An excerpt from ISDI’s The Apprentice Part I, from the three-part Service Designer’s series of books and courses.
The Origins of Service Design

The founding of service design is often associated with G. Lynn Shostack, a Citibank marketing executive, who in 1983 coined the term “Service Design” in a Harvard Business Review article, Designing Services that Deliver.

Image of service blueprint originator, G. Lynn Shostack.

G. Lynn Shostack, 1977

She wrote that like products, services need designing, too.  Over several years following its publication, others began building on her ideas, mostly among academics in Europe.  There, the seeds of the field began to bloom, primarily in the classroom and through academic declarations.  Shostack’s stated her intention in writing was for others to design services along with a framework. She proposed a service blueprint, an architectural rendering, to be used for depicting a user’s interaction with a service and the internal connections within an organization that must come into play to fulfill the user’s service experience.


Sample service blueprint for a theater experience.

Sample service blueprint for a theater experience. Source: ISDI Publishing

Service design became more mature as others added different approaches, tools, and methods from other disciplines, including product design, marketing, systems design, anthropology, ethnography, research, and human behavior.  The techniques from other technical and non-technical fields are added as needed to solve relevant challenges.
But perhaps the biggest growth inflection occurred after several governments that eyeing the benefits, tested the approach for improving end-user experiences.  In the United Kingdom, service design was incorporated into public works projects to improve experiences for non-UK residents on the heels of entering into the European Union free trade exchange.  Sweden also began experimenting with service design, applying its approach to government family services programs.  The government of Sweden established a service design lab to explore wider applications as well.

For servicing government needs, boutique service design firms emerged and then grew as demand spread.  Nowadays, almost every global management consulting firm offers a form of service design, even though those offerings may be labeled under different name offerings, such as digital transformation.

Want to learn more?  

ISDI is a professional development organization for service designers, offering training and other resources for service designers.