Defining Service Design: Establishing a 5-Principle Framework
The authors of This Is Service Design Thinking refreshingly call attention to the fact that no concrete definition of service design exists. Instead of attempting to summarize service design in a neat, mission-statement-like paragraph, Stickdorn and Schneider show how service design truly is an amalgamation of disciplines, including product design, graphic design, operations management, and, of course, interaction design. Service design does not pretend to be the new kid on the block—different from everything that’s come before. On the contrary, service design relies on various existing methods, tools, deliverables, and processes, as well as the expertise of many in these interdisciplinary fields to do it right.
What the authors do provide is a list of the basic principles of service design—as a framework for working in service design. This is where synergies and opportunities for the user experience and interaction design disciplines become apparent.
Services should be user centered. They should be “experienced through the customer’s eyes.” Unquestionably, this first principle is where UX professionals can influence the field of service design the most. Considering the customer is fundamental to any work we do. However, I see placing the emphasis on being simply user centered rather than people centered as a missed opportunity. As the authors’ second principle explains, service design is co-creative—that is, “all stakeholders should be included in the service design process.” It’s critical to consider all constituents who are part of a service—including managers, back-office employees, front-office employees, designers, and programmers—and design interactions through their interactive and participatory engagement in the process. Therefore, implying that the customer is at the center of the experience may put unequal weight on their needs during design, when we should consider everyone’s needs equally.
Sequencing is the visualization of a service “as a sequence of interrelated actions” and documenting the individual process steps and touchpoints that comprise a service experience. Evidencing is the visualization of “intangible services … in terms of physical artifacts.” Evidencing makes visible to customers the elements of a service that help them to proceed optimally through the service experience, appreciate the intricacies of the service and exhibit loyalty. The authors use the example of the folded toilet paper in hotel rooms as an example of subtle, but effective evidencing of a hotel’s housekeeping service.
Experience design professionals often integrate sequencing and evidencing into their work. For example, creating user scenarios and flow diagrams for the experience of interacting with a mobile application is a form of sequencing. Making behind-the-scenes processes visible—like the wait time for loading a video—is an example of evidencing. However, as much as experience design aspires to be all inclusive, it often focuses solely on the digital world, so its opportunity for impact becomes stifled.
This is where the fifth principle of service design becomes most relevant: service design is holistic and “the entire environment of a service should be considered.” As the authors advise: “Genuinely working in a holistic way is an illusion, it is simply impossible to consider every single aspect of a service. However, the intention should always be to see the wider context in which a service process takes place.” They continue by explaining that “the system design of an organization, its inherent culture, values and norms as well as its organizational structure and processes are important issues for the design of services … [and] can help promote a service mindset within the organization and to articulate the importance of employee and customer motivation.”
As an advocate for simplicity, I’d like to further coalesce the five principles of service design that the book presents. Service design places importance on
- people—both customers and service providers
- participatory, ethnographic processes and approaches
- tangible, visualized design artifacts
The remainder of This Is Service Design Thinking covers the following topics in discreet sections:
- Who are service designers?
- What is the process that service designers follow?
- What are examples of tangible deliverables, tools, and case studies that result from the service design process?
Who Are Service Designers?
In their book, the authors leverage articles that subject-matter experts from seven different disciplines have written: product, graphic, interaction, and social design; strategic and operations management; and design ethnography. And they admit that their list of disciplines is not exhaustive. Each article details a point of view (POV) or case study that illustrates how a discipline contributes to service design. The phrase contributing to is critical; people in these diverse disciplines do not claim that they should necessarily own the full set of processes, activities, and deliverables of service design. Rather, these professionals leverage their own unique discipline to provide the necessary perspective to address a service-related problem at hand. For example, graphic designers may develop an intuitive wayfinding and signage system to support visitor navigation at a trade fair, or product designers may work with an elevator company on concepts to help improve the efficiency and flow of people in a shopping mall.