What is a service: a co-created definition through Instagram

Service Design Mexico
Published in
4 min readDec 10, 2018


It is a norm that in the courses we teach we talk about services before entering into the definitions of service design, this helps us generate a common language and know that when we talk about services we are talking about the same thing.

In the classrooms we have done co-creation exercises to involve the students in the definition of these words. Something we have seen is that the typical “book” descriptions feel inadequate, a service is too many things, it does not fit all in one definition.

Another thing that we have observed is that all the definitions we use come from Anglo-Saxon countries. Could it be that our way of seeing and living services in Latin America is different? Through the courses we have found it so. If services are usually described as complex, in our Latin idiosyncrasies they may become even more complex.

It also seems that this perceived complexity is what can keeps people away from considering services as something designable. How is the intangible designed? We see these reactions mainly from companies immersed in digital transformation, who prefer to devote all their resources on creating digital products, and completely forgetting other touchpoints such as customer service. Perhaps the words we use to describe services are partly to blame (and also that the concept of service design is still little known around here, with little success stories to inspire yet).

Digital co-creation

Instagram has kept busy with the design of features for their stories, and has launched several elements with great potential to interact with people. We wanted to take advantage of the question tool to do a co-creation exercise with our network.

We published a survey asking our followers to tell us their definition of services in spanish. The experiment was productive and we were able to know the opinions of more than two dozen people who answered both in the module and by message (since the module has a very small limit of characters).

We see similarities in the digital answers about what we have talked before in our courses, some recurring themes are:

It helps you achieve a goal
It is a set of activities through touchpoints
They are relationships between people and companies
A service is an experience that a client lives
Responds to a need
It leaves you in a better condition after carrying out the process
Generates value for both parties and various actors (suppliers, customers, etc.)
It is an intangible product
It is an intangible relationship
It is a sales process
It’s a temporary acquisition of something

We can contrast these ideas with more traditional definitions, such as the American Marketing Association (1960), one of the first institutions to describe a service: “Services are activities, benefits or satisfactions which are offered for sale, or are provided in connection with the sale of goods.”

Another typical definition is that of Kotler and Bloom (1986) “A service is any activity or benefit that one party can offer to another that is essentially intangible and does not result in the ownership of anything.” And one of the most recent, within This is Service Design Doing (2018), a service is “A co-creation of value that solves problems or helps to achieve goals.”

Having clarity about what people have in mind when talking about services helps us identify the elements that can be designed. What all these terminological discussions have in common is that customers simply do not care if something is called product, service or experience, in the end what they seek is to achieve an objective in the best possible way.

Do you have another definition of service? Share it in the comments.



Service Design Mexico

Service Design México is an institution dedicated to training in service design to promote this practice in our country.