News, UX Design

Understanding Service Design

Genalda Silva

Genalda Silva, UX Consultant

In an age where customers are well aware of what good user experience is, how can Service Design help build services that match their expectations and are profitable for businesses?

What is service design?

Service design is a discipline concerned with creating or improving relations in an ecosystem that is responsible for delivering a service to customers. It enables a more in-depth understanding of business processes to see how they impact the customer experience.

The three main components of service design are:

  1. People
    Individuals who create or use the service. Example: employees, customers, partners.
  2. Props
    Physical or digital components needed to perform the service. Example: physical space or digital environment (websites, social media and blogs).
  3. Processes
    Workflows or procedures performed by either the employees or customers that use a service. Examples include: Withdrawing money from an ATM, Getting an issue resolved over support, sharing a file.

Why should you use it?

Service Design is a cross-disciplinary practice that combines design, research and business management skills. The primary goal is to create experiences that are empathetic to users and as a result, generate economic value. A service that has a resilient design can adapt to change and perform well for longer.

Main benefits of Service Design:

  • Surfacing conflicts
    Service Design triggers motivation to improve systems that need to be in place to adequately provide a service.
  • Reducing redundancies
    Mapping out the whole cycle of internal service processes provides a holistic view that helps pinpoint where duplicate efforts occur.
  • Encourage open conversations
    Discussing procedures and policies exposes weak links that could be tightened with collaborative and cross-functional solutions.
  • Forming relationships
    Service design helps align the workflows of different actors of the system.

Five principles of Service Design Thinking

One of the ideals of Service Design is to design with people not just for people. This means that the process includes co-production through the involvement of stakeholders to implement solutions. To achieve this, the following principles are put into practice according to the book This is Service Design Thinking:

  1. User-centred
    User’s needs must be understood and communicated among stakeholders to build robust products.
  2. Co-creative
    Involving all the stakeholders that play a role in the delivery of the service in the design process.
  3. Sequencing
    Having a well-structured service timeline so that the service is perceived as a sequence of interrelated events.
  4. Evidencing
    Providing tangible artifacts about the service to help the user visualise it and match their expectations about it.
  5. Holistic
    Attempt to see the wider context in which a service takes place.


  • Polaine, A., Løvlie, L., Reason, B. and Thackara, J. (2013). Service design. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media.
  • Stickdorn, M. and Schneider, J. (2012). This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases. Amsterdam: Wiley.
  • Gibbons, S. (2017). Service Design 101. [online] Nielsen Norman Group. Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
  • The Interaction Design Foundation. (2019). The Principles of Service Design Thinking – Building Better Services. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

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