The Evolution Of Service Design

Where does the term "service design" come from? How did the field evolve? Which other disciplines influence service design? In this post, I try to answer some questions that occurred to me every time I read something about service design.

Service Design is emerging as an important topic – but not a new one. It just wasn’t the centre of attention until now. The term can be traced back to 1982, when Lynn Shostack introduced it to the scientific community as a marketing topic. Years later, in 2002, the topic emerged again – both in academia and practice. Chris Downs, who will be speaking at NEXT Service Design, founded the first agency for service design. At the same time Michael Erlhoff and Birgit Mager initiated a department at Köln International School of Design focussing on the design of services.

Service design lives at the intersection of marketing, business, design and technology. Originally, it developed from product design and marketing. Tangible objects have been thoroughly planned, designed and optimised for a long time, whereas services – if considered at all – were thought of as trivial. It took a long while for the industry to realise the potential services offer, if you’re designed and planned properly. And even today, this process of rethinking is still not complete.

Because of the technological state-of-the-art at that time, service design mostly referred to analogue services like customer support. Due to the spread of the Internet and advanced mobile devices, companies started to realise that services do not necessarily have to be intangible goods delivered person to person. Car2go, Nike + and Apple’s iTunes are very successful examples of digital services performed by software and hardware.

They’re attached to tangible products to offer customers added value and provide the company with a unique selling proposition. An iPod doesn’t have to be the best MP3 player, because iTunes is such a comprehensive and easy-to-use service that it sets the iPod apart from its competitors. By adopting a similar approach, companies are able to generate growth even in mature markets – an important issue in times of price transparency, meta search-engines and customer reviews.

Service design evolved in parallel with other disciplines stemming from a rather technological viewpoint, like interaction and user experience design. Coming from different angles, those fields share a similar focus. That’s why service design methods have been largely influenced by tools used in other areas: experience prototyping, usability testing, scenarios or personas are all good examples. What sets service design apart from those disciplines is its customer-centric approach, in taking the whole system – not just the service itself – into consideration. It’s about managing every touchpoint between brand and customer – not just the interactions between staff and consumer, e.g. at the point of sales or on support hotlines. Every occasion – on which a person uses the company’s products – should be planned and designed to create the best possible customer experiences. So, service in this context does not only refer to the traditional stand-alone services (e.g. a haircut or massage) or delivery & maintenance services, but to everything brands offer their customers beyond the physical product.

Lead Photo by NEW DATA SERVICES on Unsplash