Service Design



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What is Service Design?

There are numerous definitions for service design. According to The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, service design helps to innovate (new) or improve (existing) services to make them more useful, usable, desirable for clients and efficient as well as effective for organisations. [1]

This cross-disciplinary practice combines numerous skills for example in design, management, and process engineering.

There there is a variety of specific tools you can use to facilitate the service design process.

From Service Design to Changing the Customer’s Behaviour

On the other hand, it has been said that good service and customer experience are not enough to accomplish lasting competitive advantage anymore. Instead of focusing (only) on improving the service, you need to start thinking how you can change the behaviour of the customer. What problem could you solve for them? [3]

To succeed with this, you need to holistically understand what your customers are trying to achieve, and how they should change their behaviour to get there. And you need to make the change of behaviour an important indicator. [3]

Six Principles of Service Design Thinking

These six principles [1, 2] describe the essence of service design.


Consider the experience of all the parties affected by the service.

  • For example, you should have a genuine understanding of habits, culture, social context, and motivation of the customer.


Include stakeholders of various backgrounds and functions in the process.

  • For example managers, marketers, engineers, designers, frontline staff and customers.
  • Instead of thinking of creativity as a gift, think of it more as a process of listening to the ideas of the stakeholders and being able to articulate these ideas.


Explore, adapt, experiment.

  • Service design is an iterative process, it should come closer to the desired result as the number of iterations increases.


Visualise and orchestrate the service as a sequence of interrelated actions.

  • You can compare the service process to a stage play or movie – orchestrate the sequence of service moments well and communicate the wanted story through each touchpoint.
  • And remember that just like a stage play, a service moment also includes multiple backstage processes such as cleaning of the shop floor.


Research and prototype in reality.

  • Research needs in reality, prototype ideas in reality, and evidence intangible values as physical or digital reality. Physical evidence or artefacts can trigger the memory of positive service moments. This emotional association can enhance customer’s experience of the service.


Consider the entire environment of the service.

  • Intangible services take place in a physical environment, using physical artefacts and can also generate some form of physical outcome. A service should address the needs of stakeholders through the entire service and across the business.
  • Factor in all touchpoints as well as also alternative touchpoints and approaches. Map the mood and feelings of not only customers but all stakeholders throughout the service journey: the system design of an organisation, its culture, values, norms, organisational structure and processes are a prerequisite if you want to create a truly successful service.

Service Design Process

An iterative four step approach for designing services [1] is described below.

It is important to understand that this structure is iterative in its approach: at every stage of the process, it might be necessary to take a step back or even start from scratch.

In addition, the very first step of a service design process is to adapt the process itself, this varies from project to project.

Remember that you will always have to cope with dilemmas and paradoxes – you will need to make decisions taking into account your budget, resources and the views of your clients.


Do the background work.

  • Learn to understand the culture and goals of the organisation providing the service. Do they understand what service design thinking is? Is the organisation prepared for such a process?
  • Agree on the service designer’s role – to what extent the service designer has sovereignty within the creative process?
  • Identify the problem – it is important to understand the organisation’s point of view on a certain problem.

Identify the REAL problem.

  • You need to gain a clear understanding of the situation from the perspective of current and potential customers to design a successful service. Keep the big picture and, as far as possible, find out the true motivations behind customer behaviour.

Visualise/document your findings.

  • ..and the underlying structure of the services as far as possible. It is important to try to simplify complex and intangible processes.

Concept Design

Test and retest ideas and concepts.

  • Create and reflect – test and retest ideas and concepts. The goal is not to avoid mistakes, but rather explore as many mistakes as possible. The cost of mistakes during the concept design stage is marginal compared to the possible cost of failure after the launch.

Include all the main stakeholders.

  • ..and work with interdisciplinary teams. That includes customers, employees, and management as well as engineers, designers and other stakeholders involved in both the service design and service provision process.
  • This is the only way to create holistic and sustainable solutions. In addition, involving employees from the beginning help the employees understand the concept and buy into it.
  • Note that achieving co-creativity among interdisciplinary teams is a key feature of a good service designer.


Test and retest service concepts in reality.

  • Follow the same process as testing physical products. This consists of 1) Build prototypes based on the previously visualised ideas 2) Test these prototypes with a few customers or experts to gain feedback 3) Consequently improve the prototypes and retest them until they match expectations.
  • The intangibility of services creates a challenge here – you cannot simply put a service on a table and ask customers what they think about it. Therefore, it is important to prototype service concepts in reality, or circumstances close to reality. For example, you can take advantage of different staging and roleplay approaches from theatre.


Lead change.

  • Remember that the management of change is an art in itself. The implementation of new service concepts always demands a clearly defined process of change.

Communicate clearly.

  • Make sure there is a clear communication of the service concept, and it includes the emotional aspects of a service – the desired customer experience.
  • Remember that clear communication is a prerequisite for the motivation and engagement of employees, which again is crucial for a sustainable service implementation.

Get management commitment.

  • It is essential that the management is convinced of the service concept. They should not flinch from any resulting problems while the change is being implemented.

Solve problems efficiently.

  • Solve problems quickly and creatively. There will always be some unconsidered aspects that create friction. However, postponing solving these problems will often backfire at a later stage.

Review change.

  • Control the success of change. Ideally, after a change implementation will follow another exploration to evaluate its progress. This leads to the iterative process of service design thinking.

Move up to


  1. Stickdorn, Marc and Schneider, Jakob (2012). This is Service Design Thinking: Basics-Tools-Cases. The Netherlands: BIS Publishers.
  2. Tickdorn, Marc; Hormess, Markus Edgar; Lawrence, Adam; Schneider, Jakob (2019). This Is Service Design Doing: Applying Service Design Thinking in the Real World (Eight Release).
  3. Hirvonsalo, Johannes / Palmu (23rd April 2018). Palveluiden muotoilusta käyttäytymisen muotoiluun. Retrieved 4th December 2020.