Digitality in service design thinking

One of the 10 research priorities in service science [1] is service design that can be defined as “shaping services’ functionality and form from client perspective so that a service offering can be perceived useful and desirable from client point of view and effective, efficient and distinctive from service provider point of view [2]”. The essence is to look at the service holistically through the eyes of the customer with a purpose to create new implementable ideas. Channelling those ideas using visualizations and prototypes is the key to communication between the different stakeholders. Service designers speak about fast prototyping and testing of ideas with customers in the early phases of design to avoid spending time on solutions that will not work – an interesting analogue to agile principles and adaptation to changing requirements in software development.

One useful tool in service design is the customer journey [3] where the experienced service is divided into touchpoints that can be seen as points of interaction. These touchpoints can also consist of several companies’ offerings that the customer puts together in order to reach the desired goal. Understanding the customer journey helps the company in designing the service journey – the service from the company point of view and its touchpoints – to connect smoothly, reflect the company’s brand, and carry the customer through the service leaving a positive experience.

Touchpoints can also act as a way into understanding the digitality of service. When talking about digital services the emphasis is on the digital touchpoints of a service – such as software programs, websites, applications, digital advertising etc. Even though the digital touchpoints are only one part of the whole service, in today’s connected and ubiquitous society digitality is in one way or another present in almost any service and the amount of the digital touchpoints is increasing.

In order to get a holistic design for a service and its multiple touchpoints, the viewpoints for it need to come from various experts including diverse groups of employees and business partners as well as customers. To enable this the service providers need to support design thinking. Design thinking is “designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity” [4].  After a holistic design for a service has been created the action can be directed into individual touchpoints. For example, the computer scientists start to work on the application using methods from the field of software development whereas the interior designers start thinking about colour schemes for the wall paints and furniture placement.

How to ensure that even in this point of separation the designed service overview is kept in mind until the very end of the project and even after it? On what scale is the communication between different touchpoint designers possible and necessary? How can this all be done in practice?

The problem lies in the holistic nature of service design. How to create the common ground for communication between people with various disciplinary backgrounds? Service design has collected methods from several fields but how to create even better tools and methods that support the communication and design? How to know which touchpoints in the entirety would be perceived most valuable and which design options to select? How to enhance the service mentality?

These are just some of the essential questions that need answers. The work is ongoing but much is still left to be done.


[1]  Ostrom A.L. et al. (2010) Moving forward and making a difference: research priorities for the science of service. Journal of Service Research, 13(1), pp.4-33
[2]  Mager B., Gais M. (2009) Service design. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, p 42.
[3]  Stickdorn M., Schneider J. (2011) This is service design thinking. BIS Publishers, Amsterdam
[4]  Brown T. (2008) Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 86(June), pp.84-93.

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