Moving from thinking to doing

Jamie Nicholson
Associate Strategy Director

Service design is gaining more and more attention as great customer experiences are table stakes in most sectors. In fact, a diverse set of organizations, like the Department of Veteran Affairs and Citibank, are becoming practitioners of it. However, other companies, despite seeing the value of service design and investing in it as a core capability, have a difficult time with implementation.

Recently, I helped organize the Global Service Design Conference, hosted by the Service Design Network. This year’s conference was attended by a vibrant community of service design practitioners, who discussed and shared their diverse perspectives. And while attending these sessions across the Parsons, the New School campus, I recorded some fundamental questions organizations should ask themselves, in order to successfully realize service design in their company or team.

1. Do you have the right collaborators?

To successfully implement new services, collaboration among design, technology, and business stakeholders is paramount. Team members must be equally fluent in the language of business and design, and impact must always be described from both these perspectives. Confidence is built within the broader organization when a solid business case is paired with a compelling story about the end user.

In addition, service designers must collaborate closely with technologists and developers. There is a huge amount of back-end complexity when imagining the next generation of digital services; connected devices, data analytics, hyper personal experiences, to name a few. This kind of close collaboration ensures service designers consider the technical feasibility when developing solutions.

Having the right collaborators ultimately drives the implementation of service design initiatives by understanding the technical and business realities.

2. Are you using pilots to their full potential?

Several seminars discussed piloting service design initiatives as a great tool for companies. By testing and experimenting on a small scale, pilots can provide the confidence and critical evidence needed to ensure a truly great experience.

During the conference, a number of examples highlighted real examples of how piloting helped launch new services. Tucker Fort and Xavi Cortadellas talk on the Gatorade personalized hydration program was a good example of this. They leveraged the Gatorade pilot to build organizational momentum, enhance the brand, and incrementally build the capabilities required to fully implement the offering at scale.

Organizations should consider unlocking the potential and learning from piloting their service design initiatives.

3. Does your development process stifle disruptive innovation?

Delivering an innovative service can have significant implications on the way a company operates. While organizations are good at supporting incremental service changes, processes can break down when there is something truly disruptive and innovative introduced to the legacy norms.

Organizations may need to restructure, develop new processes, build out new capabilities or even change their business model. Changes of this magnitude are understandably risky and require significant investment. Designers need to recognize the implications associated with their recommendations and help support these transformations. They need to consider the necessary changes to structure, team, and decision making processes in place.

Having this kind of perspective enables service designers to more rapidly deliver innovative services and while reducing the organization’s exposure to risk.


As I mentioned, organizations understand service design better than ever, however, they struggle when bringing those ideas into reality. If service designers can consider the right mix of collaborators, learn from piloting programs, and consider the company’s existing structure, we will undoubtedly see service design making an impact in our everyday work communities.