Today’s service industry is all about creating better value and experience for users and improving their quality of life. Service Design is an emerging field that is helping service designers and managers in designing and delivering better services to their customers. As opposed to the traditional ways, technological developments improved products and services while also increasing customers’ expectations. Today’s customers demand products and services to not only perform their basic function but also go beyond that and enthrall them.

The Ultimate Guide to Service Design

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In this article, we will cover 1) what is service design, 2) the benefits of service design, and 3) a step-by-step process for service design.


Lots of metaphors are used to define Service Design. Service design is a roadmap comprising the steps and processes a customer of a service will undertake when using it. The Spider EU project defines it as a ‘journey’ that a user or customer will embark upon to go through a service. DIY Service Design, the toolkit, defines service design as “finding the most elegant way to help someone to do something.”

NI Business Info defines that the ultimate benefit of Service Design is not to improve upon aesthetical outlook of a product or service but to improve its operability and efficiency. Service design is a brainstorming procedure that brings together the design, web design, product design, graphic design, and business departments, such as consumer research, customer services, sales, marketing, together for deconstructing the user’s interaction and experience with a product and service and reconstructing it for betterment. One needs to envision and understand each step and how it would look and feel like to the customer, so that the service can be improved in the most creative way.

A Combination of Creativity and Practicality

Service Design is not just a logical and analytical approach towards improvement of a service but also a creative and innovative approach of doing things to set a product or service apart. James Rock, the managing director and chief business designer of Cultivar Consulting Limited, describes Service Design as a right-brain creative thinking and artistic process and not just cut and dried engineering. The Service Design process consists of intensive research and surveys as well as creative and visual content like storyboards, role plays and personas. It means viewing your own service from the outlook of your customer and walking in his/her shoes. Thus, Service Design is a science as well as an art.


Service Design ensures that the service actually gets used by users in the intended way and creates positive experiences, thus minimizing the need for costly and lengthy customer services. Engaging in a service design process benefits an organization in several ways:

Improves Sales

The application of the service design structure helps a business to understand the customers’ needs, demands and expectations, and create solutions in accordance to them. It adds enrichment to the customer’s experience and creates value for them. Customers’ positive interaction with the product or service means their retention and ultimately greater success and profitability for the business.

Creates Loyalty

The ultimate challenge for businesses in today’s competition driven era is not just attracting new clients but also retaining them in the long run. With availability of a wide range of service options, customers can switch services and brands very easily and thus are spoilt for choice. So enterprises have to look for ways to make their service or product distinct from their competition. Service design allows businesses to understand what customers are looking for and expecting from a service. They can then make their offerings adaptable and better suited to those needs. This vintage point can help them stand apart from their competition and retain their customers’ loyalty.

Strengthen the Brand and Identity

The service design approach allows enterprises to strengthen their brand. The service design process helps service managers to progress from the known to the unknown. It consists of the basic and yet critical evaluation of how the new envisaged product or service fits into the overall image and objectives of the company. Thus, the process helps an organization to stay true to its image and reaffirm its brand and stop it from steering away from its core values and objectives while offering a new service. Service design puts a brand to work, unlock its hidden potentials, and create and deliver value to the customers.

Improve Efficiency

Creative and imaginative steps involved in the service design process help firms improving the efficiency of their employees and procedures. It helps in elimination of wastage and allows team members to pinpoint areas where there is a resource drain or a bottleneck. Service design blueprints help businesses locate problematic areas and potential failure points and rectify them before hand. Engaging teams in the service design procedure allows them to envision the bigger picture and situate their role in it. It helps them understand why change and innovation is necessary in what they are offering and how they are offering it.

Reduce Redundancies

Envisioning the whole cycle of the service design process allows companies to take a bird’s eye view of their service and remove duplicative segments. It helps managers pinpoint where services might be converging or overlapping and it can help them straighten them out before hand. This way inconsistencies and ambiguities can be discovered within the process on and can be rectified. The process of elimination of redundancies conserves energy, improves staff’s efficiency and reduces costs.


Service design processThis process can be a fairly simple and straightforward one or a complex one with several converging and diverging points. Breaking down the entire process into steps, tracing and retracing your step backwards and forwards and around different areas of the service ensures that even the minutest details are covered, steps are thought through, problems are identified and rectified, promises are set, service is delivered, and expectations are met.

Step 1: Align Vision and Goal

This step is the starting point of a service design process. It decides how the service fits into the strategy of the company. A project may run too far ahead of the company due to ambitious working and innovations, and comparing them with the company’s vision statement and core goals can help the project team realign the service with the company’s desired outcomes. Here is how you can align a service with the company’s image and values:

  • Situate a product or service in the overall vision statement of the company.
  • Think of ways how designing a service supports the company’s goals in the best possible manner.

Step 2: Brainstorm

The next step is to place a creative and hard working team to sustain this vision and provide it a common space to work together, brainstorm and share ideas. Coming with ideas is easy and hundreds of ideas can be generated in very little time; however, execution tests the practicality of an idea. Solid, workable, and practical ideas tend to get buried under the rubble of the mediocre ones. Here are a few brainstorming tips to ensure that a good idea doesn’t go to waste:

  • Allow everyone to pitch ideas during the brainstorming session and participate equally in the service design process.
  • The Spider Project has an idea selection tool called ‘Ideation’ on its website through which the generated ideas can be sorted into the following broad categories i.e.,
    • Ideas those are unworkable, absurd, and unrealistic.
    • Ideas that are good but not workable or achievable at the moment; they can be saved and used for later.
    • Ideas that are original and will make a difference.
    • Ideas that are ordinary but should be included so as to achieve the minimum service standard.
  • Write down, act out and discuss ideas. Legal Design Tools website defines the brainstorming stage of the design service process as a way of getting ideas out of one’s head and out in the open. This way practical ideas will automatically get sifted from the impractical and absurd ones. It further recommends borrowing ideas liberally from sources to improve them further.

The “Diabetics Away Morning” is an example of a project that employed the above-mentioned ideation ways. A workshop was held with stakeholders and they were asked to give presentations and tell personal experiences through narrations. The designers onboard gathered ideas from the presentation and developed them further through discussion. They also illustrated some of the stories told in the workshop. Through these exercises, they could develop a process that would mark the users’ journey and develop a service process that could address the challenges the users were facing.

Step 3: Conduct a Market Analysis

Before a new service is launched or an improvement is being made in the existing one, extensive research needs to be done to situate the service in a context. At this step, you and your team can do the following:

  • Analyze the market size, trends and drivers for the service.
  • Understand the ways your envisaged service would address a gap in the existing market.
  • Then try to establish your own service stance i.e., whether you are breaking into a market as a new entrant, improving an existing service to satisfy and retain established customers, challenging your business competitors or willing to coexist with them, or looking for ways to establish yourself as market leaders.
  • Consider the users’ needs for the service and its potential tangible and intangible benefits to the customers, such as savings in terms of cost, gains in terms of quality and convenience.
  • You also have to weigh the pros and cons of launching the service at a certain point in time or not launching it altogether.

Step 4: Identify Barriers and Limitations

This is one of important steps of the service design process as it helps you put your ambitious ideas into the realistic realm.

  • Allow all team members to critically evaluate their own ideas and of others and identify weaknesses and kinks and iron them out. Remember service design is a learning opportunity and not a ground to prove others wrong.
  • Identify the internal and external barriers working against the service implementation. The Spider project encourages identifying the ‘brakes within an organization’ at this stage.
  • Also, set limitations and define boundaries within which you must situate your service.
  • Identify creative ways to work around these barriers and limitations.

Here is how the Holstebro Municipality in Denmark responsible for providing meals to the elderly overcame an emotional barrier. During the service design process, it learnt that many senior citizens were embarrassed to have a van titled “HOLSTEBRO MUNICIPAL MEAL SERVICE” parked outside their homes. Hence, they renamed their service ‘The Good Kitchen’ and experienced great success.

Step 5: Establish a User Profile/Personas

This is another critical step of the service design process. You must have spent lots of time and energy into your design process and think about the service, your organization’s aspirations and expectations from the service but you must answer the most important question: Who are the users of this service and how will they use it, and what are their expectations. An example of this step is a social work project titled ‘Social Inclusion of Seniors in Urban Centers’ conducted in Belgium. The service designers utilized creative techniques such as the “lotus blossom” and different “personas” (Spider Project Tool) to get an insight into the senior citizens’ needs, values and desires. Service designer and managers have to learn to step out of their own paradigm and think of the service from the users’ perspective in order to make it user friendly. Here is how you should go about this step:

  • Develop different types of fictitious personas or user profiles of your users.
  • Think about what your users do; where do they live; what do they do, etc; and endow them character traits accordingly.
  • List down the users’ possible motives in using your service when they have other options.

Step 6: Prototype and Test

This important step provides a creative, quick and inexpensive way of testing service ideas. It gives quick insights into what works and doesn’t. The Design Gym and Service Design Tools recommend the use of storyboards, hand-sketched screens and improvised props to facilitate the process. For instance, the UK based Lewisham Housing Options project developed as many as three prototypes during their service design process.

You can test prototypes of a service on your employees as well as engage a few real users. Here is how you should go about it:

  • Create mockups to create something as close as possible to the real environment.
  • Define the contact points at which the users will come across your service.
  • Develop a stepwise procedure of how they will interact with your service.

Step 7: Evaluate Users’ Experience

Customers’ interaction with the service leads to users’ experience. This aspect of the service design procedure ensures that the user’s experience with a service is a ‘wow’ moment and certainly not a ‘yuck’ one. It’s all about the feeling a user retain after using the service. This means conducting surveys with users or giving them brief questionnaires. You should focus on two areas:

  • Gather insights from the users about the service features that made the users happy and created moments of delight for them.
  • Inquire the users about the service features, which they found off putting.
  • Probe the users deeper and ask them if the service is:
    • easy to use with no or minimum assistance
    • useful for them in getting closer to their goals
    • valuable enough for them to desire it and pay money for it

Closely investigating customers’ expectations from a service will help service managers improve the service design.

Step 8: Get Feedback, Improve the Service, & Evolve

The Evolution step is the final phase of the service design process that is from conceptualization towards recommendation. Service Design is a cyclic process and means gathering feedback and feeding it forward. Thus, you should gather all the information that you have learnt from engagement in the above mentioned steps and use it to:

  • Identify gaps and fill them up
  • Define how you would define your service’s success
  • Develop metrics to gauge this success
  • Feed the results into your final product
  • Decide if you want to roll out a pilot version of the service or go towards full fledged implementation

Two companies might be offering a similar service but ultimately their respective design process will set them apart in terms of how users will experience this service. Better user experience is not just about creation of the best product but how this product is served to the customer. Service design is not just a process to improve a service but a process to touch upon and improve people’s lives.

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