An introduction to service design

Alex Barker
April 2023

Service design is a vital part of what we do. The term has become increasingly popular, but what does it mean? Well, yes, you guessed it, it’s the design of services. But most importantly it’s the design of services done in ways that put users first, in order to improve outcomes for users.

There’s no doubt that organisations that provide digital services to the public are increasingly seeing the value of designing those services around the needs of the people that use them. However, this is still done to a very limited extent.

Users need to come first

User-centred considerations often come in at the point of user or customer interaction: trying to get people to use a product to complete a task with greater speed, efficiency and success.

But this approach is the result of most organisations being in a “feature factory” mindset, not least because they’re geared towards delivering products and services in that way.

Each department has geared themselves up to optimise what they do, at their stage of the delivery process, and often this works in silo. Design and product specialisation can easily be seen as a slice of the action, but not as fundamental principles of organisational purpose.

Turn insights into action

As healthcare products proliferate into the market, there’s no doubt that there’s some good apps out there, but are customers genuinely having a seemless experience in their relationships with the brands they use?

And all the insight that is endlessly accumulating in our data-rich world, is only as good as the way it translates into the organisation that is delivering the service in the first place.

It’s essential to find out what users and customers need, to understand their perspectives, and turn these insights into actions that will deliver a better service for them.

Create a service that makes sense

Service delivery needs to make sense to your users, and this needs to be applied to the delivery structure of the organisation too.

It’s common to look from inside-out, but flipping this to think outside-in can lead to many opportunities in the way you deliver a far more joined up and efficient end-to-end customer experience.

While there may be organisational constraints that occur as a result of this process, these are indeed the issues that need to be resolved, in order to deliver the service in the most effective way for users.

Solve a problem for the user

Start with solving a problem for your core user groups, and consider the touchpoints that they have across the entire service journey.

Framing the user problem is all too often overlooked, or deprioritised when product roadmaps often drive delivery.

Understanding your users' problems, in context, and more holistically, requires a discovery-led approach to any service design proposition.

Service lines before feature sets

Once the real-world user needs have been established (best unearthed through a primary research approach), the insight derived should translate into the concept of “service lines”, before being applied to any product feature sets.

In seeing the service on a system level, design and delivery can work coherently across what are typically separately governed business areas.

If the goals of the service at a programme level are aligned with Operations and IT, for example, you help to create not only a shared understanding of the end goal, but fundamental elements, such as data, technology, staff resource and governance.

Service blueprints for service clarity

A great way to translate user needs from discovery research into these system processes is via service blueprinting. This connects the user journey touchpoints with the business operational front end, to the mechanics and tech that drive the machine, to deliver the service more effectively.

Once you have this shared view in place, you’ll be in a far better position to deliver a valued service that matters and that solves a real problem for your users.

Guide users to get better outcomes

A good example to share is based on my experience of setting up a team of design consultants for the Alzheimer’s Society.

We worked across a number of key departments to contribute to solving a common problem: dementia and the social care crisis.

Through our service design approach we helped to set the society up in ways that would better support the NHS. To help them better understand and guide people through the process of getting an earlier diagnosis of dementia. As well as the various ways to mitigate the impact that dementia has on people, and what can be done, which has helped to improve the service and thus improve patient outcomes.

See the bigger picture

Service design has to put the user (or customer) first, and ensure that the user experience connects fully with the organisational capabilities you have to deliver it.

User experience should not occur in isolation, it’s part of a bigger picture. A bigger picture for the individual user, and their needs, assumptions, access abilities, and so on. And a bigger picture for the business or organisation.

Service design can help to bring vital insights and elements to life, to create a service that truly addresses user requirements, while also addressing and improving operational and organisational cohesion in how the service is understood and delivered.

We’re here to help

We will be bringing you more service design content soon, with insight pieces on the value of primary research, the benefits of service blueprinting, and how the concept of service lines can lead to better outcomes for users and organisations.

If you’re interested in finding out about our specific discovery and service design services, then you can find out more here, or if you have any questions then please get in touch and ask us anything at

No items found.

Like this? Why not check out some more of our posts

Let’s talk!

We design and develop human-centred solutions that create positive outcomes for users. Let’s work together!