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What is Service Design?

Stacey Birkett

Insight & Strategy Lead at Great Fridays, now an EPAM company

When my family and friends ask me where I work and what I do the conversation goes something like this:

Question: Where do you work?

Answer:  Great Fridays

Question: What do they do?

Answer: We are a Product and Service Design company

Question: What does that mean?

Answer: It means we help our clients design new products or services and/or improve existing ones so they are more profitable (i.e. monetary, experience, reputation).

Question: So you design products?

Answer: Not just products, also services

Question: What does that mean?

I try to answer this for almost everyone that I meet. Not because these people are uneducated, but because we all speak different languages even when we are speaking English. Therefore, I thought I would use this article and some recent experiences to better clarify my understanding of Service Design and what we do at Great Fridays.

Firstly a definition of design. During my PhD thesis between 2006 and 2010, I explored a variety of definitions. The one that feels most appropriate to me is ‘design as a verb’, this refers to the action or process of design (design process), to mean the generation of ideas, judgements, actions, and behaviours. With this definition I believe that we are all capable of design. It is a skill that is more refined and developed by professional designers, but a skill that is accessible by all of us. It is the action that drives us to make the ‘transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones’ (Herbert Simon).

Therefore, when we talk about Service Design we are talking about transforming services, we are going through a process that takes a service from its current state to a preferred state;

"Service Design is a collaborative process which helps to innovate (create new) or improve (existing) services to make them more useful, usable, desirable and efficient for customers as well as effective for clients and their organisations. It is a holistic, multi-disciplinary, integrative field."
Adapted from an original explanation of Service Design by Stefan Moritz.

And because I believe that we are all capable of ‘design’ I believe that we are all capable of Service Design. This is why we collaborate with our clients; they are just as capable as we are at generating ideas, making judgements, actions, and understanding behaviours. Our approach embraces the strengths of our clients and their customers and includes them in our approach. We believe that it is this triangulation of Great Fridays, our client and their customers that provides the greatest insights. We would be arrogant to believe we could do this without them. They are key to our approach. As mentioned, Service Design is a holistic process. If we were to apply a metaphor we could say that we are the person who builds the puzzle, but the pieces of that puzzle are provided by our clients and their customers. Collaboration is key, if we are missing pieces that puzzle would be incomplete.

I started this post outlining the confusion displayed by my friends and family about my job; often referred to by them as the ‘Chandler Bing’ of the group, for those who know Friends, his work is a mystery. This is not limited to my close network, as a business we have a similar challenge with clients. Again, it is not that they are uneducated, in fact it could be that they are too educated. Stefan Moritz made an excellent point at SDNC13 and I am paraphrasing, but essentially he says;

We live in the networked society, but we are stuck in the industrial society. Management teams have gone to school in the industrial society, linear models exist in the boardroom; so in our heads we are in the industrial society, but we live in the networked society.

This is an important challenge that we face within our business. How do you educate people whose ideas are grounded in traditional management that they need to adopt different approaches that are in-line with the world that we live in? Well, with many clients, we do not struggle, they understand that to ensure their business survives, they must evolve.

“Great Fridays bring a valuable mix of three things to their Service Design work: firstly of course there’s deep Design practice, secondly there’s sensitivity to business change and the delivery of bottom line impact, and thirdly a flexibility of approach that means they can apply themselves to complex environments. These make them a great partner for the sorts of deep service transformation programmes Capita undertakes, and stands them apart from other providers”
Joel Bailey

Director of Service Design, Capita

However, other clients are less open. They are comfortable with the methods they know and it makes them uneasy to leave that zone. In the Insight and Strategy team at Great Fridays, we are very comfortable working with unknowns, it is a key aspect of our role. We need to remain open to all possibilities until we have all the pieces to complete the puzzle. Of course we can appreciate our prospective clients grilling us and wanting to put a value on the work we do. We have a number of examples where we demonstrate the ROI in a monetary sense. However, we do not see our part in the process as only adding monetary value. Our world is so technically advanced that the products and services that we, as users, engage with are so similar to other products on the market. In fact, in some cases, the experience of using the product or service is the only thing that distinguishes one brand from another.

Last week I attended the This is Service Design Doing executive summer school in Barcelona. While I was there I posed this type of question, the type of question our clients ask;

Question: What is the value of  Service Design and how can we measure it?

I paraphrase, but the answer went similar to this: You could say what is the value of management? Or what is the value of marketing? In a world of experience, Service Design is massively important as it affects your staff, your customers, your marketing (how you create expectations and do or do not deliver on them is important), it affects all your strategies – marketing, digital, etc.

When we start to challenge other disciplines and their approaches in companies, I think the question is no longer what is the value of doing Service Design. The question becomes; what is the impact if we do not do this?

At Great Fridays we believe that the customer is a key part of the approach; without a customer (either B2C or B2B) there is no business. If a transaction cannot take place between stakeholders e.g. In the most basic form of product or service for cash then what do you have?

The monetary value is important to our clients and we truly respect that. It is also important to us. However, the exchange of money has to be earned, if your customers find a better service experience you will lose that financial income. There can be very little between goods – the service and experience are becoming the distinguishing factors. It is these so called ‘softer factors’ such as emotion and satisfaction that determine if money continues to be exchanged.

This is important for our clients, a good service experience for your customers will ensure your company is one they want to engage with and use again. This is where you want to be, not in the pile with the many companies that just do not understand their customers or cannot be bothered to do so. These companies are starting to stand out and so are their points of contact that customers engage with. Even before a transaction takes place, the pre-service points of contact such as your website or customer call centre can be a window to the type of experience you will get from this company. Therefore, it is important to consider the entire experience from end-to-end. All points in the journey can make a difference to your turnover. Not just from the customers perspective, but also from the viewpoint of your staff. These are just as important.

Our approach, helps our clients to better understand Service Design thinking and by collaborating we develop an holistic approach that breaks down silos and and considers the service from different viewpoints to develop solutions. Therefore, there is only really one question we should really ask our prospective clients and that is can you afford not to adopt Service Design?

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