We’ve always been told that in basic economics, businesses provide either goods or services and little else. However, since the dawn of the information age, this binary division has become far more complex to gauge, let alone understand. Nowadays, it’s far more of a spectrum, with organizations sitting on one end, the other, or somewhere in between. This can be seen with the exponentially growing industries of entertainment, and gaming, in which the traditional labels of ‘goods’ and ‘services’ are used interchangeably at any moment. Product design and service design share a similar divide as well.
While it’s fairly straightforward how products could be designed, those unfamiliar with it may ask what is service design? Or how does one go about designing a service? That’s what we’re breaking down in this article, along with tools that designers can add to their toolkit when designing for service.
Service design can be defined as the actions and decisions made in designing systems and processes aimed at delivering a smooth, holistic, and satisfying service to the user. Every service we use or partake in has been designed and curated carefully to provide the most satisfying and smooth an experience as is possible.
To make it clearer, let’s illustrate a service design example, opening an account with a new bank, where the user journey would look something like this:
- Researching the bank in question, as well as inquiring about the type of account in question.
- Filling out the required forms, communicating with bank representatives
- Scheduling a document dropoff at a physical location, or scanning your documents through an app.
- Successfully opening the account, and receiving the materials associated with it, ie. checkbook, debit card.
Everything in this journey was dictated in some part by a service designer, who carefully curated every step of the process. As can be seen, service design covers a much wider area than just UX design Sofia Gomes breaks this down with a brilliant analogy saying:
“ UX design is like looking after one tree, whereas service design would be akin to tending to an entire garden”.
The entire ecosystem of users and their interactions with a business is the ‘designs’ in question. Service design lies somewhere between UX design and the entirety of CX design (consumer experience design).
Service design is normally from the organization, for the users, whereas process design is the opposite, an effort from the organization to better improve its own processes. The starting point for service designers could be one of two scenarios:
- Taking an existing service, and attempting to redefine, or streamline its design.
- Starting afresh with a brand new service, and defining its design from the first step onwards.
Sarah Gibbons of the Nielsen Norman Group likens the entire service design process to a stage play. In this analogy, the audience is the users, and the director of the production happens to be a service designer. Most interestingly, she breaks up the functions of the service design process into two, a ‘frontstage’ and ‘backstage’ area.
The frontstage processes are those intended to be seen by the audience, or the user. These include touchpoints and channels of communication with which users interact with the brand, as well as products and interfaces which they interact with in order to attain or utilize the service in question.
The backstage processes of service design never come into contact directly with the user of a service, but is equally important as any other function, as it pulls the strings for the frontend. These roles will be fulfilled by the likes of technology, infrastructure, and systems that aid in delivering the service directly to the audience or supplementing it in some way shape, or form.
Service design is defined by five key tenets, which permeate through all aspects of the craft. Every one of these principles lies at the heart of service design and are necessities for a brand or company to effectively curate the ecosystem in which their users operate.
As mentioned above, all activities in service design are aimed towards the user. Any changes or additions made to processes carried out by businesses are made in order to ensure that the user on the end of it walks away happier. Additionally, before any design or redesigning is carried out, research is gathered from the users to see where and how the design of the services can be improved. All-in-all, users lie at the heart of all service design.
This principle of service design states that all stakeholders must be involved in all aspects of the service design process. While the previous point mentioned users, in particular, all other internal and external stakeholders are considered when making design decisions with regards to services. These could include employees, associates, external contractors, or agencies.
All of the service design involves taking a complex process, and breaking it down into as small pieces as possible, in order to optimize each individual task for the user, this is the principle of sequencing. To continue the aforementioned example of service design, while applying for a bank account appears a simple enough process from a user’s perspective, it involves hundreds of moving pieces and cogs for designers to consider, in order to deliver a satisfactory experience. Each individual variable being optimized is very much in the job profile of a service designer.
Evidencing is exactly as the name suggests, that the service a company provides should serve as ‘evidence’ for the image or value that their brand carries. It takes all the intangibles associated with a company’s image and makes it a real-life experience for users to partake in. For example, Amazon’s brand is associated with convenience, because the service design of their delivery system is so top-notch.
Finally, we come to the fifth principle of service design, that being, holistic. This means that all touchpoints which can be accessed by a user are covered, and designed for. So everything from the biggest interaction, to the smallest communication with a user is accounted for and designed. As mentioned, every service is broken into its smallest pieces and optimized, which is the definition of service design being holistic.
Much like with all other fields in design, service designers have a number of tools at their disposal, which they can utilize at different stages of the service design process. These allow them to either better understand their user, and how they interact with the service, or delve deeper into the service itself, and make decisions to improve how it’s integrated into the lives of users.
Customer Journey Maps
Customer journey mapping essentially plots the course which customers will take when opting for, or using a particular service. As mentioned above, service design is a vast process and has to be taken piece by piece to be even remotely possible. These customer journey maps track every individual step a user takes when having any interaction with a service, it maps touchpoints, points of difficulty, or even communications.
These in turn allow designers to isolate all the touchpoints between users and services, and optimize these using the designer’s toolkit. The touchpoints are also labeled with ‘thoughts and feelings’ which describe how the service designer would like the user to feel at any particular point of interaction with a company, naturally, this lays out a clear framework for how to work towards these perceived interactions.
Also, channels are highlighted, since many interactions can take place through multiple channels, for example, to reach out to a service provider, you could call, use email, or even ping them on social media, all of which have to be accounted for by a service designer. All-in-all customer journey maps allow service designers to break every touchpoint into its finest pieces, and work backward to create a cohesive experience.
UX designers will be no strangers to the creation and use of personas. A persona is in essence a fictitious character created by a designer, to act as an analogous to the user. Basically, through countless hours of research, interviews, and data collection, designers isolate the most crucial personality traits and attributes of their ideal user, or users, and create personas. These personas could include things such as wants, needs, income, aspirations, favorite brands, and so much more.
The purpose of personas is far more complex than simply characters. They allow designers to more effectively empathize with the user, by putting themselves in their shoes. This empathy allows for more accurate designing, for a more specific group, or groups of users. In essence, all users are different, so being able to pigeonhole them into personas makes service design far more efficient and effective.
Another effective way is if a company offers many services to all kinds of different users, as with the bank example above, where different types of accounts or cards would be given to different users. Creating personas can help distinguish the tone and appearance of how brands are presented, based on the type of users which will interact with them. This can be seen in action with our work on RBL’s Credit Card system redesign, which you can read about here.
Storyboards and Sequences
Lastly, storyboards and sequences can help elevate the service design process, by giving designers an even more holistic view of how the service incorporates into the lives of users. While a consumer journey map is far more technical and scientific in nature, storyboards and sequences tend to be more artistic, and narrative-based from a design perspective. In essence, a storyboard resembles a small comic strip, highlighting the user’s interaction with a service, or any other touchpoint with the service provider.
This allows designers to layout the exact narrative or emotion they wish for the user to live through when interacting with a particular touchpoint. In terms of working backward, this is perhaps the most useful tool for all service designers, seeing as user emotion, feeling, and satisfaction is what all service design processes are nucleated around. This also helps place the designer alongside the user in order to answer some key questions: “where will the service be used?”, and “in what context will the user find the service most appropriate”.
All told, while service design is a relatively unknown facet of design, certainly in comparison to its contemporaries of UX and UI design, it’s no less important. Its principles advocate for more inclusive design, with a user-first focus, which design should ideally always be.
Additionally, the designers who work on services must be versatile in their toolkit, and what they bring to the table in terms of problem-solving, in addition to ecosystem management. Being able to design something, on the macro-level as a service is an integral part of creating a memorable customer experience. Additionally, the responsibility of tending to an entire ecosystem allows for end-to-end control in service design processes, allowing designers to truly express themselves with additions and subtractions to the established formula.
Originally published at https://www.onething.design on February 2, 2021.