This article was originally written at Pivot Design Group, a Toronto-based user experience and communication design firm.

Think of service design as your experience in preparing for and watching a movie. Everything from the hype around the movie trailer, booking tickets in advance, reading box office reviews, seeing the latest tabloid buzz about the lead actors, arriving at the theatre, and finally, watching the movie has an effect on your overall experience. The moviemakers can control some factors and not others. What’s critical to grasp is that both the controlled and the uncontrolled elements influence not only your movie-watching experience but also what you do with it next. Do you love it or hate it? Do you buy all the fan paraphernalia or do you tell all your friends not to go watch it? Every little touchpoint adds up to the big picture effect.


Businesses and organizations can no longer get by without considering service design. Whether you like it or not, your brand or product experience is influenced by outside factors. Though you can’t control it all, your best foot forward is to have an awareness of all potential touchpoints in the “service experience” feedback loop so that you’re armed with the insights you need to proactively reach success more efficiently.

What is Service Design?

Service Design is an approach that looks holistically at the organization’s total user experience (UX) as a series of experience-based touchpoints. As designers, service design compels us to empathize with customers: to understand people including both the “how” and the “why” of their interactions. From finance to healthcare and retail to not-for-profit, contemporary economies are all service oriented.

“Although services are intangible, they take place in a physical environment, using physical artefacts and do in most instances generate some form of physical outcome. Subconsciously, customers perceive this environment with all their senses. We see, hear, smell, touch and taste the physical manifestation of services…


“What matters is that understanding the value and the nature of relations between people and other people, between people and things, between people and organizations, and between organizations of different kinds, are now understood to be central to designing services.”

(This is Service Design Thinking, Stickdorn & Schneider)


Case & Point

In a recent Pivot project, we charted the experience journey for a client’s product by using a method called “service mapping”. A service map (or service blueprint) allows designers to approach the experience from an outsider’s perspective and map out customer actions compared with the organization’s intentional points of contact. Many layers can be added to this visual map — frontstage actions, backstage actions, support processes, physical evidence, etc. This valuable blueprint allows stakeholders to more clearly see the effects of many touchpoints together within the overarching experience. Stakeholders can then take action based on where:

  • More or less support is needed;
  • Opportunities are being missed;
  • Efficiencies can be integrated;
  • Messages to the user can be streamlined.


“Service design as a practice generally results in the design of systems and processes aimed at providing a holistic service to the user.”

(The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, 2008)



Today, technology disruption is enabling a new generation of service business.

Anyone can be a taxi driver, a hotelier, a lender, a multimedia producer, etc. — we’re only just seeing the beginning of this new evolving service economy. What’s critical is not the definition between the product and the service, not the correlation between the technology and the analytics, but rather the relationship between the user and the service provider.

It’s back to being about the human experience.


As a firm founded on the methods and principles of design research and user-centered design thinking, Pivot Design Group knows the benefits of a rich, creative discovery process that considers both people and context. Pivot’s Service Design approach allows us to simultaneously observe specific details along with the overall landscape of the customer experience using an “outside-in” approach. This holistic understanding can then give you the insights that lead to new opportunities and innovative ideas for better user experience.

Got a design thinking question for one of our experts? Chat with Torey: torey[at]

(Source of intro quote: Macleans, Services exports are a cure for the ‘declining oil’ blues)

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