Service Design: a pivotal approach for digital transformation

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

Service design as a methodology helps to visualise and break down complex digital service components and the application dependencies. The goal of service design is to manifest the fundamental structures that are required to provide an online digital service, including the design of a product used to render the target service. (Blomkvist, 2010)

For standard service, the service design process would consist of three sub-processes:

  • Customer analysis of the requirements

  • Design and development of digital product or service

  • Usability testing of the application prototype with the actual user.

The objective of this article is to describe in brief the pivotal role that service design contributes to design and development of information systems in order to meet the identified needs of the actual users and business objectives, thereby resulting in digital transformation and continuous innovation. In 2001 Chris Downs, co-founder of London-based service innovation and design consultancy, searched for the term “service design” on google but there were no results. Today, search the term “service design”, a google search will return loads of content from blogs and websites of schools, universities, design consultancies, consultancies, conferences and other individuals and organisations. Service design, based on the principles of design thinking; is a multidisciplinary approach for designing services that deliver value for users and the service providers.

Digital transformation is not just about technology. Digital transformation involves the introduction, the operation and the appropriation of an organisation’s customer channels, to establish ‘the right approach’ towards success at digital transformation, from the outset. Digital transformation is holistic, representing people, place, culture, values and lots of other things. However, the underlying technology is the powerhouse bringing it all together as a component of digital to drive transformation. (Junginger, 2009)

Service design is unique in its scope such that it adopts design thinking tools and processes in order to maintain a focus on the wider context of the holistic user journey touchpoints, rather than just the experience of the underlying technology. For instance, the service blueprint exposes gaps and opportunities for unique value exchanges, thereby allowing the organisation to prioritise work streams and identify a first focus area called experience tracks. It suffices to say that digital transformation projects executed without a service design framework, will always in unpleasant outcomes. (Patrício, 2018)

Some qualitative and quantitative techniques are applied to model the customer or user of an information system by front-end designers and back-end developers, customer service and other participants in the service system. These models of the users help to shape the design and implementation of the technology features and artefacts by each participant. For example, user experience designers and user researchers often carry our interviews and surveys and thereafter create one or multiple “user personas”, which are fictional characters that represent typical users or user groups of the technology product (Cooper, 2004)

Personas are defined with rich details, names, attributes, likes and dislikes and most importantly their goals as illustrated by this example of a user persona named “Evelyn” developed by user interface designers of a rear-seat entertainment system (E, 2002):

Evelyn is 33 years old and lives in California. She’s a stay-at-home mom with three children: Ruth, 7, Steve, 5, and, Simon, 4. She drives the kids to go to school (usually carpooling with 2–3 other kids) in her Mercedes wagon. Evelyn is considering buying the Volkswagen rear-seat entertainment system she saw last weekend to keep the children engaged on the upcoming holiday trip to see family in Canada.

Personas are used by service designers to agree on the fictitious personality of the actual user for when the system designers are discussing solution design ideas and technology decisions as it helps designers to focus on the typical goals rather than edge cases. (Chapman, 2008, September). There are criticisms of personas in designing information systems, arguing that the number of details makes the user personas less representative and comprehensive. The criticism also highlights that the details of the personas are based on the intuition of the designer or completed using cultural stereotypes instead of being based on hard data captured from surveys or user interviews. Therefore, it is unclear why user personas would result in better system design.

Digitally transforming a business means permanently modifying the business’ DNA by embracing tech-enabled change. Therefore digital transformation with a service design lens requires new mindsets, ways of working, approaches. These inner shifts within the entire organisation, the external implementation of systems, processes or technology will ensure returns on investment. (Junginger, 2009)

Service Design is fundamental to digital transformation for the following reasons:

  • Human-centred approach; quickly rallying around a shared vision and shared values based on an understanding of the needs of users and stakeholders of an organisation.

  • Co-creation works better; As part of service design, we leverage on the research insights and user data as well as collective knowledge, skills, expertise across the organisation to accelerate discovery which will, in turn, yield quicker internal alignment and adoption of digital transformation.

  • Taking a holistic (design and systems thinking) approach provides a top to bottom view of the entire ecosystem and helps to identify and prioritise solutions that work together and scale (Frontstage/Backstage/Processes).

In conclusion, although there are gaps and some criticism about service design and user modelling, as it involves iterative delivery to increase speed; value for end-users and quicker returns on investment for business stakeholders. The iterative delivery approach ensures there is a constant feedback loop to nurture service innovation and thereby remains a pivotal element to facilitate digital transformation. (Glushko, 2009)



Blomkvist, J. a. H. S., 2010. Service prototyping according to service design practitioners. Sweden, Linköping University Electronic Press..

E, B., 2002. Reconciling market segments and personas.. Reconciling market segments and personas..

Cooper, A., 2004. The inmates are running the asylum: Why high-tech products drive us crazy and how to restore the sanity. Vol. 2 ed. Indianapolis: Sams.: s.n.

Chapman, C. L. E. M. R. E. P. a. A. J., 2008, September. Quantitative evaluation of personas as information.. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 52(16), pp. 1107-1111.

Glushko, R. a. T. L., 2009. Designing service systems by bridging the “front stage” and “back stage”. Information Systems and E-Business Management, 7(4), pp. 407-427.

Junginger, S. a. S. D., 2009. Service design and organisational change. Bridging the gap between rigour and relevance. In International Association of Societies of Design Research, pp. 4339-4348.

Patrício, L. G. A. a. F. R., 2018. Upframing service design and innovation for research impact.. Journal of Service Research, 21(1), pp. 3-16.

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