What is designerly about service design?


Today at Central Saint Martins I took part in a debate about whether we need specialisms in design. I argued for the movement: I am a service designer, and you need specialist service design skills to be an effective service designer.

The debate was for second year graphic design students on the design interaction pathway. The other speaker was Esa Matinvesi, a designer who preferred to call himself a graphic designer rather than an editorial designer, because ‘graphic designer’ is a broader term. His reasoning was that when he gets commissioned, he gets told what the outcome should be rather than being able to look at the user need, dissect the problem and come up with the best solution to fit that problem, whatever form it takes.

He wants to be able to design holistically to create solutions that best meet the need. I can’t argue against that because that’s what I like to do, too. We agreed that the way to deal with this is to help clients understand that we could produce an outcome outside what they’d imagined that would meet needs better, to make room for ourselves to design in this way.


Being a service designer gives me the licence to look at the whole user experience, and either create the solutions myself or outsource them to others. Whether I create the graphics or website, or deliver the service myself, is usually based on budget. The service designer’s role is to have an overview of the user experience – how a user engages with the service, whatever that service may be – and to ensure that it is the best that it can be from start to finish, using the design process as a tool to make this happen. This involves research into user needs, analysis, prototyping, testing, prototyping, testing, etc… this is how designers design things, and the cohort agreed that they use a similar process in their practice.

So the answer to the question ‘What is designerly about service design?’ is that the process of service design is the same process as designing anything else. Have a look at the presentation to see more points:

At the beginning of the lecture, only 4 people had heard of service design. At the end, I asked who felt they understood what service design meant. Pretty much everyone’s hands went up. I asked this question to rebut Esa’s claim that the label of service design is a barrier to understanding how designers work, because most people don’t understand what service design is. However, now I’ve done that lecture, all the people in that room now know what service design is, and they will be able to disseminate this understanding to others. A label doesn’t work if nobody understands what it means – so one solution is to help people understand.

I’m thrilled that I am able to grow people’s understanding of service design, and what design can be. Because of that lecture, 100 more people know about service design as a valid design discipline. This could result in us having a better society in the future, because applying the design process to services will help us develop user-centred services, which are better than user-uncentered services in my opinion. Service design is a new industry which has the potential to change the world for the better. There are now 100 more people out there who might potentially join this industry. I’m excited about that. Now we just need organisations to see the value in ensuring their services are user-centred…

These are the questions that started me off designing services instead of products and furniture:

What questions lead you to do the work you are doing today?

Images from Kira Salter and D&I Debates

1 Comment

Filed under Design Inspiration, Designers, Ideas, My current work

One response to “What is designerly about service design?

  1. Great post Lior! Thanks for sharing the presentation as well.

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