11 min read

Service Design 101

We’ve always been told that in basic economics, businesses provide either goods or services and little else. However, since the dawn of the information age, this binary division has become far more complex to gauge, let alone understand. Nowadays, it’s far more of a spectrum, with organizations sitting on one end, the other, or somewhere in between. This can be seen with the exponentially growing industries of entertainment, and gaming, in which the traditional labels of ‘goods’ and ‘services’ are used interchangeably at any moment. Product design and service design share a similar divide as well.

While it’s fairly straightforward how products could be designed, those unfamiliar with it may ask what is service design? Or how does one go about designing a service? That’s what we’re breaking down in this article, along with tools that designers can add to their toolkit when designing for service.

What is Service Design?


Service design can be defined as the actions and decisions made in designing systems and processes aimed at delivering a smooth, holistic, and satisfying service to the user. Every service we use or partake in has been designed and curated carefully to provide the most satisfying and smooth an experience as is possible.

To make it clearer, let’s illustrate a service design example, opening an account with a new bank, where the user journey would look something like this:

  1. Researching the bank in question, as well as inquiring about the type of account in question.
  2. Filling out the required forms, communicating with bank representatives 
  3. Scheduling a document dropoff at a physical location, or scanning your documents through an app.
  4. Successfully opening the account, and receiving the materials associated with it, ie. checkbook, debit card. 

Everything in this journey was dictated in some part by a service designer, who carefully curated every step of the process. As can be seen, service design covers a much wider area than just UX design Sofia Gomes breaks this down with a brilliant analogy saying “UX design is like looking after one tree, whereas service design would be akin to tending to an entire garden”. The entire ecosystem of users, and their interactions with a business are the ‘designs’ in question. Service design lies somewhere between UX design and the entirety of CX design (consumer experience design).

Service design is normally from the organization, for the users, whereas process design is the opposite, an effort from the organization to better improve its own processes.

The starting point for service designers could be one of two scenarios:

  1. Taking an existing service, and attempting to redefine, or streamline its design.
  2. Starting afresh with a brand new service, and defining its design from the first step onwards.

Service Design Analogy: Frontstage vs. Backstage

Sarah Gibbons of the Nielsen Norman Group likens the entire service design process to a stage play. In this analogy, the audience is the users, and the director of the production happens to be a service designer. Most interestingly, she breaks up the functions of the service design process into two, a ‘frontstage’ and ‘backstage’ area.


The frontstage processes are those intended to be seen by the audience, or the user. These include touchpoints and channels of communication with which users interact with the brand, as well as products and interfaces which they interact with in order to attain or utilize the service in question.


The backstage processes of service design never come into contact directly with the user of a service, but is equally important as any other function, as it pulls the strings for the frontend. These roles will be fulfilled by the likes of technology, infrastructure, and systems that aid in delivering the service directly to the audience or supplementing it in some way shape, or form.

5 Key Principles of Service Design

Service design is defined by five key tenets, which permeate through all aspects of the craft. Every one of these principles lies at the heart of service design and are necessities for a brand or company to effectively curate the ecosystem in which their users operate.



As mentioned above, all activities in service design are aimed towards the user. Any changes or additions made to processes carried out by businesses are made in order to ensure that the user on the end of it walks away happier. Additionally, before any design or redesigning is carried out, research is gathered from the users to see where and how the design of the services can be improved. All-in-all, users lie at the heart of all service design.



This principle of service design states that all stakeholders must be involved in all aspects of the service design process. While the previous point mentioned users, in particular, all other internal and external stakeholders are considered when making design decisions with regards to services. These could include employees, associates, external contractors, or agencies.


All of the service design involves taking a complex process, and breaking it down into as small pieces as possible, in order to optimize each individual task for the user, this is the principle of sequencing. To continue the aforementioned example of service design, while applying for a bank account appears a simple enough process from a user’s perspective, it involves hundreds of moving pieces and cogs for designers to consider, in order to deliver a satisfactory experience. Each individual variable being optimized is very much in the job profile of a service designer.


Evidencing is exactly as the name suggests, that the service a company provides should serve as ‘evidence’ for the image or value that their brand carries. It takes all the intangibles associated with a company’s image and makes it a real-life experience for users to partake in. For example, Amazon’s brand is associated with convenience, because the service design of their delivery system is so top-notch.


Finally, we come to the fifth principle of service design, that being, holistic. This means that all touchpoints which can be accessed by a user are covered, and designed for. So everything from the biggest interaction, to the smallest communication with a user is accounted for and designed. As mentioned, every service is broken into its smallest pieces and optimized, which is the definition of service design being holistic.

Service Design Tools

Much like with all other fields in design, service designers have a number of tools at their disposal, which they can utilize at different stages of the service design process. These allow them to either better understand their user, and how they interact with the service, or delve deeper into the service itself, and make decisions to improve how it’s integrated into the lives of users.

Customer Journey Maps

Customer journey mapping essentially plots the course which customers will take when opting for, or using a particular service. As mentioned above, service design is a vast process and has to be taken piece by piece to be even remotely possible. These customer journey maps track every individual step a user takes when having any interaction with a service, it maps touchpoints, points of difficulty, or even communications.

These in turn allow designers to isolate all the touchpoints between users and services, and optimize these using the designer’s toolkit. The touchpoints are also labeled with ‘thoughts and feelings’ which describe how the service designer would like the user to feel at any particular point of interaction with a company, naturally, this lays out a clear framework for how to work towards these perceived interactions. 

Also, channels are highlighted, since many interactions can take place through multiple channels, for example, to reach out to a service provider, you could call, use email, or even ping them on social media, all of which have to be accounted for by a service designer. All-in-all customer journey maps allow service designers to break every touchpoint into its finest pieces, and work backward to create a cohesive experience.



UX designers will be no strangers to the creation and use of personas. A persona is in essence a fictitious character created by a designer, to act as an analogous to the user. Basically, through countless hours of research, interviews, and data collection, designers isolate the most crucial personality traits and attributes of their ideal user, or users, and create personas. These personas could include things such as wants, needs, income, aspirations, favorite brands, and so much more.

The purpose of personas is far more complex than simply characters. They allow designers to more effectively empathize with the user, by putting themselves in their shoes. This empathy allows for more accurate designing, for a more specific group, or groups of users. In essence, all users are different, so being able to pigeonhole them into personas makes service design far more efficient and effective. 

Another effective way is if a company offers many services to all kinds of different users, as with the bank example above, where different types of accounts or cards would be given to different users. Creating personas can help distinguish the tone and appearance of how brands are presented, based on the type of users which will interact with them. This can be seen in action with our work on RBL’s Credit Card system redesign, which you can read about here.

Storyboards and Sequences

Lastly, storyboards and sequences can help elevate the service design process, by giving designers an even more holistic view of how the service incorporates into the lives of users. While a consumer journey map is far more technical and scientific in nature, storyboards and sequences tend to be more artistic, and narrative-based from a design perspective. In essence, a storyboard resembles a small comic strip, highlighting the user’s interaction with a service, or any other touchpoint with the service provider.

This allows designers to layout the exact narrative or emotion they wish for the user to live through when interacting with a particular touchpoint. In terms of working backward, this is perhaps the most useful tool for all service designers, seeing as user emotion, feeling, and satisfaction is what all service design processes are nucleated around. This also helps place the designer alongside the user in order to answer some key questions: “where will the service be used?”, and “in what context will the user find the service most appropriate”.


All told, while service design is a relatively unknown facet of design, certainly in comparison to its contemporaries of UX and UI design, it’s no less important. Its principles advocate for more inclusive design, with a user-first focus, which design should ideally always be. Additionally, the designers who work on services must be versatile in their toolkit, and what they bring to the table in terms of problem-solving, in addition to ecosystem management. Being able to design something, on the macro-level as a service is an integral part of creating a memorable customer experience. Additionally, the responsibility of tending to an entire ecosystem allows for end-to-end control in service design processes, allowing designers to truly express themselves with additions and subtractions to the established formula.


What are the four P’s of service design?

The four P’s of service design are as follows:
– People: The employees responsible for delivering a satisfying experience to users.
– Processes: The means by which users get the services they desire.
– Partners: Other key stakeholders that must be considered in the design process.
– Products: Any physical variables which contribute to the effective delivery of a service.
Each one represents a key part of the service design process and must be taken into account whenever an ecosystem is being created or re-vamped.

What are the 5 aspects of service design?

There are 5 key aspects of service design, also known as principles, they are as follows:
– User-Centered: Everything in the service design process begins with the user, and is done to improve their interaction with the services.
– Co-Creative: All stakeholders are considered when doing service design, both internal and external to the organization.
– Sequencing: The processes by which the service is provided are broken down into the smallest possible pieces, and optimized individually.
– Evidencing: The service design should reflect brand values and functions which have been established through other mediums, such as marketing.
– Holistic: Finally, service design covers the entire spectrum of a user’s interaction with a service, from the beginning, to end.

What is good service design?

Good service design is when a user has a pleasant or satisfying experience at every touchpoint of interaction with a service. This means, from beginning to end, from acquiring to using, to being done with a service, the processes must be planned in a way that the user is always kept at the center. 

What are the elements of service design?

Service design comprises two main elements, those being the front stage, and the backstage, both occupying half of the process each:

Frontstage: All the processes and products which a user sees, and directly interacts with, or what happens before the eyes of the users themselves.
Backstage: All the backend work which goes into providing the experience to users, including how processes occur and are linked with one another.

What is the difference between service design and design thinking?

Design thinking is simply a way to approach an issue, and find a solution using a designer’s toolkit and thought process. Service design is actually a type of design wherein all aspects of a companies service ecosystem are crafted and curated with an effort to make the user experience as pleasurable as possible.

Why is service design important?

Service design is critical in so many ways. First off, since services are often recurring, and not one-time purchases like products, ensuring that the user is satisfied with the service and its processes make them recurring customers. Additionally, keeping the users happy also allows them to invest more of their resources into service, making it a more lucrative offering from the company. Also, a brand’s image has to be upheld by their service, another reason why service design is so important.

What are the service design responsibilities?

Service designers handle both the frontend and backend of processes that occur to deliver a service to users. The frontend would be optimizing the user’s interactions with all touchpoints with the company. This could be everything from visiting the website or conversing with a customer support executive. Conversely, the backend is everything that goes unseen by the user but still has to be considered by the service designer, such as steps taken to complete a task, or process a user request.

What is service system design?

The ‘system’ refers to the entire ecosystem in which users operate, with regards to a certain brand. The planning and execution of these processes come under service system design and can be used interchangeably with service design as a whole. The process of perfecting that user experience, at any possible touchpoint encompasses service system design.

What is a product design and service design?

Product design is far more concerned with the process of identifying a singular issue faced by users and using the various facets of a designer’s toolkit to address and minimize that particular problem. Conversely, service design takes the entire process of a user interacting with a service and attempts to improve it at all possible levels and touchpoints.

Is service design a methodology?

While we wouldn’t say that service design itself is a methodology, designers would ideally take a methodical approach to design a service. This would be going through their own personal designers’ checklist to ensure that they have taken all necessary steps for an ideal user experience when it comes to service design.

What is service delivery design?

Service delivery design would be a subset of service design as a whole. It would be between the backstage and frontstage aspects of the service design process. Particularly, how backend processes are delivered to the users in a frontend manner or the art of the delivery itself being designed.

What is service design UX?

Service design and UX design are often incorrectly used interchangeably. While UX design acts on a much smaller level, investigating issues faced by users in one facet of interaction, service design focuses on the entire ecosystem, and how it could be improved from a user-centric perspective.

What is the main focus of product and service design?

Product design focuses on designers isolating and solving an issue that is faced by users the world over. On the other hand service design is about optimizing the entirety of a user’s experience with a service, covering all points of interaction, or touchpoints to ensure optimum smoothness and efficiency.

How do I become a service designer?

Service designers often start out in the field of interaction design, or as UX designers. In order to be able to successfully manage an entire ecosystem, solving a host of problems, you must be proficient in using design thinking to solve individual problems at first. Once proficient, you can start taking steps back and optimizing the entire process of service delivery, at which point you would be considered a service designer.

How do you measure service design?

One of the principles of service design is that it is holistic. This means, any process a user could possibly fulfill with or around the service, must be considered in its entirety. However, with the bank service design example given in the article, we can see that even the simplest interactions have many steps. Hence, service designers break down every possible touchpoint into individual interactions, before optimizing them.

What is CX vs UX?

UX is concerned with the user experience of a particular product. In essence UX designers design products to address concerns or issues faced by users in the real world. Conversely, CX, or customer experience designers focuses on the entire ecosystem of how users interact with the brand itself.

How has technology had an impact on product and service design?

Technology has greatly streamlined the process of service design. Just to take an example, the data collection and research phase of service design has been improved by the presence of data analytics, where large amounts of user data, both organized and unstructured can be harnessed and synthesized with relative ease.

Published by Venky Hariharan

Lead UX Designer

Venky Hariharan Lead UX Designer