Service Design

I crashed a session of Shelley Evenson's Designing for Service class to hear Mark Jones, head of service design for IDEO Chicago, talk about service design.

Service design is at the cutting edge of design, and it's not easy. Traditional design is about the relationship between a user and a product. Service design, in contrast, has multiple touchpoints (environments, processes, people) and is about these touchpoints interacting with users over time. Users can be exposed to multiple experiences via repeated exposure to the service, and it requires multiple stakeholders to make a service come alive, usually through complex choreography. Moreover, there are multiple pathways through a service; it's usually bigger than any one pathway, so you can't design the service in a controlling way. You won't be able to control the entire experience.

Most services involve person-to-person interactions in real time, thus the point of consumption is the same as the point of production. This is tricky and the stakes are high. You can't plan for every contingency or for the entire experience. However, you can design service moments, or small parts of the experience, which, when hung together, constitute the service and its experience.

There are four types of service design at IDEO. For new services: service validation and service innovation. For existing services: service audits and service improvements. Alongside traditional design research methods, role playing plays a significant part of their design process. Prototyping a service typically means finding service moments (granular parts of the experience), then creating scenarios around those moments and acting them out with clients and stakeholders.

It's important to remember that you aren't just designing for the end user, but also for the people doing the service. You need to resolve issues with all stakeholders for a successful and satisfying design. The earlier you get the entire team and stakeholders involved, the better the outcome and buy-in will be. If your designs involve significant operational changes, you are going to need internal champions to enact those changes.

In service design, small details can have power and impact to delight customers, and that's what you are looking for: to give users something extra that resonates with the company's brand. You can't really do service design with dealing heavily with brand. There's very little that's random in service environments. Even spoken words can be designed.

Originally posted on Wednesday, November 3, 2004

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