Service Design: Pushing Us Beyond the Familiar

Some thoughts on the topic of Service Design which has been gaining momentum the past few months.

In the past, I have been lucky enough to be a part of organizations who trusted my leadership which in the end contained aspects of solving service design problems outlined in the below Wikipedia definition.

The ability for designers to understand customer needs, outline a plan, and organize strategies that enable business success is at the core of user experience. But in the past, I never considered service design a different category, from what an experience designers job tasks where until I began to understand the different characteristics. Empathetic, strategic, visionary and process-oriented are hugely important skillsets for modern day designers to have in the toolbox. But what exactly are the skillsets need to have for service design.

Service Design Overview

Service design is the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers.

Summary: Service design improves the experiences of both the user and employee by designing, aligning, and optimizing an organization’s operations to better support customer journeys.


Components of Service Design

People. This component includes anyone who creates or uses the service, as well as individuals who may be indirectly affected by the service. 

Examples include: 

  • Employees

  • Customers

  • Fellow customers encountered throughout the service

  • Partners 

Props. This component refers to the physical or digital artifacts (including products) that are needed to perform the service successfully. 

Examples include: 

  • Physical space:  storefront, teller window, conference room

  • Digital environment through which the service is delivered

    • Webpages

    • Blogs

    • Social Media

  • Objects and collateral

    • Digital files

    • Physical products

Processes. These are any workflows, procedures, or rituals performed by either the employee or the user throughout a service. 

Examples include: 

  • Withdrawing money from an ATM

  • Getting an issue resolved over support

  • Interviewing a new employee 

  • Sharing a file


Service Design Is an Extension of Digital UX Design

Most of today’s user experience work is done on some sort of digital device. It involves an application or web site. Solutions involve moving bits around on a display.

However, that isn’t the “total experience” a user has. Our shop owner didn’t only type data into a computer and produce reports. For him, the digital experience was only a piece of a total customer service experience.

If we’re going to truly create better user experiences, we need to know how to create better non-digital user experiences. We need tools and techniques for doing that, just like the ones we have mastered for our digital user experiences.

Service Design Pushes Us Beyond the Familiar

In digital user experience design, we think about a lot of things. We conduct user research. We work on the visual design, the interaction design, and the information architecture. We focus on the written copy and put together a content strategy to manage it.

In service design, all those things still exist. We still need to learn about who is involved in the service scenario, understanding what their goals are and how we’ll tell what success looks like. We need to ensure the experience looks good, feels right, and has everything the service participants need. And we need a process that gets the right information into the right hands at the right moment.