Don’t Be Scared of Service Design

Service design transformation is not a quick hit. It is also not the long, drawn-out boogey man that people use to make excuses for not going through a service redesign. The prospect of actually talking to people about your service offerings, hearing all the bad things they have to say and being vulnerable can be both daunting and dubious, but there is no glory without pain.

There is also no transformation achieved without the people inside the organization separating their ego from the experiences in question. As people take ownership for services, processes and products, in many ways — they may personally recognize the success and failure of their responsibilities as individualized assessments of self and internalize them. In many ways, our attachment to our work can make service design transformation feel like an assessment not of the services, processes or products but rather the people who own them. It can be a very personal experience where their decisions and strategies that people own are picked apart, examined for their inefficiency and then sized up to be either changed or removed all together. This can be very jarring for product and service owners and ample fodder for them to reject recommendations for change.

This very personal bond between a service or product owner and their responsibilities can also make it difficult for external organizations like management consulting firms or design agencies to earnestly deliver service design transformation as an offering to clients at scale. Sure, a consulting firm may have the best service designers from some of the most innovative, customer centric organizations. They may be adept at communicating and using service design methods to deliver intuitive concepts and strategies for implementing viable, desirable and feasible change. All of that is fine and well, but if clients reject their recommendations for some of the reasons shared above or the concept of service design for something more practical like “change management”, then external service design providers will have too many hurdles to clear before they can deliver viable concepts and truly help organizations achieve viable transformation.

There can also be an unsaid layer of judgement service and product owners feel when someone from outside comes in to tell them what’s so wrong with the products and services they own. In practice, it’s an assessment of the service or product, but people internalize this feedback, ad without an existing design function or champion within the organization, there is no direct path for external service designers to deliver their recommendations or offer collaborative partnership without having to go campaign for advocacy from folks within the organization. By the time all of the campaigning is done, there’s no time to do the work.

So, how do can organizations ensure they have created a safe space for design thinking?

Mission Commitment

Make space for design thinking by mindfully committing to a mission that enables a common good or welfare. Capital One’s mantra and mission is to change banking for good, and every business line within the company drives to achieve this mission. Their priority is singular, and it permeates through out their service lines. Having one singular direction or perspective to guide thinking around service design in an organization makes it easy for org leaders and employees to align their services, products and supporting processes with the mission.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

If your organization does not have a commitment to one clear mission statement, or there are competing priorities — it may be time to define, refine or consolidate.


Encourage people in your organization to advocate for mindfulness and deliberate thinking in their actions. Some of the best organizations achieve this by dispersing literature throughout their organization that encourages design thinking, encouraging their people to digest this content and facilitating forums for discussion.

Follow up is also key. Organizations must step forward with a perspective on how teams within their organizations can adopt these concepts through tactical and measurable changes to their working styles.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Here’s a short list of literature you can use to encourage mindfulness and deliberate thinking in your organization:

  • Search Inside Yourself, Chade-Meng Tan
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown

Eminent Design Leadership

The best way to overcome the service design paralysis is to install champions for design thinking in your organization. Many companies are hiring Chief Experience Officers or Chief Design Officers to own the capacity building of design thinking within their organization. Others staffing cross-functional teams and pairing them with service designers to own the task of weaving systems and processes into intuitive services and products. Some are doing both.

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

No matter your approach, the best way to kickstart service design is to bring service designers into your organization to be trusted partners to your business analysts, data scientists, technologists and product managers. Lower the barrier to rejecting service design concepts by fostering the transformation within.

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