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Exploring Service Design


Service design may be misunderstood and undervalued as simply being a designing of services, involving trial and error. Moving a potential need into an operational concept, without acceptance tests or quantifiable processes. This is not service design. Service design aids an architectural and efficient approach to building intangible goods. This involves the arrangement of processes in the origination of market offerings and value creation as described by Sangiorgi & Prendiville (2014). In a nutshell, service design is the way of making services better for customers. And this is accomplished typically through the following process:

Please note this process is not an isolated event but an iterative approach that involves sub-steps and micro-activities within the high-level building process. For example, the Delivery process step, it involves micro -activities that includes implementation of the service concept, sustaining the concept, and evolution of the concept.

Some of these process steps may look familiar to those in Design Thinking. Service Design is a subset of the design thinking process steps of empathy, ideation, and implementation. Where design thinking is an operational approach to promote creativity to enhance innovation around products; Service Design is primarily concerned with the practical development of customer experiences in the form of concept and delivery.




This idea of making services better for customers doesn’t go without challenges. Inherent in every service are attributes that make it difficult to measure, much less build. These qualities make services have impact but no form (Biege, Lay, Zanker, & Schmall, 2013). The IHIP criteria of services are summarized here:

  • Intangibility: physical intangibility but mental tangibility that confuses customers because the results may not be know until the transaction occurs

  • Heterogeneity: the results of services is highly variable because the needs of customers vary

  • Inseparability: there is no separation between carrying out of the service and its consumption; the production and consumption of services is simultaneous and need the collaboration with customers

  • Perishability: services are like light; they can’t be kept, stored, resold, or returned, which means they can’t be produced in advance and only need to be ready at the time of delivery

These challenges are not insurmountable but require thinking into the service from the lens of these challenges and not just on a superficial level. The service design process allows business leaders to do that without becoming a designer (Reine, 2017). Approaching services from a multi-disciplinary approach and within a culture of innovation is the best way to implement service design practices for results that exceed customer expectations.

Opportunities for Innovation

Service design can help facilitate the exploration of new services or the exploitation of current services. Particularly, when the research and ideation phases of the service design process are correctly executed. Service design considers the economic, social and technological impact on the customer’s experience. The convergence of these represent opportunities for innovation that have the potential to improve the quality of life, maximize the value of money and produce services that will enhance the customer’s experience.

While research is fundamental to creating a context and parameters for the service design process, ideation promotes creative thought from the different stakeholders that will assist in generating and identifying opportunities. Although this is a hugely fun exercise, there is a serious side. Ideas need to be strategically managed in a way that allows them to be stored, nurtured, and enriched over time which allows the permeation of curiosity, openness, integrity and creativity to influence the idea. Ultimately, refined ideas need to be prioritized and incorporated into the design process for testing then delivery.

Benefits to Business Leaders

Service design is a tool used to create service innovation as well as innovation in service organizations. For business leaders, managing the innovation is an opportunity to get better at organizing, mobilizing, and empowering the key elements of any innovation project; people, process, and technology. Innovation leadership understands the big picture while strategically delegating the execution of the details. This isn’t to say that the leader would be removed from the details of the innovation project because certainly, the leader would be involved in the milestones of the process. However, if the leader micro-manages the service design process the implications on the culture would be negative to say the least. Finding the balance between being hands off and micro-managing is a challenge for every leader of people but when the leader has invested the time in understanding their people it shouldn’t be that difficult to understand who can and can’t be put in strategic positions within the service design process and the overall innovation management project.


STRATASCENSION was founded on the notion that business is relational and growth is achieved through deepening of all the micro connections between people, process, tools, & performance. We want to help small businesses enhance these connections and leverage them for transformation.



Biege, S., Lay, G., Zanker, C., & Schmall, T. (2013). Challenges of measuring service productivity in innovative, knowledge-intensive business services. Service Industries Journal, 33, 378-391. doi:10.1080/02642069.2013.747514

Reine, P. P. (2017). The culture of design thinking for innovation. Journal of Innovation Management, 5(2), 56-80. Retrieved from

Sangiorgi, D., & Prendiville, A. (2014). A theoretical framework for studying service design practices: First steps to a mature field. Design Management Journal, 9, 61-73. doi:10.1111/dmj.12014

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