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Service Design – Concepts and Methods

Service Design – Concepts and Methods

Tarja Kupiainen, Karelia UAS

Service design (SD) is a holistic, multidisciplinary, integrative field which includes productisation, management, marketing, research, and design. It is focused on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions. The purpose is to innovate new or improve existing services and to make them more useful, usable and desirable for clients as well as more efficient and profitable for the organizing parties.

Service design is an approach that focuses on service offerings. It considers touchpoints across channels, interactions at those points, and the connections between them. It also integrates complementary products in a service ecosystem. Service design process applies many of the tools from product design to create human-centered services. As a result of the process, there will be new and improved user centered products and services, charming products, and positive experiences.

My effort here is to clarify what is service design in the context of tourism industry. I will start with the basic concepts of SD.

Service Design Key Concepts

Service ecology is a system in which the service is integrated: e.g. a holistic visualization of the service system. In service ecology all the factors are gathered, made visible, and analyzed: politics, economy, employees, law, societal trends, technological development etc. The service ecology is thereby rendered, along with its attendant agents, processes, and relations. By analyzing service ecologies, it is possible to reveal opportunities for new actors to join the system, and create new relationships among the actors. Ultimately, sustainable service ecologies depend on a balance where the actors involved exchange value in ways that is mutually beneficial over time. (Miettinen, S. 2009. Service Design Terminology).

Services happen over time (episodes) with service moments and across several touchpoints (contact points). Total service experience is made up from contacts with the components such as service channels, behavior, service gestures, information, space, products. The components and their style compose the service style together with the leading idea of the service.

Customer journey illustrates how the customer perceives and experiences the service interface along the time axis. It also considers the phases before and after actual interaction with the service. The first step in creating a customer journey is to decide its starting and stopping points.

A customer journey serves as an umbrella under which the service can be explored, developed and systematized (Miettinen, S. 2009). It reveals the touchpoints which are tangible, such as customer servants, signs, calling centers, visit cards, mobile phones, and invoices. For example, experience for an airline, the touchpoints are Booking, Check-in, Security, Boarding, Take-off, Meal / Movie, Landing, and Baggage claim.

Considering the touchpoints, it is upmost significant to recognize stress level from clients’ points of view. Let us ponder an airline experience. Booking is quite easy: it does not need any extra effort if we have enough time and a peaceful environment to make our reservation. Thus, stress level is quite low during the process. The following act, check-in might be a bit stressful: where and how to check? During security check, stress level is at the highest point: have I remembered to pack all liquids properly? Is everything else ok? Do they take me to the special inspection? After security check the stress level decreases, and it is not very stressful to find a gate and enter to the plane. Take-off is slightly exciting, and the stress level increases a bit. During the flight, meals and movies make us feel comfortable, and the stress level is low. Landing is as stressful as security check, and after successful landing we feel relaxed before baggage claim. After getting our baggage successfully, the flight experience is finished and we are happy to move on.

Customer journey map is a useful tool in order to understand the service from a client’s viewpoint. It reveals the contact points which a service provider has to react if she like to have satisfied and happy clients. If we examine the picture above, we might notice that e.g. take-off and landing need to be considered carefully. Many airline companies use music during taking-off and landing in order to make passengers feel comfortable.

Front office, or frontstage is the time and place in which clients come in direct contact with the service, e.g. the website, the person serving you at the restaurant, in the office, shop, beauty salon, garage, etc. It includes both visible and tangible services.

When the client is experiencing the service, she is facing the line of interaction. The client faces the line of IT interaction when she is using the IT services. The line of IT interaction is still part of the frontstage activity. There is the line of visibility for the service actions that the client is not able to see. There services happen in the backstage, too.

Backstage activities are invisible for the client but they are necessary in order to fulfil her needs and expectations. During SD process, we have study how services are facilitated inside the organization: e.g. the food production chain inside the restaurant, estate maintenance jobs, or preparatory actions not visible to the client. The design of the service may involve a re-organization of these backstage activities performed by the service provider. For example, it is not uncommon that the service provider herself does not recognize the need for guiding signs.

Service design process is about evidencing the intangible service. Service blueprint helps to engage operations to go from the vision to reality. Service blueprint describes the necessary resources (people, place, software, other equipment, networks). It is a description of critical service elements, such as time, logical sequences of actions, and processes. Service blueprint declares both actions and events which happen in the time and place of the interaction (frontstage), and actions and events which are out of the line of visibility for the users (backstage), but are fundamental for the service.

Methods that are used in Service design process


To act as the service would exist, and ideally in the context where it would be used. It offers the opportunity to test the proposed service and its interactions. Different service situations can be acted out (e.g. the client service situations at the travel agency, restaurant, shop)

How to act? Firstly, create the service situation and cast roles. Then practice and play the situation. The purpose is to prototype and come up with new solutions, to test new interactions, and to make ad hoc innovations.

Context mapping, participatory design method, co-design with the real users

The purpose of co-design is to reveal clients’ conscious and latent needs, experiences, hopes, and expectations in workshops facilitated by a tutor. Make-tools are pictures, drawing, creating with different materials. Storytelling will be used to generate ideas. The target is to gather data from people about issues that usually remain unspoken. The aim of make-tools is to support the users to express themselves and reveal subconscious thoughts with metaphors and associations. (Sleeswijk Visser, F. & al. 2005, Context Mapping: experiences from practice.)

Experience prototyping

An experience prototype is a representation of a design, made before the final solution exists. It is an iterative process. The aim is to test to feasibility of the service, the logistics, customer experience, and financial impact of the service product in a cheap and quick way. (Buchenau, M. & Suri, J. 2000, Experience Prototyping).

Fieldwork: observing, interviewing, and documentation

In the SD process, the ethnographic methods are used to gather information about real users:

  • Theme or open interviews, conversations
  • Participant observation
  • Non-participatory observation
  • Passive participation
  • Moderate participation
  • Active participation
  • Complete participation

Thus, data that are collected and used in SD is qualitative in nature. It provides a window onto the way consumers interact with products in their everyday lives. The qualitative data will be used in order to identify, discover, and understand the service context and the users.

During learning journeys provided by SHAPE project, we will gather the qualitative data in order to make the services better. Therefore, our process will be closely related to SD process.