What is service design?

This post was inspired by a discussion over lunch about what service design is, how it applies to online and how it differs to product design and user experience.

Service in the real world is easy to understand. If you produce lemon squeezers for a living, the lemon squeezer is your product. But without an element of service, your customers or resellers won’t be able to access your product.  The act of selling and delivering that product is the service. Overall, this is your business offer but undertaking service design would ensure these interactions were optimised.

Every business that offers an online function to the customer is providing a service. This can as simple as allowing online enquiries or ordering. You’re adding a new interaction point with your customer, whether this is done well or not so well. The ones that deliberately plan and organise this are undertaking service design.

This is distinct from product design that deals with real world, material objects. We can’t call Google, Facebook, Basecamp or other such websites products. They are all offering services and are a product of service design.


So how do user experience and planning disciplines differ to service design? The quick answer is that they don’t – they are part of it. User experience deals specifically with the on-site experience – but thinking about consumer goals and creating even basic interaction points makes this part of service design. Planning deals with understanding and utilising various online channels to deliver a digital strategy – again, the act of planning the interactions with the customer makes it part of service design.

In the broadest sense, service design deals with the intangible – it  is about looking at every interaction the customer has with a company or brand, both on and offline and how they collectively work together to create an overall experience. Arguably, anyone involved in understanding consumers and managing their experiences is involved in service design.


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