What exactly is Service Design?

In December 2013, Usability Matters was included in the Forrester Research report “Service Design Agency Overview, 2013”. Forrester Research Inc. is a global independent firm who advises the largest companies in the world on business strategy, consumer research, and vendor selection. They represent the highest possible standard for rigorous, data-driven recommendations and reviews for all things business, including the service design industry.

But what is service design?

In essence, it is the practice of using design principles to facilitate interactions between service providers and users in complex infrastructures, systems, and processes. To do so, service designers look holistically at the entire user journey, and map it out via a series of touch points with tools like personas, stakeholder and user consultations, and journey maps.

Recently, service design has shifted to the core of the design lexicon, and increasingly is recognized as a discipline in its own right. Governments, particularly in the United Kingdom, Finland, and New Zealand have used service design principles to make digital ecosystems intuitive and user-friendly, like the award winning GOV.UK redesign. New Zealand is following suit with the “Result 10” program, based on the projection that 70 percent of government interactions with citizens will be digital by 2017. Helsinki, Finland went a step further, actually embedding service designers in city programs to help improve their citizens’ experiences.

At Usability Matters, we often find that the UX and service design approaches can be complementary, both working to achieve the same goal but in slightly different ways. In the course of formal usability testing we often find underlying service design flaws; conversely, service redesign frequently solves a number of UX problems simultaneously. Hopefully, we can expect more of this sort of collaboration as the design industry is called upon to undertake increasingly challenging problems.

Further reading

Service Design: The most import design discipline you’ve never heard of

Helsinki municipal government embeds service designers is city programs


New Zealand “Result 10” program

Australian “Government 2.0” program

The State of Service Design, 2013

Forrester Research Inc.: Fact sheet