We live in a service economy — a place where money is more often exchanged for actions rather than things. Today, more than 80% of our GDP is derived from services, enough that our manufacturing trade deficit is offset by the services we export.
Services are integrated into everything we make, buy and use, and increasingly, the designers of those services are proposing the software we write. We may think of our apps as stand-alone products, but they are very likely a component of a larger service. So, while you many not have met one yet, the ranks of professional service designers are growing. Odds are good you will soon work along side or for one. Because of that, we should all know a little about how they think and what they care about.
Service design did not appear as a specific discipline until 1991, when Professor Dr. Michael Erlhoff at Köln International School of Design in Cologne, Germany first introduced it. It grew steadily in Europe but did not take off in the U.S. until 2004 when the Köln School teamed with Carnegie Mellon University and others to create a professional association called the Service Design Network. Today degree programs are offered at SCADA, Parsons, and a half-dozen other schools in the U.S.
Here’s what you should know about what they’ve learned in those programs in order to partner with them successfully.
- Service design is holistic. When you’re tasked with getting customers to pay $4.50 for a 75-cent cup of coffee, nothing is off the table. Architecture, psychology, marketing, management, technology — service designers consider the whole picture in their pursuit to creating value. They are natural omni-channel thinkers. How can mobile, FM radio, lighted signage and parking lot design all be leveraged to improve your drive-through experience? I have no idea, but a service designer is probably working on it. In-tune developers can help service designers leverage available technology and infrastructure in ways they may have not considered.
- Service design is about making experiences different, as well as better. Service design was born in the marketing department. Getting customers to see value in your offering isn’t much good if they see the same value in the offering across the street. Developers are taught to borrow and reuse, and there is value in making UX that’s familiar. Just be wary of making it too familiar.
- Service design hates waiting. That’s because waiting literally sucks the perceived value out of the service being delivered. Service design uses Lean principles of eliminating wasted effort to both lower cost and improve value. One tool every developer should know is the service blueprint. It describes the interactions of the customer with employees and systems along a horizontal timeline and a vertical fail line. If a process takes too long, the service experience fails. As developers, we’re already attuned to issues of load times, latency, etc., and we can help service designers identify potential fail points.
- Service design is data driven. The reason service designers can plot a fail line against a timeline is because they covet and hoard often very granular data. It’s called evidence when it’s gathered from prototypes and field tests during the design process, and it’s used to validate or improve the design. As developers, we often data-less prototyping tools like Keynotopia to quickly and cheaply simulate a UX, but that might be best for the service designer. Think instead how you can provide experience data throughout the development process.
- Service Design is empathetic. Remember that service blueprint? It also tracks the customer’s emotional state along the timeline. That’s a high bar. I’ve seen plenty of UX lab tests where the user’s completion of the tasks was the measure of success. Not any more. As developers, we need to be watchful of how the user feels every second along the way.
Blueprint+ a service blueprint published by servicedesigntools.com
To me, the world of service design is incredibly exciting. It’s one of the best seats in the house for effecting customer engagement and the brand experience. As developers, we can offer service designers a lot just by understanding their point of view and by understanding the larger context in which our applications operate to deliver customer value.