The practice of Service Design is shared by service designers globally, including most of Europe, where it took hold, to North and South America, Asia-Pacific (Australia and New Zealand), throughout Asia, including India, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and in Africa, where there are growing numbers of service designers in Nigeria and South Africa.

The concept may have originated in the U.S., but was nurtured in Europe, particularly Britain, Sweden, Germany and Italy. It grew roots in academia, but then migrated to public service, and later the corporate world. It is truly an international practice, leading credence to the notion that service designers practicing service design can help conquer many of the world’s greatest challenges.

In 1983, G. Lynn Shostack, a bank and marketing manager and consultant, proposed that services should be designed to eliminate the many failures that result from trial and error. Products are designed, so why not services, she reasoned. and suggested documenting a service using a service blueprint. With a blueprint, the components of a service can be integrated—common to how some systems engineers practice.

Shostack’s service blueprint has not changed to what’s in use today, some 35 years later, and it remains the primary tool for mapping services in sequence. As the name suggests, a service blueprint resembles an architectural drawing, only with users as its central focus.

A blueprint identifies service provider resources and functional handoffs necessary for the user to achieve a successful, intended outcome. It can be used to prototype a service and to diagnose service failures. The blueprint also leads to planning touchpoints, another vital tool for service designers. Overall, the service blueprint is arguably the locus for the practice of service design.

From when she published in the Harvard Business Revenue to eight years later, professors at Köln International School of Design (KISD) introduced service as a curriculum design discipline. More than ten years later, the Koln and other schools formed the Service Design Network, a membership association of academics and professional service designers. The founders were truly international, with support from Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S., Linköpings Universitet in Sweden, and the schools of Politecnico di Milano and Domus Academy in Italy.

From that point, service design began gaining advocates, and in 2002 two Danish Ministries—Business, Growth, and Employment, and Children and Education—formed an incubator or lab, called MindLab for adopting service design techniques to improve the delivery of government services. Designers at the lab introduced methods for rapid prototyping and testing, using an iterative approach such as Agile methodology. They also developed user research methods, ideation processes, and visualization and modeling—for government agencies to adopt for its public users.

Through their work, MindLab designers helped improve Copenhagen’s waste management system, improve social interactions between convicts and guards in prisons, and develop services for mentally disabled adults at an institution called Odense.

The innovations from MindLab inspired other governments around the world to create their own offices that would foster and promote better user-centric delivery of services.

Around the year 2008, the service design practice caught the attention of officials with the British government, who began exploring “user-driven public services” to deliver individual service experiences. British involvement boosted the little-known field and created greater value for the work of service designers.

It was in Britain where concepts evolved for soliciting feedback from service providers and users to continually improve services. Also, service design boutiques—agencies with service design expertise—appeared, offering a range of services to the public sector, healthcare sector, non-profits and corporate clients—taking them from ideation to design, prototyping, testing and diagnostics.

With proven outcomes, European Union officials began looking to service design techniques as a way to ease the movement of populations across borders. It was a promise to member states to remove barriers to mobility, so workers could access jobs across Europe. The challenges among members was how to create a uniform experience for populations among whom spoke different languages and brought with them various cultures and practices. Among the solutions by service designers was, for instance, LED displays at bus, tram and train platforms, which inform riders to the times their rides are arriving. These and other solutions led to an undercurrent of interest to adopt service design among member states, which remains today.

Back in the UK, the Cabinet created an office called Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), whose charge was improving government policy making, ways to better orient government services to users, and create efficiencies throughout government services. BIT later spun off as a semi-private company and merged with Nesta, a non-profit charitable organization.

The BIT concept, then migrated across the Atlantic Ocean into an idea adopted in the Obama administration, for an office with the identical mission, to operate under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Service design has been part of many novel user experiences across sectors. Besides many improvements to public infrastructure, the practice has also introduced patient journeys into healthcare to improve both the patient experience and the outcomes of care; and in Finland, at the Myyrmanni shopping mall in Vantaa, shopping experiences are integrated with the environment and spaces in ways that tie together mall spatial experiences with vendor products and services.

There are also various spinoffs to service design, including Servicescape, which is a practice for designing environments for service provider objectives, which requires great emphasis on behaviors.

Finally, most, if not all of the global management consulting firms offer variations of service design, or service design techniques for solving its clients challenges. And there are any number of boutiques devoted to service design or include service design in their practice. Plus, there are growing number of matriculation for service design.

ISDI, however, still considers Service Design a nascent field, whose greatest potential has yet to be demonstrated; and its future is flush with opportunities for service designers.

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