I recently shared ten questions for a new role. In the blog post I position the questions as pertinent when looking for a specific role, but they can easily be adapted for looking at project work too.

Over the bulk of the last twenty years of my career I’ve helped pull together proposals and pitches for project work. Over the last six years I’ve not had to pitch for project work for a team or a company, but as a freelancer doing digital strategy and design work I’ve reached out or been contacted about “interim roles”. In every situation I would have asked those questions. (For the project work there’d be a little adaptation for finances: How much, how/when, etc).

Over those last six years I’ve looked for opportunities where service design is a thing to be involved with or thing that could be involved with.

Six years ago getting work as a service designer was very, very limited. The opportunities were more consultancy: Come in, help a team understand what the design of a service is or what “service design” is (usually looking at something that a team or organisation was already doing) and maybe you’ll get a call to go back to help with some follow up session or “improvement” work. Some people with an interest in service design found places doing service design work (maybe not by name but by spirit) and took roles that allowed them be involved in that work, like delivery managers. I did the same: I took a role as an interaction designer in government. Service design was a thing teams tried to do without a designated service designer. Now there are lots of opportunities for service designers seemingly everywhere. (And sometimes it feels there are service designers everywhere.)

At the moment when I am talking about what I would do for any service designer role, a number of times service design feels an inconsistently viewed, consistently unclear process and off that what a service designer does is equally fuzzy.

Personally, I’m not precious about being a service designer, more as someone who is [going in/here] I need to know what [role] is understood to be so I know what I am expected to do so I can help deliver [outcomes]. If I going to be a piece of the jigsaw I just want to know where the role and the role’s work fits into the wider picture. I think everyone should too, their roles, my role, all the roles.

But if service design is to be consistently understood and approached on a wider scale I go looking – and going back to one of my ten questions – for this detail:

What is service design to you, as a person recruiting, as a team recruiting and as an organisation recruiting?

Frequently people reply “service design is the design of services”, but what does that mean in the context of the opportunity?

What is a service?

A service is something that helps someone who needs to do something do something. As someone recruiting, as a team recruiting, as an organisation recruiting what’s an example of a service? Better still what’s the example of the service you are involved with, even if (part) responsible for? Knowing what your service is is the start, where it starts, where it ends.

What is design?

As someone recruiting, as a team recruiting, as an organisation recruiting what does design mean to you?

To me design is the process of working out and deciding on how something works. Design is the rendering of intent.

So, what is (service + design) service design?

As someone recruiting, as a team recruiting, as an organisation recruiting what does service design mean to you?

Here is my brisk take.

Service design improves the experiences of both the user and employee by designing, aligning, and optimizing an organization’s operations to better support customer journeys.

-- Nielsen Norman Group

I view service design as doing the work to make services that are usable. (W3C has a great definition of usability that can be applied to an experience: designing products to be effective, efficient, and satisfying.)

A service can already be in operation, being used – or it could be a prospective service based on known needs, something we need to work out pretty much from scratch.

Service design is about being strategic: Researching, analysing, understanding what needs to be done, such as looking for strengths and weaknesses of any service, existing or proposed.

Service design is about being tactical, doing what needs to be done, the work to design improvements to a service (and knowing or even setting standards).

And it should be about seeing those improvements happen.

What outcomes will you be expecting from doing service design work?

An example of outcomes:

“We know we have this service. We want to get people from across the organisation together to collectively understand this service end to end and be aware of the state of the service: Look for how we can improve it, look into those areas for improvement to design them so they are better and get those changes made to the service.”

Less a focus on the tools, the methods and output (maps!), more a focus on the problem and the effects.

What will a service designer do to help you, the team and the organisation with service designing?

The outcomes help understand what needs to be done (and not done).

How will a service designer will help with the outcomes?

Is service design about one person’s role? No. If a user’s experience of service is the result of the collective efforts of a team’s work then service design is an approach that contributes to that.

But a service designer is a person’s role. What does that mean a service designer does?

I tend to think a large part of a service designer’s approach is being an interdisciplinary generalist themselves, and then as a coach, a coaxer, to bring together an interdisciplinary view of a service by gathering together people with different disciplines and specialisms, from disparate channels/silos. And softly bring innovation to ways of working and delivered services through that sharing, that education – innovation through exploration.


As an organisation don’t just keep up with the Joneses. Don’t just get a service designer just because it seems everyone else is. Know why: Know what service design is and how a service designer would help with that.

This post tagged with:
service designer, service design