Service designer

 13 March 2013

Service design is about the way customers experience services. Designers research how users behave and respond to products and experiences.

Service design involves mapping a user's journey through an experience. Image: IDEO London
Service design involves mapping a user's journey through an experience. Image: IDEO London

What do service designers do?

Service design applies the principles of product or industrial design to services (rather than to objects or things). Service design puts the user at the centre of the design process, making services as usable as possible to provide the best possible customer experience.

Companies want to make their services the ones that customers turn to first, rather than those of their competitors.

A service designer works with an organisation to identify any problems with the way in which customers use the service or any improvements that could be made. The designer wil research how the service is used, and suggest possible solutions.

What is the job like?

The service designer will work to identify 'touchpoints' on the customer's journey through a service. This could be taking a bus journey, booking and taking a flight, or visiting a hospital.

Touchpoints are areas where the customer will interact directly with a brand. For example: 

  • logging on to the company's website
  • buying a product online 
  • going into a shop to see the product physically
  • anywhere where branding is displayed.

A service designer could work with any type or size of organisation, including:

  • the NHS
  • businesses, such as airlines or telecoms companies
  • a Government organisation or local authority
  • charities.

Service design is based on an understanding of how people use services. Service designers spend time:

  • observing and researching users
  • understanding the business, using techniques such as mapping the customer journey
  • prototyping and testing a proposed new service
  • helping users to make changes.

Service design can use elements of graphic design, brand design, packaging design and user experience, depending on the customer’s requirements. A service designer may develop expertise in a particular sector, such as mobile communications, public services or retail.

Service designers usually work in a design agency. Some large organisations employ in-house service designers. With experience, they can work freelance, offering design services to agencies or direct to customer organisations.

How do I become a service designer?

As well as being creative, with an interest in design, you need to have a strong interest in how people use services and how organisations interact with their users.

You also need:

  • good listening and communication skills
  • attention to detail
  • determination to see a project through
  • problem-solving skills
  • to be able to design to clients’ requirements
  • to work to deadlines and budgets.

It helps to have good business awareness skills and an understanding of how different businesses operate. You will need IT skills, too.

Employers will expect you to be flexible and versatile, able to think creatively and work in new ways.

What qualifications and training do I need?

There is no set entry route. This is a new and developing area of work, so service designers have entered through many different routes.

Service designers work to identify 'touchpoints' on a customer's journey through a service.

Most have a degree, and many have a design degree, perhaps in graphic, industrial or product design. Others have entered with a degree in Fine Art, Psychology, Anthropology or Sociology.

You need to look carefully at course content and module options to decide which course will suit you best. Courses are listed on the UCAS website. Information about design courses is also provided by D&AD

For a degree, you usually need at least two A levels (or equivalent).

You can prepare for a design degree by studying design at different levels. As well as GCSEs and A levels in Art and Design, you could take:

Other useful subjects for this work include IT, Business Administration, or Enterprise.

You may be able to enter through an apprenticeship in IT or design at Level 2 or 3. Employers will expect GCSEs, usually in English and Maths. They may want Art and Design or IT. For Level 3 apprenticeships, ome may ask for one or more A levels.

Some service designers have continued to study for a Masters degree. You could continue with a subject similar to your degree, to deepen your knowledge. Alternatively, you could study a different, but related, subject, in order to extend your range and widen your knowledge. Innovation, Business, Design or Communication are all possible subject areas. Specific relevant Masters courses include:

In some cases, these courses are multidisciplinary, combining elements of business and design with other subjects such as engineering and culture.

What can I earn?

A service designer could earn £30,000 to £40,000 per year. A senior service designer could earn £50,000 to £60,000 per year.

Freelance workers are paid on a daily rate (for the days they work). An experienced service designer could earn up to £450 a day.

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