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GuidesUser experience (UX)Introduction to service design

Introduction to service design

Last updated

13 April 2023


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With products and services ever-evolving, businesses must innovate to keep up with trends. Service design simplifies this process. 

Do you want to create a better experience for your team and customers? Keep reading.

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What is service design?

Service design involves planning business resources and internal operations to improve customer experience. 

It aims to achieve a cohesive experience flow between the organization and end users. In addition, service design ensures services suit the needs of users and customers better. 

This process considers all the touch points of the user journey map. Whether it’s a new or existing product, service design focuses on what customers need at each stage of service delivery. 

Service design does the following for an organization:

  • Improves efficiency and effectiveness of existing services

  • Identifies new value to add to a service

  • Creates unique user experiences

  • Provides direction for achieving goals

UX vs. service design

At first glance, UX and service design may look the same. However, UX design primarily focuses on the user experience of a service or product. On the other hand, service design targets innovative ways to deliver quality user service.

Service designers analyze the tangible and intangible components to understand how an organization works. This creates a holistic experience for users and customers.

Another significant difference is that the critical components of UX design are usability and ease of navigation. Service design elements are infrastructure and operational model design. 

A brief history of service design

Lynn Shostack first introduced service design in 1982. She proposed that companies should understand how internal processes interact with each other. Initially, service design was considered a marketing topic and mostly referred to customer support. 

Over the years, scholars began building on Shostack’s idea that companies need to design services like products. 

In 2002, Prof. Dr. Michael Erhoff initiated a department at Koln International School of Design, which provided service design education. 

Due to technological changes, service design has evolved alongside other disciplines. In today's world, almost every company offers a form of service design. 

Benefits of service design

Service design is a holistic approach with endless benefits to service providers and customers. Here are some of the benefits: 

Foster departmental collaborations

Service design optimizes internal processes by fostering collaboration. 

Traditionally, most companies have departments that don’t communicate. Service design breaks down these organizational silos by visualizing information flows and ensuring collaboration is a key company value. 

This encourages employees to work in alignment to improve service delivery.

Exposes misalignment in organizations

Service design enables organizations to devise working solutions. It focuses on uncovering procedures within internal processes that could be detrimental to the organization’s productivity. 

Eliminates redundant processes

Service design pinpoints duplicate processes and unearths ways to mitigate wasted efforts by identifying ideas that drain resources or don’t work. Eliminating redundancies reduces operational costs and improves efficiency. 

Ensures the delivery of value to the customer

Service design considers the customer's experience and pain points during the early stages of service development. This helps organizations prioritize initiatives in a user-centric manner, creating a seamless customer experience. 

Components of service design

The components of service design are:

  • People: This encompasses anyone who creates or uses the services, including customers, employees, or partners.

  • Processes: These are the procedures relevant to workflows, such as making a transaction or hiring employees.

  • Props: These supportive elements help you provide the service, and they can be physical or digital:

    • Physical artifacts can be a storefront or conference room.

    • Digital artifacts include social media, websites, and blogs.

The five principles of service design

Incorporating an effective service design into an organization's system can be challenging, but these principles can help:

1. User-centric

For a business to be successful, it must design its services around its users. 

To understand what your users want, ask them about their thoughts, feelings, and goals when using your service. This can help your company improve an existing service or generate ideas for a new one. 

2. Co-creative

While developing service design, involve stakeholders in the process. Co-creation allows you to share different perspectives on the services you’re developing. 

3. Sequencing

Visualize services as sequences in a customer's journey. Every customer follows three distinct sequences: Pre-service, during service, and after service. Sequencing determines the lead time of a project. 

4. Evidencing

Evidencing involves helping team members understand what stage the customer is in, so they can get the best service. 

When dealing with a large or complicated project, it can be challenging for team members to focus on all the details. Visual aids such as images and graphs can improve the service design, and customers will be satisfied with the end product. 

5. Holistic

A holistic service considers every aspect of the user journey. Therefore, your company should design services to address stakeholder needs. A service designer should consider all the experiences and journeys of different users. 

How to do service design best

Here are some of the best approaches to service design: 

Step 1: Clarify the brand's vision 

First, clearly understand the brand's vision and decide how the service fits the company's strategy. Next, consider a service design that supports your vision or end goals. 

Step 2: Fully understand customer needs

Before launching a new service or improving an existing one, thoroughly analyze your customer's needs. 

Customer-oriented organizations tend to be more productive. Therefore, a customer's needs should be a top priority when approaching service design. Create a customer feedback system to get insights and stay updated on customer needs. 

Some of the questions you can ask yourselves are:

  • What are their challenges?

  • What are their hopes and dreams?

  • Does your service reflect their needs, such as affordability, convenience, or quality?

Step 3: Invite new ideas

Generating new ideas is a vital part of service design. Brainstorming is an effective tool during design ideation, allowing team members to get ideas out in the open. Conduct workshops and let the participants discuss service design ideas. 

Here are some brainstorming tips to ensure a successful workshop:

  • Allocate equal time to each participant and allow them to pitch their ideas. 

  • Write down all the service design ideas and discuss them.  

Step 4: Prototype and test service ideas

Prototyping creates a vision of a service concept. Co-create with stakeholders to incorporate all the factors relevant to service delivery. 

To prototype: 

  • Create mockups of a service design that closely resembles what you want to offer.

  • Eliminate service design ideas that do not add value to the users and customers.

  • Determine the processes and steps users must follow when interacting with the service.

  • Test the service idea. 

Step 5: Implement and gather feedback

Once you’ve decided on the best service design prototype, roll out your service design.

Service design is a cyclic process that requires regular feedback and service improvements. Evaluate customers' experiences by conducting surveys that examine the ease of use.

From here, you should develop performance metrics to gauge the success of service delivery. It’s also vital to use agile development methodology to stay on top of trends to consistently deliver what your customers need.

This approach focuses on adaptability, flexibility, collaboration, and efficient workflows.


What are four examples of service design?

Here are four examples of service design: 

  • Customer service systems

  • Patient care systems

  • Airport check-ins

  • Online shopping processes

What disciplines comprise service design?

  • Ethnography

  • Interaction design

  • Process design

  • Information and management sciences design

What is the role of a service designer?

A service designer is responsible for improving user experience by observing various touchpoints and identifying challenges in the system.

What is good service design?

A good service design is holistic, user-centric, collaborative, and properly sequenced. It should meet customer needs while remaining sustainable for the service provider.

What is CX versus service design?

Customer experience (CX) aims to increase overall customer satisfaction, while service design aims to improve service quality and the interaction between employees and customers.

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