Service design is all about making the service you deliver useful, usable, efficient, effective and desirable.
It’s not intangible or about the feeling you give customers or users. It's about actual things, which service designers might call touchpoints. If you commission a service designer they might:
- Help you identify problem areas and generate ideas for improvement
- Redesign your products to improve the way they allow your customers to interact while they use a service.
- Design spaces so that they deliver a service more efficiently.
- Create printed material, websites, uniforms, adverts and the branded things that allow you to communicate what your service is all about.
So a service design project is a strategic project which uses design techniques like thorough client research, collaborative ideas generation and early stage prototyping and testing to deliver services that are built around the real needs of clients, that simplify complex problems and deliver solutions that are future focused and cost conscious.
Why use service design?
Three quarters of the UK economy is due to services and 80% of employment is service related. While half of the UK's manufacturers think design is crucial to competitiveness, our service industry, whether that's financial services, retailers or public services, are less convinced. Only one in 10 services businesses thinks design can set them apart and make them more competitive.
That means the UK's £1trillion service economy and its service business and public services are missing many opportunities to distinguish themselves from competitors by improving their offering, better communicating what they do or providing innovative new services.
The importance of services to our economy keeps growing and as our expectations of value for money from our public services keep rising, designers have started working with service providers to help them make their services better. This approach is often called service design, but it's maybe easier to start thinking about why it is that designers can help services.
- Designers have the tools and experience to understand what users want and need
- Their work combines technology, function and aesthetics, it's not just about the surface level
- They are issues-centred, and work on anything from saving the planet to making business opportunities
Watch this video of designer Bill Moggridge from service design firm IDEO explaining how he has worked with different businesses to create ideas for service improvements, engage different stakeholders, understand user perspectives then create a framework for service innovation.
Service design techniques
If you choose to work with a service designer there are some common tools and techniques they will use while developing your service. They will:
- Observe the situation. They might use ethnographic research techniques and tools like digital cameras and video recorders to capture insights
- Involve users. Games, brainstorming or spending a day in their life will help
- Create a blueprint of your service so you can see where everyone who delivers it, how they work and your customers fit into what you deliver. Find out more about service blueprinting
- Analyse the quality of your service. User feedback will be important here, but designers aren't just about emotional responses. They might consider the cost effectiveness of the way you deliver your service or look for opportunites your business could take advantage of
- Develop and map out ideas in a way that is easy to understand even if you aren't a designer. This will help you evaluate the ideas
- Prototype a new service. By acting out a service or getting staff members to try out use newly designed tools on each other designers can prototype new service delivery methods like an interactive map or questionnaire and test them early when failure won't cost a lot
- Create a toolkit at the end of the ideas stage to help you service providers procure what you need to make the service improvements the designers have created and tested
Roberta Tassi has compiled a website full of service design tools as part of her study at Politecnico di Milano. Browse through her extensive list of service design tools.
One line on service design
Marc Fonteijn from service design agency 31 volts defines service design in just one line and has asked other service designers to do the same on the 31 volts blog.
Marc's says service design is: 'When you have two coffee shops right next to each other, that each sell the exact same coffee at the exact same price. Service Design is what make you walk into the one and not the other.'
Nick Marsh from Engine Service Design responded with: 'Good service design is the process of deliberately crafting our experience and delivery of services, to make them more valuable for the people that use and provide them.'
Want to see how other people define it, or add your own definition? Visit the 31 volts blog
Service Designers visualize, formulate and choreograph solutions that are not yet available. They watch and interpret needs and behaviours and transform them into potential future services. In the process, exploring, generating and evaluating approaches are used similarly and a redesign of existing services is just as much a challenge as the development of new innovative services. Birgit Mager, Professor for service design at Köln International School of Design
Download a more in-depth explanation of service design by Birgit Mager from the Service Design Network.