3 Qualities Driving Growth & Adoption of Service Design

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Jan 15 2013, Posted by Florian Vollmer

As evident in the presentations and discourse I participated in during the Global Service Design Network Conference 2012 in Paris, France, Service Design (SD) is maturing as a professional discipline. Service Design is the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers. The purpose of Service Design methodologies is to design according to the needs of customers or participants, so that the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers. The backbone of this process is to understand the behavior of the customers, their needs and motivations.

A little history. In 1991, Service Design was first introduced as a design discipline by Professor Dr. Michael Erlhoff at Köln International School of Design (KISD) at The Cologne University of Applied Sciences in Cologne, Germany, and Professor Birgit Mager has played an integral role for developing the study of Service Design at KISD in later days. Naturally, the adoption of service design as a practice first began in Europe and is now spreading to other continents.

The definition of Service Design is becoming more consistent, according to Professor Mager, and she describes Service Design as being useful, usable, and desirable for the user as well as being efficient, effective and different for the provider.

Moving the discussion from the interface to the system, and now to the strategy level indicates further maturing. Service Design can only be possible with an understanding of and a willingness to create organizational change.

Getting to that level of organizational change has the discipline focusing on the psychological dimension of Service Design. The designer is more understood as a facilitator of empathy, collaboration, commonality and shared values.

The future of Service Design is greatly influenced by the ever-growing complexity in our world: mobile technology, sensors, and natural interfaces will change the way we innovate and deliver services. Much like the layers of reality enabled by mobile data today, these technologies profoundly impact our future – and enable a world of opportunity for the responsible service designer.

True innovation in services is also driven by another key development: the establishment of a shared language and consistent methodologies, which enables cross-functional teams to collaborate more effectively.

In the search for providing meaningful, valuable customer experiences, the industry is also seeing leading brands re-appropriate marketing funds towards Service Design initiatives.

Service Design has seen rapid adoption in Europe over the last few years, and we are beginning to experience rapid adoption across Asia and America now. As corporations and consultants focus on the business imperative of positive, meaningful experiences, the profession of Service Design is poised to take a lead role in activating this strategic shift.

Three key qualities of service design will drive that change:

  • Unlike research houses, agencies, or even small consultancies, the responsible Service Design firm takes engagements across a holistic spectrum from initial observations and insight to strategic planning. From execution planning to managing and supporting the execution. Intrinsic Service Design is the notion of continuous improvement and iteration (something the software world learned a long, long time ago – and arguably has led a revolution of the user experience and subsequently entire industries). Leading practitioners and stakeholders collaborate to take on that joint responsibility to plan and execute for lasting relevance.
  • Unlike a designer or team focusing on just improving the customer experience, the responsible Service Design provider also focuses on designing for all stakeholders, end customers and corporate players alike. That focus on the entire system positions Service Design uniquely and directly at the intersection of business and design.
  • The Service Design community embraces open sharing of methods and tools in order to further the development of the field and the establishment of a shared language and processes. It also embraces open and free collaboration with hackathon-style jams, with Global Service Jam finding practitioners, clients, and interested people openly and freely collaborating simply out of a shared interest in a young discipline. Info Retail is excited to host Atlanta area professionals to participate in Global Service Jam, March 1-3, 2013.

For more information about the Service Design Network:
For more information about Global Service Jam:


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