Demystifying the language of service design

Service design has its own set of tools and language, as with any discrete discipline. While often what is important is the intent of these methods and approaches rather than the specific words, it can be useful to build a shared understanding among practitioners and clients.

In that spirit, here is a glossary of service design terminology:



– any person involved in the creation, delivery, support, or use of a service.
Example: a call center agent, an end user, or a VP of marketing.


– physical service touchpoints.
Example: the London Underground map.


– a medium for communication or delivery. Most services use more than one channel.
Example: phone, email, direct mail, website, store.

Contextual Research


– investigation that takes place in the real world environment of the subject being explored.
Example: interviewing and observing a cashier while on the job in a store.


– instances of access to a service, where actors are able to join the service as customers, providers or stakeholders.
Example: a sign up form on a website.


– instances where actors depart the service as customers, providers or stakeholders.
Example: unsubscribe link in an email newsletter.

Heuristics – best practices, principles or rules of thumb.
Example: “The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time,” is one of Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics.

Journey Map


– a visual representation of a particular actors’ experience with a service. May include photographs, quotes and commentary. Are often time based and show multiple channels.
Example: Document providing a narrative overview of a person’s steps and experience of getting a drivers license.


– a necessary and/or desired function or condition. Needs range from high level to granular and from tactical to emotional.
Example: requirement to be certified as legally able to drive, to be able to get from A to B.


– a representation of a user group with shared needs and characteristics. Personas are the distillation of primary research with people. A persona would be given and name and characteristics as well as needs.
Example: PR Manager “Jane Doe” might be one of an email marketing company’s personas.


– assets of many types including, physical, knowledge, technological, monetary and material, which are used to deliver a service.
Example: seed funding for a new venture.


– a level or size of something in relationship to something else. Service design considers micro and macro scales, zooming in on particular touchpoints or interactions, and zooming out to holistic overviews of an experience.
Example: a multinational brand provides service at a global scale.


– an exchange of value, tangible and intangible. Services are often things that people use but do not own.
Example: a system that facilitates car sharing.

Service Cycle


– the process by which actors engage with a service. A service cycle visualization considers all the phases in which an actor becomes engaged with a service. Service cycle differs from a journey map in that it takes the perspective of the entire system rather than that of particular actors.
Example: diagram showing the cycle of learning about a service, entering it, using it, and exiting or staying engaged.


– the interlinked set of relationships and interactions between environments and actors that support a service.
Example: a city provides a service ecology which allows citizens to live, work and access essential resources.


– provision of a service.
Example: the operations that position a car rental company to provide the service of car hire.


– the value that a service provides, or the need it serves.
Example: bike sharing offers the service of access to bikes without owning one.


– the broader ecology of relationships, interactions and contexts of a service.
Example: all of the components, channels, resources and touchpoints, internal and external, that facilitate the delivering of mail.


– a person, group or organization that are directly or indirectly involved or affected by a service.
Example: the CEO of a company or a customer service representative in a call centre.

Stakeholder Map


– a visual or physical representation of the stakeholders in a service and the relationships between them.
Example: a diagram showing the various people, groups and organizations who are directly and indirectly involved in a service, representing relationships between them.


– a point of contact between an actor and a service. Touchpoints may or may not be physical artefacts, and can include interactions, environments and objects.
Example: a customer interaction with a call center staff person.

Service design is an evolving discipline, and the words used among the community are continuing to be defined. This guide provides a snapshot of where the lexicon is currently at. No doubt there are many more terms and interpretations to come!

Download the Service Design Heuristics Guide