Service design

Service design is the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers. Service design may function as a way to inform changes to an existing service or create a new service entirely.

The purpose of service design methodologies is to establish best practices for designing services according to both the needs of customers and the competencies and capabilities of service providers. If a successful method of service design is adapted then the service will be user-friendly and relevant to the customers, while being sustainable and competitive for the service provider. For this purpose, service design uses methods and tools derived from different disciplines, ranging from ethnography[1][2][3][4] to information and management science[5] to interaction design.[6][7] Service design concepts and ideas are typically portrayed visually, using different representation techniques according to the culture, skill and level of understanding of the stakeholders involved in the service processes (Krucken and Meroni, 2006).[8]


Service design practice is the specification and construction of processes that delivers valuable capacities for action to a particular customer. Service design practice can be both tangible and intangible and it can involve artifacts or other elements such as communication, environment and behaviors.[9] Several authors of service design theory including Pierre Eiglier,[10] Richard Normann,[11] Nicola Morelli,[12] emphasize that services come to existence at the same moment they are being provided and used. In contrast, products are created and "exist" before being purchased and used.[12] While a designer can prescribe the exact configuration of a product, s/he cannot prescribe in the same way the result of the interaction between customers and service providers,[6] nor can s/he prescribe the form and characteristics of any emotional value produced by the service.

Consequently, service design is an activity that, among other things, suggests behavioral patterns or "scripts" to the actors interacting in the service. Understanding how these patterns interweave and support each other are important aspects of the character of design and service.[13] This allows greater customer freedom, and better provider adaptability to the customers' behavior.


Early service design and theory

Early contributions to service design were made by G. Lynn Shostack, a bank and marketing manager and consultant,[14] in the form of written articles and books.[15][16] The activity of designing service was considered to be part of the domain of marketing and management disciplines in the early years.[15] For instance, in 1982 Shostack proposed the integration of the design of material components (products) and immaterial components (services).[15] This design process, according to Shostack, can be documented and codified using a "service blueprint" to map the sequence of events in a service and its essential functions in an objective and explicit manner.[15] A service blueprint is an extension of a customer journey map, and this document specifies all the interactions a customer has with an organization throughout their customer lifecycle.[17]

Servicescape is a model developed by B.H. Booms and Mary Jo Bitner to emphasize the impact of the physical environment in which a service process takes place[18] and to explain the behavior of people within the service environment, with a view to designing environments that accomplish organizational goals in terms of achieving desired behavioral responses.

Service design education and practice

In 1991, service design was first introduced as a design discipline by professors Michael Erlhoff and Brigit Mager at Köln International School of Design (KISD).[19][20] In 2004, the Service Design Network was launched by Köln International School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University, Linköpings Universitet, Politecnico di Milano and Domus Academy in order to create an international network for service design academics and professionals.[21]

In 2001, Livework, the first service design and innovation consultancy, opened for business in London. In 2003, Engine, initially founded in 2000 in London as an ideation company, positioned themselves as a service design consultancy.[22]

Service design principles

The 2018 book, This Is Service Design Doing: Applying Service Design Thinking in the Real World, by Adam Lawrence, Jakob Schneider, Marc Stickdorn, and Markus Edgar Hormess, proposes six service design principles:[23]

  1. Human-centered: Consider the experience of all the people affected by the service.[23]
  2. Collaborative: Stakeholders of various backgrounds and functions should be actively engaged in the service design process.[23]
  3. Iterative: Service design is an exploratory, adaptive, and experimental approach, iterating toward implementation.[23]
  4. Sequential: The service should be visualized and orchestrated as a sequence of interrelated actions.[23]
  5. Real: Needs should be researched in reality, ideas prototyped in reality, and intangible values evidenced as physical or digital reality.[23]
  6. Holistic: Services should sustainably address the needs of all stakeholders through the entire service and across the business.[23]

In the 2011 book, This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases,[24] the first principle is “user-centred”. "User" refers to any user of the service system, including the organization's customers and employees. Thus, the authors renewing “user-centred” to “human-centred” in their new book, This is service design doing, to make the meaning clearly that human includes service providers, customers, and all others relevant stakeholders. For instance, service design must consider not only the customer experience, but also the interests of all relevant people in retailing.[24]

“Collaborative” and “iterative” come from the principle “co-creative” in this is service design thinking.[24] The service exists with the participation of customers, and is created by a group of people from different backgrounds. In most cases, people tend to focus only on the meaning of “collaborative” emphasizing the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of service design, but ignored a service only exists with the participation of a customer. Therefore, in the definition of new service design principles, the "co-creative" is divided into two principles of "collaborative" and "iterative". "Collaboration" is used to indicate the process of creation by the entire stakeholders from different backgrounds. "Iteration" is used to describe service design is an iterating process keeping evolve to adapt the change of business posture.

“Sequential” means that service need to be logically, rhythmically and visually displayed. Service design is a dynamic process of a period of time. The timeline is important for customers in the service system. For example, when a customer shop at an online website, the first information showed up should be the regions where the products can be delivered. In this way, if the customer finds that the products cannot be delivered to their region, they will not continually browse the products on the website.

Service is often invisible and occurs in a state that the user cannot perceive. “Real” means that the intangible service needs to be displayed in a tangible way. For example, when people order food in a restaurant, they can't perceive the various attributes of the food. If we play the cultivation and picking process of vegetables in the restaurant, people can perceive the intangible services in the backstage, such as the cultivation of organic vegetables, and get a quality service experience. This service also helps the restaurant establish a natural and organic brand image to customers.

Thinking in a holistic way is the cornerstone of service design. Holistic thinking needs to consider both intangible and tangible service, and ensure that every moment the user interacts with the service, such moment called touchpoint, is considered and optimized. Holistic thinking also needs to understand that customers have multiple logics to complete an experience process. Thus, service designer should think about each aspect from different perspectives to ensure that no needs are missing.


Together with the most traditional methods used for product design, service design requires methods and tools to control new elements of the design process, such as the time and the interaction between actors. An overview of the methodologies for designing services is proposed by Nicola Morelli in 2006,[5] who proposes three main directions:

  • Identification of the actors involved in the definition of the service by means of appropriate analytical tools
  • Definition of possible service scenarios, verifying use cases, and sequences of actions and actors’ roles in order to define the requirements for the service and its logical and organizational structure
  • Representation of the service by means of techniques that illustrate all the components of the service, including physical elements, interactions, logical links and temporal sequences

Analytical tools refer to anthropology, social studies, ethnography and social construction of technology. Appropriate elaborations of those tools have been proposed with video-ethnography[3][4] and different observation techniques to gather data about users’ behavior.[25] Other methods, such as cultural probes, have been developed in the design discipline, which aim to capture information on customers in their context of use (Gaver, Dunne et al. 1999; Lindsay and Rocchi 2003).

Design tools aim at producing a blueprint of the service, which describes the nature and characteristics of the interaction in the service. Design tools include service scenarios (which describe the interaction) and use cases (which illustrate the detail of time sequences in a service encounter). Both techniques are already used in software and systems engineering to capture the functional requirements of a system. However, when used in service design, they have been adequately adapted to include more information concerning material and immaterial components of a service, as well as time sequences and physical flows.[5] Crowdsourced information has been shown to be highly beneficial in providing such information for service design purposes, particularly when the information has either a very low or very high monetary value.[26] Other techniques, such as IDEF0, just in time and total quality management are used to produce functional models of the service system and to control its processes. However, it is important to note that such tools may prove too rigid to describe services in which customers are supposed to have an active role, because of the high level of uncertainty related to the customer's behavior.

Because of the need for communication between inner mechanisms of services and actors (such as final users), representation techniques are critical in service design. For this reason, storyboards are often used to illustrate the interaction of the front office.[27] Other representation techniques have been used to illustrate the system of interactions or a "platform" in a service (Manzini, Collina et al. 2004). Recently, video sketching (Jegou 2009, Keitsch et al. 2010) and prototypes (Blomkvist 2014) have also been used to produce quick and effective tools to stimulate customers' participation in the development of the service and their involvement in the value production process.

Public sector service design

Public sector service design is associated with civic technology, open government, e-government, and can be either government-led or citizen-led initiatives. The public sector is the part of the economy composed of public services and public enterprises. Public services include public goods and governmental services such as the military, police, infrastructure(public roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, etc.), public transit, public education, along with health care and those working for the government itself, such as elected officials. Due to new investments in hospitals, schools, cultural institutions and security infrastructures in the last few years, the public sector has expanded. The number of jobs in public services has also grown; such growth can be associated with the large and rapid social change that is calling for a reorganization. In this context, governments are considering service design for a reorganization of public services.[28]


In 2002 MindLab, an innovation public sector service design group was established by the Danish ministries of Business and Growth, Employment, and Children and Education.[29] MindLab was the one of the world's first public sector design innovation labs and their work inspired the proliferation of similar labs and user-centered design methodologies deployed in many countries worldwide.[30] The design methods used at MindLab are typically an iterative approach of rapid prototyping and testing to evolve not just their government projects, but also government organizational structure using ethnographic-inspired user research, creative ideation processes, and visualization and modeling of service prototypes.[29][30][31] In Denmark, design within the public sector has been applied to a variety of projects including rethinking Copenhagen's waste management, improving social interactions between convicts and guards in Danish prisons, transforming services in Odense for mentally disabled adults and more.[29]

United Kingdom

In 2007 and 2008 documents from the British government explore the concept of "user-driven public services" and scenarios of highly personalized public services.[32][33] The documents proposed a new view on the role of service providers and users in the development of new and highly customized public services, utilizing user involvement.[32][33] This view has been explored through an initiative in the UK. Under the influence of the European Union, the possibilities of service design for the public sector are being researched, picked up, and promoted in countries such as Belgium.[34]

Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) (also known as Nudge) was originally part of the UK cabinet and was founded in 2010, in order to apply nudge theory to try to improve UK government policy, services and save money. As of 2014, BIT became a decentralized, semi-privatized company with Nesta (charity), BIT employees and the UK government each owning a third of this new business.[35] That same year a Nudge unit was added to the United States government under president Obama, referred to as the ‘US Nudge Unit,’ working within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.[36]

Health care

Clinical service redesign is an approach to improving quality and productivity in health. A redesign is clinically led and involves all stakeholders (e.g. primary and secondary care clinicians, senior management, patients, commissioners etc.) to ensure national and local clinical standards are set and communicated across the care settings. By following the patient's journey or pathway, the team can focus on improving both the patient experience and the outcomes of care.

Private sector service design

A practical example of service design thinking can be found at the Myyrmanni shopping mall in Vantaa, Finland. The management attempted to improve the customer flow to the second floor as there were queues at the landscape lifts and the KONE steel car lifts were ignored. To improve customer flow to the second floor of the mall (2010) Kone Lifts implemented their 'People Flow' Service Design Thinking by turning the Elevators into a Hall of Fame for the 'Incredibles' comic strip characters. Making their Elevators more attractive to the public solved the people flow problem. This case of service design thinking by Kone Elevator Company is used in literature as an example of extending products into services.[37]

See also


  1. Ylirisku, Salu Pekka; Buur, Jacob (2007). Designing with Video, focusing the user-centred design process. Springer. ISBN 978-1-84628-961-3.
  2. Segelström, Fabian; Raijmakers, Bas; Holmlid, Stefan (January 2009). "Thinking and Doing Ethnography in Service Design" (PDF). Linköping University, Department of Computer and Information Science. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  3. Buur, Jacob; Binder, Thomas; Brandt, Eva (2000-01-01). "Taking Video beyond 'Hard Data' in User Centred Design". Participatory Design Conference.
  4. Buur, Jacob; Soendergaard, Astrid (2000-01-01). "Video card game". Video card game: an augmented environment for user centred design discussions. Designing Augmented Reality Environments. pp. 63–69. doi:10.1145/354666.354673.
  5. Morelli, Nicola (2006-12-31). "Developing new product service systems (PSS): methodologies and operational tools". Journal of Cleaner Production. 14 (17): 1495–1501. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2006.01.023.
  6. Holmlid, Stefan (2007-05-27). "Interaction Design and Service Design, Expanding a Comparison of Design Disciplines". Nordes. 0 (2). ISSN 1604-9705 via in proceedings from Nordic Design Research Conference, Design Inquiries.
  7. Sophia, Parker; Heapy, Joe (2006-07-01). "The Journey to the Interface, how public service design can connect users to reform" (PDF). Demos.
  8. Morelli, Nicola; Tollestrup, Christian (2009-02-23). "New Representation Techniques for Designing in a Systemic Perspective". Nordes (published 2007). 0 (2). ISSN 1604-9705 via Nordes.
  9. Hollins, Bill; Shinkins, Sadie (2006). Managing Service Operations: Design and Implementation. SAGE. p. 8. ISBN 978-1848604667.
  10. Eiglier, Pierre (June 1977). Marketing Consumer Services: New Insights. Monograph, Report No 77-115. Cambridge, Mass: Marketing Science Institute. p. 128. ISBN 978-9992800508.
  11. Richard, Normann (2000). Service Management : Strategy and Leadership in Service Business. Wiley. ISBN 978-0471494393.
  12. Morelli, Nicola (2002). "Designing Product/Service Systems, A Methodological Exploration" (PDF). CMU. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Volume 18, Number 3. Retrieved 2018-02-22.
  13. Holmlid, Stefan (2012-01-01). Designing for Resourcefulness in Service: Some Assumptions and Consequences. ResearchGate. Lapland University Press. ISBN 9789524845519.
  14. "G. Lynn Shostack Archives". Marketing Classics Press. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  15. Shostack, G. Lynn (1982). "How to Design a Service". European Journal of Marketing. 16: 49–63. doi:10.1108/EUM0000000004799.
  16. Shostack, G. Lynn (1984-01-01). "Designing Services That Deliver". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  17. "Service Blueprints - Communicating the Design of Services". The Interaction Design Foundation. 2018. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  18. Hooper, Daire (2013). "The servicescape as an antecedent to service quality and behavioral intentions" (PDF). Journal of Services Marketing, Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  19. Moritz, Stefan; Mager, Birgit (2005). "Service Design, Practical access to an evolving field". Issuu. p. 66. Retrieved 2018-02-22.
  20. Lazier, Meghan. "What is Service Design?". Designlab. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  21. Fineman, Andrea; Brandenburg, Thomas. "SDN U.S. National Conference". Service Design Network (SDN). Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  22. "Service design background and evolution". Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  23. Stickdorn, Marc; Hormess, Markus; Lawrence, Adam; Schneider, Jakob (January 12, 2018). This Is Service Design Doing: Applying Service Design Thinking in the Real World (first ed.). Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media. ISBN 1491927186.
  24. Stickdorn, Marc; Schneider, Jakob (2011). This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. ISBN 9781118156308.
  25. Kumar, Vijay (2004-01-31). "User Insight Tools, A Shareable Database for Global Research" (PDF). Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).
  26. Parker, Christopher J.; May, Andrew; Mitchell, Val; Burrows, Alison (2013). "Capturing Volunteered Information for Inclusive Service Design: Potential Benefits and Challenges". The Design Journal. 16 (2): 197–218. doi:10.2752/175630613x13584367984947.
  27. E.g. Albinsson, L., M. Lind, et al. (2007). Co-Design: An approach to border crossing, Network Innovation. eChallenges 2007, The Hague, The Netherlands.
  28. Leadbeater, Charles; Cottam, Hilary (2009-07-01). "The User Generated State: Public Services 2.0". Social Enterprise Partnerships. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  29. Bason, Christian (2013). "Design-Led Innovation in Government". Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). Stanford University. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  30. "MindLab: The evolution of a public innovation lab - The Governance Lab @ NYU". The Governance Lab @ NYU. 2016-03-07. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  31. "Look to Government—Yes, Government—for New Social Innovations". Harvard Business Review. 2014-11-20. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  32. "User Involvement in Public Services, Sixth Report of Session" (PDF). Public Administration Select Committee, The House of Commons, London: The Stationery Office Limited. 2008-05-07. Retrieved 2018-02-23.
  33. "Policy Review, Building on progress: Public services" (PDF). Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. March 2007. Archived from the original on 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2018-02-23.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  34. Thoelen and Cleeren (ed.), Public Service Design. A guide for the application of service design in public organisations, 2015
  35. "'Nudge unit' privatisation unveiled". BBC News. 2014-02-05. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  36. "Executive Order Formally Establishes US 'Nudge Unit'". Behavioral Scientist. 2015-09-16. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  37. Stickdorn, Marc; Schneider, Jakob (2011). This is Service Design Thinking (2015 ed.). Hoboken New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons. pp. 63–64. ISBN 9781118156308.

Further reading

  • Bechmann, Søren (2010): "Servicedesign", Gyldendal Akademisk.
  • Blomkvist, J. 2014. Representing Future Situations of Service. Prototyping in Service Design. PhD, Linköping University.
  • Brand Flu, M., Løvlie, L., Reason B. (2016) Service Design for Business: A Practical Guide to Optimizing the Customer Experience. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 1118988922
  • Curedale, Robert Service Design Process & Methods 3rd Edition, Design Community College Inc.,2018.ISBN 978-1940805368
  • Curedale, Robert (2018). Mapping Methods 2: Step-by-step guide Experience Maps Journey Maps Service Blueprints Affinity Diagrams Empathy Maps Business Model Canvas (2nd ed.). ISBN 978-1940805375.
  • Gaver B., Dunne T., Pacenti E., (1999). "Design: Cultural Probes." Interaction 6(1): 21–29.
  • Hollins, G., Hollins, Bill (1991). Total Design : Managing the design process in the service sector. London, Pitman.
  • Jegou, F. 2009. Co-design Approaches for Early Phases of Augmented Environments. In: LALOU, S. (ed.) Designing User Friendly Augmented Work Environments: From Meeting Rooms to Digital Collaborative Spaces, Computer Supported Cooperative Work. London: Springer.
  • Krucken, L. & Meroni, A. 2006. "Building Stakeholder Networks to Develop and Deliver Product-Service-Systems: Practical Experiences on Elaborating Pro-Active Materials for Communication". Journal of Cleaner Production, vol 14 (17)
  • Løvlie, L., Polaine, A., Reason, B. (2013). Service Design: From Insight to Implementation. New York: Rosenfeld Media. ISBN 1-933820-33-0.
  • Lindsay, C. and S. Rocchi (2003). "'Highly Customerised Solutions' – The Context of Use Co-Research Methodology". Innovating for Sustainability. 11th International Conference of Greening of Industry Network, San Francisco.
  • Manzini, E., L. Collina, et al. (2004). Solution Oriented Partnership. How to Design Industrialised Sustainable Solutions. Cranfield, Cranfield University. European Commission GROWTH Programme.
  • Miettinen, Satu and Koivisto, Mikko (Eds.): Designing Services with Innovative Methods. Publication series University of Art and Design Helsinki B 93. Kuopio Academy of Design. Taitemia Publication Series 33. Otava. Keuruu. 2009.
  • Moritz, S. (2005). Service Design: Practical access to an evolving field. London.
  • Normann, R. and R. Ramirez (1994). Designing Interactive Strategy. From Value Chain to Value Constellation. New York, John Wiley and Sons.
  • Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. New Jersey, John Wiley and Sons.
  • Ramaswamy, R. (1996). Design and management of service processes. Reading, Mass., Addison–Wesley Pub. Co.
  • de Reuver, M.; Bouwman, H.; Haaker, T.: Mobile business models: organizational and financial design issues that matter, in: Electronic Markets, 19, 1, 2009, pp. 3–13.
  • van de Kar, E.; den Hengst, M.: Involving users early on in the design process: closing the gap between mobile information services and their users, in: Electronic Markets, 19, 1, 2009, pp. 31–42.
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