Service Design Thinking – 5 Core Principles for Great Service Design

By Ray Schleibs – Iimagine Creative Innovation

Service Design Thinking is a holistic, customer-centric approach to using design principles, tools, processes and an empathic understanding of customer needs to design services that deliver a discernible difference that customers perceive provides a positive value proposition and/or ‘edge’ over competing service offerings . It is a both a creative and practical way to improve and innovate existing service offerings and to creatively and innovatively design new ones. Although not a completely new concept, Service Design Thinking has only recently gained momentum as an applied approach to addressing many of challenges arising from; 1. A global trend toward services as the primary medium for commercial transactions, over physical goods, 2. A general increase in expectations by customers of personally tailored and individualised services and experiences, including the experience of interaction with physical goods, and 3. An increasing recognition that customers perceive and experience service interactions in a very different way to what organisation believe they are delivering.

Core to the Service Design Thinking process is the creation of a practical and applied framework though which your organisation’s services can be designed from scratch or existing services can re-imagined and re-designed. In either case the objective of the process is to effectively and holistically manage the quality and consistency of service delivery including customer interactions and experiences across your business.

Essentially service design is an iterative process by nature. Although the service design methodology typically follows what appears to be a reasonably liner four stage process being; 1. Exploration, 2. Creation, 3. Reflection and 4. Implementation, in reality the design process requires that at each of these stages and overtly AT ANY point in the process it is imperative to constantly review and reflect on the progress and learnings to that point. From this perspective the process in non-liner by nature often requiring a step back or even a complete restart of the process as new inputs and information change or impact the learnings and potential direction of the service design project. Thus the ‘iterative’ review is a core and on-going part of the success of the overall design process. Irrespective of the progression through the service design process, to be effective and ultimately successful in your service design project the service design thinking philosophy requires that five core principles be held as the foundation thinking behind all service design research and activities. Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider in their definitive book ‘This is Service Design Thinking’ suggest that the five core principles are that should form the foundations of service design are; 1. User-Centred, 2. Co-Creative, 3. Sequencing, 4. Evidencing and 5. Holistic.


The 5 Core Principles of behind Service Design Thinking and Great Service Design

1.User-Centred (Customer-Centric)

Designing your services based upon how they are experienced from the ‘customers perspective’. How a person experiences the services your organisation offers and delivers is a highly personal and individual thing. Deeply understanding the customers perspective around such questions as; What they expect once they have decided upon and chosen to interact with your organisations services. How they feel about the experience of interacting with your organisation leading up to the actual service delivery. How they understand and perceive what was delivered, how it was delivered and the way it was delivered. At what level they perceive that what they expected was actually delivered in their view. These questions and many others are like them are core and required ‘customer-centric’ information underpinning the sustainability and success of any service design project.

User, or customer-centricity is the first and most fundamental service design principle. Deeply and empathetically understanding psychographic and behavioural drivers such as expectations, consumption behaviours, personal tastes,  core decision making influences and personal and cultural values and beliefs mechanisms, etc lay a foundation to understanding. Additionally broader demographic and data driven information about your current and potential customers assists in designing your services based upon delivering on specific customers needs and expectations as the ‘centre’ of the service design process.


All stakeholder groups should be involved in the service design process. Effective customer-centric service design and delivery requires the involvement and commitment of all levels of an organisation and potentially a wide range of external and ancillary service providers that are present in the ‘service eco-system’. Customer-centric service design and delivery requires that every customer interaction and touch-point on the customers service experience journey be aligned and consistent with the customer-centric service design philosophies. For long term success, customer centricity should be led from the top of an organisation and should engage all stakeholders in the thinking and creative process. Engaging stakeholders in a co-creative process of service design encourages a higher level cohesion, alignment and commitment to the customer as the centre of the service philosophy.


Services should be viewed and treated as a sequence of interrelated actions or events. Service delivery is a journey. From a customers perspective any one or more interactions with your organisation and/or external suppliers or ancillary interaction points is typically in their mind a connected part of the service delivery experience with your organisation. From a customer’s perspective every interaction is a service touch-point and creates an impact on their perception and expectation of the value that they will or will not receive from future engagement with that organisation. The connection and interrelation between seemingly random or disparate customer interaction and touch-points may not be immediately obvious or clear to various service providers across an organisation, but viewing these interactions from an individual customers perspective they are all service interactions with the organisation and are not view as separate disconnected encounters. From the customer-centric perspective every interaction in a part of their experience journey, and organisations need to design services based upon delivering consistent, high quality and seamless service experiences.


Services are essentially intangible in nature and should be visualised in terms of ‘physical elements’. Creating and triggering on-going positive service memories and strong emotional associations with past service experiences can have the effect of prolonging and enhancing customers perceptions of the service that they received.  Integrating ‘physical elements’ that act as on-going memory triggers such as souvenirs, merchandise, cosmetic samples and professional photographs of special activities, etc, when properly designed and positioned within the service delivery experience can be powerful value adding contributors. Adding ‘physical element’ to a service or experience journey has the effect of adding a ‘tangible’ element to an otherwise ‘intangible’ service. A well considered and planned ‘physical element’ to a service design introduces a non-perishable component to an instantly perishable service experience, ie once it has been experienced it has gone forever except in memories. Using service evidencing intelligently and effectively can have a positive impact on customer loyalty and referral rates as the physical item continues to evoke memory triggers for a considerable period post the actual service experience.


The entire environment in which the service exists and is delivered should be considered. The holistic service design principle is simple, ‘take every aspect of the service environment into account, and leave nothing to chance’. Well maybe not so simple. In reality service experiences are equally about subconscious perception and conscious awareness. Both have a significant impact and influence on how a uniquely individual person will perceive and react to any particular service interaction or experience. The holistic design of the’ total service experience’ being omni-cognisant of the subtle nuances of the all encompassing service environment, along with what I call ‘5 senses interactions’ (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting) is in no way a simple thing to design or manage but is absolutely vital to the delivery of a seamless, impactful and overtly positive customer experience journey. A service experience worth sharing with others and worth coming back for!

I hope that you have enjoyed this post and more importantly found it informative and useful.

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Go forth Design and Innovate!

Regards Ray Schleibs – Iimagine Creative Innovation