Service design

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Service design is a form of conceptual design which involves the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers. The purpose of service design methodologies is to design back and front office of services according to the needs of customers and the competences/capabilities of service providers, so that the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers, while being sustainable for the service provider. For this purpose service design uses methods and tools derived from different disciplines, from ethnography (Segelström et al., Ylirisku and Buur, 2007, Buur, Binder et al. 2000; Buur and Soendergaard 2000) to information and management science (Morelli, 2006), and interaction design (Holmlid, 2007, Parker and Heapy, 2006). Service design concepts and ideas that are typically portrayed visually, using different representation techniques according to the culture, skills and level of understanding of the stakeholders involved in the service processes (Krucken and Meroni, 2006, Morelli and Tollestrup, 2007). Service design may inform changes to an existing service or creation of new services.

History of service design

In early contributions on service design (Shostack 1982; Shostack 1984), the activity of designing service was considered as part of the domain of marketing and management disciplines. Shostack (1982), for instance proposed the integrated design of material components (products) and immaterial components (services). This design process, according to Shostack, can be documented and codified using a “service blueprint” to map the sequence of events in a service and its essential functions in an objective and explicit manner.

In 1991, service design was first introduced as a design discipline by Prof. Dr. Michael Erlhoff[1] at Köln International School of Design (KISD). In 2001, Live│Work, the first Service Design and Innovation consultancy, opened for business in London. In 2003 Engine, initially founded in 2000 as an Ideation company, positioned themselves as a Service Design consultancy. In 2004, the Service Design Network was launched by Köln International School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University, Linköpings Universitet, Politecnico di Milano and Domus Academy in order to create an international network for service design academics and professionals.

In the first joint manifest of the network, Service Design and its approach was described in the following manner:

"[Service Design] is an emerging discipline and an existing body of knowledge, which can dramatically improve the productivity and quality of services.
Service Design provides a systematic and creative approach to:
  • meeting service organisations’ need to be competitive
  • meeting customers’ rising expectations of choice and quality
  • making use of the technologies’ revolution, that multiplies the possibilities for creating, delivering and consuming services
  • answering the pressing environmental, social and economic challenges to sustainability
  • fostering innovative social models and behaviours
  • sharing knowledge & learning
The Service Design approach is uniquely oriented to service specific design needs and is rooted in the design culture. The Service Designer contributes crucial competencies. The Service Designer can:
  • visualise, express and choreograph what other people can’t see, envisage solutions that do not yet exist
  • observe and interpret needs and behaviours and transform them into possible service futures
  • express and evaluate, in the language of experiences, the quality of design
Service Design aims to create services that are Useful, Useable, Desirable, Efficient & Effective
Service Design is a human-centred approach that focuses on customer experience and the quality of service encounter as the key value for success.
Service Design is a holistic approach, which considers in an integrated way strategic, system, process and touchpoint design decisions.
Service Design is a systematic and iterative process that integrates user-oriented, team-based, interdisciplinary approaches and methods, in ever-learning cycles."

These, at that time provisional, definitions have later been developed and advanced, but also worked as a foundation.

Characteristics of service design

Service design is the specification and construction of processes that deliver valuable capacities for action to a particular customer. Capacity for action in Information Services has the basic form of assertions. In Health Services, it has the basic form of diagnostic assessments and prescriptions (commands). In Educational Services, it has the form of a promise to produce a new capacity for the customer to make new promises.

Service design can be both tangible and intangible. It can involve artifacts and other things including communication, environment and behaviours.

Several authors (Eiglier 1979; Normann 2000; Morelli 2002), though, emphasize that, unlike products, which are created and “exist” before being purchased and used, services come to existence at the same moment they are being provided and used. While a designer can prescribe the exact configuration of a product, s/he cannot prescribe in the same way the result of the interaction between customers and service providers (Holmlid, 2007), nor can s/he prescribe the form and characteristics of any emotional value produced by the service.

Consequently, service design is an activity that, among other things, suggests behavioral patterns or “scripts” to the actors interacting in the service. Understanding how these patterns interweave and support each other are important aspects of the character of design and service (Holmlid, 2012). This opens up more degrees of freedom to the customer and for employees to adapt to the customers’ behavior.

Ideal Service design methodology

Together with the most traditional methods used for product design, service design requires methods and tools to control new elements of the design process, such as the time and the interaction between actors. An overview of the methodologies for designing services is proposed by (Morelli 2006), who proposes three main directions:

• Identification of the actors involved in the definition of the service, using appropriate analytical tools

• Definition of possible service scenarios, verifying use cases, sequences of actions and actors’ role, in order to define the requirements for the service and its logical and organizational structure

• Representation of the service, using techniques that illustrate all the components of the service, including physical elements, interactions, logical links and temporal sequences

Analytical tools refer to anthropology, social studies, ethnography and social construction of technology. Appropriate elaborations of those tools have been proposed with video-ethnography (Buur, Binder et al. 2000; Buur and Soendergaard 2000), and different observation techniques to gather data about users’ behaviour (Kumar 2004) . Other methods, such as cultural probes, have been developed in the design discipline, which aim at capturing information on customers in their context of use (Gaver, Dunne et al. 1999; Lindsay and Rocchi 2003).

Design tools aim at producing a blueprint of the service, which describes the nature and characteristics of the interaction in the service. Design tools include service scenarios (which describe the interaction) and use cases (which illustrate the detail of time sequences in a service encounter). Both techniques are already used in software and systems engineering to capture the functional requirements of a system. However, when used in service design, they have been adequately adapted, in order to include more information, concerning material and immaterial component of a service, time sequences and physical flows (Morelli 2006). Other techniques, such as IDEF0, just in time and Total quality management are used to produce functional models of the service system and to control its processes. Such tools, though, may prove too rigid to describe services in which customers are supposed to have an active role, because of the high level of uncertainty related to the customer’s behaviour.

Representation techniques are critical in service design, because of the need to communicate the inner mechanisms of services to actors, such as final users, which are not supposed to be familiar with any technical language or representation technique. For this reason storyboards are often used to illustrate the interaction on the front office.[2] Other representation techniques have been used to illustrate the system of interactions or a “platform” in a service (Manzini, Collina et al. 2004). Recently, video sketching (Jegou 2009, Keitsch et al. 2010) and prototypes (Blomkvist 2014) have also been used to produce quick and effective tools to stimulate customers’ participation in the development of the service and their involvement in the value production process.

Service design in the public sector

In the last few years, the public sector has expanded, with new investments in hospitals, schools, cultural institutions and security infrastructures. The number of jobs in public services has also grown. Such growth is also associated to a large and rapid social change, that is calling for a re-organization of the welfare state. In this context governments are explicitly considering service design for the re-organisation of public services.

Some recent documents of the British government (United Kingdom Prime Minister Strategy Unit 2007; Public Administration Select Committee, 2008) explore the concept of "user-driven public services" and scenarios of highly personalized public services. The documents propose a new view on the role of service providers and users in the development of new and highly customised public services.

This view has been explored by recent works of the and in the initiative in UK. In those works and in of redesign of public services, the approach has been based on users’ participation and active interaction with the service. The new approach has been illustrated by several authors.[3][4][5][6][7] Also in other European countries such as Belgium, under the influence of the European Union the possibilities of service design for the public sector are being picked up, researched and promoted. [8]

Clinical service redesign is an approach to improving quality and productivity in health. A redesign is clinically led and involves all stakeholders (e.g. Primary and secondary care clinicians, senior management, patients, commissioners etc.) to ensure national and local clinical standards are set and communicated across the care settings. By following the patient's journey or pathway, the team can focus on improving the patient experience and outcomes of care.

A practical example of service design thinking can be found at the Myyrmanni shopping mall in Vantaa, Finland. The management attempted to improve the customer flow to the second floor as there were queues at the landscape lifts and the KONE steel car lifts were ignored. To improve customer flow to the second floor of the mall (2010) Kone Lifts implemented their 'People Flow' Service Design Thinking by turning the Elevators into a Hall of Fame for the 'Incredibles' comic strip characters. Making their Elevators more attractive to the public solved the people flow problem. This case of service design thinking by Kone Elevator Company is used in literature as an example of extending products into services.[9]

Service design education

The first service design education was introduced in 1991 at Köln International School of Design. Several other schools are now proposing service design as the main subject of master studies or as part of the academic curriculum in interaction design or industrial design.

Bachelor programmes

Master programmes

Executive programmes


Networks and Conferences

The Service Design Network (SDN) is an international partnership among professional consultancies, university and public institutions, to promote service design and to exchange knowledge and expertise about cases and methods. SDN and its national chapters organise events and annual conferences in different countries. ServDes, the Service Design and Innovation conference, is the premier research conference cycle for exchanging knowledge within Service Design and service innovation studies. Born in 2009 as a yearly Nordic conference, ServDes has now become a bi-annual international event. The conference archive from the past conferences includes a large number of academic contributions on different aspects of service design.


  1. Moritz 2005, p. 66.
  2. E.g. Albinsson, L., M. Lind, et al. (2007). Co-Design: An approach to border crossing, Network Innovation. eChallenges 2007, The Hague, The Netherlands.
  3. Cottam & Leadbeater 2004
  4. Leadbeater 2008
  5. Leadbeater and Cottam 2008
  6. Parker and Heapy 2006
  7. Thackara 2007
  8. Thoelen and Cleeren (ed.), Public Service Design. A guide for the application of service design in public organisations, 2015
  9. Stickdorn, Marc; Schneider, Jakob (2011). This is Service Design Thinking (2015 ed.). Hoboken New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons. pp. 63–64. ISBN 9781118156308.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Bechmann, Søren (2010): "Servicedesign", Gyldendal Akademisk.
  • Blomkvist, J. 2014. Representing Future Situations of Service. Prototyping in Service Design. PhD, Linköping University.
  • Buur, J., T. Binder, et al. (2000). "Taking Video beyond "Hard Data" in User Centred Design." Design. Participatory Design Conference (PDC 2000).
  • Buur, J. and A. Soendergaard (2000). "Video Card Game: An augmented environment for User Centred Design discussions." Designing Augmented Reality Environments (DARE 2000), Helsingør.
  • Eiglier, P., Langeard,P (1977). Marketing Consumer Services: New Insights. Cambridge, Mass. Marketing Science Institute, 1977. 128 P.
  • Gaver B., Dunne T., Pacenti E., (1999). "Design: Cultural Probes." Interaction 6(1): 21–29.
  • Hollins, G., Hollins, Bill (1991). Total Design : Managing the design process in the service sector. London, Pitman.
  • Holmlid, S. (2007). Interaction design and service design: Expanding a comparison of design disciplines. In proceedings from Nordic Design Research Conference, Nordes 2007, Stockholm.
  • Holmlid, S. (2012). Designing for Resourcefulness in Service. Some Assumptions and Consequences. Chapter in Miettinen, Valtonen (eds), Service Design with Theory, pp151–172. Univ of Lapland press.
  • Jegou, F. 2009. Co-design Approaches for Early Phases of Augmented Environments. In: LALOU, S. (ed.) Designing User Friendly Augmented Work Environments: From Meeting Rooms to Digital Collaborative Spaces, Computer Supported Cooperative Work. London: Springer.

Keitsch, M., Vavik, T., Morelli, N., Poulsen, S. r. B., Koskinen, I., Holmlid, S., Blomkvist, J. a. & Edman, T. 2010. "Learning Labs for User-Driven Innovation (LUDINNO)". Oslo: Nordic Innovation Centre.

  • Krucken, L. & Meroni, A. 2006. "Building Stakeholder Networks to Develop and Deliver Product-Service-Systems: Practical Experiences on Elaborating Pro-Active Materials for Communication". Journal of Cleaner Production, vol 14 (17)
  • Kumar, V. (2004). User Insights Tool: a sharable database for user research. Chicago, Design Institute at IIT.
  • Leadbeater, C. and H. Cottam (2008). The User Generated State: Public Services 2.0.
  • Løvlie, L., Polaine, A., Reason, B. (2013). Service Design: From Insight to Implementation. New York: Rosenfeld Media. ISBN 1-933820-33-0.
  • Lindsay, C. and S. Rocchi (2003). "'Highly Customerised Solutions' – The Context of Use Co-Research Methodology". Innovating for Sustainability. 11th International Conference of Greening of Industry Network, San Francisco.
  • Manzini, E., L. Collina, et al. (2004). Solution Oriented Partnership. How to Design Industrialised Sustainable Solutions. Cranfield, Cranfield University. European Commission GROWTH Programme.
  • Morelli, N. (2002). "Designing product/service systems. A methodological exploration." Design Issues 18(3): 3–17.
  • Morelli, N. (2006). "Developing new PSS, Methodologies and Operational Tools." Journal of Cleaner Production 14(17): 1495–1501.
  • Morelli, N. & Tollestrup, C. (2007). "New Representation Techniques for Designing in a Systemic Perspective". Nordes 07. Stockholm.
  • Moritz, S. (2005). Service Design: Practical access to an evolving field. London.
  • Normann, R. (2000). Service management : strategy and leadership in service business. Chichester ; New York, Wiley.
  • Normann, R. and R. Ramirez (1994). Designing Interactive Strategy. From Value Chain to Value Constellation. New York, John Wiley and Sons.
  • Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. New Jersey, John Wiley and Sons.
  • Parker, S. and J. Heapy (2006). The Journey to the Interface – How public service design can connect users to reform, Demos.
  • Public Administration Select Committee (2008). User Involvement in Public Services, House of Commons: 37.
  • Ramaswamy, R. (1996). Design and management of service processes. Reading, Mass., Addison–Wesley Pub. Co.
  • Segelström, F., Raijmakers, B. & Holmlid, S. "Thinking and Doing Ethnography in Service Design". Linköping, Sweden: Linköping University, Department of Computer and Information Science Sweden
  • Shostack, L. G. (1982). "How to Design a Service." European Journal of Marketing 16(1): 49–63.
  • Shostack, L. G. (1984). "Design Services that Deliver." Harvard Business Review(84115): 133-139.
  • Stickdorn, M. and Schneider, J. (2010). This is Service Design Thinking. Amsterdam, BIS Publishers.
  • United Kingdom Prime Minister Strategy Unit (2007). [2]. HM Government Policy Review, Government of United Kingdom.
  • de Reuver, M.; Bouwman, H.; Haaker, T.: Mobile business models: organizational and financial design issues that matter, in: Electronic Markets, 19, 1, 2009, pp. 3–13.
  • van de Kar, E.; den Hengst, M.: Involving users early on in the design process: closing the gap between mobile information services and their users, in: Electronic Markets, 19, 1, 2009, pp. 31–42.
  • Ylirisku, S. & Buur, J. 2007. Designing with Video - Focusing the user-centred design process, London, Springer.

See also