What is Service Design Thinking…? Part 1

Service Design Thinking

Updated: In collaboration with the University of Auckland Business School, get 10% off the course fees for Service Design Thinking at checkout by using this code before the end of 2018: GRAEME10

A little while back I did a short course through the University of Auckland‘s executive education programme run through their business school.

It was called Service Design Thinking.

For me, it was interesting as it brought together a lot of things from the worlds of design, lean startup, business and entrepreneurship… but in the context of service delivery. For me this context is education.

What’s wrong with normal design thinking tools?

Nothing is actually wrong with the standard design thinking tools. I love all the tools and techniques used by designers. But I’ve struggled with some of the application in my own setting.

The workshop training helped clear some of this up for me. For example:

  • Tools and techniques from standard design thinking and user experience (UX) design are primarily for online and digital products. Designing and implementing an effective website is important as part of delivering a service in the 21st century, but a website needs to serve the needs of the customers. Or learners, in my case. And these learners are only interacting with the website (for e.g.) as part of their journey through a much larger service experience.
  • Tools and techniques from the lean startup movement grew out of a focus on companies building – primarily – products, not services. The Silicon Valley giants of technology started out as product-based companies, even though many have now evolved into service companies. An example would be Amazon. While they still have a major focus on products like books and other goods, a massive part of their business is web-related services. But this means that a lot of the wisdom out there on building a business relates to product-focused business development.

Things like education and health are not products at their core. We might purchase products along the way, but receiving an education or getting good health care is fundamentally a service. It’s not a thing.

I have nothing against the idea of product-ising services and service-ising products… I just want to make the observation that something like education is fundamentally a service. And as such, we need to treat it differently to if we were making widgets in a garage somewhere.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but these approaches are not neutral. Approaching design from a service design perspective alters the design process.

Thinking of education as a product or a service affects how we treat our learners.

A service is not a product

Here’s a question to ponder:

  • How are services different to products?

Here are some possible answers. These grew out of my workshop notes.

  • Tangibility
    • Services are intangible. You can’t hold them or see them. You can’t drop a service on your foot.
    • Products are tangible. They are physical things that you can touch and hold.
  • Standardisation
    • Services are harder to standardise. This is because services rely on human beings more often than not.
    • Products are easier to standardise. This is where production lines and quality assurance processes kick in.
  •  Consumption
    • Services are co-produced when delivered or consumed. Services are sold, produced and consumed all at the same time. A service is a kind of eco-system. In other words, it’s a whole string of elements that make up the whole. And you have to look at the whole to make sense of it.
    • Products are produced, sold and consumed at separate times. You can break the process down and examine each of the linear components.

A further question to ponder:

  • What are the results of treating education as a product as opposed to a service?


Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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