5 x 5 - The New Language of Service Design, Mark Jones

Interview with Mark Jones, Vice President of Design at UnitedHealthcare

by Thomas Brandenburg

Connecting with our business partners is always essential. But I don’t generally try to make sure that they understand the theory of service design the way that we do. Rather, I like to tell stories...


1. Why do you think there had not been a shared definition of service design? Do you think it is important to have one; especially for an in-house perspective?

Many designers like myself had been designing services before the field of service design was established as a formal practice in the US. I happened to come from an HCD background. But other designers of services came from an interaction design, space, lean or brand perspective. I think a key reason why a shared definition has been so hard to agree upon is that people come from so many different perspectives. Some large organizations also have designers of services who come from equally diverse backgrounds and experiences, and their methodology often varies. So while it would be helpful to have a single definition of designing services design (well, mine!), the better approach would be to codify what a Service Designer brings to the table.

2. What language (keywords or phrases) do you like to use to explain Service Design to an audience who is not familiar with it?

I usually use the stages of the process to explain how it works. We conduct research with users and other stakeholders to understand the real needs; we create prototypes to visualize parts of the service so that we can get feedback from stakeholders; we often use prototypes to co-design services with users; and we create artifacts such as service blueprints to communicate how the parts of a service hang together.  I find that walking people through the process helps make it more understandable.

3. Service Design is often interchanged with Systems Design, User Experience or Design Thinking, do you think it is an issue?

I like to talk about Service Design as a practice that incorporates lots of tools and techniques to develop a solution. That means being human-centered, thinking about the overall user experience, and developing a holistic design of the overall system. I have even used lean methodology as a part of a toolset for designing a service. So no, I don’t think that having language that has roots in other design traditions is a problem. The problem arises when people have difficulty in reconciling the differences within a single service design project.

4. Are there any overused or misused terms that may be robbing Service Design of credibility?

Journeys. I have observed people seeing Journey Maps as an end unto itself, not just a framework that helps organize stakeholder issues and opportunities into a way to bring people together. I also have seen them becoming a rigid artifact that does not evolve over time. I would love to see some other artifacts that have as much traction as customer journeys.

5. How might you have seen the language of service design being changed or evolve for people in business, especially since they traditionally don’t have a design background?

Connecting with our business partners is always essential. But I don’t generally try to make sure that they understand the theory of service design the way that we do. Rather, I like to tell stories. Stories about how we evolved a great service concept through understanding our users, prototyping concepts and getting their feedback, and then iterating to a great service concept. It’s about communicating value.

Check out other 5 x 5s on the SDN US National Conference Blog