Service Design / UX design

Service Design understanding from UX perspective

What to understand and execute to pass from designing digital products to design the entire experience of a multichannel service.

Adrián Nicolás Oller
13 min readMar 24, 2021
Image of a jigsaw puzzle as a representation of the different products, channels and stakeholders that make up a service.

Before to start. This article is based on the Interaction Design Foundation course: Service Design — Design Integrated Service Experiences. I highly recommend it to you in case you want to learn how to transition from UX to Service Design.

Now, let’s begin!

1. What is a Service?

Traditional economics draws a clear distinction between goods and services: Goods are tangible and consumable. Services are instantaneous exchanges that are intangible and do not result in ownership (e.g. medical treatment).

But today, there is no longer a clear distinction between goods and services. A song (an mp3 file) is a product that can be accessed via a service like Spotify. To the user, the difference between products and services — owning the sound file versus streaming the song — can be almost the same while behind the scenes they are quite different.

Illustration representing that most organizations are centered around products and delivery channels.

Many of the organizations resources (time, budget, logistics) are spent on customer-facing outputs. The internal processes (including the experience of the organization’s employees) are overlooked; service design focuses on these internal processes.

2. What Service Design is?

Service design is the activity of planning and organizing a business’s resources (people, props, and processes) in order to directly improve the employee’s experience, and the customer’s experience.

Service Design is about designing the experience of services. This usually involves an omni-channel approach that considers the interrelated parts of a wider system, not just what appears on a user-interface screen.

Service Design is everywhere!

Most service design work focuses on innovating large, brick-and-mortar services including banking and finance, healthcare, travel, hospitality, retail, government and public services like the postal service or public transportation. These traditional services involved many types of users and stakeholders, therefore, Service Design needs to avoid failures in the service experience due to miscommunication by either the business or a customer.

3. Service Design and UX

Illustration representing that UX Design is part of the Service Design.

When customers purchase a product, they give money and gain possession and ownership; they exchange money for a thing. Both HCI (human centered design) and UX design tend to follow a product-centric design process. Most organizations are centered around products and delivery channels. They focus on producing a thing. The underlying mental model still focuses on making things people want to possess and own.

Instead, Service Design emerged as a design practice distinct from product design and user experience (UX) design. When customers pay for a service, they get a performance. Service providers create value through their performance, but ownership does not transfer (e.g. the ownership of the documents produced on Google Docs remains ambiguous).

How Service Design relates to other ways of design?

  1. It is different from user experience (UX) design (which is about designing the experience of products).
  2. It is different from customer experience (CX) design. Service Design is broader. It must also design the business processes and infrastructure that will deliver those customer experiences.
  3. It is not the same as ‘design thinking’ or ‘human-centered design’ (these are approaches to problem solving often used by service designers).
  4. Service design is at the intersection of customer service (which is about how can you help facilitate user journey or resolve issues), customer experience (related to what do you need along your journey to fulfill the service) and user experience (who ask about how does this interface help make things easier).
Illustration representing that Service Design is at the intersection beetwen Customer Service, Customer Experience and User Experience.

Unlike UCD and UX, which focus almost exclusively on the user, service designers discover solutions at the intersection of the provider’s profit and customer’s needs.

UX skills that can help you transition into Service Design

UX is closely related to service design. A UX designer often focuses on digital user interfaces, whereas a service designer usually has a much broader scope across multiple channels.

For the smoothest transition from UX design to service design, you must ensure:

Regarding Business Objectives: To capture detailed business objectives to inform your designs.

Regarding Research: To conduct usability testing of your designs

Regarding UX design: To design across channels and contexts and non-UI interaction.

Regarding Prototyping: To prototype across channels and contexts

4. Components of Service Design

Image that show which are the components of Service Design: Props, processes and people.

In Service Design multiple components not only must be designed, but they also need to be integrated to create a total user experience. The three main components of Service Design are:

People: Anyone who creates or uses the service, as well as individuals who may be indirectly affected by the service. (e.g. employees, customers, partners).

Props: Refers to the physical or digital artifacts (including products) that are needed to perform the service successfully. (e.g. physical space, digital environment through which the service is delivered such as webpages, blogs or social media and objects like digital files and physical products).

Processes: These are any workflows, procedures, or rituals performed by either the employee or the user throughout a service. (e.g. getting an issue resolved over support).

5. Mapping a Service

There are a few models commonly used to map the current state, investigate a preferred future and develop scenarios. Design teams assess and refine their concepts and designs focusing on how customers understand the service solution, how the design fulfills a customer need and how the service creates value for both the customer and the provider. These models are:

Stakeholder Ecosystem

A stakeholder ecosystem details the total set of relationships, generally from the perspective of a single stakeholder within the service system. Ecosystem are used to consider implications of new products, services and systems that are introduced into the service ecology.

Example of Service Design Ecosystem, where the business inside activities are grouping on an inner circle and the ones related with third party partners are outside.

Service Blueprints

Service blueprint is the perfect tool to understand how to deliver the service experience in a way that’s appropriate for the user, for the business, and for the systems that are going to support that.

A service blueprint maps a customer’s trajectory through a service, often to complete a task, such as buying a home. It reveals the sequence of interactions the customer experiences across a collective set of touchpoints and then documents the elements and resources the customer interacts with and also the backstage business resources that must coordinate to provide the service.

How the concepts of ‘front’ and ‘back’ help you understand the staging of Service Design?

Service components are broken down into frontstage and backstage, depending on whether the customers sees them or not. Think of a theater performance. There are aspects of a service design that are customer-facing and those that happen behind the scenes. The audience sees everything in front of the curtain: the actors, costumes, orchestra, and set. However, behind the curtain there is a whole ecosystem: the director, stage hands, lighting coordinators, and set designers.

Illustration of a theater’s escenario as representation of the frontstage and backstage services activities.

Service designers also talk about the ‘line of interaction’ and the ‘line of visibility’ to clarify where and how an aspect of a service design impacts customers, staff and business systems. It’s important that we consider both the frontstage and backstage in any kind of service design if we want to be able to deliver a great service experience. Though not ever seen by the audience, behind the line of visibility the backstage plays a critical part in shaping the audience’s experience.

Service Blueprint diagram.

Customer Journey

This is a friend in common Service Design has with UX design. A customer journey map is a detailed diagram showing the steps and experiences a user goes through to accomplish something. You use it to map out where problems are occurring and the opportunities for designing a solution. You usually include which are customer’s motivations, experiences and emotions through the service’s trajectory.

  1. Timeline: A user journey map visualizes the user journey over time. When you create a user journey map, you should describe the steps that are most meaningful to your customer’s experience of a product or service.
  2. User tasks: You might show the user tasks associated with each step in the timeline.
  3. Channels: You also might describe how the user can interact with your product or service at each point in the timeline.
  4. Pains: Describe any negative aspects or problems the user encounters at each point in the timeline.
  5. Gains: Describe any positive aspects the user has at each point in the timeline.
  6. Recommendations: You can add some recommendations for the future design process.

Empathy Map 🥰

Empathy maps are also well known for UX designer and are best used from the very beginning of the design process (straight after the research phase). It helps you better understand your users.

The most common form of empathy map consists of four quadrants which reflect four key aspects of the user’s behavior. The four quadrants refer to what the user says, does, thinks and feels. It’s best to start with the more objective quadrants when you create your empathy map: Says and Does and then move on to the thoughts and feelings which are more likely to be inferred or guessed.

If one or more quadrants looks a bit bare, this is a good indication that you should probably do more research, specifically to populate that quadrant.

Once you have completed the four quadrants you look for the following within your data to identify your users’ needs:

A- Verbs (e.g., activities and desires).

B- Contradictions and inconsistencies. There may be a disconnection between what a user says and does, or they might show a positive action but portray a negative emotion through a quote.

You should use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to help you understand and define the underlying needs of your users. Maslow suggested that humans must first fulfill their most basic physiological needs, before they fulfill higher-level needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs help you identify user needs from your empathy map, and start to define which needs your user is primarily focused on fulfilling. This will enable you to reflect on how your service can help fulfill some of those needs.

Make sure to write down your users’ needs as they’ll come in very handy when you want to define the Value Proposition Canvas.

Value Proposition Canvas 🎁

We need to be clear about the value proposition of our service. The Value Proposition Canvas is an invaluable tool to ensure that our business model fits our prospective customers’ needs and wants and it’s also a regular tool used in UX design.

The Value Proposition Canvas is divided in two sections. We always fill in the right side first where we describe the jobs to be done and the customer profile. Once we have a customer profile defined, it’s time to work on the left side where the value map is.

Jobs to be done: These are the needs our customer has, identified in our user research, and which our service is seeking to address. Jobs to be done can be functional, social and emotional.

  1. Functional jobs are things our customer needs to do, or a problem he/she needs to solve.
  2. Social jobs regards to how our customer would like others to see him/her. (e.g. if we talk about Tesla cars a social jobs would be: to show others that the user cares about the environment).
  3. Emotional jobs are what our customer would like to feel. (e.g. continuing with Tesla’s example, some emotional jobs may be: to arise the feeling of safety and in control while driving).

😩 Customer pains: Problems the customer has in getting a job done. (e.g. take Tesla as example once again, customer pains may be: can’t spend too much money on a car; fears unfamiliar interactions with car systems; needs enough room for her entire family and their luggage; fears a lack of charging stations; doesn’t want a car that is likely to break down).

🤩 Customer gains: Describe how a customer measures success. The results and benefits they achieve when completing a task. (e.g. driving with a clean conscience or easily charging and interacting with the car).

Now is time to focus on how our business can provide value to the customers. We choose the most relevant or important customer jobs to be done and try to describe how our business can address them.

Products and Services: These are the products and services we offer or plan to offer. (e.g. cars model S, 3 and X; exclusive service experience at purchase; custom Tesla charging service).

😎 Pain relievers: We describe how our products and services relieve the customer’s pains. (e.g. easy to find a Tesla charger).

🥳 Gain creators: Here we describe how our products and services create gains for the customers. (e.g. it’s good for the environment to drive an electric car; the Tesla brand on the car clearly shows others that you’re driving an electric car).

A value proposition should focus on the most important ‘jobs to be done’. This means that even if there isn’t a complete match with all tasks, the value proposition might still work. Success depends on how the customer prioritizes their needs.

🔗 Download the Value Proposition Canvas template.

Business Model Canvas 🧩

It’s important to map out the business model of your service so you know how the service will fit in and benefit your business.

The Business Model Canvas is a great tool when you want to get an overview of the business model for a new service or an existing service that you want to analyze to find out where you can innovate and improve it. The Business Model Canvas is made by:

  1. Value Propositions Define how your service will create value for your customers/users.
  2. Customer Relationships How you plan to gain and retain customers.
  3. Channels How you plan to reach your customers — which channels will you use to deliver your value proposition?
  4. Customer Segments A business model should be focused on a particular target group.
  5. Revenue Streams Describe how your service will create income.
  6. Cost Structure Describe which costs are involved in your service delivery.
  7. Key Partners Describe entities that are going to help you fulfill the key activities and provide the key resources
  8. Key Activities Name the key activities of your service — the ones which will contribute most to your value proposition.
  9. Key Resources Describe the resources and tools you will need to deliver your service.

🔗 Download the Business Model Canvas template.

Business model canvas illustration.

6. Successful Service Designs 🥳

A successful service delivery often involves different design outputs, different channels and multiple parts of your organization. We already know services are complex, so if you want it to succeed, you need the help of the entire organization to be able to deliver a great service experience.

Overall goals of Service Design

  1. Transform the service delivery experience for both customers and your organization.
  2. Improve digital, physical and social experiences with human-centered design approaches to service delivery.
  3. Reduce complexity of system disconnects and causes of customer pain.
  4. Align the needs of customers, service providers and stakeholders.

How to Reach the Service Design Goals

  1. Always consider backstage processes and systems. You need to understand how to deliver your service.
  2. Ensure there are no disconnects between backstage and frontstage. Your service delivery chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
  3. Be detail-oriented when you design the frontstage experience. This is the part of your service design that your customer will experience, so it needs to be faultless and pleasant.
  4. Ensure that your team and stakeholders are engaged in delivering your service.
  5. Ensure that you Frame the Total Problem (FTP). You can only understand which goal you are trying to achieve if you have a full understanding of your design problem.

7. The take away

You might already have a quality product, but great customer service on top of that will help you build brand loyalty so your customers keep coming back.

What benefits can your organization gain through Service Design?

Great customer experiences are no longer a nice-to-have; they are simply what consumers expect. All organizations have services, but not all organizations purposefully design them so consumers will go elsewhere if your organization fails to deliver what they need and want.

The service design process will provide your team with excellent customer insights which your entire organization can use and because of Service Design takes the entire organization into account, it’s a great way to build stakeholder engagement.

Remember! when you don’t have a clear value proposition for your product; when you have a sense that customers should have a better experience with your products than they are having; when you don’t have a clear idea of what kind of experience you want your product to deliver; when your product offering is unclear for your customers either the internally organization is complex… You are at the best moment for introducing Service Design!

Let’s be in contact! meet me at Linkedin in/adrianoller

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