Building a Service Design Explanation


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Design is growing as a discipline and many new fields are emerging. One of those is Service Design. Maybe you heard about Service Design before, but you really do not know what it is? Well, as service design students, we believe that it is important for you know more about this field, because you might be interested in learning more about service design, or becoming a service designer. Either way, you will probably work with service designers in the future, so it will be important for you to know what they actually are doing. 

 The book This is service design thinking mentioned: “If you ask ten people what service design is, you would end up with eleven different answers – at least.”  Are you still in doubt, or do you want to know more?  Well, we wanted to explain this more comprehensive, and make it really clear using a service design process to figure it out for you.

The process of finding an explanation

First, lets take a look at how we will explain you what service design is. We will do this by guiding you through a service design process. In Service Design you have many ways of developing a project. In this case, we created this particular process, because this will give you a more complete overview by showing you what service design is while we show you how it can work.


The process we followed to make this project consist of four main parts; Setting the goalResearchDevelop an explanation and testing, and the presentation of Our Service Design explanation.

Bellow we go further into each steps:

1. Setting the goal

We started out by identifying our goal mentioned above: create a clear explanation about what Service Design is. Then we formulated the question that guided our process: What is service design?


2.  Research

2.1 On Internet & in Books

If we want to know what service design is, the first thing we do is to look at the actual situation and the information about the subject. In this case we researched service design in two different areas: on the internet and in books. We selected what we found interesting and useful to build an explanation about what service design is later.


When we looked on internet, we found what Design Council UK says about service design particularly interesting:

“Service design is all about making the service you deliver useful, usable, efficient, effective and desirable.(…) So a service design project is a strategic project which uses design techniques like client research, collaborative idea generation and early stage prototyping and testing to deliver services that are built around the real needs of clients(…)”.
— Design Council UK

Then, we looked at the book This Is Service Design Thinking, and selected two explanations for our project:

“Service design as a practice generally results in the design of systems and processes aimed at providing a holistic service to the user”.
— The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design
“Service Design helps to innovate (create new) or improve (existing) services to make them more useful, usable, desirable for clients and efficient as well as effective for organizations. It is a holistic, multi-disciplinary, integrative field”.
— Stefan Moritz

2.1 Listening to service designers

In service design, an important part of the research is listening to users and gain insight. We talked with service designers from The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) to see what they think about what service design is.

Note: The insights from the designers are paraphrased from the interviews.

Service design is the orchestration of touch points over time to deliver experiences and to address needs. It is an iterative process. It is about co-design in a multidisciplinary approach. It is important because over 70% of the economy is based on services, and through service design you can deliver better services for people. The Service Designer is part of a team, a coordinator of many groups of people and systems, a facilitator: a person that really needs to understand human nature.
— Ted Matthews, Service Designer
Service design is about creating the settings that allows the service to emerge. We may end with concepts for new services, designing evidences about how the service would be, and creating value for the customers. In the approach of my research it is about creating empathy through the customer journeys and delivering through branding. It is important because services are a different, compared to products and thus you need a different approach.
— Mauricy Alves Da Motta, Service Design
Service Design is the process of organizing touchpoints to make good experiences. It is Human-centered, iterative and holistic. It is about research (through interviews, observations, for example), workshops (not always necessary), finding ways to involve stakeholders and testing solutions. It is important because you can see how the pieces interact with each others and design in a bigger context. The Service Designer needs to be a phenomenal facilitator.
— Liz LeBlanc, Service Designer
Service Design is a term to describe the method and tools developed to understand and create service offerings. Is about discovering the service, identify potential in the service and pain points, and develop service concepts and evidencing it. The outcome of a Service Design project is often a set of actions and touchpoints that have been tested and implemented. Service designers would be facilitator of the co-creative process, and develop tools to discover user insights.
— Lars-Ive Gjærder, Service Designer

3. Development an explanation and testing

After the interviews, we built a service design explanation sketch. We based it upon the background information, the interviews and our own experience as students. Afterwards, we tested the draft on fellow students.They read through the text, told us which parts they did not understand, corrected grammars, and came with suggestions for changes. Then we modified the explanation according to findings from the test.

In a larger project, we might would have designed the explanation together with different service designers in a co-creative process.

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4. Our Service Design explanation

Finally, we built an explanation about Service Design that emerged from the process that we did, explained above.

Note: Is important to say that the process (as a service design process) is iterative. That it means that you can come back to the process when you want, change it from there, and end with different results.


Article and concept by Simon Sandoval and Oda Sortland (me)


DESIGN COUNCIL UK. What is service design. Available online at: November 5, 2013.

STICKDORN, M. ; SCHNEIDER, J. & CO AUTHORS. (2011)  This is Service Design Thinking. John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.

MATTHEWS, T. Interview at Oslo School of Architecture and Design, AHO. November 5, 2013.

ALVES DA MOTTA, M. Interview at Oslo School of Architecture and Design, AHO. November 5, 2013.

LEBLANC, L. Interview at Oslo School of Architecture and Design, AHO. November 6, 2013.

Gjærder, L. Interview at Oslo School of Architecture and Design, AHO. November 6, 2013.