Service Design Thinking

In a recent blog entry Life’s Too Short, I referenced the emerging field of service design that is focused on the creation of well-thought-out and thorough experiences.*

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better. —Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon

There are myriad tools available for creating a desired user/consumer experience, including voice of the customer, process analysis and design, business process redesign/reengineering, business analysis, value stream mapping, agile design, user centered design, etc. Does service design differ in any significant way? If so, how?

This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases is a good primer. The authors lay out five principles of service design thinking as their foundation:

  1. User Centered – services should be experienced through the eyes of the customer
  2. Co-creative – all stakeholders should be involved in the design process
  3. Sequencing – the service should be visualized as a sequence of interrelated actions
  4. Evidencing – intangible services should be visualized in terms of physical artifacts
  5. Holistic – the entire environment of service should be considered

This list is comprehensive and perhaps even a bit daunting. My initial impression is that it is a refinement, update, and combination of a number of tried-and-true tools or methods. A few key variations that distinguish service design from other approaches include:

  • Stronger user orientation generated by observing behavior and understanding context, not simply asking the customer what they want
  • More opportunity for flexibility and variations, rather that achieving perfection through absolute standardization
  • A focus on experience, rather than product. This may also be stated as value in use, not just an exchange of value (money for product).
  • Created together. Experiences are inherently both parties working together to create the outcome
  • Allows for experimentation, small scale production environments with soft launches and incremental deployments that include significant feedback to drive product evolution

Regardless of whether service design is truly different or just a new set of words to describe something we’ve always had, I found this book to be clear and concise. It is less theoretical and more practical in terms of basic concepts, approaches, and application. If service design emerges as the hot new thing, user/consumers will be the beneficiaries. Who cares what it’s called?

*Thanks to J Schwan for presenting this as one his three key ideas in his Fusion2015 presentation. See Service Design Slide.

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