A new poll suggests there are barriers in the way of growing the field of service design, a discipline traced to the early 1990s that claims more than 2 million skilled professionals who solve major challenges and bring in added revenue, among other benefits.

The challenge facing the field is the lack of a universal definition, directly causing confusion and misunderstanding within some business circles. This may be because service design began with a technique, a Service Blueprint, and expanded to include newly created and other borrowed techniques to fulfill the goal of a successful service.

What has occurred over 22 years of study and proven execution, is now there are spinoff disciplines and philosophies, such as human-centered design, digital transformation, systems thinking, along with others. There is also a field called UX Design, which is more or less a subset of service design and at best extends service design.  Many of these practitioners, moreover, may ply service design skills, but still call their practice by different names, the poll respondents pointed out.

The problem with the number of relatives is that in the business world it tends to cause confusion, leading to uncertainty, and avoidance.  That, according to poll respondents is partially to blame for the slow adoption of service design.

The perpetuating confusion may be the result of consulting firms routinely rebranding offerings partly in order to apart in a competitive field and partly to name offerings in line with how clients think about their problems, say, digital transformation. This was my experience as a consultant at a global management consulting firm—most of them now are offering clients service design.

Another consideration, based on the respondent entries, is that service design techniques are not truly the domain of service design. In other words, someone might ask, why are these techniques service design and not human-centered design, for example. And I would argue that the outcome and benefits are different. However, that reasoning goes back to the original confusion of a definition.

225 Poll Respondents in 2021 Responded With Their Ideas for Growing Service Design.