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Design Thinking: Is it different for services?

Overview of Post: A quick thought (with links) on some of the growing questions regarding  the definitions  and differences in the areas of Design Thinking.

Thoughts on Post: I agree that we are in need of some clarification and perhaps differentiation in the various worlds that Design Thinking is being used.  Most of my experience has been that each area mentioned below is using the skills of Design Thinking to impact a specific problem or system.  It can be a product, service, or position.  The process of Design Thinking is not limited or defined by any one field..

Recently, there has been a flurry of activity around some new terms, Design thinking and Design leadership. I think they are interesting terms, and describe some new directions for design. Design thinking, suggests to me, that designers have a different way of thinking – visual, abductive etc, which means that they have relevance outside of the product sphere (meaning also services).

Design leadership means two things to me. One is to achieve a leading position in the market through the strategic use of design (Apple comes to mind here… again). The second is to use design thinking in your role as a leader – that is – using design qualities in your leadership role. These are both exciting terms and a useful development from the design management term that has been around for quite some time.

A couple of things have got me to write about this. Firstly, that energetic design thinker, Monica Hestad from Plan (link)  sent me a link to a short review of books about design thinking, titled “A Design Thinker’s Reading List” (link). This just shows, how much people have been thinking about, well, design thinking.

The second thing is  a series of discussions with my good friend and bright colleague, Judith Gloppen at AHO (link). She has introduced the term Service Design Leadership as part of her PhD in the AT-ONE project.  She is researching these  relatively new terms, and trying to untangle their definitions, histories and trajectories. But, more importantly, she is looking to see if these terms should have slightly (or very) different content when used within the world of services. We recognise that services are different from products, so then, is Service-design thinking different to design thinking? Is Service Design leadership different to Design leadership.


Judith has some nice thoughts about this, which she will be sharing with us at the First Nordic Service Design Conference at AHO in November (link). At the conference, we have put together a session that highlights these terms, and one other relatively new one – service-dominant logic. To me, a discussion of terms like these makes the conference really valuable. Not because I’m a pedantic academic (ok, maybe I am one of those too) but because I really think we are beginning to uncover some of the central elements that makes design different, and valuable in today’s innovation landscape. And that’s exciting.

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6 Responses to Design Thinking: Is it different for services?

  1. Big enthusiast of this website, a bundle of your blog posts have definitely helped me out. Looking towards improvements!

  2. Bless you for spending some time to describe the terminlogy towards the newcomers!

  3. I think and write often on this topic. From a marketing and client satisfaction perspective, design may be more critical for services because services themselves are largely invisible. A service is really just a promise that at some future date–it might be a minute at a fast food service–someone will do something for you.

    How do we assess someone–or some enterprise–when it makes a promise? And when the service is delivered–advice, for example–how do we evaluate it? The design greatly influences our perception of the person/enterprise making the promise and our satisfaction with the service once it’s delivered.

    As an unsual but vivid example, consider a classic service: the military service. How does the military convey a sense of strength and command? Among other things, with well-tailored and clean uniforms, padded shoulders, rows of medals, and epaulets to make the shoulders appear even larger.

    When you think of design and process design, it’s also critical. How is the service delivered? How is it accesssed? How easily can you answer your questions, understand a proposal? How quickly is it delivered? How is the service designed to ensure the greatest likelihood that the recipient will be delighted?

    How are the two different? It’s more a difference of degree and kind. You don’t necessarily think of ergonomics in service design, yet you discover it can apply there, too: How you optimally design a presentation, such as a keynote? For an audience of over 1,000, how do you ensure that the people in the last row fell as engaged as those in the front? How do you deliver the needed emotional impact to the people who can barely seek the speaker?

    This also illustrates another need for service design: a lot of these issues are simply ignored. Things are done and services are delivered the way that they always have been. (The practice of law, for example, and of delivering legal services, has barely changed in 40 years.)

    FWIW, thanks for the forum,
    Harry Beckwith
    Beckwith Partners USA
    Selling the Invisible, What Clients Love, The Invisible Touch

  4. Thanks for the feedback Harry-
    I agree with you that much of the “design” of services is not visible, but is vital. There are those exceptions, but in general the process of designing a service is more about the human interactions and perceptions to the elements that are being designed. I would enjoy going deeper into your experiences and how you see these areas integrating.

  5. The design greatly influences our perception of the person/enterprise making the promise and our satisfaction

  6. The design greatly influences our perception of the person/enterprise making the promise and our satisfaction with the service once it’s delivered.


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