Service design in a nutshell

Published: 21.6.2023
Categories: Design
Reading time: 5 min
Close up of a person from the back holding a mobile phone.

In the labyrinth of our daily lives, services quietly shape our experiences, addressing our needs across diverse realms. Service designers emerge as architects of digital empathy, navigating the intersection of human needs and technical solutions. Their iterative journey probes into stakeholders' desires, orchestrating strategies to enhance user experiences and streamline digital landscapes. Dispelling misconceptions, service design transcends product design, marketing, and project management, embodying a holistic ethos of digital evolution. It epitomizes collaborative synergy, forging solutions that enhance user experiences, drive efficiency, foster innovation, and cultivate resilience. As we embark on this odyssey, let us embrace service design's imperatives, recognizing its transformative potential in shaping the digital paradigm.

Because we can’t see them, we don’t usually even take notice of how many different services are constantly present in our everyday lives. From scrolling TikTok or watching Netflix to going to school or the dentist, applying for a mortgage, or simply swiping your phone by the contactless payment at the register: services are all around us, and we all interact with dozens if not hundreds of them every day. In fact, services are so diverse and ingrained in every part of our lives that they cover the majority of the world’s GDPopens-in-a-new-tab.

In the end, all of them serve the same purpose: our needs. Consequently, most often, the difference between a great service and one buried somewhere on the web is how well the solution caters to our everyday issues. But how does one stay mindful of the bigger picture while also making the technical solutions work for you instead of the other way around? Luckily, service designers are here to help you and the development team understand the human behind the digital.

In this section, we will explain in detail what service design is, what it is not, what are the stages of service design and how they integrate within the project development process. If any of the terms used here feels unfamiliar to you, please visit the service design vocabulary section, where we have gathered the most commonly used terms.

What is service design

Service design, at its core, consists of

  1. researching the needs and preferences of service owners, service providers, and service users,
  2. involving those impacted individuals to come up with viable ideas on how to improve the existing service experience, and
  3. testing the ideas to recognize which parts of the implemented idea, or prototype work and which don’t, thus learning more about what makes a good or a bad experience.

It is an iterative and learning-based process involving much more than just one person or designer.

The purpose of service design in the context of digital solutions, services, and systems development is to help teams and individuals to identify the needs and expectations of people using the service or system. In terms of more complex services, such as governmental ones with heavy dependencies on various registers and data banks, Service Designers can use various methods, from hands-on interviews to system analysis, in order to compose a “bird-view image” of the service. Their main duty is to help development teams and Product Owners to understand, define, prioritize, and execute the improvement tasks to meet and exceed customer expectations. Service design also includes research and analysis of the business processes and systems that are needed to deliver the service. This translates to business consulting aimed toward developing the digital ecosystem through identifying challenges and figuring out ways to improve the profitability and performance of the service.

As Service Designers are the “designers of the human component in digital systems”, other experts are needed in order to develop viable solutions that solve the very human problems related to digital services. Setting up the goals and metrics to track and monitor, e.g., service findability, usage, and performance, is often done in collaboration with clients, stakeholders, service designers, and web analytics specialists. More detailed descriptions of each role and what value they deliver to the project you will find in our Service design roles and responsibilities article.

What service design is NOT

To get a deeper understanding of what service design is, let’s set it clearly what it is not:

  • Product or interface design: service design is focused on designing and improving services, not physical products. Moreover, whilst service designers are usually involved in interface design and, e.g., auditing of digital services from the user experience point of view, they are not the ones designing the digital layouts – that is why we have user experience and interface design specialists known as UI/UX designers.
  • Marketing: while marketing may be involved in the business model and the need for it may be established during the digital service’s business consulting or design process, service design is focused on the design and delivery of the service itself. They are not graphic designers or design marketing campaigns.
  • Project management: while project management may be involved in implementing service design and service designers guide the overall human-centered image of the service, service design is focused on the design of the service itself rather than managing the project to deliver it.

Service design in digital service development

Service design is a holistic approach to designing and improving digital services, with the goal of creating long-term value for both the organization and the users. The tricky thing about the term “service design”, however, is that while there are definitely experts who execute this concept as their primary task, service design is not actually something only one person can do. Without a team of professionals and a client who all commit to and share the mindset of service design, service design can not be implemented.

Often service development teams encounter clients who simply want them to come up with ideas on how to improve their digital services but want to opt out of the user needs research phase. Sadly, business innovations are not born from a team of experts but from the latent user needs, yet to be addressed by the current services and solutions. You can not have one without the other. Moreover, service design is not something you can sprinkle on top of a project: if the cake is dry and filling runny, no amount of frosting will make the experience enjoyable. To learn more about all the delicious ways Wunder integrates service design into digital service development projects, take a look at Wunder’s Head of Design Talvikki Rainsola’s article Service design the Wunder Way – with a cherry on the top.

Benefits of service design

To cover all the why’s, let’s list the benefits of service design:

Improved user experience: By taking a human-centered approach to service design, services are designed with the needs and expectations of users in mind, leading to better user experiences and higher user satisfaction.

Increased efficiency: Service design can help identify areas where services can be streamlined or simplified, leading to increased efficiency and reduced costs.

Competitive advantage: By designing services that meet or exceed user expectations, organizations can gain a competitive advantage in the market and increase customer loyalty.

Innovation: Service design encourages creative thinking and new ideas, leading to innovative solutions and services that can drive growth and success.

Collaboration: Service design involves a multidisciplinary team approach, encouraging collaboration between different departments and professionals, leading to more effective solutions and a better overall outcome.

Wish to discuss how service design could boost your success in digital?

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