Service Design — The what and why

Service Design 101 and a curated reading list for beginners.

With more organizations embracing design as a critical component of their business strategy, product or UX design is no longer a myth. If designing products is something that we’re getting good at, what does it mean to design a service? And why we need service design?

What is Service?

To understand service design, we need to first understand what a service is and each of its components.

If we zoom out from the interaction between your customer and your product and look at the customer experience holistically, we will find that a digital product is only one of the many touchpoints within that experience. Service is a meaningful relationship formed by all the different types of interaction between your organization and your customer.

Designing for Multi-touchpoint Experiences — Jamin Hegeman

Now let’s look at the example of a Mickey Mouse toy vs. visiting Disney World. UX designers strive to optimize the interaction between a user and a single product. On the other hand, Service Designers work their magic on the entire experience from greeting by your favourite character to getting a Mickey Mouse ice cream and everything in between.

What is Service Design?

Because of the dynamic nature of service design, it is challenging to define the term. Here is a classic example provided by 31 Volts.

What is Service Design? A tale of two coffee shops — Fjord

After reading a number of great definitions, I’ve combined some of my favourite ones from Birgit Mager and Simon Clatworthy and created this summary.

Why do I need Service Design in my organization?

Now, all that stuff sounds cool, but why do I need it? Let’s talk about the value of Service Design.

1. Drive revenue and ROI by breaking down barriers between product and service design

The Business Value of Design — McKinsey Quarterly

Service design applies human-centred design principles to customer experiences that are beyond products. It is evident that companies that blur the line between product and service and master design as a whole discipline have gained a great amount of business value.

In McKinsey’s report, the Business Value of Design, top-quartile companies that embrace the full customer experience and break down barriers among physical, digital, and service design, have outperformed industry-benchmark revenues and ROI growth by as much as two to one.

According to the New Design Frontier by InVision, 92% of companies that rank at the highest levels of design maturity can draw a straight line between the efforts of their design team and their organization’s revenue.

2. Build differentiation and loyalty by delivering value outside your products

Great service is also tied to differentiation and loyalty. As early as 2009, it was estimated that poor customer experiences led to $83 billion of lost business in the US alone. Today, in the 2019 Customer Experience ROI Study, customer experience leaders generated a total cumulative return that was nearly three times greater than that of the customer experience laggards; furthermore, most customers are even willing to pay more if they are sure of a better experience according to the Customer Experience Impact Report.

Studies have demonstrated people find more happiness through experiences than objects. Empowered customers are now expecting more than a good product. A delightful and memorable experience is what makes your organization stand out in this saturated and competitive market.

3. Break organizational silos by applying collaborative service design tools

It seems obvious that customer experience is critical but why so many organizations get it wrong? One of the possible answers is the way organizations are structured. Most of the organizational units have been constructed around work functions and different units have their own viewpoints on what is important.

It usually requires a lot of cross-functional collaboration in order to create a seamless customer experience. So the question is, how can organizations orchestrate collaboration across silos to deliver true customer value? Book a series of alignment meetings with all the stakeholders? HELL NO.

The synergetic and agile nature of service design tools provides the perfect answer. Service Blueprint, for example, is a service design tool that depicts the orchestration of people, processes and touchpoints of a service. Service blueprint helps organizations solve the complexity of their service experiences and ecosystems by visualizing interconnections and dependencies, aligning multiple stakeholders, and prototyping new service innovation.

Service Blueprints: Definition — NNGroup


Design Industry has been evolving from visual design to UX design to service design to business design... The essence to me is that design is a problem-solving methodology that can be applied to various disciplines. It is on us designers to keep exploring the potentials and demonstrate the value of design in different context.

Thanks for reading! What does the future hold for design industry? I would love to hear your stories and thoughts. If you want to chat about design strategy, service design, business design or just want to say hello, connect me via LinkedIn.

Explore Further

Service Design 101 — Practical Service Design

Service Design and UX Design: What’s the Difference?

02 Service Design Blueprint Workshop — Divergent Thinking

The difference between a journey map and a service blueprint

Browse the Collection of Books for Service Designers

“So you want to be a service designer” by Jamin Hegeman — YouTube

What is Service Design? A tale of two coffee shops on Vimeo

Mindsets, Tools and Terminology of Experience Design

Service Design |

How to Design a Better Customer Experience — HBS Working Knowledge — Harvard Business School

This is Service Design Doing — Book / School / Methods

Practical Service Design

A Practical Guide to Combining Products and Services

From touchpoints to journeys: Seeing the world as customers do | McKinsey

Harnessing the Power of Strategic Relationships for Innovation | frog

Intro to Service Design Thinking & Doing

Business Design |

Service Design Events

Grantmaking service blueprints: Aligning people, process, and tech for impact

Design Strategist | Toronto | When the WHY is clear, the HOW is easy.