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“Service Design” / “Customer Experience Design”

In a recent post to Creativity Online, Jen Bove (who is a friend of mine) posits: “Service design, while often talked about in academia, is getting more and more attention from design companies and service providers, as the impact of experience design has been proven to increase customer satisfaction and brand perception.”

And while I agree that the practice of service design is ascending (slowly), I’m dubious that the term “service design” is getting more and more attention, at least in the United States. In my recent trip to London, I visited with Chris Downs, one of the founders of Live|Work, the UK’s premier service design consultancy. In our conversation, we reached a supposition that the term “service design” has succeeded in the UK and Europe because there have been government-sponsored public sector service design projects which have demonstrated its value.

In the US, our public sector is notoriously bad at supporting good design, so there’s been no public discussion of service design. In another conversation I had with Don Norman (who is currently obsessed with service design), he felt that the term would remain an academic one.

For my blog posts at, I’m talking almost exclusively about service design, but I’ve never used that phrase. Instead, I use “customer experience”, the phrase that’s received traction in the US, and it’s variants “customer experience design” or just “experience design.”

  1. Not to mention the mere thought of the government spending money to improve the customer experience or the design of a service might be seen in shades of red and pink… (by those who wish to) OMG you’re taking care of people’s unmet needs ;p

  2. One of the things that I found so appealing about service design as a term is that it is already one step closer to a client’s language, they already understand it. It is more “user-client” centered then experience design. Makes clients think less hard about what we do.

    Just a thought

  3. Whether the term (and the idea) remains academic or not, I think the attention /obsession is deserved for a couple of reasons:

    1) the link between front end and back end design seems implicit in the term

    2) “service” as a modifier avoids the more troublesome “user” or “customer”

    3) the methodology’s focus on participation and utility ought to make it an easier sell to the public sector

    Ultimately no one hearing service design is going to assume you just make things pretty.

    While the public sector hasn’t been a great space for design for the last 30 years, the current crisis may challenge that status quo.

  4. I’d like to see some interaction models for service design. I’d assume that service belongs to customer experience, perhaps is more focused on passing transactions than on the relationships?

    Of course if it comes out of the UK, it’s hard to conceive of service without emphasis on etiquette/protocol. A lesson or two by John Cleese would not be out of order…

    I like that “service” captures the kind of interaction desired.

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