Service design exists because we all find it frustrating when things don’t work the way we expect them to.

Why service design?

Why service design?

Confusion compounded

Don’t you just love calling your car insurer?

Neither do I.

Why not? The last time I called my car insurer this happened:

I had received a renewal notice indicating that, because I hadn’t made any claims and was a valued customer, I had achieved a new level of rewards. This achievement entitled me to a whopping saving of $25 off my $480 renewal. Wow, I thought, well done me. About a day later I jumped online to see if I could get a better offer from another provider (or the same insurer). Strangely, when I requested a quote from the same insurer it was $100 cheaper when I purchased online. What?

I called the service desk and spoke with a very friendly Jessica. I tried to explain my confusion which confused her. The confusion compounded until we agreed that I would save $100 now by buying a new policy online rather than renewing my old policy. Jessica wasn’t able to tell me when my rewards level would reach $100 or higher (my best guess was at least 4 years at which point I would have saved $400 by buying a new policy each year or spent $250 more if I’d renewed each year).

This is a poorly designed service. Rewarding valued customers at a lower rate than new customers is a great way to lose customers every year and regain them slightly less happy, and considerably more confused, than they were before.

What’s really going on here?

In our day to day lives we experience Jessica-is-as-confused-as-I-am moments often. These events are confusing for us because we don’t understand what is happening or why. Our expectations of the way a service should work are not met and so we become unhappy with that service (think trying to get insurance, bank or utilities related business sorted out over the phone). What’s really going on here are a number of interactions, or service moments, between you, other people, systems (often online), physical locations and corporate procedures and policies. If we don’t understand any, or all, of these things, their roles and contributions, it is easy to feel confused about the way a service works.

Why service design?

Service design exists because we all find it frustrating when things don’t work the way we expect them to. It exists to prevent confusion and deliver the desired outcome in a satisfactory or even joyous way. Service design is about making the interactions between people, systems, physical locations and procedures and policies feel more human, more pleasurable and understandable. Service design has developed to allow service designers to advocate for people in an increasingly complex, connected world.

Perhaps Tenny Pinheiro puts it best:

“When a user accesses a service, whether or not they pay for it, they are sharing the most important personal asset they have: their time.”

It’s so important to make that time count.

What is service design?

Service design is generally described with five characteristics. For more information I recommend a thorough resource called This is Service Design Thinking.


Services need a service provider and a user, or customer. Because of this, it makes a lot of sense to bring together all of the people that will be involved with a new service, to co-create the way that it will work. This way, future customers have an opportunity to show a service provider what they want. And, the service provider has an opportunity to listen and learn. The closer this relationship the more successful a service will be and the higher the sense of co-ownership and customer loyalty will be.


Because the successful delivery of a service requires a customer or user, it is natural that the design of services is oriented around the needs of these people. Many service design tools focus on discovering and understanding the lives of people before attempting to design a service for them. Service provider’s success is entirely dependent on how well they understand their customers.


Services always play out over time and through a series of individual interactions called service moments. Because services are created in real-time, as the customer interacts with the service provider, many combinations of service moments are possible. Sequencing allows service designers to visualise all of the possible service moments over time. It allows us to choose what happens and when to influence how your customers feel.


Services are often intangible. While some services are intentionally designed this way, many rely on some kind of physical evidence as proof that a service has been delivered.This physical thing is called evidence. The freshly brewed coffee swirling in your cup is evidence that your favourite barista has ground the beans, pressed just the right amount into the head and mixed the right amount of warm milk in to make a cappuccino just for you. Whether a service moment is positively remembered depends greatly on whether the evidence provided matches the customer’s expectations.


People naturally assign human characteristics to services even when no human interaction occurs; a process called anthropomorphism. Because customers are able to hear, see, smell, taste and touch services and experience emotions in response to services, the design of these experiences must be holistic. The holistic view of service design includes the way a service provider organises its people and processes, its norms and values, structure and identity, considering the many customer journeys that are possible, right down to the individual touchpoints and service moments. Service design maintains a view of the big picture while addressing the minutest of details.

Services are everywhere

In Australia, 70% of gross domestic product is delivered in the form of services. Four out of five Australians work in the services sector.

Every organisation, from large multinationals to small business and not-for-profits, delivers service of some kind. This is even the case where service provision is not the core business activity. Designing the way you deliver your service determines how useful, enjoyable and memorable your service is for your customer. It establishes how efficiently and effectively your organisation operates. And it prevents compounded confusion.