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The Story of Service Design – The Practice of Designing Services

The Story of Service Design – The Practice of Designing Services

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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Noticed Different Varieties At  Your Local Supermarket?

Noticed Different Varieties At Your Local Supermarket?

Local grocery stores (chains) within close proximity, now carry different inventories to suit their neighborhoods, and at the same time limit choices and drive up profits while better meeting consumer demand – based on algorithms.

We rely on algorithms to perform hundreds of millions of  tasks: millions of instant stock trades per second; guiding an average 100,000 flights,  bringing passengers safely to the ground; finding ideal mates using dating websites (a two-billion-dollar  industry); and predicting terrorist activities around the world using  pre-programmed feeds from global networks, i.e. connecting the dots.

The computer codes known as algorithms are used to perform tasks that stretch beyond human capabilities.  Take this real world example–within nano seconds of a keyboard query, a programmed algorithm perhaps in tandem with other algorithms, is capable of searching across the world’s accessible data, billions of bytes on multiple servers thousands of miles apart on various networks using a variety of software platforms, and then ranking and sorting all the accumulated data into meaningful results based on the user’s query. And even with all these machinations, results can appear in seconds.

Grocery store chains have been accumulating reams of check-out data, and other information, for years, taken all together they constitute Big Data.  For the longest time I wondered what the stores intended with all the effort and incentives to grab my data. In exchange for sharing my buying behavior, Giant Food offers me tens of cents off per gallon of gas, which the chain must reimburse to someone, given the narrow profit margins on gas here (factor in real estate costs, taxes, and competition in our local gas prices.)

Now we have a pretty good idea of how the data is used. We see the differences in inventory and promotions among the  surrounding grocery stores within a three-mile radius in suburbia, three of them Giant Food and two Safeways.

Among the three Giant Foods–one is situated in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, the other, in a neighborhood one could categorized as Middle-to-Upper Middle Class based on the housing, and the third store is in an affluent area–made up of roughly half who are generational families-second and third generation Americans-and a half who are successful newly immigrated Russians, Indians (from the subcontinent) and South Koreans.  The area served includes a range of real estate from higher-end-priced single family houses all the way up to  mansions the size of palaces and horse-breeding farms.

By processing the data in algorithms, the stores are able to better accommodate the location’s primary shopping demographic. And by more carefully selecting inventory, products move off the shelves faster, labor costs are reduced by limiting brands and choices (now just three-to-five brands of cereal instead of, say, 50), and shelf space becomes less cluttered creating opportunities for charging a premium for shelf space to those CPGs (Consumer Product Goods) who want the advantage of narrow targeting,

Stores that have distinct segmentation, as do ours, offer up promotional opportunities and items that consumers desire during times of year, for instance religious days.  For Passover, observed by the Jewish faith, matzoh and seder-restricted foods are  stocked for a limited time, mostly at non-discounted prices due to demand.

To wrap up – the shift in grocery store inventory cropped up recently when our household discovered we could no longer rely on one store or another within the Giant Food chain to snag  favorite staple products, including soda water and ordinary cereal brands.  This became an irritant when we knew all the chain stores are supplied from the same warehouse.  So we changed our buying habits to choose among the five stores based on what we intend to make for dinner.

Steven J. Slater is the Author of Be Relevant: How Brands Rise to the Top (A Practical Guide to Service Design) Available on Amazon  –

Can You Spot the Service Concept?

Can You Spot the Service Concept?

Walt Disney Company’s focus never veers from making people happy.  Its entire operations reflect this service concept—from the design of its rides, characters (staff), and the vibes from ubiquitous festive music and themes.

A good friend’s daughter left her teddy bear at a Disney Resort, otherwise a catastrophe for a four-year-old.  But Disney has toy rescue operations and her bear was found under the bed and sent overnight to her home. When she looked out her window at some point the next, there was a special delivery. Inside a package with her name on it was her bear, nestled comfortably in stuffing. And all heartache melted away.

A cynic might attribute Disney’s bear handling to clever branding.  But this simple gesture is much more; if done right, branding should roll up under a service concept in support.  The service concept should be the purpose for the organization and guide goal setting and objectives. The service concept is why consumers attach themselves to brands, and why non-profit members join and engage.

Five requirements for a service concept:

  1. Sum of the organization’s purpose, or aspirational;
  2. Have meaning, be easily understood;
  3. Credible and feasible;
  4. Be appropriate throughout organization;
  5. Capable of lasting.

A service concept that meets those requirements will serve as a barometer for evaluating new ideas and determining programs and services that no longer fit.

See if you can guess the service concept for Southwest Airlines: On their website home page reads: “Southwest has been in LUV with our Customers from the very beginning. We began service to San Antonio and Houston from ‘Love’ Field in Dallas. As our company and customers grew, our LUV grew too with the prettiest flight attendants serving ‘Love Bites’ and tickets issued from our ‘Love Machines.’ Our LUV has spread from coast to coast and border to border.”  And, the company’s stock ticker symbol is LUV.

Recognizing User’s Needs – The Story of the Anthora Cup

Recognizing User’s Needs – The Story of the Anthora Cup

Laszlo Büch, a Holocaust survivor from the former Czechoslovakia, made his way to New York City after World War II. Within a dozen years he would take a struggling startup to icon status by reshaping the New York coffee cup to satisfy user needs.  The epitome of Service Design.

Burk, a salesman for Sherri, came upon an idea to design a cup without a handle that could carry hot liquids; a product we now take for granted. Burk’s idea solved a need on behalf of the on-the-go coffee drinker.

Burk also wanted a design that would-be buyers, the diner owners, would find irresistible—a Greek-themed cup with a welcoming hospitality message. The finished product was a four-inch high cup with a blue solid background, white Greek meander top and bottom, and a white shield on opposite sides separated by two amphorae. Inside each shield are images of three cups of coffee with abundant trails of steam, and the words “We Are Happy to Serve You,” appearing to materialize in the piping hot steam. Yes, all that on a hand-held paper cup.

All through the 1990s the “Head,” as it became known, sold more than four billion cups a year, trailing off until it was no longer manufactured in 2010, the year Burk died at age 87. Over the years, the cup’s appeal has shifted from its functionality to its design, an iconic image representing New York City. Today the cup is a common theater, movie, and television prop to convey an earlier, grittier time. The Anthora cup was recently spilled in the recently released acclaimed Netflix show MindHunter, and George Clooney held on to one as Michael Clayton did in the eponymous movie also trending now on Netflix.

“It was for decades the most enduring piece of ephemera in New York City, and is still among the most recognizable,” New York Times reporter (Fox) wrote in Burk’s obituary.

It remains known as the Anthora cup because of Burk’s difficulty pronouncing “th” from his earlier years growing up in Europe before he spoke English. Burk served as Sherri’s chief marketer and salesman until retirement.

The Anthora vignette demonstrates the importance of recognizing the market. Burk discovered he needed to satisfy the end users, coffee drinkers, not his direct buyers, the Greek diner proprietors. His buyers may never have perceived the poor design of the cup, and thus were unable to satisfy their own customers. His contribution was widespread, helping coffee shop owners around New York City satisfy millions of customers with a positive experience.