What is service design?

Megan Cattley


09 February 2022

“Service design is all about making the service you deliver useful, usable, efficient, effective and desirable”

UK Design Council


A difficulty shared by many service design teams and practitioners is defining ‘what is service design’. Unlike other design disciplines there is no universally agreed definition of service design. Instead, we find teams and practitioners each have their own slight variation on its definition. This creates an interesting variation of perspectives on common themes and contributes to service design being seen as an ever-evolving field.


“Our approach to service design focuses on ensuring the service provides an excellent experience for those involved whilst being effective and efficient from an organisational perspective.”

Megan Cattley, Strategist


In practise 

Service design involves understanding and defining the full experience journey of a user. Importantly, this means going beyond what is visible to the user, considering the people, processes and technology required ‘behind the scenes’ to deliver the service. Each touch point contributes to the experience to form a holistic view of the overarching service.


“Every great service or product should be created with users in mind. Typically users are seen as users of digital interfaces, but for service design a user is anyone using the service whether that is digital or physical.”

Megan Cattley, Strategist


From our experience, it is not always possible or practical to impact all stages of a full-service experience. Therefore we believe that this can be broken down and focus placed on smaller areas that can be grown over time while still applying the same principles. An example of this could be focusing on the Customer support experience of your users.


As stated by Nielson Norman, service design can be referred to as arranging, defining and optimising three core components: people, props and processes. This can be considered the who and why, the what, and the how of a service.


People (who is involved and why?)

This includes anyone who is a part of delivering and interacting with a service.


Props (what are the touchpoints?)

These are the digital and physical touch points which are interacted with as part of the service being delivered.


Processes (how is the service delivered?)

This is essentially the ‘how’ of the service, the systems, workflows and processes that are carried out by users or internal teams.


Take staying at a hotel as an example. The “people” would include not only the person staying, but the reception staff, the cleaners, the hotel manager etc. who all contribute to the service of staying at the hotel. The “props” would then include things such as the website booking platform, forms to fill out upon arrival and the room service menu. The “processes” include things such as how customers are greeted on arrival, concierge, and the check-out process.


Want to learn more? 

You can dig deeper into this service offering and the benefits it can have on your business in our free guide. Inside we cover:

  • Our definition 
  • Benefits
  • Principles
  • In practice


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