Jeremy Keith and the team at Clearleft have started a new podcast. In each episode, they are looking at a different theme related to design, development, and beyond. The first episode covered design systems and was already very worthwhile. But I especially enjoyed the latest episode about a topic that has become a bit of a hyped buzzword over the last few years: Service design.
Rich with anecdotes and stories, the episode started with an investigation: What is service design, anyway? This was when I realized that I had always assumed to know what service design is, but – maybe like a few other people, too – I hadn’t really thought about where it differs from, let’s say, user experience design. Because it is tricky: Depending on how you define service design, it can actually be quite hard to distinguish it from other fields. User experience design? Customer experience design? Digital service design? Where do all these terms overlap and what, in the end, constitutes service design? Or, in Jeremy’s words: “Maybe I should draw a diagram.”
At its core, service design is the design of every aspect of a customer journey, including every possible touchpoint, physical products, and also human interactions, for example, with service personnel. This sounds like service design is literally everything. And it reminds me a lot of the charming video of Don Norman talking about the term “User Experience”:
So where is the difference between user experience design and service design, then? The answer lies in the respective names: User experience design is all about the user. Who is she? What are her needs, wants, and problems? All the research and all the consecutive design work are focussed on creating a good experience for the people who are using the product – or service. Service design goes one layer deeper though. Think about what is necessary for a good service: Imagine you are sitting in a café. You order an espresso and a chocolate cake. In order for both things to arrive at your table in great quality and in time, a friendly waiter is not enough. From the person operating the coffee machine to the quality of the coffee beans to the people in the kitchen and how well they work together – everything about the service, including the things a customer can’t see, has to be well-orchestrated and carefully organized.
While user experience design focuses primarily on the experience of using the product or service, service design focuses primarily on the design of the service in the background – with all the people and processes involved – which makes a good user experience possible in the first place. An often-used metaphor in service design is that of frontstage vs. backstage: Depending on whether a component of a service is happening in front of or behind the curtain, it may be visible to the user or not. Yet underlying structures, processes, technologies, principles, corporate culture, and the “experience of the employee” ultimately define the quality of the service. This does not only make a lot of sense but it also makes me want to delve into service design a bit deeper in the future.
Lou Downe’s 15 Principles of Good Service Design might be a good starting point.
This is the 41st post of my 100 days of writing series. You can find a list of all posts here.