July 06th 2015

Service + Design Thinking = Service Design

It has been shown how service exists within the marketing context. By introducing design processes and design thinking we can start to arrive at a more up to date understanding of what Service Design is and the activities behind it.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, IDEO (2009)1

Design thinking is a human-centered innovation process that uses an empathetic approach. It does not relate to an individual craft of design but rather to a methodology to apply the design process to provide solutions or innovation in any particular subject matter. It involves multidisciplinary teams, collaboration, rapid prototyping and business analysis.

The objective is to involve customers, designers, and business people in an integrative process, which can be applied to product, service or business model. However for service design there is one unique aspect. Normally design is concerned with a final object. For Product designers they are designing towards the final product, the ultimate artifact ready for consumption. Graphic designers need to create a final message in order to communicate a recognized need. With service design however it is the journey that becomes important, recognising that experiences change over the multiple “touch points” that user may interact with.

Service Design Techniques

Service design is a multi disciplinary approach that combines and uses many techniques and exercises from fields such as; social design, graphic design, product design, strategic management and operations management. What follows is a brief overview of these techniques. There are no strict rules when it comes to using these tools, employ appropriateness and good common sense.

Design Ethnography

Design ethnography is very important to service design. The depth of ethnographic research will depend largely on time, budget and experience.

Born out of the social sciences and anthropology, the goal of design ethnography is to build an empathic understanding of the target group. This allows the designers to work from the perspective of the target group when generating ideas or implementing a project.

It delivers results that inform and inspire the design process, it help forms reference materials on the target groups motivations, goals and concerns. Finally, it provides findings that can be communicated back to other project team members.

Stakeholder Maps

This is a visual representation of the various groups involved in a project. In doing so the relationships between the groups are easier to analyse. The map is an important tool to identify where groups share common interests, knowing this can help the designer (manager) to use their resources more effectively. It can also give insights into how the project might be run, who needs to be involved, or it may show up considerations that had not even been considered.

The Five Whys

A simple technique to drill down into the underlying reasons behind an initial answer. It is simply asking ‘why?’ five times. The question is limited to five times so it does not go off track too far from the original question. The five Whys is a simple, versatile and quick technique to gain a deeper understanding of complex issues.

Persona Development

A Persona is a fictional character that can represent a real life group based on shared interests. Personas provide a means for designers to approach a project different, it is in part an empathic approach, helping the designer to visualise potential users and what their requirements may be. They are collated from a number of sources, desktop research, field research insights and personal experience.

Service Prototypes

Part of design thinking is the idea to create rapid prototypes as early and as many as possible, in this case a simulation of the service experience. It can help move ideas on in the early stages in the process or likewise it can help identify potential issues.

In this particular case involving TMS we can quickly wireframe potential layouts and user interfaces of the website and can quickly see how a web page might work.


The entire TMS project is based around co-creation, it can include anyone involved in a project. The stakeholder map is a useful tool for analyzing who needs to be directly involved and those who need to be aware of key milestones in the project for them to sign off on so the project can move forward.

Co-creation is a way of incorporating open-source development. This does not necessarily mean that final choices become a group decision. The ideas that are generated will always be filtered against the issues at hand.

Another positive effect is that people involved have a shared sense of ownership. It can provide the means for people to buy into a project if they feel that they have had their stamp on it. With a project like TMS this means it can be easier to maintain momentum with a project and a level of excitement.

Agile Project Management

Agile is a management style primarily developed in the software engineering sector that allows projects to remain flexible over time, adapt and grow as the needs of the client change, this flexibility makes it ideal to mange creative projects. Traditional project management styles are described as ‘waterfall’, where one step follows the next step.


Figure 5: Overview of waterfall project management

These processes tend to be too rigid for creative projects. Instead agile actively adapts to situations, placing personal interactions above formalised methodologies. To this end Agile follows a set of values:

Agile Values

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan


‘Agile’ has manifest itself in such styles as ‘SCRUM’ project management which describes a particular management style where the design team is protected from interruptions, the core however is still the same as ‘agile’ and based around a ‘Kanban’ (Henrik Kniberg, 2011)3 board in order to deliver on project specifics.


Figure 6: Kanban board

Agile works on the principle of sprints, normally a sprint is two weeks long, in a sprint each team / team member decide what they can do in the next sprint. In this way the team does not have to start at task one and work their way through to the end. Instead a team can be responsive to the resources they have at hand.

There are many more techniques out there that can be used in a service design project. There is no one way of running a project and tools are dipped into to best suit situation / context at hand.


1. https://www.ideo.com/about/

2. https://www.agilemanifesto.org/

3. https://www.infoq.com/minibooks/kanban-scrum-minibook

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