What is Service Design?

Summary: Service design has emerged as a powerful UX tool to transform how companies improve efficiency while innovating customer, employee, and brand experiences. It offers a streamlining approach to coordinating a wider design strategy beyond a customer in one channel to multi-channel experiences. It includes the role of employees in the service as well as backend systems and ecosystems that support the service. Hence, we consider it vital to modern UX efforts.

Understanding Service Design

Service Design addresses the fact that your products also deliver or involve services. This means that product-centric approaches are now outdated. Instead, you need a holistic approach to multiple devices, channels, and app-powered services.

Service Design is a holistic approach that aims to improve and optimize the entire service journey. It encompasses every touchpoint a customer and employee encounters, from the initial point of contact to the post-service follow-ups. By taking a comprehensive view of the customer’s journey, businesses can identify pain points, uncover hidden opportunities, and design seamless interactions that delight customers.

It is useful to think of a theater analogy where you coordinate all players and entities from Backstage to Frontstage to deliver the service experience. All of these areas are considered during service design.

Service design backstage to frontstage illustration

The elements of ‘Service Design’

To effectively implement Service Design, it’s crucial to understand its key elements. These elements act as building blocks, allowing businesses to create an integrated, customer-focused service experience.

  1. User Research and Pain Points: The foundation of any good design lies in understanding the users’ needs, desires, and pain points. Through in-depth research, such as Service Safaris and Ethnography, businesses can gain valuable insights that inform the design process.
  2. Journey Mapping: Journey mapping involves visualizing the entire customer journey, step by step, to identify the various touchpoints and interactions. This enables businesses to pinpoint areas that need improvement and optimize the overall experience. We start with the Journey and then move to the Service Blueprint, the master visual plan of how it all comes together. We call this “service orchestration“.
  3. Co-Creation: Involving stakeholders (and users) in the design process can lead to innovative solutions. It can also avoid stakeholder sabotage. Co-creation workshops and feedback sessions empower stakeholders to share their ideas, fostering a sense of ownership and enhancing the final service offering.
  4. Service Blueprinting: Service blueprinting is a powerful tool that breaks down the service process into different layers. It helps businesses understand the frontstage (customer-facing) and backstage (internal processes) components, ensuring that all aspects work seamlessly. Here we map and sequence channels, Touchpoints, and Moments or Moments of Truth. In addition, back-end systems, policies, and ecosystem ‘entities’ are factored into the design.
  5. Prototyping and Testing: To avoid potential pitfalls, service prototyping, and testing are essential steps in the Service Design process. Creating mock-ups of services and conducting usability tests allow businesses to iterate and refine their offerings.
  6. Metrics and Measurement: Measuring the success of a service is vital to gauge its impact and make necessary improvements. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) help assess the effectiveness of the service design implementation.

Real-Life Examples

To grasp the practical applications, let’s explore a couple of real-life examples:

1. Starbucks: Elevating the Coffee Experience

Starbucks, a global coffee giant, has revolutionized the coffee shop experience through Service Design. From the moment customers walk through the door, they are immersed in a welcoming ambiance. The layout and interior design of Starbucks stores are carefully planned to encourage social interactions and provide comfortable spaces for customers to work or relax.

Moreover, the ordering process is streamlined and personalized, allowing customers to customize their drinks to their liking. The use of mobile ordering and loyalty programs further enhances convenience and customer loyalty. Starbucks continuously seeks customer feedback and conducts regular training for their staff to ensure consistent, high-quality service across all outlets.

Note, while Starbucks traditionally does not localize to other markets, it has started doing this in order to appear more local (and acceptable). This Dubai Starbucks illustrates this new direction of incorporating localization UX:

Dubai starbucks localization UX

2. Disney: Creating Magical Memories

Disney is a prime example of how Service Design can turn a visit to a theme park into a magical and unforgettable experience. From the moment guests step foot in the park, they are transported to a world of fantasy and wonder.

Disney’s attention to detail is extraordinary; every aspect of the park, from the attractions to the food options, aligns with the overarching theme. The queuing experience is managed effectively, with engaging activities and entertaining performances to keep guests entertained while waiting.

Disney also incorporates cutting-edge technology to enhance the experience, such as the MagicBands (See below), which act as all-in-one access passes, payment methods, and even personalized souvenirs.

Disney Magicband service design

The Future 

As businesses increasingly recognize the value of customer experience, Service Design will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of service-based industries. From healthcare and banking to retail and hospitality, any industry that serves customers can benefit from applying Service Design principles. By pairing it with Inclusive Design and Sustainability Design, you can build resilience.

With complexity the new default, staying attuned to the product-service experience is key. Service Design empowers teams to evolve, adapt and innovate in response to evolving customer expectations, ensuring their offerings remain relevant and differentiated. One underlooked area that we expect will have more influence is Policy Design. Why? Because policies influence how services operate and are governed.


Service Design is more than a buzzword; it’s a transformative approach that places the customer at the heart of the service journey. By empathizing with users, mapping their journeys, co-creating solutions, and continuously iterating, businesses can craft remarkable experiences that foster customer loyalty and advocacy.

Learn more through our Service Design Training

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