Why Now for Service Design? 5 Global Trends and Implications for Business

With the continued rise of the service economy, now accounting for almost 80% of the economy, it really feels like the right moment to develop careers and skills in Service Design.

So why is now a critical moment for Service Design and Design Thinking? I’ve outlined 5 global trends and some implications for business and service providers.

1. The world is becoming faster, and more connected.

There are faster and faster turn-around times from design to distribution of products and services, and with immediate, transparent feedback loops, everything counts. In order to deliver we need to infuse strategy with insight and experience, act quickly, and think outside in…

We need to really understand our product/service,  iterate to continuously improve, and balance user needs with business needs – with everyone involved. Service Design can provide tools and techniques to help gather insights, problem solve and test solutions quickly and efficiently.

This has been particularly evident for me, recently working with the Met Office and The App Business on user research for a new weather app. We have been working cross teams and organisations in partnership on agile, collaborative two week sprints, design and developers working closely with stakeholders and regular research rounds with users and to refine needs and inform product design.

2. Servitization of products and the sharing economy.

Products today have a higher service component than in previous decades and we are increasingly moving from models of ownership to access. In an increasingly digital, connected world, the boundary between product and service can blur more easily.

Subscription and access models are increasingly prevalent. Zipcar, Airbnb, Deliveroo and Netflix are classic examples of servitisation of products – all involving digital and non digital interactions and built on perceived value exchange. They all involve front end experiences and back end processes, which Service Design tools can help map and optimise.

Furthermore in the sharing economy, it’s possible for an individual to be a consumer and provider at the same time – presenting opportunities to empathise and think like your customer – from firsthand experience. Building empathy is one of the pillars of Service Design.

3 Access to information and data breeding disruptive innovation

There has never been so much easy to access data to inform business models and ideas freely available online, combined with ‘how to’ guides. As Ande Gregson pointed out on a recent LCC MDes visit to FabLab London:

“There’s so much potential these days.. tools available, platforms available to create e.g. Kickstarter, indiegogo… It’s the idea that counts and how you get to that point.”

The rise of the open data movement is also providing opportunities to create more targeted products and services informed by patterns of behaviour and previously unpublished data sets. There are emerging markets and disruptive innovations such as internet of everyday things and rise in digital currencies and non-hierarchical transactional networks such as Blockchain and DAO set to disrupt traditional markets and transactions.

Businesses and Service providers need streamline un-necessary process and hierarchy to be more agile, open to collaboration to innovate, and take advantage of Web.3.0. Service Design mapping and cocreation tools can help organisations reframe organisational structures,  enabling more collaboration across disciplines and promote a more open ideas culture.

4. Immediacy and Transparency of Customer Service

Global distribution brings with it more choice and higher expectations. There’s a higher level of scrutiny and feedback – if companies don’t deliver high quality, and on time, people write them off or publicly shame them with the power of the # sign. We have increasing choices as users and customers which makes design all the more important – especially behind the scenes. Technology makes it easier, makes functions more connected, and customer interactions more seamless but adds extra systems/processes backstage.

From the backstage processes to increase efficiency or flow, to nuances of the front-end end-user experience – these are all part of a design eco-system. In delivering customer expectations, knowing your individual role/contribution but also understanding how each person/function makes up the whole ecosystem . As Andrea Siodmok, director of the Cabinet Office innovation unit, The Policy Lab, recently put it: “Most people think of design as form, we see it as process”.

5. People making more socially conscious choices

Alongside increased awareness of diminishing natural resources and never-ending landfill, consumers care about quality and ethics of goods and services – end to end production journeys, and reducing waste. There is evidence of wider culture change as companies seem to care more too – being more environmentally and socially conscious in decision making and operations. The 20th century linear ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy, and is a model that is reaching its physical limits. This has paved way for the rise of the circular economy, a more innovative and regenerative design approach to business and production..

Implications for organisations

In the 21st century, things are getting simpler, and yet more complex… People have increasing access to information, and are enabled to make more informed choices in accessing products and services. People are making choices based on customer experience and social conscience hold just as much value as ‘value for money’. Also increasingly, all the points of interactions with products and services involve relatively seamless digital and non digital touch-points for customers and end users, whilst increasing complexity in systems and processes behind the scenes.

It is still useful to distinguish components of product and service offerings, but increasingly it is less about individual offerings – and more about value exchanges – providing positive experiences, and helping customers achieve desired outcomes.

So what skills do we need?

As service providers we need the right attitude, bolstered by Design Thinking principles, practical tools and #learningbydoing techniques that can be applied in any setting.

I subscribe to Service Design principles as defined by Marc Stickdorn: user centred, co-creation, sequencing, evidencing, holistic.

I would go further and say human-centred as opposed to user-centred. Service Design for me is about  being human centred – It’s about stakeholders and staff as well as customers and users. Service Design Design tools and techniques help you as well as your customer and partners to understand what’s going on in your service, continuously improve, and create delightful customer experiences.