Service Design Cover

Service Design

From Insight to Implementation

By Andy Polaine, Ben Reason & Lavrans Løvlie

Published: March 2013
Paperback: 216 pages
ISBN: 978-1933820-33-0
Digital ISBN: 978-1933820-61-3

Service Design is an eminently practical guide to designing services that work for people. It offers powerful insights, methods, and case studies to help you design, implement, and measure multichannel service experiences with greater impact for customers, businesses, and society.

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Polaine, Løvlie, and Reason provide an excellent treatment of the user experience side of service design. This valuable, practical handbook of design, provides copious examples for every step of the design process. This is a much needed, practical guide to the practice of service design.

Don Norman, Nielsen Norman Group, author of Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded

For anyone making the journey into the world of service design, this book, informed by its authors’ hard-won knowledge and field experience, should be your first stop.

Jesse James Garrett, author of The Elements of User Experience

This book is a great introduction to service design by people who shaped this approach from its early years on. It explains many established tools and methods with encouraging real-life cases. The authors succeed in generating a mix of inspiring hands-on examples that motivates the reader to instantly try some of the methods, while its content is based on well-researched scholarly literature.

Marc Stickdorn, editor and co-author of This Is Service Design Thinking

An easy-to-read introduction to service design, with great examples from one of the world’s leading service design agencies. A ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to become familiar with service design in theory, methods, and practice!

Prof. Birgit Mager, President, Service Design Network GmbH

We’ve had lots of excellent books on ‘design thinking’ in recent years, but the challenge for many readers has been to put the high-level theory into practice. Service design provides the most relevant methodology and this, surely, is the definitive book on that subject. There’s no better way to learn about service design than from those who have built it from the ground up. This is a concise, engaging, and practical guide to an important emerging field of design practice—and the authors create compelling vision about where it must go next. Required reading for private, public, and third-sector leaders alike.

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer, Design Council (UK)

Some 70% of economic activity in Western economies is in services—from babysitting to banking. Computer and telecommunications technologies have enabled the development of complex service systems that combine personal contact, physical artifacts, websites, and large software systems. Designing these well contributes to the well-being of citizens and to increased competitiveness and efficiency for the companies or public entities that provide them. This book, written by innovative pioneers in the field and based on their extensive experience, is an excellent description of a methodology for managing the complexity of the design of modern services to satisfy the needs of both consumers and providers.

Gillian Crampton Smith, Professor, Iuav University of Venice

Service Design provides a good balance of theory and practice with a great range of case studies to illustrate how the theory has been put into practice and the resulting difference that makes. This book is not to be missed for those with a passing interest in service design, new students of design, and old hands who can rebase their knowledge. This book takes the reader through the why, what, and how of service design. It illustrates the importance of people and their relationship with services, and showcases the collaborative approach of co-production and the value that it brings.

Dr. Lynne Maher, Director for Innovation and Design, NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: Insurance Is a Service, Not a Product
  • Chapter 2: The Nature of Service Design
  • Chapter 3: Understanding People and Relationships
  • Chapter 4: Turning Research into Insight and Action
  • Chapter 5: Describing the Service Ecology
  • Chapter 6: Developing the Service Proposition
  • Chapter 7: Prototyping Service Experiences
  • Chapter 8: Measuring Services
  • Chapter 9: The Challenges Facing Service Design


These common questions about service design and their short answers are taken from the book Service Design: From Insight to Implementation. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. Is service design just customer experience, user experience, or interaction design?
    No. They are close cousins to service design, but they are not the same, although work in both customer experience and user experience forms part of service design’s remit. We often use the term “user” instead of “customer” in the book, sometimes interchangeably, but sometimes because there are contexts in which a service user might not be a customer or because a service user might also be a service provider (such as a teacher or a nurse). Some projects lend themselves to different language—customers, partners, clients, patients—depending on the project context. Interaction and user experience design are often understood as design for screen-based interactions, but service design covers a broader range of channels than this. Some projects have a strong digital component, of course, so interaction and user experience design have an important part to play, but so do product design, marketing, graphic design, and business and change management.
  2. Is service design “design thinking”?
    Service design does, ideally, work at the strategic business level, connecting business propositions with the details of how they will be delivered. It also champions the idea of designing with people and not just for them (see Chapter 3). This may mean the use of terms such as “co-production” or methods that include multiple stakeholders within an organization, such as management and frontline staff. We see service design as distinct from design thinking in that it is also about doing design and implementation. It also makes use of designers’ abilities to visualize and make abstract ideas tangible.
  3. Why are there so many case studies from live|work?
    The most obvious answer to this question is that Ben and Lavrans are co-founders of live|work and thus have access to these projects from their own professional experience. The less obvious reason is that many service design projects are about innovation. The results of these projects filter into the public domain through new services or improvements to existing ones, but many companies want to keep their internal activities confidential. On the one hand, this is a good sign that service design adds real value to businesses (see Chapter 8). On the other hand, finding examples not covered by nondisclosure agreements is difficult. This is also the reason why there are few images of behind-the-scenes, in-process project work in the book.
  4. You do not mention [insert your favorite method here]. Why not?
    We cover many practical methods in Chapter 4, but due to space considerations we left out several methods that are common to all forms of design, concentrating instead on those specific to service design.
  5. Where are your references and sources?
    We have provided footnotes for the key references in the book, where appropriate, but we did not want to turn the book into an academic text. That is not to say our arguments are not robust or rigorously researched. We have hundreds of papers and references in our personal libraries. If there is something we should have credited or that is plain wrong, contact us on the book’s website ( and we will try to make amends, either on the site or in future editions. The Service Design Network ( and Jeff Howard’s excellent sites—Service Design Books ( and Service Design Research (—are good places to find service design resources.
  6. What is the best way to convince management to spend money on service design?
    This is the million-dollar question. In Chapter 8 we discuss strategies for measuring the return on investment in service design and how to think about measurement not just in terms of profits but also by considering other metrics in the triple bottom line of economic, social, and ecological benefits.
  7. Are you saying that service design can do everything?
    Service design is both broad and deep and necessarily covers many areas and disciplines, but as we argue in Chapter 9, we are not design superheroes who can do it all. Service design works best when designers collaborate with professionals from the disciplines appropriate to the project in hand.


  • Chapter 2 (PDF)
  • Chapter 6: published in UX Matters (March 18, 2013)
  • Chapter 2: published in Core77 (April 8, 2013)


If you have a job and live in a city, you may be sheltered from evidence that profound change is under way. But things you can’t see can be all too real. City centers bustle, restaurants are full, and shop windows sparkle, but like ghost images on the television, other realities impinge—eerily empty railway stations, newly built malls that never open, well-dressed people lining up at soup kitchens.

These small signs are the visible evidence of a global system under extreme stress. One cause of that stress is the amount of energy needed to keep it all going. A New Yorker today needs about 300,000 kilocalories a day once all the systems, services, networks, and gadgets of modern life are factored in. The difference in energy needed for survival in the preindustrial era and our own complex lives is 60 times—and rising.

Another cause of stress is the remorseless drive for growth. When the new Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, gave his acceptance speech to the Italian Senate at the end of 2011, he used the word growth 28 times and the words energy and resources zero times. This supposed technocrat neglected even to mention the biophysical basis of the economy that had been put in his charge. He did not see fit to discuss the fact that cars, planes, and freight; buildings and infrastructure; heating, cooling, and lighting; food and water; hospitals and medicines; and information systems and their attendant gadgets all depend on a continuous flow of cheap and intense energy. And this flow is under a duress that can only intensify.

Could economic growth be decoupled from energy growth and expand to infinity that way? Why not grow a service-intensive economy of high-priced haircuts, storytelling, and yoga lessons? This would be a pleasing solution— Service designers save the world!—were it not for one thing: multiplying money always expands an economy’s physical impacts on the Earth somewhere down the line. Indefinite GDP growth on a fixed energy income is not going to happen.

Rather than wait for a global switch to renewables that is not going to happen either, a multitude of communities are exploring how to meet daily life needs in ways that do not depend on the energy throughputs that we have become accustomed to in the industrial world. For every daily life-support system that is unsustainable now—food, shelter, travel, healthcare— alternatives are being innovated. These innovations can all benefit from service design expertise.

In the radically lighter economy whose green shoots are now poking above the ground, we will share all resources, such as energy, matter, time, skill, software, space, or food. We will use social systems to do so, and sometimes we will use networked communications. Local conditions, local trading patterns, local networks, local skills, and local culture will remain a critical success factor—and so will service design.

This book is timely and welcome for all these reasons. It will be invaluable for practicing professionals—but also, one hopes, for clients everywhere. Service design is a collaborative activity; everyone involved can benefit from the skills and insights in the pages that follow.

John Thackara
Marseilles, France, October 2012
Author, In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World


Thanks to our editor, JoAnn Simony, and to our publisher, Lou Rosenfeld, for their enormous patience, support, and guidance as we hashed out the structure of this book and knocked it into shape. Thanks also to the Rosenfeld production team for all their work getting the book into its print and digital forms.

Thank you to Dave Gray and Jess McMullin, who reviewed the early manuscript, and special thanks to John Thackara, who also reviewed the manuscript and wrote the inspiring Foreword.

Thanks to Chris Risdon, Lucy Kimbell, John Kolko, and Christina Tran for their contributions from their practice, and to all of the staff at live|work both past and present, whose thoughts, practical tips, and work appear throughout the book. Much of the text on insights research tips and tricks comes from Rory Hamilton and Jaimes Nel sharing their experiences. In particular we wish to thank John Holager and Anders Kjeseth Valdersnes, who helped set up the live|work Oslo office, and Tennyson Pinheiro and Luis Alt, who brought live|work to Brazil. Our thanks also to Gjensidige for allowing us to publish the extensive case study of their business, and to Giles Andrews from Zopa and Joe Gebbia from Airbnb, who both gave their time to talk to us about their innovative business models.

Finally, thanks to all the many people upon whose shoulders we stand and upon whose work service design has been built.


Thanks to my family for their support, and to my colleagues, conference attendees, service design community, and Twitter followers for helping me refine my ideas. Thanks are due to my students, whose challenging questions and problems have helped clarify my own. I would also like to acknowledge the memory of Andy Cameron, who passed away in 2012 at far too young an age. He was a mentor for me, and his insight and intellect greatly shaped my own thoughts about people, culture, interactive media, and as a result, service design. Finally, thanks to Ben and Lavrans for being my co-authors. Any errors or omissions in the book are, of course, entirely their fault.

Andy Polaine


First of all, thanks to Chris Downs, the original founder of live|work, for his exceptional creativity, generous intelligence, and insulting sense of humor. The experience of starting live|work together was a gift beyond our dreams.

Thanks to Gillian Crampton Smith, who first introduced us to the history and future of interaction design at the Royal College of Art at the end of the last century, and then helped us develop service design through teaching at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea at the beginning of the new century.

Thanks to mentor and friend Birgitta Cappelen for never-ending inspiration and support.

Bill Moggridge, who sadly passed away shortly before publication of this book, was a huge inspiration and support for our practice and our writing. We would have loved to show this book to him.

Thanks to Colin Burns for practical support in the early years of live|work. Thanks to all our engaged and passionate clients and partners with whom we have broken new ground. You are too many to mention, but you know who you are.

Finally, thanks to Andy, who got the idea for this book off the ground, continually drove the writing process forward, and committed to the tremendous task of single-handedly making it all come together in the end. This is your book.

Lavrans Løvlie and Ben Reason