Service Design: The Most Important Design Discipline You've Never Heard Of

Today is the first annual Customer Experience Day! There’s a growing number of professionals who are dedicated to making great customer experiences — and today is a day to celebrate their work. Today I’d also like to celebrate the role of design in helping customer experience (CX) pros create those experiences. It's not graphic design, interior design, or industrial design — but the lesser-known field of service design. You may not have heard of service design yet, but I’d argue that it’s the most important design subspecialty in the business world today.

What is service design? Its purview includes the design of interactions that span time and multiple touchpoints. Service design is sometimes easiest to grasp when contrasted with product design. Product designers create tangible things: tennis shoes, teapots, and tablet computers. Service designers create intangible experiences: the series of interactions that you have as you book a flight, pay a bill, get a driver’s license, or go to the doctor. Service designers also design the behind-the-scenes activities that enable those experiences to be delivered as planned.

I hope you can see from the description above why service design is critical to customer experience. So why is service design such an obscure field? Andy Polaine, Lavrans Løvlie, and Ben Reason sum it up nicely in their book Service Design: From Insight To Implementation — “It is because many services are almost invisible that nobody takes care to design them.” Indeed, it’s obvious that tennis shoes, teapots, and tablets need to be designed. Yet many CX pros skip directly to managing the customer experience via measurement and governance programs — and give little thought to actively designing experiences in the first place. In fact, Forrester recently surveyed 100 customer experience professionals and found that only 15% consistently follow a defined customer experience design process when they create new interactions or improve existing ones.

So why is service design so important? We’ve entered a new business era that Forrester calls the age of the customer — a time when focus on the customer matters more than any other strategic imperative. Service design provides a toolset and framework that enable companies to truly understand their customers and engage with them in meaningful ways — ultimately driving profits, cost savings, and competitive differentiation.

If you’d like to learn more about service design, I’d encourage you to check out some of my previous blog posts:

I’d also encourage you to attend a service design or customer experience conference where you can dig deeper and connect with the design community. I’ll be speaking at:

Discover how customer-centricity is key to your sustainable competitive advantage in this complimentary Forrester report, The Business Impact Of Customer Experience.

This post is part of the Customer Experience Professionals Association's Blog Carnival “Celebrating Customer Experience.” Check out posts from other CX bloggers and learn how you can participate   online or in person  in Customer Experience Day.

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