Communicators need to understand what Service Design (SD) is and how it fits into their responsibilities, and its importance when planning and designing the new company website, online portal or employee Intranet.

While the term User Experience (UX) is a staple in our profession, the term Service Design is less used and understood. Usability engineer Don Normal coined the term user experience while working for Apple in the mid-’90s. With UX, Norman is referring to the relationship between the user and an object. In website terms, UX describes the way a website feels to a user.

One analogy of UX is the automobile, where the steering wheel, gauges and controls are all located in predictable places. When you get into a rental car, everything feels familiar and accessible, and you instinctively know where to reach to adjust the seat. That is good UX.

In a similar fashion, all the parts of a website should also ‘feel’ right. A visitor should not have to waste time locating a phone number, puzzling over a non-standard function, or trying to figure out an overly complex navigation system. Everything needs to be readily accessible as that is the entire point.

“I walk around the world and encounter new objects all the time. How do I know how to use them?”

– Don Norman
Director of The Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego,
Co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group

Service Design follows a process of human-centred design where solutions incorporate the human perspective in all steps of solving a design or management problem. With Service Design, planning includes a broad scope and considers the material components (goods) and immaterial components (services) that an organization provides in relation to the many ways and contexts that the end-user will interact with the organization – basically the design of an exchange. To use an analogy, if UX is the surface of the ocean, then Service Design also includes all the matter and life below.

Service Design is about designing for the big picture. It encompasses all the complex interactions that users experience when they interact with your business at each step of their journey. And it is not only about the customer; Service Design is a holistic set of processes that factors in service providers and all relevant stakeholders – employees included – into the exchange.

The Service Design Network (SDN) defines service design as:

“…the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between organizations and customers. The purpose of service design methodologies is to design according to the needs of customers or participants so that the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers.”

In This is Service Design Doing: Applying Service Design Thinking in the Real World, by Adam Lawrence, Jakop Schneider, Marc Stickdorn, and Markus Edgar Hormess, the authors propose six Service Design principles:

Service Design is:

  1. Human-centred: Consider the experience of all the people affected by the service.
  2. Collaborative: Stakeholders of various backgrounds and functions should be actively engaged in the Service Design process.
  3. Iterative: Service Design is an exploratory, adaptive, and experimental approach, iterating toward implementation.
  4. Sequential: The service should be visualized and orchestrated as a sequence of interrelated actions.
  5. Real: Needs should be researched in reality, ideas prototyped in reality, and intangible values evidenced as physical or digital reality.
  6. Holistic: Services should sustainably address the needs of all stakeholders throughout the entire service and across the business.

“Service Design is all about making the service you deliver useful, usable, efficient, effective and desirable.”

– The UK Design Council

Understanding the service exchanges between an organization and its customers can help to better align customer needs with a company’s processes. Where there are exchange friction points, these can serve as opportunities to correct organizational shortcomings, improve brand perception, and bridge the gap between customers and the organization.

Communicators bring valuable expertise in research and planning to the process of Service Design. This can be particularly advantageous for organizations that are rethinking or refining their service delivery through the use of digital tools.

If you are looking to improve service delivery through digital transformation in your organization our strategists and designers can help.

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