5 x 5 - The New Language of SD, Shahrzad Samadzadeh

Interview with Shahrzad Samadzadeh, Lead Product Designer at Salesforce

by Andrea Fineman

There is no out of the box solution for “impact.”

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?

The core concepts of service design emerged from many different professional arenas, each with their own language. That meant that a shared language had to emerge gradually through the work rather than be built on top of an existing shared vernacular (of which there was none), and you can’t have a shared definition without a shared language. Do I think it’s important to have a shared definition? Not really. The shared language is what matters, so that everyone can drive toward the same goals.


What language (key words or phrases) do you like to use to explain service design to an audience who is not familiar with it?

This depends heavily on the intent of my explanation.

To a lay person at a party, I generally explain any type of design through simple examples. For service design, I say something like, you know when you go to a retail store and someone greets you, and then you ask someone for help finding the thing you looked at online, and then someone checks you out to buy it? All those things you interact with, the people and the signs and the website and the payment, that’s all a service that is designed.

To someone I want to work with using service design tools and methods… I don’t explain it at all. I just talk to them about what they are trying to achieve and mirror their own language back at them as much as possible. Few things are more pedantic and less productive than explaining service design to people who have the potential to be served by it.


The term “service design” is often interchanged with “systems design,” “user experience” or “design thinking.” Do you think this is a problem?

On one hand, using these terms imprecisely—without an understanding of where they came from and what they currently mean within other specialties—has real potential for negative impact. In the short term, it muddies expectation setting and can create confusion about the process and the outcomes. For example, if someone’s prior experience of “systems design” was the creation of architectural diagrams for technical systems, which it probably was if they are at all technical, then using the same term to describe a holistic human practice is going to cause a variety of issues and make us look pretty silly along the way. In the longer term, poorly met expectations erode trust; it becomes difficult for design as a service to be impactful and successful if we can’t build trust.

On the other hand, it really doesn’t matter. It’s what we can achieve using our tools and methods that defines our practice.


Are there any overused or misused terms that may be robbing service design of credibility?

Yes and no. As I’ve seen over the last several years, “design thinking” is robbing the credibility of not just service design, but all kinds of design.

I mentioned the challenges of shared languages, expectation setting, and trust; these are real problems. However, dumbing down the languages and processes of business and design into a branded Design Thinking™ lowest common denominator mash-up is not a real solution. Despite what the cult of d.school continues to perpetuate, against evidence to the contrary, what we need to solve tough problems is not “problem framing” and a “mindset.” There is no out of the box solution for “impact.” We need compassionate facilitation of diverse stakeholders toward a shared understanding, and we need the craft of creating and operationalizing complex solutions.

It’s what we do that matters, not how we talk about how we think.


How have you 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’m sure the language of service design at large is shifting and changing, but the changes that are most interesting to me are the local ones. Within organizations, throughout the parts of them that are touched by design, people begin to add new words to their vocabulary without even noticing they’re doing it. Those who don’t consider themselves designers learn human-centered terms while designers learn the field- and org-specific words that mean “success” for everyone else. The result of these shifts over time are a shared, org-specific language that enables everyone to communicate and collaborate more effectively with less friction. There is no shortcut to this, because the process of collaboration and change itself is the point.

In my opinion, intentionally embracing and enabling these new, local, hybrid languages is the next frontier of service design.

Shahrzad's employer asks her to mention that "all opinions are my own any time I appear anywhere."