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    What is Service Design and Why Does it Matter?

    Learn the fundamentals of service design.

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      Vaughan Broderick

      Vaughan Broderick

      Service Design is all about creating value for customers using a service, the organisation providing a service, by choreographing the interactions, technology and processes throughout the lifecycle.

      It helps deliver human-centred services that improve customer and staff experiences and helps the organisation optimise its operation or even transform the service entirely.

      You can probably recall a time where you had the choice of two similar services at a comparable price. Service Design is likely what made you choose one over the other.

      The History of Service Design

      Service Design grew out of the methodologies used by typical design practices in the 1990s and onwards.

      Sitting at the intersection of customer experience and design thinking, it can innovate services, transform workplaces help inform and implement strategies.

      Suppose we think about the industrial revolution transforming industries with machinery and processes.

      And the post-world war two eras of large scale production businesses got better at mass producing widgets.

      Service Design is the next frontier of solving service problems, designing value propositions and business models, and the processes that enable organisations to deliver value to customers.

      The Principles of Service Design

      As Service Design has evolved, so too have the underlying principles. I subscribe to the new principles of service design doing:

      1. Human-centred. It considers all people that create, use or are indirectly affected by the service.
      2. Collaborative. Bringing all the stakeholders together to break down silos and actively engage with the process.
      3. Iterative. Taking a discovery, evolving and experimental approach that continually refines the design and implementation.
      4. Sequential. Visualising the service as orchestrated, interrelated activities and actions.
      5. Real. Researching, prototyping and testing the intangible as either physical or digital reality.
      6. Holistic. Addressing the needs of all stakeholders across the entire service and organisation, including considering before, during and after.

      You may have noticed the similarity with design thinking. So, if you’re familiar with design thinking, then Service Design may be a natural fit.

      service design

      Service Design Basics

      Anyone can learn service Design, and you don’t need to be a ‘creative type’.

      However, if you are starting then, I would suggest taking on a project that is not too big or is a sub-part of a more extensive service but is important enough to get stakeholder buy-in.

      1. Conduct research. Understand the perspectives of all stakeholders using empathy-based qualitative research.
      2. Simplify. Deconstruct complex services into smaller process steps and user journeys.
      3. Current state. Build out all the insights, touchpoints, pain points into the current state of the service that you have learned during research.
      4. Ideate and prototype improvements. Use service design techniques to envisage and test new service elements, alternatives, workflows and objects with users.
      5. Eliminate and streamline. First, eliminate anything that doesn’t add value. Then, streamline the processes to make them more efficient.
      6. Future state. Build the future state of your redesigned service using specific service design tools that can help articulate the service and system for stakeholders.

      6 Iterate. Continue refining the service and components to bring about the necessary change and vision for the service.

      Key Tools of Service Design

      Some numerous tools and techniques can help in service design. However, there are a few that are core to the practice:

      • Personas. A fictional representation of your service users and may include demographics, interests and behaviours. A persona helps keep the person at the centre of the design journey.
      • Journey Maps. These display the touchpoints, pain points, critical moments as a customer ‘journeys’ before, during and after the service.
      • Systems Maps. These could be stakeholder maps, value network maps or eco-system maps. Depending on the zoom level or information you need to understand complex systems, you may use one or all three.
      • Service Blueprints. Service Blueprints extend journey maps and incorporate the front stage and backstage of service operations. For added depth, include an emotional journey or storyboard.

      Want to learn some more tools for generating insights? Read this post.

      Service delivery eco-system map

      Learn More About Service Design

      Check back regularly as I add more content freely available.

      There are numerous books on the subject. Some of my favourites that are available here:

      • Designing the Invisible by Lara Penin
      • Customer-driven Transformation by Joe Heapy, Oliver King and James Samperi
      • This is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stckdorn and Jakob Schneider

      The Service Design Network has a list of Universities providing formal training.

      In the meantime, here’s an insightful article about eco-systems by Jesse Grimes.


      Service Design is a rapidly developing and in-demand skill set.

      Commercial and non-profit organisations of all sizes benefit from the unique approach to designing services that transform and enable superior customer experiences, increase employee satisfaction and improve the organisation’s operations and overall competitiveness.

      Additionally, organisations often experience increased collaboration, clarity, communication and embrace solving problems using more designerly practices.