4 mins read

What is service design and why is it important?

Strategy Director

Strategy Director
With over two decades of experience in digital, Sam (aka Sevs) brings a rich heritage in design and build to the table. His career is marked by collaborations with clients such as John Lewis, ASDA Living, and Transport for London (TfL), which paved the way for his transition into user experience and digital strategy. Sam has been at Rawnet now for 11 years and leads the Strategy team with a focus on brand and communication, product design, customer acquisition, and ongoing optimisation. His time here has seen him deliver projects for a diverse array of clients including ITV Studios, Hornby Hobbies, Office Team, Whistl, Strutt & Parker, Woodland Trust, and the Berkeley Group. Sam’s career has equipped him with a versatile expertise in both B2B and B2C across multiple industries, which positions him uniquely to deliver successful strategy plans, roadmaps and reporting frameworks to ensure impact on core business objectives.

What's it all about?

Service Design, a discipline on most radars in the agency and client world is picking up pace. For those not in the know, let’s start with a definition:


"Service Design is the activity of planning and organising people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers."


There's a lot in there that's not really to do with digital right? So why are digital agencies jumping on this? Well, it's all about giving value and getting results. It's true that a service and the application of the design is never 100% digital, however digital can solve the majority of the disconnects, challenges and brick walls services face.

Prosperous tangible benefits though are tough to prove to old-school CEO's who sit at 100% on the ROI justification scale. We do know, from the Design Value Index Study, that those who invest in Service Design win, and they win BIG. S&P 500 companies that have adapted their culture to a service focus have seen a value increase of 211%, to those that haven't. Surely that's enough justification for a CEO? Well, no, because "that's not my business and we run different verticals". She's right. I'd be sceptical too. The truth is taking on a Service Design culture is not for everyone and, as with the justification that was required around the benefits of UX, it will take time. We've heard it all before "we know what our customers want". It gets boring. Well, you do, but probably only about 80%. The other 20% is the chocolate that allows a service to differentiate and provide the real value and growth opportunity.

It's an important decision to make as those who take the gamble are likely to win.

The current state of play

Albeit not a new practice, Service Design is being adopted by the digital world to aid their clients who are not stuck in the short-termism trap. We are seeing Service Design go through the same changes we saw UX go through over the past 10 years. In 2005 we just made websites and then in 2015 we added another string to the bow and made UX focussed websites with justifications for users and business objectives.

However, as the world moves on and expects more, we, as an industry, need to step up and Service Design principles appear to offer the next part of that process. When I say the next part though, it is, in fact, the antepenultimate part of the process (that's the one before penultimate, I Googled it, whatever), the bit before we jump into the user experience research and design. It's time to evaluate and adjust those market propositions and internal focus.

The truth is, if you have been doing anything decent in digital over the last 5 years you will have been a conduit to Service Design without really knowing it. Start with the problem and the tech, conduct your research then jump into UX, iterate and then test throughout the rest of the process. We have slowly and kind of unknowingly been offering our clients the digital transformation they needed in the last 3 years through Service Design thinking.

What the early adopters who provide service design tell us

Companies find it difficult to design a good service. Why? Well, many are stuck in the product mindset. Products are a catalyst to silo departments and its users experience the service in those silos. If the sales team are not aligned to the marketing team and the marketing team to the digital team, friction, at many parts of the interaction, will be experienced, both internally and externally. The point being, companies organise themselves in a way that actually massively hinders them from offering a good service.

I read lots about user relationships and talking this stuff through with certain mindsets and personalities is tricky, but those that accept the benefits of studying users as personas, their journeys and associated pain points learn a lot. It's also important to remember that a service's users are not just it's customers. When staff are let down by applications and processes they get frustrated, that frustration floods out into the customer realm. Happy Staff = Happy Customers.

How do you get value in the real world?

It's a case of trying to cut through the bullshit 381 different workshop canvases that you may well use or be offered and find the real value. No one 'should be' interested in that, it's not tailored and it's not focussed. We find at Rawnet that every client, user base and requirement is different. Sounds cliché I know, but you do have to tailor a process for relevance with old and new project specific tricks.

5 steps to help you adopt service design thinking

  • Co-create throughout as much as you can. Bring everyone that is useful to the output together as much as you can. It's short term cost at long term gain. If a team or type of persona has not been involved when creating the service it will come back to bite you. Whether that's prior or post launch.
  • Be sensible, release and test your iterations frequently. Doing so at the end of a project is a pain.
  • Build up a rapport with everyone involved. Trust and transparency is key to the delivery of a successful project. Service Design is a tough sell throughout. Record and demonstrate the successes you have to prove the value you are offering.
  • If you are not getting the success evaluate and adapt. It's ok to be wrong, but to be wrong for a long time is not cool for your reputation or that of Service Design.
  • If you work exclusively in house where Service Design has been adopted or you are slowly introducing the practice it's easier to take more time to add value. It's likely that value will be minimal, and it will take time to find it. If you work for a brand where perfection trumps ROI though, go for it.
Service Design at its core is decent, it's cool and it adds a whole new level of interest and fun to a client/agency/user delivery journey. In summary, as with the majority of life it's about finding the right balance.

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