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Service design process

The process of how service design is created differs a lot from company to company. It all depends on the company size and the stage the product development actually is on.

Service design explores and utilises the integration between all participants of the service, including users. But also — those who deliver the services, and the systems as well as processes involved.

The process of how service design is created differs a lot from company to company. It all depends on the company size and the stage the product development actually is on.

Service design process in a big company

Let's begin with a big company .

In a big company a service designer job reminds me a lot of a PM job who collects all the requirements and translates them into a language that designers and developers will use to build features. A service designer does the same but they get requirements not only from the users or product owners, but also from the business systems (how not to overwhelm them), marketers who define the perception part and UX (interaction and onboarding).

The service design process here includes interaction with all company's roles and divisions: from production to marketing, and sales and customer service.

Step 1. Exploration and task setting

First step in the service design process is the task setting. The resulting document is usually a Business Model Canvas — a widely used framework that describes key aspects of the service (activities, resources, partners, expected outcomes, expected expenses — monetary or otherwise, targeted audience, channels that will be used to deliver the service). It's a very first sketch that will be changed several times later on, but it's important to outline key actors, the setting and the business logic for the service.

Business model Canvas
Business model Canvas in a service design process

Step 2. Discussion

Next step — discussion where all stakeholders (representatives of the company roles) are invited. The resulting document — a value proposition map that explains how the service will be positioned, what customer pains it's going to solve, what customer jobs to be done will be addressed with this service.

Value Proposition Canvas
Value Proposition Canvas in Service Design Process

Step 3. Prototyping

On this stage the service designer prototypes the User journey map that then is discussed by all the stakeholders. It is still at an early stage as it is focused only on the user experience — before, during and after the interaction with the product.

User Journey Map
User Journey Map in a service design process

Step 4. Service Prototype

Finally, the service designer draws a sketch of a service design. The resulting document is a Service design blueprint. It reveals interactions between company and the customer and the sequences of customer experiences as they move across the stages of the service. It briefly answers the questions: what company roles are responsible for each stage of the service, what resources will be needed, what will be the result of each stage and how to move customers to the next one without them realising it. In other words, it's a bird eye's view of the front-stage and back-stage and accompanying scripts.

Service design blueprint
Service design blueprint in a service design process


Components of the service design blueprint:

Actors — everyone involved in the service (users, employees)

Setting — where the interaction is happening (online and offline)

Props — touch points

Scripts — what's going on exactly between actors within the setting

The line of visibility — what the customer can see. When you come into the store to buy something from your shopping list. The location of the shopping cart, the way you move across the store (how the shelves are arranged), the products you see and interact with, the colour of the price tags, the supermarket employee's uniform, the way you pay and get the change — its all the line of visibility in the shopping service design.

But there's also a backstage — the shop's database and information system, the way it's integrated with the bank and tax systems, the hiring process, the training employees receive, the fulfilment, the legal agreements with the suppliers, the way purchase process is arranged — these are all the parts of the shopping service design too.


Step 5. Service Testing

As you might expect, nothing is over with the blueprint. Next step in the service design process is to actually test the service, do the pilot. Results are measured and analysed. The serviced design is adjusted accordingly.

Stage 6. Service roll out

Finally, the service is rolled out and start living its life

Stage 7. Analysis

However, constant analysis is done on how the service is functioning: customer surveys, polls, reviews are collected and analysed, every point of interaction sends data to the data analysis department that extracts it and transforms into actionable insights. That's how service lives and changes with time.

Service Design Process
Service Design Process

So, let's cap up.

Service design process (as it is usually tolled out in the corporate world) includes:

Exploration/ task setting ⇒ Business Model Canvas

Discussion ⇒ Value proposition Canvas

Prototyping ⇒ User Journey Map

Service Prototyping ⇒ Service design blueprint

Testing ⇒ data and iteration

Rolling out ⇒ data and adjustments

Measurement ⇒ constant improvements

Service design process in a startup or small business

It never works like this in a small company or in a startup where you have no marketing department to tell you what the service perception is. There's no customer support – because on this stage you don't have customers to support. You are not sure about anything — points of interaction, customer front stage actions, backstage processes and what resources will be needed to support them. You're drawing everything from scratch. Moreover, unlike the service design process in the corp world, in startups by the end of every step a founder has to decide — is it viable to move further.

There are probably several ways to approach a service design process in these circumstances, but my choice is to always begin from the customers — after all, service design is a very customer-centric approach.

Service design in a startup. Step 1: User research

On this stage I recommend identifying what audiences you're going to serve. It involves audience discovery and user research (online data extraction as well as interviewing real people). See my article here why going with online data is not enough.

Data analysis and deep user research yields a clear understanding if the idea is viable. Or a founder should start thinking of something else. Actually, in 6 out of 10 cases I find out that the problem the founder is trying to solve is either not pressing enough for someone to pay for solving it or non-existent.

If we get data like this the obvious choice is to:

— Chose another idea

— Chose another monetisation model

— Try to create a service design that will make a product more appealing and valuable to customers.

Again, every case is unique. Sometimes we get useful insight during customer interviews and see how we can reposition the product to resonate more with customers' desires. Sometimes, if a founder has enough financial support, it might make sense to choose a different monetisation model (usually, based on advertising). In some cases my recommendations are straightforward: you'd better be off with something else.

Anyways, this stage is also about task setting but the difference is that we have to do all the heavy lifting.

Service design in a startup. Step 2: Map the positioning

If a founder choses to proceed, we map out the service positioning, and create buying personas.

Buying personal are role-based fictional personalities that represent a "portrait" of a service user and reflects not only basic demographics (how old, where they live) but most importantly, jobs to be done — what these personas want to do and where we can smoothly "inject" our service. Buying persona usually carry:

  • Name, age, gender, and some fictional context in the background

  • hat the persona does or considers relevant in his or her life

  • The experience and relevant skills the persona has in the area related to the service (for instance, if it's an app to improve financial literacy — how tech-savvy a persona, and if they know anything about finance).

  • Some context to indicate how they would interact with the service (e.g., the voluntariness of use, frequency of use, and preferred device)

  • Any attitudes, biases or concerns they might have when using a service

  • Direct quotes from the interview that reflect how a persona perceives the problem a service is solving.

Then we decide what we'll be against. It's not only about competitive services. Sometimes we have to compete with doing nothing. Or just manually putting everything in an Excel sheet.

Next, we try to figure out HOW our service will be better for customers than these alternatives. And finally, the way HOW connects to customer values and benefits. This is how we build the positioning.

On this stage, value proposition canvas is widely used too. We also create a user journey (that includes a list of communication channels that will be used) and front-stage scripts (how the message will be delivered, what will be said, etc.)

Service design in a startup. Step 3: MVP and a Prototype

On this stage we make a basic MVP and a prototype. Who 2? Not necessarily, but quite often these things are different because they solve totally different problems. Prototype helps me as a designer, find out the flaws in the process design. Prototype should reflect the functionality of the final product. If it is an application — a clickable prototype in Figma or even low-rez prototypes (like, basically, pieces of paper or cards) will work well. I take it and run tests to see where it goes wrong. And — believe me – it always does!

I love this video as a great illustration of how it usually goes.

As soon as the most obvious process failures are spotted, we have to remove them and run user tests again.

MVP exists in a parallel world (not always, but quite often). It doesn't have to reflect the service functionality. It has to test out the demand — does anyone need this stuff at all. I mean, we had interviews and analysis but it still never 100% guarantees success. MVP can be a landing page, an info-product (an e-book), a Notion-based template. It is basically something that we're trying to "sell" to the public by getting traffic — running aggressive ad campaigns and trying to get engagement on social media. If we get traffic and get conversions (people hit "I want it") — we're in the game. We move to the next stage then.

Ah, a question — why can't we build an MVP earlier? I had 2 founders who already had MVP when they approached me. But it did not work out well. As MVP is a direct reflection of the service positioning and value proposition it usually can't be done well before Step 1 and Step 2.

Service design in a startup. Step 4: Prototype back-stage

The problem with startups is that there's no front stage — you have to build it. But there's no back-stage either. Founders usually have no idea what underlying process they will need to make it all run. And it's tons of stuff: legal aspects, bookkeeping, customer support, in many cases — physical delivery or even manufacturing.

I obviously can't be an expert in everything. So I deal with structuring the back-end processes only in the industries that I'm familiar with and have some personal experience: e-comm, retail, SaaS, edTech. If I get a FinTech founder I suggest we outsource this part of drafting the service design.

Service design in a startup. Step 5: Service design blueprint

This is usually where my cooperation with startups end — I hand out the service blueprint and they can take it from there. They can carry out more tests with MVP or start building a final version of the service – it is up to them.

So, let's cap up.

In startups, the service design process is a bit different from the corp world. Though, it presumes the same stages, more work should be done on each and every one of them. Plus, a founder decides when to hit Stop and exit the game.

Step 1. User research

Step 2. Positioning ⇒ User journey, buying personas

Step 3. Prototyping the service and building an MVP for the product. Heavy and aggressive testing

Step 4. Prototyping the back-stage ⇒ Service blueprint

If you want to learn more:

Bitner, M. J., Ostrom, A. L., & Morgan, F. N. (2008). Service blueprinting: a practical technique for service innovation. , 50(3), 66-94.

Cox, A., Duhigg, C., G.V. Xaquin, Grondahl, M., Park, H., Roberts, G, and Russell, K. (2013). The iPhone Economy: A Shift From Manufacturing. New York Times,, accessed September 15, 2014.

Samadzadeh, Shahrzad. 2015. “Customer Journey Map or Service Blueprint?”

Buchenau, Marion, and Jane Fulton Suri. "Experience prototyping." In Proceedings of the 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques, pp. 424-433. ACM, 2000.

What is service design:

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