Detangling the meanings around the design of services

One of the reasons I haven't posted to this blog in months (and likely won't post anything original to it for months more) is because most of my time is spent writing my ubicomp user experience design book. The chapter I'm currently working on touches on service design, so I decided to do a little research about it. Three days and several hundred papers later, I think I've sorted out some parts of it, which turned into two sidebars for the current chapter. I present the sidebars to you in their raw, first-draft form because I think they may be useful (and continue my obsession with clearly defining and understanding the terms we use).

Sidebar: Software services vs. end-user services

Defining what people mean by service often means wading through a lagoon of terminology. There are two fundamental ways of looking at a service: from the perspective of the technology and from the user experience perspective. They share the core concept that a service is something atomic and coherent. That it is something that is seen as a single unit from which other units are built.

That's where the two concepts diverge:

  • From the technical perspective, a service is an atomic unit of functionality. Something that is kind of like a superset of a well-constructed object in object-oriented programming. This is the meaning of the term as used in the definitions of things like Service Oriented Architecture (SOA): "Services are collections of capabilities." Footen and Faust (2008)
  • From the user experience perspective, a service is an atomic unit of activity. It is the elements that would be connected by an end-user when describing something that helps accomplish a specific goal. "A chain of activities that form a process and have value for the end user." (Saffer, 2006)

Some of the confusion about the definition of "service" comes from the fact that end-user services may be composed of a number of software services, so service designers looks at them as unified experiences, whereas software architects look at them as combinations of things they consider to be different. Inverting the definition also causes confusion, since a single software service (such as file storage) may take part in a number of end-user experiences, each of which is perceived as a different service by its customers.
Additional confusion arises because the concepts of service design overlap with those of brand management, which also attempts to unify user experiences across a range of technologies (or touchpoints).

Sidebar: Top-down, holistic service design

While doing research for this chapter, I came across a number of similar concepts in different disciplines. The idea is that design should be vertically integrated, that every product (more or less) is part of a larger system and needs to be designed within the context of that system. The extreme example is Disneyland, where Disney controls virtually every aspect of a visitor's engagement with the world. All of these ideas share the core philosophy that there isn't a single path that ends with a product being purchased and consumed, but an ongoing relationship between users and organizations that is maintained through engagement with a range of designed experiences (which could be tangible products, media messages, environments or personal interactions). This top-down holistic design philosophy is comparable to that advocated by cybernetics and systems science in the mid-20th century, now updated for modern technologies and business contexts. Space does not permit a detailed discussion of all the different approaches in current use, but I wanted to briefly mention them and identify what I see as their key differences.
  • Product-Service Systems (Mont, 2004) emphasize the potential of efficiencies created by designing products and services together, especially ecological efficiencies.
  • Service Science Management and Engineering, aka SSME (with D sometimes added for design) or service science (Maglio et al, 2006) is IBM's approach to creating a systematic discipline for understanding and building systems that encompass people, technology, organizations and shared information.
  • Service design (Blomberg and Evenson, 2006) is a term used in the design world to describe a practice that designs products in the context of the key value that the organization creating the product intends to provide the end-user.
  • Service Blueprinting (Bitner et al, 2008) is a notational technique for visualizing the relationship between service components.
  • Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) (Schultz and Kitchen, 1997) is an approach that ties together all communications between an organization and its audience into a single unified strategy. If products and services are considered to be a type of communication, then this approach includes them, too.
  • The Elements of User Experience (Garrett, 2000) is a conceptual system for interaction designers that places a range of design practices in a unified user experience model.
  • Transmedia storytelling (Jenkins, 2006) describes the practice of create a unified experience across a number of media and products. Like IMC, it's pretty far from the core focus of technology in much service discussion, but I believe there's a relationship. Stories aren't services, but storytelling is, and since digital technology plays such a large role in contemporary storytelling, there's a practical connection as well.

[Basically, in these two sidebars I'm saying that there's one elephant, it's not really a new elephant, but it may be a newly-relevant elephant, and all of these different terms are descriptions for different parts of a single elephant.]

[1/29/09 Update: after a request, I figured I'd post a mini-bibliography to this. Here are all of the books and papers I managed to get into Zotero as somehow related to the topic, though they're not all the papers and books I looked at]

Mini-bibliography of service [design|system|science|development]

Bitner, M. J., A. L. Ostrom, and F. N. Morgan. 2008a. Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation. CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW 50, no. 3: 66.
---. 2008b. Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation. CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW 50, no. 3: 66.

Blomberg, J., and S. Evenson. 2006. Service innovation and design. In Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 28-31. ACM New York, NY, USA.

Carbone, L. P., and S. H. Haeckel. 1994. Engineering Customer Experiences. Marketing Management 3, no. 3: 8-19.

Erl, Thomas. 2007. SOA.

Footen, John, and Joey Faust. 2008. The Service-Oriented Media Enterprise.

Gillespie, B. 2008. Service Design via the Global Web: Global Companies Serving Local Markets. DESIGN MANAGEMENT REVIEW 19, no. 1: 44.

Glushko, R. J. Designing Service Systems by Bridging the “Front Stage” and “Back Stage”.


Jonas, W., N. Morelli, and J. Münch. Designing a product service system in a social framework–methodological and ethical considerations.


Maglio, P. P., S. Srinivasan, J. T. Kreulen, and J. Spohrer. 2006. Service systems, service scientists, SSME, and innovation. Communications of the ACM 49, no. 7: 81-85.

Mont, O. 2004. Product-service systems: Panacea or myth. The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE), Lund University: Lund, Sweden: 233.

Mont, O. K. 2002. Clarifying the concept of product–service system. Journal of Cleaner Production 10, no. 3: 237-245.

Morelli, N. 2002a. The Design of Product Service Systems from a Designer's Perspective. Common Ground 2002.
---. 2002b. The Design of Product Service Systems from a Designer's Perspective. Common Ground 2002.

Pires, G., P. Stanton, and J. Stanton. 2004. The Role of Customer Experiences in the Development of Service Blueprints. In ANZMAC 2004 Conference.

Schultz, D. E., and P. J. Kitchen. 1997. Integrated Marketing Communications in US Advertising Agencies: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Advertising Research 37, no. 5: 7-18.

[1/29/09 Update 2: Jeff Howard pointed me to a comprehensive annotated bibliography of service design that he has compiled. Thanks, Jeff!]

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on January 28, 2009 5:39 PM.

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