Service design terminology

Published: 14.2.2023
Categories: Design
Reading time: 13 min
Summer woman lies in a white hammock reading a book.

There are many glossaries already out there. Still, each IT development and service design firm has its unique vision, approach, and communication style regarding these topics.

Yes, of course, there are many glossaries already out there (and a few of them like Service Design Networkopens in a new tab, Service Design Showopens in a new tab, Say Yeahopens in a new tab, and Think Service Designopens in a new tab we found really inspiring). Still, each company working in IT development and providing service design has its own vision, approach, and slightly personalized way of communicating about these topics. Therefore we decided to create our own vocabulary list so our clients can learn the terminology even before the contracts are signed.

And we dare to claim that this is the most extensive service design dictionary you might find out there. At least for now.


A/B testing - a user experience research method where the designer tests two variations of the same thing (anything from e.g. a single button or element to a whole user interface) to see which one user prefers and understands better.

Accessibility (can be shortened as a11y) - the practice of designing and developing services and digital environments that are accessible and usable and enable great user experiences for everyone regardless of their possible disabilities.

(Web) Analytics - the process of analyzing the behavior of visitors to a website. This involves tracking, reviewing, and reporting data to measure web activity, including the use of a website and its components, such as webpages, images, and videos.


Backstage (actions) - a set of actions that take place beyond the user interface or “behind the scenes.” Backstage actions (like policies, technology, infrastructures, and systems) stay invisible to the customer or end-user, but they usually inevitably affect the user’s experience.

Benchmarking (also a role model analysis or peer analysis) - the strategic and specified analysis and comparison of products, services, and processes against those of organizations known to be leaders in one or more aspects of their operations. Benchmarking is done to understand the best practices, possible risks, and industry standards, to learn from others' mistakes and successes, etc.

Brainstorming (also a brain wave, masterminding, thought shower, or idea generation) - the strategic and facilitated method of innovation and idea generation that emphasizes psychological safety, open communication, and “quantity over quality”.

Business Model Canvas - a tool that provides an overview of the business model for new and existing services in order to analyze what and where can be innovated, improved, and developed further. Business Model Canvas indicates all the different actions, stakeholders, relations, and values traded in order to generate value e.g. income and profit (private sector) or customer experience (public sector and non-profit organizations).


Card sorting - a method to systemize, thematize and analyze specific elements, topics, items, contents, users, etc., to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a site.

Client - a legal person (private adult individual, company, organization, etc.) who purchases the service or product from the supplier or developmental partner.

Concepting/ Concept design - the creative and collaborative process of generating and refining new service ideas. This phase typically involves techniques such as brainstorming, ideation workshops, and prototyping to explore different concepts that address user needs, business goals, and other requirements.

Customer - a consumer who interacts with the service interface and generates possible monetary value for the organization that is offering the service or a product. Also used to describe a user in terms of how they form a relationship with the organization/ brand through interacting with the service’s interface.

Customer Experience (CX) - the sum of all experiences a user has regarding a certain service, product, or brand which form the relationship between a user and a service of a specific brand/ organization.

Customer centricity - an approach towards doing business that focuses on providing a positive customer experience both at the point of sale and after the sale in order to drive profit and gain competitive advantage.

Customer journey - the complete sum of actions taken by a user, including the experience and emotions the user has felt while interacting with the organization/ brand that is offering the service.

Co-Creation - a core aspect of service design’s approach and toolkit, referring to creating together and in collaboration with numerous subject matter experts, end-users, and stakeholders, bringing together their personal expertise and experiences to define ideas for a solution to a problem or an opportunity.

Customer/ User Segment - a specific group of users with similar features, motives, needs, backgrounds, etc. It can be used to describe either acknowledged target groups or groups of users that are not yet recognized in the development of the service i.e., latent user groups.

Channel - refers to the different touchpoints through which users can perceive and have access to information and possibly interact with the service (eg. social media, websites, etc.); it can also be used to describe touchpoints and different information/ communication platforms used to communicate inside the development project.

Contextual research - research about the context of the service, aspiring to gain insight about the industry of the service or understand the environmental, organizational, and societal structures around the service which dictate the norms, requirements, and boundaries of the service, its design, development, and target groups (eg. where and when it is used, by who and why).


Design - a problem-solving method used for creation. It is a state of mind and a discipline focused on the interaction between a person - a “user” and the man-made environment, taking into account aesthetic, functional, contextual, cultural, and societal considerations.

Design Thinking - an iterative problem-solving method and process that helps designers to understand the users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions which can be prototyped and tested.

Double Diamondopens in a new tab - a design process model that breaks down a structured design approach to tackle challenges in four phases: Discover /Research, Define/Synthesis, Develop/ Ideation, and Deliver /Implementation.

Design System - a collection of repeatable components and a set of design standards guiding the use of those components for the purpose of designing digital products.

Delivery queue - the sequence of tasks that will be done first, what will be done next, what will be left for next year, etc.


Experience expert - a person (usually a user derived from the target group’s user pool) with knowledge about and first-hand experience from the users’ point of view.

Empathize - to relate to another person's experience.

End User (also end-user) - a person who interacts with the service user interface, i.e. perceives the service’s “front stage” actions. Can be used to describe either targeted users or the “general public” with access to the service either through public or privacy-encrypted channels; refers to users outside the organization with limited access to the service.

Ethnography - a qualitative research method (from anthropology) that provides a scientific description of the behaviors, values, and beliefs of different peoples and cultures. Ethnography allows the design team to work from the perspective of the users (both end-users and backstage users such as editors and content creators interacting with the CMS or admins).


Feature - describes an action, choice, option, etc. a user can make in the service (usually referring to the interface but could also be used to describe CMS’s backstage editing/ content creation actions).

Focus group - a small group of carefully selected participants who are usually drawn from the targeted user pool and contribute to user research and to the development of service through, e.g., open discussions, prototype testing, interviews, etc.

Frontstage (actions) - the parts of the service or a set of actions that a customer/ end-user sees experiences, and can interact with (e.g., user interface, information, channels, products, and other user touchpoints).

Future casting - a practice of service design oriented towards evaluating, ideating, visioning, and predicting the future of the service, organization, industry, or, on a global scale, in relation to the goals and objectives of the subject.


Human-centered Design - design thinking value that highlights humans and their needs as a core reference point.

Heuristics - a fast and practical way to solve problems or make decisions, based heavily on “common sense” and practicality; a cognitive energy-saving method aimed to derive conclusions relying on, e.g., previous experience.


Ideation - a phase or a stage in the development process where ideas are generated; strategic and organized innovation of solutions based on the established needs and priorities (see also Need).

Information Architecture (IA) - focuses on organizing, structuring, and labeling content in an effective and sustainable way. The purpose of IA work is to help service providers to keep the contents of service organized and up-to-date so customers can find relevant information and complete tasks efficiently.

Interview - a qualitative research method aimed to create a space for open communication with the subject. It may vary from structured to semi-structured and free form.

Intuitive - easy to use without a lot of instruction or learning time. For example, a website can be considered intuitive when the navigation is clear and makes sense to the user without them needing to read help documentation or spend a lot of time looking for what they need to complete a task.


Journey map - a visual representation of the user's experience and interaction during one session with a specific motive (eg. looking for available positions), capturing the emotions, issues, and thoughts of the user as they engage with a service.


KPI (Key Performance Indicator) - quantitatively measurable values which indicate the organization’s most important goals and which the organization must regularly follow in order to enable strategic development.


Mockup - a low-fidelity prototype. Usually referred to when describing early user interface designs, often utilized to communicate raw ideas quickly within the project, design, or development team.


Need (also User/ Customer need) - a problem a person has derived through (user) research. The need could be either identified or latent. A need is a starting point in design thinking, service design, and agile development. No services, solutions, or innovations can or should be created without thoroughly understanding the human needs behind them; ie. the needs validate, measure, define and determine the existence of the service.

NPS (Net promoter score) - a market research metric that typically takes the form of a single survey question asking respondents to rate the likelihood that they would recommend a company.


OKR (Objectives and key results) - a strategy implementation method. Objectives are qualitative goals that tell what a desired end result looks like, while key results are corresponding quantitative results which indicate success in terms of the set objectives. OKRs allow the business/ organization’s goals to be broken down into defined results, through which the realization of the goal is monitored.


Pain point - a moment within a user’s experience during interaction with the service where they feel discomfort, stress, challenge, difficulties, or pain.

(User) Persona/ (User) Profile - a model profile, generalized user type, or a fictional character representing a particular user segment within a target group. A user persona is based on the findings and insights driven by thorough user research and other data sources available, and it typifies the group's needs and motivations, depicting their shared interests, needs, goals, demographics, etc.

Project development phases - different stages into which the development of a service is divided - a project could include, but not be limited to, stages such as Research - Ideation - Prototyping - Implementation.

Prototype - a first or preliminary version of a solution. A prototype can be anything from rough design sketches, scribbles of the interface of a website or app, digital click-through mock-ups, or more high-fidelity working pieces of experimental code that are already on a device.


Qualitative research - an in-depth research method that seeks to determine the qualities and features of people's experiences and seeks to gain deeper insights about a specific subject through a humanistic approach without the need or possibility to generalize the findings.

Quantitative research - research method aimed towards measuring customer/ user experiences through quantifiable results; can also be used to describe data collected in a measurable, numerical, and/or statistically-relevant format.


Requirement - a solution that caters to a specific, established, research-based and prioritized need (see also; need, user-centric design, user research); could range from high-level to granular and from tactical to emotional. Should always be described from the user's point of view and in a humane manner (see also Feature).

ROI (Return on Investment) - metrics that indicate what is received in exchange for investing energy in action.


Service Blueprint (also service map, service mapping, service journey, or service blueprinting) - a detailed visualization of a specific service path (e.g. “signing one’s child in early childhood education”) that captures the entire process of the service delivery from multiple perspectives.

Service Design - a human-centered, holistic, and pedagogical approach towards developing (web) services that generate actual value for both the client and the users of the service through a need-based approach (see also Need, Human-Centered Design).

Service design ethics - the principles and guidelines that govern ethical considerations in service design, such as privacy, security, and inclusivity.

Service design for social innovation - a branch of service design that focuses on using design methods to address social challenges and promote positive social change.

Service design for public services - a branch of service design that focuses on designing public services that are efficient, effective, and user-centered, typically used by government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Service Design maturity model - A framework for assessing and improving the maturity of an organization's service design capabilities, typically consisting of multiple stages or levels.

Service Ecosystem - the larger context in which products and services exist and are experienced. Involves a network of other products, services, systems, and stakeholders (e.g. competitors, government organizations, etc.).

Service paths - visualization of the different “routes” a user can choose in order to access a goal or specific information in the service. It can also refer to the process the user is intended/ designed to go through in order to complete a task/ goal within the service. Usually includes depictions of each step highlighting the possible key or critical risks, elements, emotions, or actions involved.

Service roadmap - visualization of a service development timeline, allows for detailed and practical planning and can include e.g., different perspectives for the same goal, such as content, production, design, and technical progress.

Service Safari - a research approach in which designers, researchers, and project team members are experiencing a service by positioning themselves as first-time end-users (see also End-User).


Touchpoint - a point of contact between an actor and a service. Touchpoints may or may not be physical artifacts and can include interactions, environments, and objects. They are the medium through which value exchanges happen.


Use case - a way of identifying specific needs that a person might have in engaging with a product or service to accomplish something.

User-centered (also user-oriented) - the notion that services are provided for and focussed on addressing the needs of the users who engage with them.

Usability - describes the system's ability to provide users with the conditions to perform tasks safely, pleasantly, and efficiently.

Usability testing - a method used by experts to evaluate, measure, develop, and test the usability of certain solutions e.g., checklists and standardization focusing on such features as learnability, efficiency, error tolerance, memorability, and satisfaction.

User-friendly - an adjective describing the human-centricity of a concept or an object a user can interact with through its capability to pay attention to the users’ perspective and experience in terms of its design and functioning: e.g. a service, product, idea, solution, or element could be described as user-friendly, whilst a team, a project or a person would be described as human-centered.

User/customer paths - the process the users or customers choose in order to complete a task/ goal within the service, regardless of whether it's the path they were designed to choose by those designing or developing the service.

User research - the process of gathering information and gaining insight about the intended target group of the service. Can include both qualitative and quantitative data sources and methodologies such as utilizing surveys, interviews, web analytics, and/or focus groups. User research produces valid information about the subjects, which can be used to develop solutions and services that cater to their needs.

User experience (UX) - describes the complete spectrum of emotions, thoughts, and feelings evoked in the user by their interaction with the service or product. Consists of (but is not limited to the) user's notions about the usability, accessibility, usefulness, desirability, reliability, and discoverability of the service.

User Interface (UI) - in a broader sense it is the point of human-computer interaction and communication. However in terms of service design, UI is used to refer to the part of the service the user, or more often end-user (see also End-User), can see and interact with, eg. the outwards appearance of the service or product; an interface in which user experiences (see also User Experience) are born.


Value proposition - the promise of a benefit, feature, or innovation that a service offers, including the unique selling proposition that distinguishes it from its competitors.


Workshop - a meeting at which a Project development team engages in intensive discussion with the client, stakeholders, or product users on a particular subject or a project as a whole. Such meeting allows experts to quickly gather ideas, understand requirements, define pain points as well as identify personas, user journeys, and other important features related to the project.

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