Service Design: Raising More Questions Than Answers?

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  • Megan Grocki has written piece over at UX Magazine called Service Design: Setting The Stage For The Consummate Experience. She starts with running through some of the key influences from marketing, which is part of her background, and runs through a general overview of service design.

    It’s definitely worth a read if this is new to you, but for us the element of people is what is critical. The key is hidden in one sentence in Megan’s piece: “It means that every one of a company’s employees understands that customer care is an integral part of the job”. Service design is designing with people and not just for them and it’s in that subtle distinction that service design differs, often, from UX, CX, marketing and IxD. With public services, in particular, there may be no “customer” as such, or we might not be designing for them. Healthcare is a situation in which we might be have a project working with nurses, for example. What are they – customers or service providers? The answer is both. They provide services to patients and doctors, but they also use services within the hospital. In most other ways of dealing with user/human-centred design, regardless of discipline, designers are either on one side of the fence or the other. Service design tries to take in the whole ecosystem.

    The main reason from blogging this here, though, is because of the comments to Megan’s piece. Margot Bloomstein and John W Lewis (whose comment turned into a blog post) both raised eyebrows at the possibility of service design doing everything it claims to do. There is obviously a need to clear up some skepticism and that’s part of the goal of our book. Service design does deal with a holistic approach to uncovering complex relationships and working to design a coherent whole. This process is pretty hard to describe in a single blog post, hence the book. It’s also easier to understand when you have a case study in to look at rather than in the abstract. We find most people get their “Aha!” moment at this point.

    So, our question to you is, “What are your questions?” We know there is skepticism about the breadth and depth of service design, but we also know we have worked on projects that cover this breadth and depth (one of which will be in the book). As a professional from UX, IA, IxD, CX or marketing (or others?), what do you feel you need us to explain or prove the case of?

    3 Responses to “Service Design: Raising More Questions Than Answers?”

    1. Thanks so much for reading my article and for spinning your thoughts into this post.

      I love that people have so many excellent questions about service design, and I am thrilled that you’re trying to answer them in your upcoming book.

      I’m looking forward to reading the book and further participating in the discussions that will further define and shape service design.


    2. Thank you for referring to my post. As I do not claim to be a professional in any of the fields that you list, perhaps my questions are of a different type.

      In any case, my desire for clearer definitions in the field of “service design” does seem to be shared by some others.

      The words “service” and “design”, individually, have such a variety of meanings that their combination still leaves much to the imagination. The understanding of the term is not increased if the answer to question: “does it mean A or B or C?” is “yes” or “all of them”!

      I agree that examples are helpful, provided that it is clear which aspect of the example relates to “service design”.

      My sense, as a newcomer to the term, is that there might be something significantly new here, but it will clearly take some time to find an explanation of quite what it is.


    3. My experience of explaining and teaching service design is that many people tend to say, “ah, it’s just the same as [insert discipline]” because they recognize many of the methods. It’s not until they actually try and work through a project that they understand the full difference, which is, as some of the tweets mention, about working with people as much as anything else. Most of the conversations I hear comparing it to user experience design, for example, tend to be focused on digital touchpoints only. If a SD project only has one or two digital touchpoints as the outcome it would be a very similar process, but that’s not usually the case. The connections and interactions between the touchpoints, people and organisation are an important part of the design process that often gets left out of other discipline areas because they’re usually focused on one point of interaction. In process diagrams, you often see arrows connecting parts together and those arrows are assumed to just work – part of service design is paying attention to the design of those arrows. Many organisations build shining cities as each of their main points of interaction, but they’re connected by muddy tracks. People spend a lot of time traveling between those cities, so the tracks are important.


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