by Andrea Fineman
There’s a tendency in business circles to conflate customer-centered with human-centered when talking about service design due to the overall trends in organizations to focus on customers first. I encourage service designers to continue to educate their organizations on the benefits of engaging and designing for all participants holistically. If service design at scale becomes just another flavor of customer centricity, we all lose.
Why do you think there had not been a shared definition of service design for so long? Do you think it is important to have one, especially for an in-house discipline?
From my experience, there is still a great diversity of opinion on what practicing service design means in the U.S. There is a tendency in many circles to conflate service design with design thinking and even “big D” digital design. It’s important for practitioners—internal or external—to educate others on the breadth and depth of service design, especially its focus on employee experience and operations.
What language (key words or phrases) do you like to use to explain service design to an audience who is not familiar with it?
I tend to speak to service design as a connective tissue discipline that includes aspects of design strategy, systems thinking, human-centered design, and operational design. This is similar to Marc Stickdorn’s definition of service design as a “common language.” The key word I use is orchestration—of touchpoints, experiences, ecosystems, and people. I also educate people on what services are and how trends over the last 30+ years has led to a tipping point for expertise in designing for services, rather than products.
The term “service design” is often interchanged with “systems design,” “user experience” or “design thinking.” Do you think this is a problem?
Yes, if only that those terms have baggage that can limit the scope of service design. Unlike user experience, service design is concerned with all participants in an ecosystem, not just direct users of (usually) a physical or digital product. Systems design’s roots are not human centered; it’s compatible but not interchangeable with service design. Design thinking is primarily about strategy and innovation, but the focus of service design can be both innovative and evolutionary, and goes deep into implementation. All in all, it’s apples and oranges, so we need to continue to educate on the differences.
Are there any overused or misused terms that may be robbing service design of credibility?
It’s not so much any specific words, but talking about methods instead of outcomes. I consult to executives who are grappling with many new religions—design thinking, agile, lean, user experience, service design, etc,—coming at them with lots of jargon and promises of being a silver bullet for innovation and/or efficiencies at scale. All of these methodologies have their strengths and weaknesses. Failing to focus on outcomes and how service design plays well with these other tribes is fast track to losing credibility in the long run.
How might you have seen the language of service design changing or evolving with people in business, especially among those that don’t have a traditional design background?
I believe we’re still in a rationalization phase of getting the right blend of language from multiple disciplines that are all looking to create better customer and employee experiences at scale. There’s a tendency in business circles to conflate customer-centered with human-centered when talking about service design due to the overall trends in organizations to focus on customers first. I encourage service designers to continue to educate their organizations on the benefits of engaging and designing for all participants holistically. If service design at scale becomes just another flavor of customer centricity, we all lose.