The following discussion is about design and about services. It
begins by taking the position that the phrase “Service Design” points
at good work that needs to be done, but that the phrase itself is
used in a way that unnecessarily restricts the understanding of both
services and design.
The purpose of this discussion is to present a line of thought, and it
does not represent any special body of work or special interest
outside of itself. Editorially, this discussion is focused on removing
the capitalization of the words in the phrase “Service Design”, as
well as the quotes around it.
Views different from what appears in the following are welcome as
additional investigation of ways to clarify the recognition of what
design does to help produce a service. This discussion may be
updated, unilaterally, at any time.
One risk of “thought leadership” is that front-runners might promote runaway thinking…
Service Design is the name of an at-risk idea. Oddly, what puts it at risk is its popularity –
that is, as a topic in many lines of thought that together either blur or debate the
definition of Service Design while insisting on its importance…
The following notes look into the idea with the attitude that its evangelism should be
distinguished from its explanation, and that its explanation should be sensible without any
evangelism at all.
The assumption is that the relationship between how a service can be meaningful and
how a design can be meaningful is not a new thing.
An additional assumption is that the intersection of service and design does not define
service nor define design.
The question is, what does design bring to the probability of a service being successful?
“Service Design” should be a label for the collective answers to that question, and part of
the answer must obviously be a working definition of “success”.
• Missionary zeal accounts for a lot of the energy that is put into developing
and defining practices.
• The importance of the mission is to give an unwavering sense of direction
to the decisions made about what and why something should be done or
• In other words, mission provides the reason why something has priority
and why something would be deemed “effective”.
• Within the perspective of the mission, organizing effective things may
involve simple things or complex things.
• The importance of zeal is to promote the stamina and urgency that is
required to discover where simplicity is good enough, and to create where
complexity is necessary.
• Having seen the relationship of mission to effectiveness, and of effectiveness to
simplicity/complexity, we have a consistent way to sort out the ideas about practices.
• For example, some ideas are mainly about how to identify and use simplicity, or how
to build successful complexity.
• Some ideas are about how to deliver, manage and support the intended impacts of
• Other ideas are mainly about why the mission is important.
• The sorting is useful because we keep running into elaborate thinking that foregoes
making use of those distinctions, which creates confusion about whether that
thinking is offering new knowledge or instead just ignoring prior knowledge.
• An example of this confusion often accompanies the subject of Service Design.
• Throughout the following discussion, we can assume that there is something
valid, important and valuable which deserves to be called Service Design and
which we probably should increasingly be doing and supporting.
• But we have seen that a lot of energy spent on explaining “Service Design” is
spent on language presenting questionable intellectual assertions.
• That is, the effort is exploratory, which is fine. Besides, part of what occurs is that
the exploration questions its own progress.
• The role of zealotry, there, is seen when (a.) the credit of authority is applied
uncritically to the current findings, and (b.) most sense of progress is self-
referential or “insider”. When that happens, rhetoric takes over.
• Because rhetoric is powerful, it can be equally an attractor or an inhibitor. It can
draw people into a practice or idea as participants, and it can arbitrarily prevent
people from understanding things in other ways (such as prior ways, dissenting
ways, or even more correct ways).
• Wikipedia is an interesting place to observe these dynamics because it is a place for
aggregating the range of notions about a subject.
• As seen on Wikipedia at the time of recording this discussion, Service Design refers to a
mission taken on by designers who presume that services are a way to pursue the
mission. However, for some reason, the mission is not part of the name of the practice.
• Furthermore, there appears to be an assumption that effective services have some
degree of inherent complexity, which is not the same issue as the possible complexity of
coming to the most appropriate solution (which could very well be simple!)…
• And moreso, the overall tone of the description poses Service Design as something
difficult being invented or newly discovered, instead of something already done
elsewhere that is just increasingly coming into focus for solution designers.
• Seen in a negative light, those points are sins of omission; although, seen in a positive
light, those are simply indicative of a preselected audience with a particular point of view
or limited span of interest.
Exhibit: Wikipedia “Service Design” excerpts
• Service Design is a human-centred approach that focuses on customer experience and the quality of service encounter as the key
value for success.
• Analytical tools refer to anthropology, social studies, ethnography and social construction of technology.
• Service design is the specification and construction of technologically networked social practices that deliver valuable capacities
for action to a particular customer.
• Service Design is a holistic approach, which considers in an integrated way strategic, system, process and touchpoint design
• The Service Design approach is uniquely oriented to service specific design needs and is rooted in the design culture
• Design tools aim at producing a blueprint of the service, which describes the nature and characteristics of the interaction in
• [Shostack (1982), for instance] proposed the integrated design of material components (products) and immaterial components
• Current products are no longer isolated elements, but a network of different experiences and combinations
• Service design can be both tangible and intangible. It can involve artifacts and other things including communication,
environment and behaviours.
• Too many of those Wikipedia statements contain key assertions that are fragile,
incorrect, or merely suggestive, and don’t hold up to scrutiny. For example:
• Design is not “specification and construction”. (Many designs are never constructed.)
• Services are a type of product, not an alternative to products.
• Integrated consideration of decisions does not mean that the decisions are integrated nor that
integration is the objective of the decisions.
• That makes it important to cut through the surfaces of the language and find what seems
to motivate most of the material ideas.
• A major tenet of the “Service Design” mission is that the experience of the customer is
the key criterion for the effectiveness (value) and worthiness (meaning) of the service.
• Because solution designers are sometimes most valuable themselves when they are
being creative, an interesting comparison can be made between other creative
productions versus what “service design” is said to mean to designers.
• “Experience” can be the touchpoint of comparisons between service designs.
• Attending a musical performance exposes you to a multi-dimensional
• Decisions have been made about:
• Genre (category),
• Idiom (class),
• Concept (type),
• Style (version),
• Mood (purpose),
• Scale (size),
• Orchestration (configuration),
• Instrumentation (components),
• Structure (construction)
All of these decisions remain valid and definitive
before any actual performance.
• The performance uses the decisions.
• With no changes in the decisions, the
performance can vary from one time to the
• The experience of the performance can vary
from time to time, even if the performance is
always the same.
We will say that we can have a musical experience
based on these decisions.
Describing the production
• Even a single solo performer covers all of these elements in ordinary work! Just for kicks, we can
group those completely ordinary elements together to reflect common grounds for comparisons.
• Meanwhile, every one of the elements individually offers a way to discuss the “requirements” and
composition of the final product.
• For example, as potential experiencers, we might say that we prefer “orchestral” music or
“guitar” music or “vocal” music. Those are ways of saying that we desire music generated by the
use of certain instruments. We can also state additional, concurrent desires in other terms.
• As clients or consumers, our desire is presented as a “solution requirement” to be factored into
the “design” for the production.
Production as service
• We rely on performers to express the decisions that defined the music.
• The performers can execute the music any time they want.
• We can request the performers to execute the music any time we want. (The performers
may or may not agree, but they can agree.)
• Let’s say that the performers are a “Band”.
• The Band is a Service. We use the Band to access the music so that we have a musical
• The performance is a service delivery.
• Obviously, the experience of the service is the impact of the service delivery.
• The experience is more or less satisfactory. However, satisfaction varies according to who
we are, and on whether the performance is a good execution and good for our desires.
• We don’t say that the service does not exist when we are not experiencing it,
because that is clearly not true.
• Instead, we can say that we identify and evaluate the service based on our
experience of the service delivery (the performance) and on the music performed
• The service provider – in this case, whatever “agency” exists that makes the Band
available to us – can deliberately pursue our satisfaction by considering how the
delivery of the service and the deliverables of the service correspond to our
requirements (needs or preferences).
• It is clearly possible for the Band itself (the service) to be organized in such a way
that it promotes itself and acts also as the service provider.
Designing the service
• Meanwhile, designing the service means planning the presence and operation of
the service such that it conforms to the intent to meet the requirements
presented by the requesting experiencers of the delivery.
• The relationship of the deliverables to the delivery, and the relationship of the
delivery to the requirements, are both proper focal points for designing the
approach to satisfying us as service requesters and service experiencers.
• This approach is distinguishable as a Satisfaction-centric strategy.
Designing the service
• A different approach, focused on having the offering accepted on its own terms,
would be an Appreciation-centric strategy.
• In our example, new kinds of music that do not yet have a predictable audience
can develop, appear, and “earn” a steady acceptance as the audience experiences
the impacts of the music.
• The two strategies (Satisfaction and Appreciation) are not mutually-exclusive in
operational pursuit; but they are distinctive concerns, each having validity in the
creation and provision of a “service”.
Recognizing the practice
• The primary use of design is to guide the development that produces
• What we can observe from the previous example is that most of what needs to
be attended to in service development is not newly discovered design concepts.
• Goal orientation towards user-defined satisfaction is not new.
• The potential significance of both the desire and the delivery is not at any unprecedented
level of importance.
• Elemental complexity and diversity is not new.
• Systemic compositions (composite deliverables) are not new.
• The potential for, and role of, innovation is neither new nor greater, now.
• In fact, in our example, the “ordinary” design checklist of production solution
factors is amazingly old and well-practiced – literally hundreds of years older
than any person alive today regardless of their energy or reputation.
Recognizing the practice, further
• Successful design of a service is neither a mystery nor a new discovery. It is
• We saw that something very familiar – a very familiar service – has many
variable factors identifiable in its generic design scope.
• Whether the factors vary little or vary a lot, the general list of concepts for
describing the overall plan is pretty consistent and does not require
technical specializations to replace the known concepts or to fill in gaps.
• However, for practitioners, a previous lack of experience naturally presents
an educational need to acquire familiarity with what is already ordinary as
part of design.
Mission versus Service
• Mission is the definition of an intention; intention in turn contextually
indicates the value (impact) and worth (meaning) of any employed service
that the mission recruits.
• We know that mission may vary in type, scale and duration.
• Service is a delivery-on-demand of designated effects supporting the
intentional value guided by the mission.
• Differing types of effects bring differing ways of supporting the value.
• Amongst different forms of solutions, the only thing “specific to services”
is that a service does not require the customer to own, manage or
maintain the means of production and delivery in order for the customer
to get the intended effects on demand.
Service as Experience
• One arena of Service is characterized by the creation and provision of enablers
that have high-value to “clients” (requesters) who themselves are not already
producing the same enablement at the capacity and/or timing offered by the
• Enablement can be essential or supplemental, short-term or long-term. In these
“client” services, being enabled is the core experience obtained from the service.
• In a different arena, focused more on “consumers” (requesters), experiences are
prominent in terms of Affect rather than in terms of Enablement.
• A “service”, in particular, exists to make the experience deliverable-on-demand
(available) for the customer.
• The customer’s experience of enablement or affect is how “effectiveness” is
identified in the service.
• When we’re not using the service, we’re not having the experience from it, but
the service is still there.
Service Value versus service definition
• The importance of a mission does not dictate what the form of a solution must be.
• The form of a solution pursued in a mission may be, in part or in whole, a service;
the service effectiveness has meaning primarily for the given mission.
• Even though one mission may be seen as more important than another, the value
of a service is in the context of its use. A service can have high value to a lesser
mission; design is responsible for planning the value of that service.
• The effectiveness of the solution may be due to the fact that it is (or includes) a
service; and the focus of the service design is on the ability of the service to be
• Regardless of the importance of the mission, the design of the service includes a
typical set of considerations. For example, the specific decisions structuring our
music service differ from other “Service Designs” but the types of decisions
considered by the design are the same types to consider in other services..
The purpose of designing a service
• Service is a delivery-on-demand of designated effects supporting the intentional
value guided by the mission.
• Differing types of effects bring differing ways of supporting the value.
• Production of the effects employs methods that create and provide service
• A primary use of design is to guide the development that produces deliverables.
• There are effects, side-effects, after-effects, and other outcomes of production
and delivery; these are selected by the management and maturity of methods
How some service design thinkers confuse
service purpose and service definition
Pursuing service effectiveness
• The loftiness of some missions is not what defines “service design”. Instead, every
mission calls for solution designs appropriate to the mission.
• Yet some thinkers about a service design discipline, due to a preferred mission,
presume a necessity for new concepts, methods, and/or new definitions…
• But why?
• In such cases, the presumption stems from a concern about effectiveness.
• Their concern points back to histories of practice ineffectiveness, and forward
towards a resolve to not repeat past shortcomings.
• Effectiveness is looked at as a result of an approach.
• Where effectiveness does not occur as the result, approaches are presumed to be
• Thus, where design is seen as the plan for the approach, remediation or
innovation becomes a goal.
Justifying service designs
• The urgency of embracing the remediation or innovation stems from the
importance of more successful service in certain arenas. The idea of Success
comes to presume these differences.
• In the mission of a service, the impact of the delivery addresses Needs
• For some missions, needs may include: Sustainability and social ethics
• In the mission of a service, the experience of the deliverable begins as
Expectations and Mandates
• For some missions, expectations and mandates may include: global and local
• The complexity of addressing these impacts and experiences inspires a search for
explanations and actions not yet typical of prior efforts or prior success. Finding
and using different means can be critical to the chance of a current success.
• Such differences from the past might get researched and introduced as if they are
new discoveries or new ideas about design per se.
• But the reality is that they may be “new” only to the context of the particular
arena of effort, or only in comparison to the prior practices.
• Even so, useful findings may be promoted as practice recommendations or even
• We see this point of view in much of what is currently reserved as the definition
of “Service Design”. The POV is not wrong, but the reservation is; it is important
to recognize its limits.
• We must not mistake a special case of a design purpose as being the general
template of practicing design for services. It is necessary to distinguish Preferred
Practice from the Definition of Practice.
The discipline of designing experience
• Missions of “higher” importance do not automatically dictate a need for new
concepts or new methods.
• Pursuing the mission may include services in whole or in part.
• Service effectiveness is a primary focus of design.
• The design of service is not obligated to pursue new concepts or new methods;
rather, the obligation is to plan what is necessary to optimize satisfaction or to
maximize appreciation through providing service.
• On a case-by-case basis, satisfaction or appreciation can require design to exploit
new concepts and/or new methods, to assure deliverables or delivery.
• Service is experienced as delivery-on-demand, per the customer’s demand
• Provision is experienced as a combination of deliverables and delivery.
• Effectiveness is experienced as an alignment of provision to requirements.
Common design factors, used with services
• Decisions are made – about what,
why and how – to make deliverables
and to conduct delivery, versus
• Experience begins with expectations
and/or mandates, and ends with
affects and/or satisfaction.
• Design emphasizes a planned
alignment of the effectiveness,
relevance, and reliability of an effort
offered to address the experience.
• A service is a form that the offered
effort can have, to realize the
objectives of the design.
• A major predisposition of experience
is Preference. On a case-by-case basis,
Preference can be negotiated in the
process of finalizing a design.