5 x 5 - The New Language of Service Design, Megan Erin Miller

Interview with Megan Erin Miller, Co-Founder, Practical Service Design

by Thomas Brandenburg

“This is unique to service design in many ways, as it is like a chameleon and blends into different organizational cultures in order to work more holistically. I think until we see industry standardization of service design practices, we are not going to see a single definition, and that is OK.”

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?

I think there are a couple key reasons why we do not see a shared definition of service design today. One is that the field is still emerging in the U.S., as any new emerging field, we are not far enough along in maturity to have codification of the field. But perhaps more practically, service design as an organizational capability has to be integrated into organizational culture, and the way that one person would explain service design by necessity must be different than another in a different organization. This is unique to service design in many ways, as it is like a chameleon and blends into different organizational cultures in order to work more holistically. I think until we see industry standardization of service design practices, we are not going to see a single definition, and that is OK.

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

When I explain service design, I start by talking about something that everyone these days can relate to: my mobile phone carrier. I explain that I have had the same cell phone carrier for 16+ years, and if you think about all the different interactions I have had with that company over the lifespan of my relationship with them—my billing statements, text messages, in-store experiences, customer service support calls, their website—and how do we design across that relationship? How do we provide consistent, quality experiences over such a long period of time and many different interactions? This usually gets people to understand right away the distinction between service design and the more prominent UX/UI design we see dominating the design field today.

Officially, here is how I define service design:

Service design helps organizations see their services from a customer perspective. It is an approach to designing services that balances the needs of the customer with the needs of the business, aiming to create seamless and quality service experiences. Service design is rooted in design thinking, and brings a creative, human-centered process to service improvement and designing new services. Through collaborative methods that engage both customers and service delivery teams, service design helps organizations gain true, end-to-end understanding of their services, enabling holistic and meaningful improvements.

“Yes, I think service design, user experience, and design thinking are different and should be defined more distinctly. In particular, I think it is important for younger designers to really understand in practice the difference between these labels.”

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

Yes, I think service design, user experience, and design thinking are different and should be defined more distinctly. In particular, I think it is important for younger designers to really understand in practice the difference between these labels. I see a very clear difference:

“I hope we don’t lose the critical “backstage” components of service design that I fear gets deprioritized under the label “Service Experience.”

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

I think there is a danger in people not understanding the full extent to which you must be integrating with the organization to implement service design. You literally cannot implement service design without full engagement with the business side of the house. I worry sometimes about “Service Experience Design” becoming the label of the industry, because it takes the same model of thinking only about the end-user experience as primary perspective, when “designing for service” is much more than just that. In many ways, service design is about designing delivery of services in order to support the experiences of our users. So I hope we don’t lose the critical “backstage” components of service design that I fear gets deprioritized under the label “Service Experience.”

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

I think anyone who has had to implement service design in an organization learns very quickly that you have to speak the language of the business in order to successfully co-create the service. I have found that a few key terms are important to get shared understanding of first, including: service, experience, touchpoint, scenario, and lifecycle. These concepts are often new to the business and not part of existing vocabulary, but critical to service design implementation. I spend time educating and building this shared language so that we can utilize service design tools to achieve business outcomes. But other than that, it’s more important to learn the language of the business. So, for example, we would never say “service design heuristics” but we may talk about “service principles.” It really depends on the language and terminology that your organization uses already, and building off of that, filling the gaps where needed. This building of shared vocabulary is a challenging, time-consuming, but critical step towards building organizational capabilities in service design.

Do you have any last thoughts you would like to share with our readers on new language of Service Design?

Adapt your language to meet the language of the business, frame your goals in a way the business can understand and see the value, and explain service design in a relatable way through storytelling. Drop the jargon, and bring it home to your org.

To see Megan at our upcoming SDN US National Conference register here

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