Building Better Services with Service Design Thinking

Imagine this: you order groceries online for convenient delivery. The website is sleek and user-friendly, but upon checkout, the system crashes repeatedly. Or, you love a clothing store’s website but dread the long lines and disorganized fitting rooms. These are classic examples of services that falter at different touchpoints, leaving customers frustrated.

In this experience economy, companies cannot design in isolation. A study found that 73% of customers say customer experience (CX) significantly impacts their buying decisions. This highlights the importance of creating a smooth and positive experience at every interaction point.

This is where service design thinking comes in. It’s a human-centered approach that considers the entire service ecosystem, from the initial online search to post-service interactions. In this blog, we’ll break down service design, its core principles,  the key ingredients that make it work, and how it can help your business.

What is Service Design Thinking?

“When you have two coffee shops next to each other and each sells the same coffee at the same price, Service Design is what makes you walk into one and not the other” – 31 Volts Service Design Studio.

Service design thinking is a human-centered approach to creating and improving services. It focuses on understanding the needs of users, employees, and other stakeholders throughout the entire service journey. 

Unlike traditional service development, which often prioritizes internal efficiency, service design thinking focuses on creating a holistic and valuable experience for everyone involved.

Importance of Service Design Thinking

Sustainable Solutions: By considering all aspects of a service, service design thinking helps create solutions that are not only effective but also long-lasting. In addition to user satisfaction, it also considers environmental and social impact.

Optimal Experiences: Focusing on user needs ensures services are not just functional but also enjoyable and engaging. This leads to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Service Design vs. UX Design

Service design thinking has a broader scope than UX (user experience) design. UX design focuses on how you interact with a digital product, like a website. Service design considers the entire service ecosystem.

Omni-channel delivery: This means thinking about how users interact with your service across all channels, like phone, website, or in-person.

Back-end processes: Service design goes beyond what the customer sees. It considers the smooth operation of unseen processes that make the service function. This might involve streamlining internal workflows or optimizing service delivery infrastructure.

FeatureService DesignUX Design
FocusOverall service experience across all touchpointsUser interaction with digital products 
ScopeBroader – includes omnichannel delivery and back-end processesNarrower – focuses on the user interface and usability
ExampleDesigning a library experience (borrowing, website, staff interaction)Designing a library app for book searching and checkout

By embracing service design thinking and using the advances in digital technology, businesses can create sustainable solutions and deliver optimal experiences that meet the ever-evolving expectations of today’s consumers.

Also Read: The UX Design Process: The Ultimate 10-Step Guide

Now, let’s talk about the core principles of effective service design.

Principles of Effective Service Design

Service design follows some key principles laid out by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider in their book “This is Service Design Thinking.” These principles guide you in creating services that are not just functional but truly user-centered and delightful. Here’s a breakdown of the five core principles:

User-Centered Principle

This is the golden rule of service design. It means putting the needs and wants of your users at the heart of everything you do. This involves activities like user research, where you gather insights directly from your target audience.  By understanding their pain points and aspirations, you can design a service that truly solves their problems.

Co-Creative Principle

Great services aren’t built in a vacuum. The co-creative principle encourages involving all stakeholders in the design process. This could include employees from different departments, like customer service or IT, as well as external partners. By getting everyone’s perspective, you create a well-rounded service that considers all aspects of delivery.

Sequencing (Iterative Process)

Great services don’t emerge fully formed overnight. This principle is all about taking John C. Maxwell’s advice to heart: “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”

Just like learning a new skill, service design is an iterative process. This principle emphasizes the importance of breaking down the service journey into smaller steps and iteratively developing and testing solutions. 

Through constant testing and user feedback, you can identify and address issues within the user journey before fully committing to a final design. This ensures a smoother experience for users, allowing them to navigate your service with ease.

Codewave’s rapid prototyping approach can help you bring your ideas to life quickly, allowing for immediate feedback and iteration.

Evidencing (Visual Communication)

Sometimes, the best way to explain a complex service design is to show it, not just tell it.  The evidencing principle encourages the use of visual aids like user journey maps, service blueprints, and prototypes. These tools help everyone involved see the service concept clearly and ensure everyone’s on the same page.

Holistic Principle

A well-designed service doesn’t exist in a bubble. The holistic principle reminds you to consider all the interconnected parts of a service and how they impact the user experience. 

This includes everything from the front-end interactions with the user to the back-end processes that make the service function.  By taking a holistic view, you can ensure a seamless and consistent experience across all touchpoints.

By following these principles, you can develop services that are user-friendly, efficient, sustainable, and perfectly aligned with your business goals. Remember, happy users are loyal users, and that’s a recipe for success!

To navigate the complexities of service design, partnering with experts like those at Codewave can provide the insights and experience needed to ensure your services are truly user-centered.

Armed with these core principles, let’s talk about the key components that make up service design thinking.

Key Components of Service Design

So, how do you put these principles into action?  Service design thinking relies on several key components:

1. Mapping Your Service Ecosystem

Imagine a play—a successful performance requires the right actors on stage, a well-designed set, and a smooth backstage operation. Service design thinking uses a similar approach to understanding the intricate web of elements that make up your service.

  • Actors: These are the internal employees who directly interact with users to deliver the service. 
  • Locations: Where do the service interactions take place? Is it a physical store, a website, or a combination of both?
  • Props: What tools and materials are needed to deliver the service? This could be anything from a website interface to a delivery truck.
  • Associates: These are the other organizations involved in providing the service alongside your internal team. Examples include logistics companies, payment processors, or subcontractors.
  • Processes: What are the behind-the-scenes steps that make your service function? Streamlining these processes ensures a smooth experience for both users and employees.

You gain a holistic understanding of your service ecosystem by mapping out these elements.

2. Building a Strong Business Case

A clear business case serves as the foundation for your service design project. Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Understanding your value proposition: What unique value does your service offer to users? How does it address their needs and solve their problems?
  • Financial viability: Can your service be delivered in a way that is profitable and sustainable for your business?
  • Alignment with business goals: Does your service support your overall business objectives and strategies?

3. The Power of Simplicity

In both life and business, simplicity is key to success. Customers appreciate clear and easy-to-understand services. Here’s how to achieve that:

  • Streamlining processes: Complex procedures can frustrate both users and employees. Focus on simplifying processes wherever possible, making them more efficient and user-friendly.
  • Clear communication: Ensure all communication with users is clear, concise, and easy to understand. Avoid jargon and technical terms that might confuse them.
  • User-centered design: Always keep the user at the forefront. Design your service with their needs and expectations in mind, avoiding unnecessary steps or complexities.

By following these components, you can transform your service design ideas into a reality that delights users and strengthens your business.

There are several tools that can help you bring your service design vision to life. Keep reading to find out how you can use tools to streamline your workflow and ensure a user-centered approach throughout the design process.

Tools for Effective Service Design

There are a number of tools that can be used to support the service design process:

1. Building Empathy Through User Research

Customer Journey Maps:  This tool visually depicts the different stages a user goes through when interacting with your service. By plotting out their emotions, thoughts, and actions at each stage, you can get a deeper understanding of their needs and pain points.

Personas:  Craft fictional characters that represent your core user groups.  Give them names, personalities, and backstories. Using personas helps you design services that are tailored to the specific needs of your user base.

2. Visualizing the Service Blueprint

Service blueprints provide a visual representation of the service ecosystem, outlining the front-stage interactions with the customer (what the customer sees) and the back-stage processes (what happens behind the scenes to deliver the service). This helps identify potential bottlenecks and ensure a smooth flow throughout the journey.

3. Harnessing the Power of Technology

Technology plays a critical role in modern service design. You can create quick, basic models (low-fidelity mockups) of your service concept to test ideas with real users early on.  This lets you gather valuable feedback before investing a lot of time and resources into final designs.

Technology also lets you test your service ideas with users remotely through online surveys, video calls, and even clickable prototypes (like a clickable mock-up).  Data analysis tools can help you understand user behavior and personalize the service experience. In short, technology keeps your service design process user-centered, efficient, and adaptable.

But how do you bring the concept of service design to life within your organization?

Implementing Service Design in Organizations

Service design thinking offers a powerful framework for creating user-centric services. However, translating theory into practice within organizations can be challenging.  Here are some key considerations:

Cultural Readiness: To implement service design, you need a company culture that is open to change and collaboration. Employees need to see the value of service design and be ready to jump in during the design process. Invest in training and communication to build understanding and excitement around this new approach.

Co-Creation and Agility:  Markets and user needs are constantly evolving.  Service design thinking requires an agile approach that allows you to continuously adapt and improve your services. 

Encourage co-creation with users and stakeholders through workshops, surveys, and user testing. This ensures your services remain relevant, competitive, and meet the ever-changing needs of your users.

Build a cross-functional team: Service design requires input from various departments.  Build a team with representatives from marketing, IT, customer service, and any other relevant departments. This ensures a holistic view of the service and builds collaboration.

Adapt service design to your organization: Service design is a flexible framework. Don’t be afraid to adapt the process to fit your specific needs and culture.

By following these tips, you can successfully implement service design thinking in your organization. Remember, happy employees working together lead to happy users and a thriving business!

Before we wrap up, let’s revisit the importance of service design thinking in today’s competitive business world. According to McKinsey research, overcoming isolation within companies was found to be a key driver of financial performance. They found a strong correlation between top financial performers and companies that reported an ability to break down departmental barriers and integrate designers with other functions.


Service design thinking is a powerful approach to create user-centered services that are not only desirable but also feasible and viable.  By following the principles outlined above and using the available tools and resources, you can transform your service delivery and gain a significant competitive edge.

Turning service design principles into actionable strategies requires expertise. At Codewave, we combine strategic thinking with a deep understanding of human behavior to craft digital experiences that will delight your users. Contact us today and find out how we can help you implement service design.

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