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Service Design Thinking, Simplified

Companies often speak of their “products and services” as if the two things are somehow interchangeable. Or we classify a product as an item to be purchased and a service as a task to be performed.

While this is all somewhat true, there is so much more to this complex dynamic than that.

To use service design thinking is to view the customer experience holistically, end to end. If you enter a store, the products are what you see on the shelves and cart up to the checkout counter. The service, however, consists of all the considerations, interfaces, and touchpoints that have been thoughtfully arranged by the business to connect you with the products you were looking for — and it begins long before you walk through the door.For another example, let’s imagine that an innovative healthtech company launches an app that leverages biometric inputs and predictive analytics to help diabetic patients track their insulin levels. That is the product.

But the service starts at the beginning of the journey, when patients get equipped with knowledge and insights into their healthcare needs and feel empowered to discover the best possible solution, then are supported as they integrate that solution into their everyday lives while easily checking in with experts along the way.

The difference starts with design

This is why the principles of product design are fundamentally different from service design. You’re not only trying to fulfill the end customer’s specific, isolated need; you’re envisioning the whole process from their perspective, seeing possible pain points through their eyes. That way, you can deliver an experience that aligns with personal preferences and exceeds their expectations at every step.

Both service design and product design entail a keen empathy for the end user. But with product design, this empathy is deeply focused on a narrow subset of interactions and needs. Service design, while still deep, is more broadly focused. Service design focuses on interactions and processes more than versions and features.

Of course, product design can draw insights by looking through the lens of service design thinking. That’s because the creation of any offering — if it’s to be successful and sustainable — involves looking at the big picture, from the past iterations of the product and the legacy systems they were built on, to future trends and forecasts, to the corporate cultures of your target customers.

The more information you take into account, the better you’ll serve your clients. That’s the difference service design makes.

Always keep it simple

Of course, service design is more than the research that underpins it. It’s about bringing a distinctly human-centric lens to your business. It’s about introducing concepts such as agile and design thinking to organizations, whether they’re in the process of creating a product or not.

Too often, we assume that “agile thinking” is something that belongs to highly technical dev teams. But it belongs to all of us — and service design helps to break down these silos and barriers, showing that innovation is possible as long as you put the customer first, and keep it simple.

What do we mean when we say to “keep it simple”? We look through our six lenses of simplicity whenever we build a solution, because the best service is always the most intuitive:

  1. Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
  2. Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
  3. Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.
  4. Discoverability: Making things easy to find makes things feel simple.
  5. Context: When we know the “why”, we can connect the dots and make leaps in logic easier.
  6. Knowledge: The more we know, the simpler things are.
Group 3

Whether we’re designing the layout of a grocery store, the next big smartphone, or the interface of an insulin-tracking app, applying the principles of simplicity alongside deep, broad, and thorough research can create the kind of innovations your customers can’t imagine their lives without.

Our service design methodology

Service design is an art and a science simultaneously. At POWER SHIFTER, we approach the challenge from three different perspectives, and triangulate to find the optimal solution. So picture a triangle.


One side is the end user — our customer’s customers. We consult directly with them to understand the issue from their perspective and find out what their preferences are. This is a critical step, as your customers are the ones that are closest to the challenge. Though it’s important to bear in mind that end users might not know exactly what they want the solution to look like; if they had the mindset to design a solution on their own, we could just pack up and go home. But most people didn’t know they wanted an iPhone, even if they longed for a more powerful device than their Motorola Razr. Which brings us to the next side of our triangle.

This side represents our customers — the innovative businesses trying to solve for these needs. They’ve identified opportunities to simplify their users' lives, and they’re imagining and developing products to do just that. But they may not know the best way to deliver them while eliminating friction points and creating a seamless customer experience from start to finish.

This is where we come in as the third leg of the triangle. We take our customers — and our customer’s customer’s — into account. No one single side of the triangle has the complete picture but, together, we form a strong, research-backed unit ready to develop some excitingly simple products.

When we’re developing those products, we have a number of methodologies in our tool belt. Let’s return to the insulin app example for a moment. There are numerous research techniques in the healthcare space that can yield both qualitative and quantitative data, and that lend themselves to a service design framework:

- Longitudinal studies follow patients over a long period of time to assess risk factors and track changes to their health profile.- Cross-sectional analyses capture a snapshot of a target cohort at a moment in time, and can provide valuable data on many variables — though they’re not as comprehensive as longitudinal studies.- The experience sampling method (ESM) is often used in the medical space to understand the patient’s subjective viewpoint and emotions over a certain timespan, with questions designed to collect qualitative and quantitative data.

These processes may be aimed at helping doctors assess treatment or prevention options for patients. But when a service design mentality is applied to them, they open up a whole new world of unique insights. By co-designing with medical teams, service design can begin to reveal where pain points are for patients and their families, and where products or touchpoints can be introduced as a solution.

Service Design

A service design mindset lets us think outside the parameters of medical research as well, bringing in qualitative methodologies such as storyboarding and role-playing to acknowledge and appreciate the highs and lows that someone experiences interacting with a product or service, while encouraging them to share their needs and experiences.

So whether we’re talking about a hypothetical insulin tracker app — or any technology in any industry — we look beyond the features and functionality. We look beyond the bottom line. We look beyond the end user. Only by understanding the complexities, from all angles, can we create a solution that’s simple enough to work.Read more on the power of simplicity here.

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