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Why now for service design? 5 global trends and implications for careers and businesses


Written by
Helen Carney
Published date
13 June 2016

User journey mapping on LCC’s MDes Service Design Innovation

By Phillippa Rose, Director of Current Works Ltd
Course Tutor for Service Design and Innovation Intensive

I have enjoyed teaching on MDes Service Design Innovation since February at LCC. I’ve been really inspired by the students and staff already, and with the continued rise of the service economy, now accounting for almost 80% of the economy, it really feels like the right moment to develop careers and skills in service design.

So why is now a critical moment for service design and design thinking? I’ve outlined 5 global trends and some implications for business and service providers.

  1. The world is becoming faster, and more connected

There are faster and faster turn-around times from design to distribution of products and services, and with immediate, transparent feedback loops, everything counts. In order to deliver we need to infuse strategy with insight and experience, act quickly, and think outside in.

We need to really understand our product/service, iterate to continuously improve, and balance user needs with business needs – with everyone involved. Service design can provide tools and techniques to help gather insights, problem solve and test solutions quickly and efficiently.

This has been particularly evident for me, recently working with the Met Office and The App Business on user research for a new weather app. We have been working across teams and organisations in partnership on agile, collaborative 2-week sprints, design and developers working closely with stakeholders and regular research rounds with users and to refine needs and inform product design.

  1. ‘Servitisation’ of products and the sharing economy

Products today have a higher service component than in previous decades and we are increasingly moving from models of ownership to access. In an increasingly digital, connected world, the boundary between product and service can blur more easily.

Subscription and access models are increasingly prevalent. Zipcar, Airbnb, Deliveroo and Netflix are classic examples of ‘servitisation’ of products – all involving digital and non-digital interactions and built on perceived value exchange. They all involve front-end experiences and back-end processes, which service design tools can help map and optimise.

Furthermore, in the sharing economy, it’s possible for an individual to be a consumer and provider at the same time, presenting opportunities to empathise and think like your customer – from comparative firsthand experience. Building empathy is one of the pillars of service design.

  1. Access to information and data breeding disruptive innovation

There has never been so much easy-to-access data to inform business models and ideas freely available online, combined with ‘how to’ guides. As Ande Gregson pointed out on a recent LCC MDes visit to FabLab London:

“There’s so much potential these days… tools available, platforms available to create e.g. Kickstarter, indiegogo… It’s the idea that counts and how you get to that point.”

The rise of the open data movement is also providing opportunities to create more targeted products and services informed by patterns of behaviour and previously unpublished data sets. There are emerging markets and disruptive innovations such as internet of everyday things, and a rise in digital currencies and non-hierarchical transactional networks such as Blockchain and DAO set to disrupt traditional markets and transactions.

Businesses and service providers need to streamline unnecessary process and hierarchy to be more agile, open to collaboration to innovate, and take advantage of Web 3.0. Service design mapping and cocreation tools can help organisations reframe organisational structures, enabling more collaboration across disciplines, and promote a more open ideas culture.


User journey mapping on LCC’s MDes Service Design Innovation

  1. Immediacy and transparency of customer service

Global distribution brings with it more choice and higher expectations. There’s a higher level of scrutiny and feedback – if companies don’t deliver high quality, and on time, people write them off or publicly shame them with the power of the # sign. We have increasing choices as users and customers that make design all the more important – especially behind the scenes. Technology makes it easier, makes functions more connected, and customer interactions more seamless, but adds extra systems/processes backstage.

From the backstage processes to increase efficiency or flow, to nuances of the front-end, end-user experience – these are all part of a design eco-system. In delivering customer expectations, knowing your individual role/contribution but also understanding how each person/function makes up the whole ecosystem. As Andrea Siodmok, director of the Cabinet Office innovation unit, The Policy Lab, recently put it: “Most people think of design as form, we see it as process”.

  1. People making more socially conscious choices

Alongside increased awareness of diminishing natural resources and never-ending landfill, consumers care about the quality and ethics of goods and services – end-to-end production journeys, and reducing waste. There is evidence of wider culture change as companies seem to care more too – being more environmentally and socially conscious in decision-making and operations. The 20th century linear ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy, and is reaching its physical limits. This has paved the way for the rise of the circular economy, a more innovative and regenerative design approach to business and production.

Implications for organisations

In the 21st century, things are getting simpler, and yet more complex. People have increasing access to information, and are enabled to make more informed choices in accessing products and services. People are making choices based on customer experience, and social conscience holds just as much value as ‘value for money’. Also, increasingly, all the points of interaction with products and services involve relatively seamless digital and non digital touchpoints for customers and end users, whilst increasing complexity in systems and processes behind the scenes.

It is still useful to distinguish components of product and service offerings, but increasingly it is less about individual offerings and more about value exchanges – providing positive experiences, and helping customers achieve desired outcomes.

So what skills do we need?

As service providers we need the right attitude, bolstered by design thinking principles, practical tools and #learningbydoing techniques that can be applied in any setting.

I subscribe to service design principles as defined by Marc Stickdorn: user-centred, co-creation, sequencing, evidencing and holistic.

I would go further and say human-centred as opposed to user-centred. Service design for me is about being human centred; it’s about stakeholders and staff as well as customers and users. It’s about having service design, design tools and techniques to help you as well as your customer and partners to understand what is going on in your service, continuously improve, and create delightful customer experiences.

If you want to apply design thinking principles and take-away service design tools in a fun but immersive learning experience, join Rob Maslin and I on the first week in July as we co-facilitate Service Design and Innovation Intensive.