In a world that is affected by growing levels of digitalisation and individualisation consumers have become more demanding. Many companies therefore are investing into their customer experience. This puts one discipline into the focus: service design. Service design draws on many concepts, ranging from user experience, marketing and project management to optimise and innovate services. It satisfies the needs of customers and aims to make services even more user-friendly, competitive and relevant. We spoke to Birgit Mager about the origin, the development and the (future) significance of service design.
How would you describe service design in your own words? Or: What does service have to do with design?
In the past, the term design has been strongly connected to material artefacts such as products, packages or visual communication. Within the last twenty years the understanding of design has changed. Today, design is seen as an intermediary between the needs and wishes of the users, what is technologically doable and what is economically viable. I call this the triangle between the user, a business and the technologies. Therefore it’s not only about material – but rather about immaterial artefacts. Today, it’s all about the experience when dealing with systems. At this point the service designer choreographs processes, technologies and interactions on the different channels to meet needs through innovation.
What does it take to become a service designer?
The professional service designer has a solid academic education in service design joined with practical experiences and in the best case an official accreditation from the Service Design Network. The service design facilitator, who is often an in-house employee and who can support projects within the companies, does not need a formal academic education – there are many professional educational offerings in the market to teach the basic skills to non-designers.
How do service designers generate new impulses? And where do those impulses come from?
I would like to highlight only three aspects: interdisciplinarity, co-creation and visualization. Service Designers break through silos and connect the relevant actors within systems. They work with co-creation as a fundamental approach – using the knowledge, and the creativity of all actors, including the user. And service designers visualise scenarios of futures that do not yet exist, they enable early testing of ideas through prototypes – and that can save a lot of time and money.
Why do you think service design is a growing field and receives so much attention?
Consumers have become more demanding. But the competition is getting tougher as well. One result is the growing importance of experience. Everything is available at all times. The question of the ‘how’ becomes central. How do I get support to gain the best benefit out of a service?
Every business needs to be profitable: Are service design and consumer experiences making companies more profitable?
Service design aims at innovation. It’s not about pimping existing services. In fact no service-oriented company can survive long-term without a systematic approach to work on and with innovations. No one can simply rest on success. Examples such as Nokia have proven this. The production industry counts on research and development departments. If you ask me, every company is somehow service-oriented and therefore needs a service design division. Without innovation and research and development you cannot reach the goal of profitability.
Can you give us an example?
Take Philips for example. It won the Service Design Award from the Service Design Network in 2016. They developed a system in cooperation with patients, hospitals and insurances that lowered the rate of hospitalisation to 40 percent and gained cost savings up to 80 percent.
What is your initial point of contact within a company?
It depends. Of course the marketing department or the corporate development appear as primary contact. But it call can also come from the human resource department or any other division.
Where do you see hurdles and dangers for the service design process?
First of all, it should never be only about refurbishing existing processes. That would be a first trap as I call it. A second trap is when enterprises believe they already know the problem and the causes and therefore only assign the service designer with a presumed solution. Often the problems have not been understood, which can be dangerous and ineffective. Another hurdle can lie in the implementation. You have to pull out all the stops to ensure a successful implementation. In a worst-case scenario, service design is only a nice concept that doesn’t get applied long-term within the company.
You have been quoted as saying: ‘If you work with service designers once you don’t want to do it without them again.’ Do you stick with that comment?
Did I say this (laughing)? Well if it was a good service design project then I would agree. Of course it totally depends on the quality of the provided services. Also there needs to be a distinction between service design and design thinking. In both fields a higher quality assurance is needed. At the moment we are monitoring a big hype around service design. And the mix-up of both fields often causes confusion.
What would be the first step within an enterprise to get things moving when you want to establish a service design unit?
Just start a project together with a professional accredited service designer. In other words: Deploy it on a very specific project or topic and make sure that it’s successful. The reason: You need to find combatants! You need moments of success!
Cover photo: Michele Ide-Smith/FlickrCC
Birgit Mager is an all-rounder when it comes to service design. As researcher, lecturer, publicist and consultant, she developed the field of service design constantly in theory, methodology and practice. 1995 Mager became the first European professor for service design at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne. Acting as a guest professor all over the world, she successfully conducted projects on service design with partners like Deutsche Bank, McDonald’s and Nokia. Birgit Mager is co-founder and president of the International Service Design Network; she is manager of sedes|research and is active in numerous other projects, boards and juries.