Service design thinking: How?

People walking

This post is part 2 of a 3-part series.

In my last post, I talked about what service design thinking is. In this post, I’ll discuss how it is  implemented.

Service design thinking is based on five principles:

  1. User-centered: Design services as experienced by the user — e.g., a company in New York uses kinematics software and 3D technology to custom design garments as per the user’s body, allowing the garment to flexibly conform and fluidly flow in response to the person’s body movements.
  2. Co-creative: Include users and all stakeholders in the process — e.g., Star Citizen, a video game company, raised $137 million by co-creating the game in modules along with the gaming community
  3. Sequencing: Visualize services as interrelated actions — i.e., uberization or democratization of services helps simplify several steps; blockchain is another development.
  4. Evidencing: Make these actions tangible — i.e., pilot using machine language, AI, VR. Fail fast, build small, be agile. These help you design and refine a better service and reduce time to market.
  5. Holistic: Consider the entire environment of the service.

As the saying goes, electricity was not invented by making incremental changes to candles. Similarly, in service design thinking, stakeholders are encouraged to think out of the box and experiment. We have already seen examples such as Uber and Airbnb. Another example lies with VoIP. The telecommunications industry is expected to suffer $386 billion in losses between 2012 and 2017 due to customers using VoIP services. VoIP market leader Skype had annual sales of $2 billion, leaving a vast potential market for creative and innovative solutions.

Know your customers

For today’s customer, it is not only about buying a good product or service but also about buying into an idea or an experience. Because the marginal costs of supply have almost dropped to zero, you can dynamically price your products and services for different customer segments if you can figure out what customers want, how they consume and how much are they willing to pay. Amazon and Dell were the first to try such differential pricing based on users’ needs. You need to know your customers and their purchase propensities.

Knowing your customers’ behavior (beyond traditional purchasing behavior) is also key. Startups are working on affluence detection to calibrate real-time pricing based on what people are wearing and how they are walking. Progressive Insurance uses driver data, captured by its SnapShot in-car plug-in device, to formulate pricing.

Ecobee, a home thermostat company, used service design thinking to produce a “squaricle” thermostat with wireless sensors that controls temperature where the user is located, as opposed to a traditional thermostat that heats or cools the whole house. Ecobee understood that the ability to interact with the product was important to customers. By designing a new product from the standpoint of aesthetics, usability and features, and combining it with a mobile app for interacting, Ecobee was able to launch the product in new channels like Apple stores and Best Buy, giving Ecobee direct access to customers that the traditional thermostat did not have.

Tools and tips

Service design tools like stakeholder maps, culture probes, personas, story boards, customer journey maps, service blueprints and service prototypes enable you to gain insight about people’s functional and emotional needs, dreams, aspirations and view of the future. These tools can help you experiment, fail fast through agile design methodology, and make refinements to deliver value to customers and identify opportunities for new revenue streams in adjacent markets.

Service design is also increasingly engaging ideas from an emerging branch of neuro design. Neuro design focuses on subconscious biases, reactions and responses to designs. Conscious questionnaires often fail to understand the subconscious biases implicit and deep-seeded in an individual. Customers at times do not know why they like a product, design, service or ambience, or why they don’t. Using techniques like facial action coding, researchers are studying facial expression response to designs and implicit responses; researchers are also exploring word-image associations that automatically measure the reaction to word-image pairs.

Service design thinking methodology provides tools that allow designers to approach innovation from a human perspective rather than a purely technology perspective. This approach, if used well, can help companies gain market advantage through innovations that create multilayered experiences for customers and address not only their current pain points but also their future aspirations.

In my final post, we’ll address the “why” of service design thinking.


Service design thinking: What?

Service design thinking: Why?

Transforming to a digital enterprise



  1. […] my last post, I talked about how to do service design thinking. In this post, I’ll discuss why service design […]

  2. […] my next post, we’ll address the “how” of service design […]

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