Does Service Design stand on its own?

Following up on yesterday’s post, I realised I didn’t quite analysed what Service Design means to me, but ended up debating why I feel a Service Designer.

In the evening I went to Tim Billing‘s presentation at the Melting Pot in Edinburgh, and bumped Christina Kinnear and we both kept debating what Service Design is.

I still don’t know, but I would love to get to the bottom of it.

On the one hand I yesterday decided that the ingredients of a Service Designer are the tools and the mind-set or approach. But I keep on clashing against its definition as a discipline, sub-discipline, or something else.

More precisely, are we service designers… or something else?
Tim Brown’s concept of design thinkers, designers that are not focused on aesthetics or functionality but a wider approach, keeps coming back to my mind.

The more I work with designers from other disciplines – more specifically Human Computer Interaction (HCI) & User Experience (UX) – the more I feel we are more or less the same. We follow the same user-centred process: Need Finding – Connections – Brainstorming – Rough Prototyping – Testing – Iteratively Refining… and same tools: Field Research, Embedding our-selves in the experience, Observation, Focus Groups, Interviews, User-journeys, Future visioning, Personas, Visualisation…

But in theory we focus on different aspects, or not? 

In theory, a service designer designs services. Not quite. In reality I believe we are facilitators and concept designers. We define specifications on how “things” should be to reach the best possible outcome. But those “things” could be anything.
I would have never thought Service Design was to be so useful for video game design until I worked for Dynamo Games. I realised then that it doesn’t matter what the product/service is as long as you get to understand your users and the context you are working in.
Furthermore, when I work with companies to improve their products or services, we always look a the whole experience from beginning to end, which for me means starting from Awareness all the way through to Sustaining Engagement. That has led a lot of my work to be around marketing, subject on which I have needed a lot of self-training. But if you want the right people to access or buy whatever you produce you not only need to get the product right but you need to know where they are and how to approach them.

So, in a society in which digital technologies are becoming pervasive we need to take a holistic approach and ultimately design users’ experiences. And either HCI, UX and SD designers can do so. However… at an academic level terminologies tend to be different. Writing a paper for an HCI  or SD conference may entail completely different approaches. My wonder is: is that sensible? 

As usual I don’t reach any conclusions, but maybe someone out there has the answers…


3 thoughts on “Does Service Design stand on its own?

  1. Hi Artmadillo!
    Starting by responding to the question raised in the end (and not being a scholar but having to read them), I think the different terminologies of some disciplines have all the advantage in being transformed into a common language between the various disciplines. There is a huge saving of energy in the understanding of things.
    This same common language would be a great tool for the work of the facilitators or team members (service designers) all them co-creators of the best possible result.
    I understand service design as an interdisciplinary activity (HCI, UX, but also engineers, psychologists, etc) in which each one of us has a different way to understand and to use the tools we have at our disposal.
    This is the great advantage of interdisciplinary teams: the combination of different perspectives creates the differentiator value.
    I agree “Service Designer are the tools and the mind-set or approach”.

    Thank you for this post

  2. Hi Jose,
    Thanks to you for sharing your views on the topic :)

    I absolutely agree that having a common language benefits communication and understanding, and therere the effectiveness of a team. However I have to say – being myself an attempt of academic – I sometimes struggle with the slight difference in the terminologies between design disciplines.

    I also see the service design approach as a very interdisciplinary activity. That is why I sometimes wonder if its name is quite right as it goes far beyond the design of services. Design thinking might be a good umbrella, but for some reason I find pretencious calling myself “design thinker”… :s

    We´ll keep up the debate

    Take care

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