I recently held a short introductory presentation on service design, for a non-designer audience of SME CEOs. Here are the (translated) presentation slides, together with short recaps of my presentation.
In this short talk, I’ll present the field of service design to you – a field that has grown a lot over the recent years, but is still rather unknown for many leaders of small to medium sized companies.
Today, the service sector makes up the biggest part of the economy, up to 75% in Western Europe. This number is a result of a major shift during the last century, as you know: the move from an industrial, product-based economy, to a post-industrial, knowledge- and service-based one.
On top of that, the digital revolution has blurred the boundaries between product, service and communication. It used to be quite simple … you had your product, designed by a product designer and packaged by a packaging design firm – and then you used various kinds of market communication to get it out to your customers. If you worked with services, the process was much the same, even though most likely, nobody consciously designed or packaged your service.
Now, however, there’s increasing confusion about what actually constitutes a product, service or brand communication – it all comes together on the web, in phone apps, etc. Also, even in traditional products, there’s a trend for a larger service component: in a world where getting ahead of the competition becomes harder and harder, it’s a way of obtaining a competitive advantage.
But weirdly enough, even though services are so dominant in the economy, many companies don’t invest at all in the design of them. Even though practically every company that makes products take great care in their design, only a fifth of service companies do the equivalent.
Of course, services are not as straight-forward as design objects as products. They have certain characteristics, that have to be taken into account when designing:
First of all, services are created here and now – in the moment of their consumption. This means that they are harder to control fully with design; utterly, the success of a service is always dependent of the person who executes it. Secondly, a service is both tangible and intangible – a hotel night, for example, is not just the access to the physical room, but also many, intangible, interactions. Design of a service, therefore has to be multi-dimensional, taking all aspects into account. Also, it’s often difficult to measure and detect quality in a service, which makes the customer search for clues: designing visual and behavioural clues of a high quality service is important.
Here, you see the dimensions of a service that can be designed: you can design the procedures and behaviour that make up the service, its physical and visual components – the place where the service is executed, digital interfaces, etc – and how the service is communicated. These dimensions all interact to produce the user’s overall impression of the service.
How is it done, then? Well, very briefly, the process of service design is very much like the design of other things. It starts with a research phase, followed by numerous design proposals that are tested and developed, and, often after several iterations, the design is implemented.
Service design employs a number of methods for research and design, but I don’t have the time to show you more than one. An important part of designing service is producing a service blueprint – a schematic “recipe” for the execution of the service. Service blueprints are a kind of service roadmaps – tangible, visual documents that show us where and how customers and companies interact. They can be employed both in the research phase, when analysing the status quo, and as design tools.
I’ve stressed the importance of tangible elements in a service – they often play a large part in how a customer judges service quality, as the abstractness of services is challenging to people. This is especially true with more complex services like medical or professional services. That’s why paying attention to touchpoints is important. Touchpoint can refer to several things, but here I use it as a term for physical interactions between the user and the service provider. Touchpoints can be divided into interacting with staff, the physical environment of the service, physical components (like a user’s manual or a key), screen interfaces and communication (advertising, brochures).
This was a brief introduction to the field of service design. A field that, it seems, has a huge potential of growth in the coming years. Several factors imply that the need for service design will grow: for example, as I mentioned earlier, the service component in products is increasing in importance. Also, customer expectations are, on the whole, rising – today, customers expect excellence in every service of any significant value, and letting your services develop on an ad hoc basis won’t simply be possible any more if you want to stay in competition. It’s time to start paying close attention to the design of your services.