Getting started with service design

— 4 minute read

I'm often approached by people interested in the topic of service design, and what the role actually means in practice. There isn't a universally accepted definition of what a service designer does, and the role often overlaps quite heavily with other capabilities.

However, for me, service design means:

Designing for the customer permalink

Service designers research with real customers to understand their needs and experiences.

A good service designer understands that you need to design for humans, not to try to mitigate against the complexity that they might represent. Customers will always find different or unexpected ways to approach your service than the one you had intended. Service designers design for customer choice, flexibility and consistency of experience at every touchpoint in a service.

Designing for business operations permalink

Service designers appreciate that a beautifully designed customer experience won't stand up to everyday use without the appropriate back stage operations in place to keep it functioning smoothly.

They also understand that your staff are humans with their own needs and experiences, as well as being a potential touchpoint for customers interacting with your service. A successful service is just as dependent on the satisfaction and happiness of your staff as it is on the satisfaction and happiness of your customers.

Designing strategy for the customer experience permalink

Depending on the scale of the service, sometimes the service designer can be like the conductor directing an orchestra; the orchestra being the service delivery team. Service designers often switch between high level strategy ("how will this service make money for the organisation?") and tiny detail ("is this automated email consistent with the rest of the experience?").

But service designers aren't on the front lines running and maintaining the service; that's the role of the service delivery team. Service designers need to ensure that strategy and goals are clear, so that the service team and wider organisation is empowered to make that strategy come true.

Validating and measuring permalink

Designing against a strategy means designing against something that can measured and validated. Service designers help services and organisations to set meaningful and useful performance indicators, and to design research studies to validate the success of a new design or process.

Service designers ensure these measures are evaluated and re-assessed regularly; is the service still meeting our aims, are they still even the right aims, and where are the opportunities for improvement?

Resources to get you started permalink

If you like the sound of service design, here are some books and other resources to get you started:

Service design: from insights to implementation\ permalink

by Andy Polaine

A well-rounded introduction to service design including a variety of case studies.

The best service is no service\ permalink

by Bruce Hanington

Focused on customer service in large organisations, this book discusses how avoiding the need for customer service is a more effective approach than focusing on making your customer service amazing.

This is service design thinking\ permalink

by Mark Stickdorne

An anthology of different methodologies and case studies created by a series of authors. The case studies are particularly helpful to understand the scope and impact that good service design can have on an organisation. permalink

This is a great collection of methodologies, visualisations and other descriptions of service design methodologies. permalink

A collaboratively maintained collection of books that service designers have found valuable in their work. Little difficult to navigate, and not all of the books are available in the UK (or even in print anymore) but still a lot of interesting stuff here.

**Got any books or resources you think should be added to this list? Drop me a message on twitter or in the comments and I'll take a look.  **

Next up, I'll be producing a similar list for user research, and then one for user experience. I'd love to hear your book or resource recommendations for either of those subjects, send me atweet or reply in the comments.