Service Design Isn’t in the Touchpoints

The other day, a friend of mine from grad school was pondering the distinction between product design and service design now that many products are part of a service. Examples like the iPod/iTunes/ITMS start to blur the line.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I realize that things aren’t as blurry as I initially thought. There are still tons of products that aren’t designed to be part of a service in any way. From kitchen appliances to digital electronics there are plenty of dumb boxes in my apartment. In fact, I only own a handful of products that are connected to a service.

That’s not to say that the products in my home couldn’t be integrated into a service. If I started taking photos professionally with my Nikon D70, it’d suddenly be part of a service. But until then it’s just a beautiful example of product design. Almost any product can be incorporated into a service. Think of automobiles. Instead of buying a Crown Vic from the dealer I can rent one from Enterprise, hire one from Yellow Cab or ride in the back of one courtesy of the highway patrol. But that doesn’t mean the people at Ford are service designers.

Even if an interaction designer were to create a touchpoint specifically for a service, something like the digital kiosks for Jet Blue, that wouldn’t necessarily make it service design. Service design isn’t in the touchpoint. It’s in the interconnections between touchpoints and in the behaviors that connect people. Service design lives in the system, not the artifact.

Unless you’re looking at the larger context, you’re doing something other than service design.


  1. Qin

    interesting… it recalls me of a conversation I had with a friend weeks ago, about service design is designing at a different level rather than designing for a different subject. Therefore, many principles and rules of designing things can be integrated into the designing of service system, but cannot be assumed to represent it. After all, it is the people that makes a service service not the artifacts.

  2. Jeff

    Service design is designing at a different level rather than designing for a different subject— I like that characterization Qin!




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