I bet most of us are rarely aware when we are using a service.  But we use them every day to accomplish significant and insignificant tasks.  Our definitions of services come from economics.  Economists categorize and measure services as part of their calculations of economic growth.  The measure rolls up into Gross Domestic Product, which governments use to determine whether their country’s economy is growing.

Service Design, a non-aesthetic field of practice, is a collection of models, tools, and methods, used  to assemble service components into a complete service that achieves a desired result.  This most often involves meeting a business need or specification while satisfying users.  For example, airline travel is a complete service made up of dozens of service components, luggage handling, ticketing, on-boarding, departing and more.

Granted, it’s not always so easy to identify a service, but you will find here some requirements to help distinguish a service from a product.  if you can apply any one of these, it’s a service.

  • Services materialize as they are used in real time. They are experienced upon opening or accessing which then deliver an intrinsic value to the user.  Thus, a service cannot be seen, felt, tried out, or tested before purchase,
  • No two service experiences are identical for any single individual or group of users. Take Amazon for example, two individuals can make same purchase and have completely different experiences.  These two individuals, say, will have different frames of mind or purpose, will be on different devices and be in different environments, even employ similar or the same search terms, and pay through their own means.  In sum, the mechanics could be similar, even mirrored, yet the experience cannot be identical.
  • Services are perishable, sometimes with an expiration, and cannot be re-used or re-sold. When an airplane takes off with an empty seat, that’s lost revenue to the airlines.  (That’s why airlines take great pains to fill every seat.)  Additionally, hotel chains find greater prosperity when they own more hotels, to more easily absorb wastage from unsold, empty rooms.
  • Services can be monitored in near or real time. Through monitoring, service designers can shape a service experience to meet a single user’s preference or need, or to satisfy groups of users with similar needs.  Technology allows us to be in tune with user’s service journeys, but services can also be observed in-person.  When service designers acquire a view into operating services, they can attach metrics for improvement.  Some services have built in capability so a service designer can intervene to correct, repair or recover a user’s service experience, quite unlike a product
  • Some services, additionally, can be used repeatedly, at multiple times, in different locations. Apple iTunes is a service that be used successively around the globe.  “In real-time, millions of users globally can have immediate access to experiences, each with the same objective, and every one of them realizing a different satisfying experience, simultaneously,” Dutch-based consumer behavior researcher Geke van Dijk, said.
  • And lastly, a user’s service experience can last long after as a memory. Cruise lines are a great example of converting experiences into a memory by creating unforgettable moments and capturing them on camera. They also send frequent emails as a reminder to creating more memorable experiences.  This is one of the benefits of being a captive audience on a cruise.

If you are attentive to services, you might want to look around you and begin identifying services.  You might also  begin deconstructing how they work, which is how I began my career.


Courtesy of International Service Design Institute, an e-learning organization that helps prepare service designers for their careers.