An Introduction to Service Design

An Introduction to Service Design

Designing the Invisible

Lara Penin

Learning (and teaching) service design can be challenging because it is in great part about designing the invisible. The core of services are social interactions that happen over time, and designing for services therefore implies designing material and immaterial conditions for interactions and experiences, flows, and systems. But most of all, we are designing the enabling conditions for people to solve a problem and improve their lived experience.

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While service design is connected with traditional design domains, such as visual communication and the built environment, it is equally connected to organizational policies, protocols, business models, scripts, and choreographies. So, as service design aggregates different practices and mindsets and enters new domains and possibilities, it may actually help redefine design altogether and reshape our understanding of what design really does and what capabilities it entails. This book makes a case for service design as an original and legitimate design practice in its own right, an ambitious and transdisciplinary design practice occupying a strategic space between creating visions of sustainable social and environmental futures, and negotiating these visions within organizational and political realities. Service designers therefore have the challenge of dealing with businesses, government, and the civil society at large, as our efforts can affect labor relations, economic performance, and public policy.

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In economic terms, service occurs when there’s a value exchange between parts. One part, the service provider, performs a certain activity that results in some benefit that includes a specific output and involves certain experiences. The other part, the service user, sees value in the output, the experience, or both combined and is willing to pay for it or exchange for something else of equivalent value.

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Services permeate our busy daily journeys sometimes in invisible ways—when we take a bus, go to school, use a credit card, talk or send a message over the phone, use social media, go to a restaurant, go to the dentist, or read the news. The events of our lives are interconnected through a myriad of different services. Through them, we get things done and get to interact with different people and organizations. Services are everywhere, as life’s essential scaffold, as a soft infrastructure of our lives.

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Services are people-centric entities that are essentially relational and social. They are also temporal, because relationships happen over time. Because human actions and relationships are at the basis of services, it is essential that we acknowledge the uncertainty and unpredictability as contingent to services. Service interactions are therefore unpredictable; we have no guarantees that things will happen in a certain way.

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Service management literature acknowledges interactions as “the moment of truth” of services, the moment when value in services is constituted. “Service encounters” occur when a person (user) interacts with a service via a touchpoint. Touchpoints are the material face of services and comprise the artifacts that support the service’s interactions. They not only physically enable the interactions but also are key to make them better, more efficient, more meaningful, and more desirable. Services are therefore also material because they are anchored or supported by some kind of artifact. The interaction that happens in the moment of truth is crucial in determining the perceived value of the service for people, who at that point are able to assess results against cost and effort of the service provider.

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services can be delivered through unique face-to-face encounters, through automated digital interfaces, and through a number of different channels or a combination of them. Each one of these channels and the processes behind them need to be accounted for when orchestrating services. The consistent delivery of positive moments of truth over time is a critical challenge for service organizations of all kinds.

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Product designers know that they will design a three-dimensional object, graphic designers knows they will be designing a two-dimensional visual piece, and architects know they will be designing a physical space. Service designers might not know what they will be designing until further into their research process.

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materiality of the servicescapes not only has a strong impact on customers’ perceptions and behaviors within the service experience, but it also affects service providers. Servicescapes can therefore be understood as the stage for the service interaction, where the dialogue or ballet between users and providers comes to life.

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How do you define service design? Service design is the activity of choreographing people, infrastructure, communication, and material components of a service in order to create value for the multiple stakeholders involved. In the very early times, we were focused on designing interfaces, touchpoints, and artifacts that were usable, useful, and desirable for users. Today we see that value should be distributed equally among all stakeholders. Considering the entire system is one way to bridge the gap between concept and implementation, which would make service design more attractive to different industries.

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What are the limits to service design? Often service design intervenes into political systems of power within organizations and within established structures and processes. So it demands a good understanding of change processes in order to go beyond colorful sticky notes to implementation of innovative concepts.

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•Service-dominant logic theory argues that services are the real base of our economy and that all economies are service economies. The real exchange is services even if mediated through goods.

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In the United States alone, the service sector corresponds to nearly 80 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) from which the main contributing industries are as follows, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis: real estate (13 percent), government services (14 percent), finance and insurance (8 percent), health and social care (8 percent), information (4 percent), and arts and entertainment (4 percent).

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Banks are, after all, the quintessential service on which basic aspects of services can be demonstrated (including interactions, channels, touchpoints, but also intangibles such as expectations, relationships, and trust). Banks represent a service whose own name references the definition of service. The word bank comes from banca in Italian, meaning “counter.” During the Renaissance, Florentine bankers conducted their transactions on high counters where clients would deposit their metal coins—their savings from labor, inheritances, possessions, and fortunes—onto the table top. The tall surface demarcated space for this special transaction, symbolizing mutual trust, with the service roles determined by the physical separation: service providers (bankers) on one side, and service users (clients) on the opposite.

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By necessity, service organizations seek to run their operations in the most cost-efficient way. The efficiency approach is borrowed from the mass-production model typical of assembly lines in the manufacturing sector. When management, logistics, and production aspects are made efficient, services become industrialized, standardized, and reliable. The other side of this story is that service experiences, different from mass-produced goods, are unique. There is an expectation from users that their interaction with service providers will be unique and somehow special, especially if they involve face-to-face interactions. Customized services are highly valued by customers, but they tend to come at a high cost for organizations. Standardization and customization are contradictory terms. The question for service organizations is therefore finding the right balance between standardization and customization in a way that their services meet customers’ expectations of reliability while also being personal and human.

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The service blueprint is a time-based matrix. The horizontal axis works as a timeline showing the sequential actions of a service unfolding in time. The vertical axis captures the interactions between users and staff and between frontline staff and back-office operations, breaking down the front-and backstage parts of a service provision. The service blueprint can be an analytical tool to map existing service deliveries (current states) but also work as a generative tool in the design or redesign of services (future states). In essence, the blueprint visually captures a service as a whole, breaking down its interactions through time and by actors such as user, front-office staff, back-office staff, and supporting systems and subcontractors, showing the touchpoints used in each step. The blueprint makes it easier to identify pain-points, flaws, and missing connections. Blueprints can be used to understand soft aspects such as behaviors, cause-and-effect relationships, and the technical components and support processes. While service designers frequently use a number of other time-based tools such as journey maps, the benefit of the service blueprint is its ability to capture information about both users and providers at the same time. It is the best tool available to designers who coordinate the balance between standardization and customization.

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I think that we should redefine what is the product of our design activity. In dealing with the complexity, unpredictability, and networked nature of services, we rely greatly on codesign processes. An important aspect of codesign processes is the production of intermediate artifacts that can materialize as tools or design activities. These are the products of this kind of design. More specifically, these tools and design activities include ethnographic research, scenario building, storytelling exercises, concept cogeneration workshops, prototyping, conceptualization of digital platforms, or other specific communication tools. These activities may take place as part of larger and open-ended codesign processes, but should be considered as unique and relatively autonomous results. These are the intermediate design products and artifacts I am referring to here. Designers must clearly communicate the value of their tools and design activities, what they can uniquely bring to these processes, and what they will produce for the overall codesign process.

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Today, what should be done well (i.e., in an expert way) by service designers is often done by others. That is, by other practitioners who extended their original field of activity toward service design (even though they are not calling themselves service designers and haven’t been trained as such). This is the case with architects and urban planners who are working with local authorities designing new kinds of urban services; software developers, developing applications that are technology-based services; social workers, developing new social services; NGO activists, inventing empowering services with under-served communities.

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Both service and UX focus on the experience of the customer or stakeholder. The way that they’ve come to it, however, is different. UX is still focused on one product or one thing and maybe one user, but service looks holistically across touchpoints and across many stakeholders.

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While defined and perceived differently across countries, regions, and cities, the public sector is the place where the basic character of a society is defined. How well do we educate our youth? How well do we take care of our elderly? How do we approach health care? How livable are our cities?

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Another design contribution is centered on the designer’s ability to help imagine and visualize alternative futures and make ideas and concepts tangible and easily testable through prototyping before they get fully implemented. In addition, the service designer’s ability to look at users’ requirements in a holistic way can be very useful in terms of imagining ways for unifying experiences and service provisions across different departments and organizations and therefore reducing waste of resources and duplication of efforts.

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It is important for designers not to start with an attitude of trying to change everything all at once. You have to find the spaces where everybody feels comfortable. Designers need to cultivate a humble approach. It takes a different kind of creativity to make innovation happen under those constraints. To do this takes a level of understanding where these constraints come from. You need to understand the culture and how to operate effectively within it. This requires being very conscious of how designers present their ideas. You have to create an environment that makes people secure about what the process is in the first place. In other words, how to make people who are unfamiliar with design comfortable with a process that is inherently different from what they normally do. It is both about the design ideas and how you design conditions for those ideas to be well received.

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When designers work for the public interest, there’s an opportunity for setting up a standard of service excellence and providing quality, equitable services for all, no matter their income, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. You are setting a standard at the level of civil society. You are involved in saying, “This is how it should be.” In this way, the stakes are quite high.

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Servicescapes are defined as the whole of a physical setting of a given face-to-face service interaction, and include architecture, interior design, environmental graphics, signage, decoration, atmospherics, and all elements that have an impact on the physical experience. Servicescapes are the aesthetic surface of services, designed to entice certain experiences, and convey values of a brand. They enable the achievement of organizational goals as well as marketing ones. As the aesthetic manifestation of an organization, a servicescape affects user experiences as well as those of the working staff. The servicescape has a profound impact on service workers; it is their stage after all. Uniforms, dress codes, verbal and gestural protocols, and other aspects related to the personal presentation of front-office staff are also components of the servicescape.

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Service designers need to acknowledge that designing services often involves redesigning systems or redesigning the organizations themselves. Each private company, public organization, or nonprofit has its own organizational ethos that might be more or less codified into rules, protocols, and processes. What designers need to understand is that when they step into an organization, they are not stepping into a void space, but a legacy and culture are already in place. People in organizations often spend a lot of time working to improve the existing services. Public sector agencies, for example, have long histories of design and redesign of their services, bound to policies and regulations, and have responded to changing administrations over time. For this reason, concepts such as change and disruption, so dear to designers, may not sound like such good news to many people inside organizations. When designers start working on a project with an organization, they need to do so carefully, recognizing what’s already in place, often based on delicate relationships and balances. Service designers need to recognize design legacies and design agendas already present in organizations whether they are good or bad, efficient or not. And in doing so, they need to develop productive dialogues with the people inside different parts of the organization to see things from their perspective and define together which changes are needed and what are the possible ways to implement them.

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The most essential design capacity is invention, the capacity of envisioning preferred futures. In other words, the main job of designers is to have ideas that change the current reality. Ideas need not necessarily materialize into solutions ready to be implemented. These ideas can be expressed as hypothetical scenarios that help us think about the future we want. To be able to have new ideas, designers must understand contexts and cultures; see realities; and capture their needs and aspirations, contradictions and constraints. And from them, designers should be able to creatively synthesize these elements into new artifacts, the products of design that are meaningful, useful, and that carry an aesthetic that resonates with the public, enabling interactions and outcomes that are equally meaningful to the public. In other cases, the product of design work is not the artifact but the idea itself, the scenario of a different future that helps people and organizations rethink their mission and purpose.

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Through visualizations, designers help other people “see” different possible futures and use the visuals to prompt discussions about consequences—for example, how do we get to that future, is it desirable, is it possible, what are the barriers to get there? Visualizations are also an essential communication tool bridging the world of ideas to the world of concrete construction.

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service design is user-centered because it does care a great deal about users. But more than that, it needs to be human-centered or people-centered. What’s the difference? On one hand, users are people before they are users of a service. People who belong to communities, families, cities, and cultures and need to be considered in all the complexity determined by these relationships. On the other hand, there are other humans, other than the users that are also part of the service design equation. As we discussed in Chapter 5, services are delivered by people, the service staff, front office, and back office. So not only service users need to be accounted for; service designers also need to employ all the human-centeredness of ethnographic methods in relation to service workers.

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More than user-centered, we say human-or people-centered, because it’s more about understanding social interactions rather than simply thinking about users. In other words, it has to do with the understanding of interaction between different kinds of people that are involved in a service provision. This is the core. Without it, it’s not service design. Without that deeper understanding of interactions, behaviors, habits, and needs, it can’t be defined as design.

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The whole research process can be explained as problem seeking (interviewing and observing people to understand what their problem really is) and problem framing (defining the main aspects of the problem, such as parameters, patterns, and themes). At the end of such a discovery process, service designers should be able to frame the problem with enough confidence so that they can move into the next phase of the service design process (brainstorming and concept generation).

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In our work, we draw from various social scientific theories culled from books and journals and run them through the actual stories that are being uncovered in our field work. We ask ourselves, for example, “if stigma was the framework for understanding this story, what would it tell us, and what kinds of solutions would we develop with that framework in mind?” We do this with at least five or six different theories so that we’re generating a range of ideas based on all these different theoretical models. We then try and share that back visually in some way. I think reading things like long documents and academic articles and learning how to extract information from them is very generative and a source of creativity. You can see it as a kind of brainstorming tool.

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For us, it’s really important to have at least half of our team come from the existing service system and working with us full time. Designers are often great at having ways to move through a process, but often lack the kind of historical or philosophical context of things that have been tried before. We need that depth of knowledge and expertise. This is why we read articles from different disciplines and want to work alongside folks that have been in a particular field for ten, twenty, thirty years. They have those historical reference points. They know what’s been tried and what hasn’t worked. At the same time, we’re trying to take a fresh approach on it. It’s a really interesting dance. We are critical of the existing service system, and we’re asking our secondees to have a very critical lens on the work they’ve done in the past as well. We emphasize that we need newer, alternative ways of doing things, while at the same time, understanding the depth of the know-how that is there.

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Conducting landscape analysis Landscape analysis involves secondary data, expert inputs, theoretical frameworks, and precedents. Secondary data include reports, white papers, academic papers, statistical reports, results from surveys and market research, and results from “big data” analytics showing behavior trends. Theoretical frameworks such as behavioral insights or historical analysis can help provide a rational structure for the research phase and beyond. Experts in the field who are not directly involved as project stakeholders may have critical information that could help designers gain important insights and perspectives. Also useful would be analyses of similar offerings, analyses of other organizations operating in the same fields or analogous case studies, and initiatives that may inform the current conditions. No project starts from zero. And often, a project proposal is built on the success or failure of previous initiatives. After entering a new problem space, service design teams first try to cover the horizons and understand the main indicators, history, conditions, and previous experiences relevant to the context. Understanding the landscape of a project is not a finite task within the process, however. This discovery process continues as a parallel action throughout the project development by revisiting the research question and the project goals. Secondary data may come from a myriad of sources. Research centers, census data, and governmental and other official documentation are the most reliable sources for data. Reading reports, theoretical texts, and other written sources and collating critical learnings and frameworks from them are important but not necessarily popular tasks for designers.

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It is commonly recognized that what people say they do might not correspond exactly to what they actually do because we tend to idealize our own actions. Observations are essential to reveal broader cultural and social contexts.

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The journey map is basically a visual timeline that graphically documents a sequence of service engagements and interactions, showing multiple touchpoints and channels throughout. It captures the user’s whole route through the service. The journey map is essentially a user-centered tool. The point of view is always that of users—what they see, feel, and experience. The journey map tries to capture motivations and causal effects behind people’s actions. It can be used both as a research tool, to map out existing services, or as an ideation tool to help generate new service sequences and features.

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The service blueprint is the quintessential service design tool. Different from the user journey map that focuses on the user perspective, the unique value of the service blueprint is showing the user actions in relation to the logistics and organizational actions by the service provider organization. The service blueprint breaks down all the service participants (users, staff, both frontline and back-office and supporting systems) and distinguishes the front-stage and back-stage parts of a service provision. The purpose of doing a service blueprint can vary. A current states service blueprint is used as a research and analysis tool to map existing service deliveries, and a future states service blueprint is used as an ideation tool. The main elements of the service blueprint include five lanes separated by four lines: •The first lane on the top shows the service touchpoints and is determined by the interface line. The touchpoints can be written, drawn, or shown through real pictures. •The second lane, immediately above the interaction line, captures the users’ actions. •The third lane, immediately below the interaction line, captures the actions by front-office staff. •The fourth lane captures the actions conducted by the back-office staff that are hidden from the user, behind the visibility line. •The fifth lane at the bottom, below the internal interaction line, shows the actions by supporting systems or subcontractors involved in the service delivery. In the horizontal axis, a service blueprint can be segmented in typical phases of the service delivery. For example, in a hotel scenario, the phases would be (1) booking a hotel, (2) arrival and check-in, (3) settling period, and (4) checking out.

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A current states service blueprint starts with interviews; observational or experiential research with users, staff, and management; and transfer of all collected data into a draft blueprint. The draft blueprint can be shared with project stakeholders and work as a collective diagnostic tool, to identify gaps, pain points, patterns, and opportunities for improvement. Conversely, a future states service blueprint can be a tool for cocreation, helping the project team decide to work on specific segments or stages of the service and leading to recommendations, roadmaps, and concepts for new touchpoints and experiences.

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