Service Design: From Insight to Implementation

Service Design: From Insight to Implementation, by Andy Polaine, Lavrans Løvlie and Ben Reason is the book I’ve been waiting nearly a decade for someone to write. There aren’t many books that focus on services from a design perspective and the few that do exist have always seemed too expensive or too academic to make the case to a wider audience.

This book goes a long way toward solving that problem. Two of the founders from live|work, along with Andy Polaine from the Design and Art School at Lucerne have written a concise guide to the practice that seems perfectly suited for traditional design teams new to the concept of service design.

Like other books from Rosenfeld Media this one is available as a PDF or in electronic formats for Kindle and e-Readers, but I opted for the paperback version. It’s easy to flip through the text in an afternoon and at only 216 pages there’s no danger of it becoming a doorstop. The small format means that it might not be as comprehensive as other books on service design but it’s by far the most accessible I’ve found.

There’s a nod toward Lynn Shostack’s pioneering work on service design in the early 1980s and a bit about SERVQUAL and RATER but mostly the book picks up about a decade ago when live|work opened their doors. It highlights important tools such as blueprints, ecologies and customer journey maps and introduces distinctions such as designing with people rather than designing for them. There’s just enough theory to ground the argument without causing clients to roll their eyes.

This is primarily a book about practice, filled with photos of research in progress and illustrations of key deliverables. Most of the examples fall short of proper case studies and many involve only a screenshot or a synopsis, but together they cover a range of service sectors. A quick scan turns up over a dozen examples from Gjensidige Insurance, Hafslund Utilities, Orange Mobile, HourSchool, the National Maritime Museum, Garlands, Riversimple, Oslo University Hospital, FIAT Future Design Group, Rail Europe, Norway Transport, Zopa, Streetcar, Whipcar, Surebox and an unnamed airport in New York.

Topics such as design research, experience prototyping and service metrics each get their own chapter, along with a couple pointers to other (Rosenfeld) titles for more information on the particulars of recruiting or certain prototyping methods. The level of detail is perfect for quickly getting a sense of the process and for offering a foothold to design teams who may already be familiar with some of the techniques.

The one criticism I have of the book is political. The case studies (such as they are) are heavily weighted toward projects from live|work. The authors try to defuse this objection, and the fact that one co-author comes from outside the company makes it less of an issue but the book feels a bit insular. There are plenty of other books on design that are unapologetically self-promotional and this one is much more reserved, but it’s the same political issue that undermined the now-defunct servicedesign.org wiki years ago. A handful of cases from Australia and Asia (and a little more from the US) would help the book to resonate with a wider audience.

There’s still room out there for someone to write the equivalent of a Little Golden Book for non-designers that spends two pages explaining service design and then showcases a few dozen examples across hospitality, banking, transportation, healthcare and entertainment along with some public sector case studies to round out the pamphlet. It would include huge photos of process, methods and outcome, and take about three minutes to browse. Mostly it would be inexpensive enough to give away.

I can see myself giving away copies of this particular book too and, cost aside, it’s the first one I’d actually be comfortable leaving with the client as an overview. All things considered the book makes a compelling argument for service design.

From Insight to Implementation deserves to be a cornerstone of the service design canon. If you own a copy, take a moment to contribute some feedback on their Amazon page or head over to Service Design Books to rate the book, add your comments and vote on it as a recommendation.


  1. Jeff, Thanks for the review. The visual aids seem solid, which I think has been a miss from preceding Service Design books.

  2. Thanks for the post Jeff!
    This was the first service design book I read when I started my way to self-taught education. I completely agree with you (also in the fact that the case studies are a little tendentious). Taking that apart, it has helped me with simple vocabulary and structures to make people understand about service design as well as its broad process.




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