What Is Service Design?

What is service design, and how is it used to deliver exceptional customer experiences? Learn more in this post.

Maria Myre
Maria Myre
Aug 8, 2023
Min Read

Imagine you've just signed up for an online fitness program.

The website looks promising, showcasing various workout routines and personalized coaching, and the checkout process was easy.

Eagerly, you dive into the first workout, only to find that the videos are slow to load, and the instructions are unclear. On top of that, when you reach out for assistance, you're met with automated responses that don't address your concerns. The excitement you felt turns into frustration. This scenario highlights the critical role of service design—an often underestimated element in the realm of creating exceptional user experiences.

In this article, we'll take a look at the world of service design and how it works to craft memorable experiences that go beyond the confines of a screen.

What is Service Design?

Service design addresses the need for a cohesive experience flow between the business itself as well as the end users.

It's a process that pulls from many different sources—like user experience, product management, and marketing—in order to create and optimize powerful experiences that can be delivered seamlessly.

Service design was first introduced as a design discipline at the Köln International School of Design in 1991. Although the definition continues to evolve within academic circles, it can be summarized as:

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. - Service Design Network

In other words: service design is a holistic process that considers all touch points of the customer journey map, from the first discovery to the (inevitable) customer service experiences.

UX Design vs. Service Design

While user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design deal with how a website or app appears and functions, service design steps back to focus on how the entire user journey, encompassing digital interactions and human touchpoints, contributes to overall satisfaction.

It's the behind-the-scenes architect that ensures a company's internal structure works harmoniously to fulfill the promises made by its products.

The 5 Principles of Service Design

One of the first textbooks on service design, This is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider, offers this outline of five key principles:

1. User-Centric

The service must always be designed around the users of the service users. Ask customers questions about how they feel, and what they want to achieve when using your product or service to gain insight into how you can improve the existing service (or whether you should introduce new services).

2. Co-Creative

All relevant stakeholders, from product design to fulfillment and customer service, should play a role in the service design process. This will help the service designer to find truly relevant solutions that provide a seamless experience for all involved.

3. Sequencing

Services should be visualized by sequences, or key moments in a customer’s journey. Each key moment can then be broken down further into three distinct steps: pre-service, during service, and post-service.

4. Evidencing

One of the more challenging aspects of this step-by-step process is helping team members understand what role they play in the overall experience flow. Service design relies heavily on evidencing, or visual communication, to help each individual team member visualize what stage the customer is in, and how they might best be served in that moment.

5. Holistic

Service design thinking is a continual assessment of what's working and what needs to be improved. It considers everything from business models to material components in an effort to create truly delightful experiences for the end user.


What Does the Service Design Process Look Like?

At a first glance, service design has a lot in common with UX. So what are the elements that distinguish the work of a service designer from a UX designer?

UX design focuses primarily on the user's experience of a product or service. UX designers utilize tools like journey mapping, UX research, and other interaction design principles to ensure that the touch points of the product itself are efficient and pleasant to use. UX design looks for solutions to questions like:

  • Is this intuitive and logical?
  • Is it easy for someone to check in without prior knowledge of the software?
  • Is it accessible for people with low visibility or low familiarity with technical devices?

Service design, on the other hand, looks for creative ways to deliver consistent, delightful experiences for the customer at all stages of their journey.

Many of the tools and exercises of service design overlap with more established fields like marketing or UX design research:


What value or experience does the company want to deliver? Company values, mission statement, and goals (short and long term) will all play an important role in service design thinking.


Who are the user personas that this service is designed for? What are their unique needs? User research and testing should be an ongoing process to monitor shifts, trends, and the actual experience of clients.

Location Plan

Where do the interactions take place between the customer and the product or service? All physical locations and digital touch points should be carefully planned and considered to create the optimal experience.

Journey Map

customer journey mapping example by Miro
Customer Journey Map Template by Miro

Customer journey mapping is a common exercise for marketing, sales, and user experience planning. It usually takes the form of a visual flowchart marking each phase of the journey from initial discovery to customer service.

Up to this point, many of these exercises have a lot of similarities with marketing and product design planning processes.

But the next step—creating a service blueprint—is where the intricacies of service design planning really stand out:

Service Blueprint

A service designer will often use a visual chart called a Service Blueprint, which not only utilizes each step of the standard customer journey map, but also identifies how the company itself interacts and moves behind the scenes.

In this example, you can see how service design considers every piece of communication and customer experience, from marketing materials to how the physical environment will address and deliver on the customer needs.

Service Blueprint Example by Designlab
An example of a Service Blueprint created for a coffee shop

Service Design: A Holistic Solution to Modern Businesses

As companies continue to find ways to remain relevant in a fast-paced, tech-centric world, service design provides a way for them to ensure that the quality of their product or service is conveyed and experienced consistently, whether you're browsing the business website or walking into a physical store to shop.

Interested in Learning More About Design Methods?

User experience design is a thriving, meaningful field of work. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our collection of courses. Many of our UX Academy graduates have gone on to work in the service sector using their newfound skills and UX expertise.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.