Why Digital Service Design matters

For the second year running NEXT is running a conference on Service Design - why does this concept matter so much to the digital industry?

Why is NEXT returning to the issue of Service Design? What is it about the issue that makes it such a compelling topic of discussion for the digital business?

Here’s the thing: it could very well be its future.

Right now, the digital industry is relentlessly product-focused. Even the very language we use in our jobs is product-led – product managers, for example. We pitch our products to funders, we ship our products to users, we gather product feedback. The problem with products, though, is that one can be swapped for another quite easily. Other things – like service ecosystems – are so much harder to swap. That’s why the like of Google, Apple and Amazon are competing so hard to provide a range of service offerings in an ecosystem around their products. That service ecosystem makes the user much more likely to stay with their product the next time they switch devices. In many ways, Google and Amazon are all about the service ecosystem, with the products – often sold at or near cost – just convenient gateways to them.

For all our focus on the latest gadgets, the latest app, its service that really grab the users’ unconscious and turn them into regular customers.

18 months ago, NEXT devoted itself to the idea of the post-digital era, where digital technology had become so pervasive that it was no longer interesting, and only the uses of that technology demanded attention. At its best, digital service design is post-digital product design. It lifts our attention beyond the app, beyond the piece of tech, beyond even the user experience, to the whole stream of interactions that our customers encounter at whatever stage of the process.

This problem extends beyond the digital-focused industries, too. Look at news publishing, which, on the whole, is still publishing the same set of copy into multiple channels on different devices without – as yet – stopping to think about the rhythms of a customers’ device interactions and news needs throughout the day. Has the airline industry really though about how digital could smooth the whole of the customer flow from researching a trip through to their arrival experience? No. Digital tools are still add-ons, or replacements, to the traditional experience of air travel.

In a sense, the emergence of digital service design is a sign of the digital industry beginning to mature, and look at itself in a different way. As we move beyond the “cool app” factor, into trying to insert ourselves into people’s daily routines in a useful way, we need to think much more about how we serve people in a useful and frictionless way when they need our tools, rather than trying to draw attention all the time.

We need to think about what services our tools are facilitating, and how else they could be provided. We need to design those services. We need digital service design.