What is service design (part one)

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Er, is it another word for user experience design?

Most of us who study ‘service design’ or work in this field are facing a question of what service design is.  Among ourselves, we also debate about the boundaries of service design and its core definition. Many people assume service design is just another term for UX design but I disagree. So here, I want to share some of my thoughts regarding service design, from everyday practices to academic debates. Of course, it will be an on-going reflection of my observation and practices in the field and you may agree or not. Please feel free to leave comments and I’d love to hear from you.

Service design is about stakeholders

Since my journey at the RCA, I wonder if there is another element of service design separating this discipline from others (i.e. UX design). When we work on public service projects, one of the important pieces of design is about understanding and engaging different stakeholders. Social housing and public health services (NHS), for example, often require a deep understanding of the stakeholder landscape. In those systems, different actors may have different objectives and values, and most importantly different measurements of success. In a typical service design project, one of the important aspects is to focus on those stakeholders and understand their roles and agenda in the service. Given a deep understanding of the landscape, service design generally aims to empower those stakeholders, which improves the feasibility and reduces systematic conflicts. If we apply the lens of radical innovation, the natural focus of stakeholders in service design may lead to a systematic re-construction of those stakeholders, which may in turn create competitive advantages in a single package of service. Itunes/iPod, Uber, Airbnb, for example, have seen some of those radical innovations by creating an eco-system of stakeholders and linking them into an integrated service.

Service design is about engagement

Following the focus on stakeholders, engagement is another key aspects of service design. Through my journey at the Service Design Studio at the RCA, we utilise various service design methods as engagement tools for working with stakeholders. The idea of ‘designing for and with users’ is reflected constantly in the way we approach problems and reframe them through engagement. The engagement here is not only an approach for designers to understand problems and create solutions but a key element of creating an environment for an organisation. This is conducive to different departments and stakeholders functioning holistically and integretively. Because service design is to propose a change in delivering system, it requires service designers to understand and deploy design as a new change management method to allow a new service rooting inside the organisation.

Service design is about measurement

The nature of a service means the production and consumption often happens at the same time and space. In comparison with manufacturing, ‘service’ does not have the luxury of having quality control during production (i.e. factory). It means that restaurants need to ask customers whether the food and everything else is good or not. The insurance companies need a feedback questionnaire from the customers who have just spoken on the phone with their call centre. The criteria of measurement is very important indeed indicating what employees should care about and do everyday and capturing the actual rational and irrational feeling of customers. Because service is not tangible in its nature, as service designers we are constantly trying capture the impact of the service we design and thinking about measurement.

(To be continued…)

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