“Mexico City”, William Neuheisel, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why culture matters for Service Design

Ritual Ewer, Japan. Via: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Nespresso coffee machine, Jun Seita, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The cultural factor

A particularly interesting example of how a seemingly small part of a service offering can have a pretty big impact on how people experience that service, is that familiar moment where a Starbucks employee asks you for your name just before writing it on a paper cup. As some of us will recognize, having a name that is somewhat difficult to pronounce or write down could result in certain feelings ranging from awkwardness to shame or foreignness, sometimes even leading to the invention of a ‘Starbucks name’.

Understanding cultural identity to offer more ‘relatable’ service offerings

So much of traditional services are based on rituals. We could consider rituals as a collection of habits that form almost the ultimate form of expression of cultural identity: a collection of habits shared by a limited number of people that share a certain context and lifestyle. You could say that as a person, owning a certain cultural identity, you would unconsciously be used to do things in a certain way.

Traditional street food in Mexico City, VasenkaPhotography, licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Everything we design is a response to the specific climate and culture of a particular place.”
— Norman Foster

If we manage to fully consider the cultural identity of the people we design for during the design process and are able to translate that into innovative service offerings that still feel familiar enough to use, we could offer something of great value: experiences that do not exclude but rather feel like integrated into local culture. Because culture does matter when the goal is to offer a service that people can identify with.



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Merijn de Been

Likes to discuss avocados, design and monkey GIFs. Service designer in London.