer at the Helsinki and London based service design agency Hellon.