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    Why Service Design is confusing and therefore very hard to sell

    Jimi Wikman

    If you work as a Service Designer or as someone who try to sell Service Design assignments, then you probably have noticed that it is not so easy. You probably have met your fair share of people that have no idea what you are talking about. Maybe you have written that off because the job title is still fairly new, but that is not always the case.

    Service Design from a UX perspective is still fairly confusing and poorly defined. It's a problem that you hear many definitions of what a UX Service Designer actually do, but there are other problems as well. Let us first look at how UX Service Design is defined.


    Service design practice is the specification and construction of processes that delivers valuable capacities for action to a particular user. Service design practice can be both tangible and intangible and it can involve artifacts or other elements such as communication, environment and behaviors.[9] Several authors of service design theory including Pierre Eiglier,[10]Richard Normann,[11] Nicola Morelli,[12] emphasize that services come to existence at the same moment they are being provided and used. In contrast, products are created and "exist" before being purchased and used.[12] While a designer can prescribe the exact configuration of a product, s/he cannot prescribe in the same way the result of the interaction between users and service providers,[6] nor can s/he prescribe the form and characteristics of any emotional value produced by the service.

    Consequently, service design is an activity that, among other things, suggests behavioral patterns or "scripts" to the actors interacting in the service. Understanding how these patterns interweave and support each other are important aspects of the character of design and service.[13] This allows greater user freedom, and better provider adaptability to the users' behavior.

    The 2018 book, This Is Service Design Doing: Applying Service Design Thinking in the Real World, by Adam Lawrence, Jakob Schneider, Marc Stickdorn, and Markus Edgar Hormess, proposes six service design principles:[23]

    1. Human-centered: Consider the experience of all the people affected by the service.[23]
    2. Collaborative: Stakeholders of various backgrounds and functions should be actively engaged in the service design process.[23]
    3. Iterative: Service design is an exploratory, adaptive, and experimental approach, iterating toward implementation.[23]
    4. Sequential: The service should be visualized and orchestrated as a sequence of interrelated actions.[23]
    5. Real: Needs should be researched in reality, ideas prototyped in reality, and intangible values evidenced as physical or digital reality.[23]
    6. Holistic: Services should sustainably address the needs of all stakeholders through the entire service and across the business.[23]

    Together with the most traditional methods used for product design, service design requires methods and tools to control new elements of the design process, such as the time and the interaction between actors. An overview of the methodologies for designing services is proposed by Nicola Morelli in 2006,[5] who proposes three main directions:

    • Identification of the actors involved in the definition of the service by means of appropriate analytical tools
    • Definition of possible service scenarios, verifying use cases, and sequences of actions and actors’ roles in order to define the requirements for the service and its logical and organizational structure
    • Representation of the service by means of techniques that illustrate all the components of the service, including physical elements, interactions, logical links and temporal sequences


    This is a fairly fluffy definition of what the UX Service Designer do and as with so much of the design discipline it have no real process, but rather some blocks of activities that are loosely defined. It is no wonder why it is so hard to understand what the UX Service Designer will actually do and how it is different from the regular UX Designer.

    As UX Service Designers is supposed to work on a higher level than a UX Designer, you also face the issue that many of the executives and managers you meet comes from a background in ITIL. That means that many you will talk to probably have a certification in ITIL Service Design. Now you will face not just the problem to define exactly what you do and will deliver, but you also need to explain why they would hire you when they have a certification in that same discipline.

    The ITIL Service Design is a bit different because as UX Service Design focus on the user experience, ITIL Service Design focus on different things and have a different definition of Service than the standard IT definition.



    Service Design identifies service requirements and devises new service offerings as well as changes and improvements to existing ones.

    In the ITIL model, a 'Service' is defined as, "A means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks."[2] The meaning is thus highly business-focused and assumes some degree of outsourcing, although this may just be outsourcing from within the functional business unit to some IT services group within the same overall business.[3]

    'Service' in this context should not be confused with the IT meanings of 'service', such as a web service. This is somewhat confused by ITIL also recommending the adoption of service-oriented architecture, as expounded by OASIS.[4] In most technical contexts, SOA is widely assumed to imply the provision and interconnection of technical services. Although a fashionable buzzword for ITIL to have incorporated, they do not use the term according to its general meaning.


    This is why when you step into a room filled with experience executives and managers and proclaim that you are a Service Designer, that might not generate the mental image of a UX Service Designer, but that of an ITIL Service Designer. This is not a very good starting position, especially when you talk about user experience and they might wonder how that is relevant to resource management or fund allocations.

    My suggestion is therefore to always refer to your profession as a UX Service Designer rather than just Service Designer. It will make sure you at least will not be confused with an ITIL Service Designer.

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