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What is Service Design?


By: Marisa White
07/11/2019

Service Design continues to grow as priorities around human-centered design take center stage. However, many organizations struggle to understand—what is service design?

While many principals of Service Design also apply to other HCD methods including Experience Design, Design Thinking, UX, etc. there are uniquely specific proponents within service design that are exclusive to the practice.

Another point of interest includes the varying definitions around Service Design emergent due to the specific needs of certain organizations, industries, and departments. There certainly is no “one size fits all” approach, instead a nuanced and specific refinement of the common principals is often the recipe for success.

What is Service Design?

The most simplistic version of Service Design I like to use is simply:

Service Design is the Human-Centered Design of Services

But let’s take a deeper dive.

Service design starts with the goal of increasing satisfaction in quality & efficiencies between services and customers utilizing the organization of people, infrastructure, data, operations, and experiences to do so.

While there are many moving parts, the overall idea highlights the holistic nature of Service Design as a practice. Service Design is not focused on a singular touchpoint, channel, or experience, instead looks at all moving pieces involved in excellent service delivery as essential components in the design improvements.

One major principal to the above that all service designers emphasize is: Front Stage & Back Stage Players

Front Stage Players are the customer facing touchpoints involved in service delivery. Think of your experience at a bank. These front stage players include the interaction on the mobile app, your website, when you walk into the retail locations, the employees you interact with, perhaps even a billboard or subway ad. These are the experiences of service your customers interact and see.

Back Stage Players are the components of your service that are integral in the execution of a great experience, but your customer may not necessarily interact directly with. This for instance could be your internal processes, the data infrastructure, the training & employee experience, etc. This is typically the most complex piece of the equation.

Service Design looks to improve the front-stage interactions however, acknowledges and celebrates the immense complexity and necessity of the back stage optimization.

When taking this a step further, we must also evaluate: What is a Service?

Traditionally one will interact with Products or Tangible goods—think a pen, a water bottle, a laptop—and Services—viewed as intangible and untouchable such as the medical treatment, transportation, etc.

However, in today’s experience economy, the distinction is no longer clear resulting in what many view as the Product/Service Continuum. Companies do not sit soley in one extreme or the other, but instead often have a mix of both product and service.

For instance, a coffee shop has a product i.e. their coffee, but also provides a service of delivering and serving your coffee. An insurance company, such as Progressive, offers insurance coverage, but also may have a physical product that records your driving habits to achieve better rates. A food company sells a food product, but may also engage customers on community platforms that offer recipes as an outside service.


*image credited to Nielsen Norman Group

 Overall, there are truly native principals of Service Design that include:

Customer Centric—Service Design is intrinsically hyper focused on the end customer or user

Holistic—the design viewpoint must be inclusive to all influences to the desired end result

Evidence Driven—per the Design Thinking method, Service Design includes many points of testing, reiterating, and prototyping services to ensure they are built off user experience

Co-Creative—this may touch to the customer centricity, but more often refers to the backstage interactivity between departments



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