Introducing service design to your organization

Dec 13, 2017, 8:11 AM

Service design is a mindset that guides professionals across the world in envisioning services that serve their users. This mindset was on display at the Service Design Global Conference 2017 at Madrid in November. In this piece, our resident service designer Otso Hannula shares his insights into adopting service design at your organization.


Service designers share a set of values and tools that guide them in envisioning services from the point of view of customer instead of your business units. However, taking advantage of service design means more than having service designers running around.

Below is my take on the most important principles for introducing and supporting service design at the organization level.

1. Create a shared language and tools

Creating services is collaboration between professions, so service design cannot afford to become yet another silo. Service design should help build shared vocabulary between functions and disciplines, based on language already used in the organization. Service design tools also sit at this cross point, since they help coordinate different parts of the organization deliver a coherent customer experience.

2. Embrace a customer-centered mindset

Designing services means envisioning something intangible and temporary that is co-created with the customer at the moment of delivery - in essence, an experience. The only way to improve a service for its customers is to look at the service from their point of view. Mapping the customer journey is an exercise in empathy: How do our customers view us? What do they value?

3. Collaborate across disciplines

Every customer journey is made up of touchpoints where the customer interacts with the service, be it a physical location, object or information system. No one can be an expert in all the skills that affect the customer experience, so all disciplines working on the service (design, technology, business, etc.) must be on the same page and aim for the same customer experience.

4. Put customer experience before feature lists

Looking at the service from the customer's perspective means that improvements to the service are always and foremost improvements to the customer experience. An intended customer experience can be broken down into actions and features but they are not ends to themselves. Even back office processes and systems must contribute to the delivery of the service, and therefore improve the customer experience.

5. Use prototypes to get feedback

Prototypes, ranging from digital mock-ups to actors with card board boxes, help evaluate the service and its delivery during the design process. By making the service tangible, prototypes help discover and verbalize improvements that might otherwise go unsaid. Co-creating and testing prototypes also provides opportunities to involve future users and other stakeholders in the design process.

6. Base your decision-making on customer understanding

Research plays a vital role in service design, from mapping the current customer journey to tracking the customer experience over time. Whether based on quantitative data (e.g. site traffic, customer service contacts) or qualitative insight (e.g. interviews, observations), customer understanding should drive prioritization and other key decision-making, not opinion or convenience.

7. Develop incrementally and iteratively

Even if you follow all the other principles and apply the best service design expertise, you will never get it perfect on the first try. No one will. This means that we must test our assumptions and prototype the most important parts of the service first (working incrementally) and re-do parts based on customer feedback (working iteratively). Both ways of working reduce cost and risk, because the developers get feedback faster, and iterations are faster and cheaper earlier in the process.

Now you know how to support and even encourage service design in your organization. Why not start with one principle and try it out in your work: it is never too early to take that first step into looking at the world a bit differently!

Please reach out on Twitter or via email, I'd love to hear your experiences or just have a chat!



Otso Hannula is Nitor's resident service designer, researcher and a Lean-Agile coach. Otso is interested in digital services, co-design, and Lean UX, and he is currently finishing his dissertation on using design games in service design at Aalto University. Any time he can steal from design and research, Otso spends playing all kinds of games from PC and mobile to board games and larp.