Service Design Realisation — Moving service design front of stage

John Knight
4 min readOct 14, 2022


We’ve all seen the elaborate blueprints that are popular in our practice. The forest of fluorescent post-it™ notes every emotional peak or trough in a current experience. These can be things of beauty or resemble the ramblings for a Beautiful Mind. We’re at a point where more than ever before we need to give social value of design not through potential but through service design realisation.
Cool to dream but affecting positive change through producing services is where designers can make real (and even more) difference.

Ever since, I commissioned experience map I became cynical and that has only grown for a number of reasons. The biggest doubt comes from relying on documentation. This seems completely at odds with the hegemony of agile and lean in service production. Rather than documentation this approach (agile/lean) focuses on continuous, incremental and frugal upgrades from Minimal Viable Service to Sustainable Living Service.

In other words, polished, complex and appealing ‘Pixel Pushing’ produced ‘maps’, blueprints’ and schemas demonstrate ‘Deliverables Bloat’ rather than leanness and implementation readiness. Then there is the cool and trendy notion of the ‘speculative’, ‘design fiction’ of the future. It’s a promised land of milk and honey that we need to build in the here and now. Not through stickys but through graft.

Then there is the technology gap where the focus of much service design is abstracting surface-level signs of a service into ‘Journeys’ (Shostack, 1982). If you’re on a journey in a service encounter it’s maybe not good — you just wanna get the task done, quick. As static snapshots of activity these abstractions of what could be to some extent undermine the primacy of Living Services. Of course services are co-produced by the people living them but with technology we’re stuck in middle ages. Technology is not the implementation problem but the social good opportunity. It’s the material and energy of service realisation.

The notion of dynamically created and evolving services is to some extent counter to the orthodoxy too — which focuses on mapping extant to future prescribed services. While blueprints may exemplify design craft (they look good and useful) they don’t map to service architectures and platforms that are integral to service delivery and operations. Service design artefacts don’t integrate well with the needs of service engineers, producers and developers — get into those lower level backstage operations and you’ll find a plethora of manual work and automation possibilities.

The dynamic nature of living services is one reason why another plank in the orthodoxy is broke. Instead of legions of researchers immersing themselves in limitless ethnographies — make and test services from paper to real world. Evidence based blueprints good — but living service data on real usage (service flow) even better. The kind of waterfall orthodoxy on how to deliver Human-centred services goes against everything we know from Steve Jobs to err’ Human-centred Design. Design Anthropology is an exception and maybe Ethnography too, but the point is moving from understanding to intervention which is where the rubber hits the road.

There is a deeper question on service design deliverables. Why do we need them at all? If the goal is to improve an existing service (i.e. not Green Field Design) then practitioners should operate ‘In Service’ rather than separate from it or via any form of abstracted knowledge. This would mean truly participatory design (with service agents) not before production but within it. There is a risk is that short, incremental change may not build to strategic positive service transformation. A structured framework for delivering agile service design, would help. This would begin with founding projects on the basis of a Minimum Viable Service (MVS). An MVS focuses on enabling access to a simplified, stripped down version of the service.

Such a proposition is by nature basic and supports a few use cases, but is built to ensure it enables core functions and proves the viability of the service. An MVS is, however, more than a conceptual proof of concept. Its adoption and use enables early data collection that can help develop richer features, but more importantly enables mapping service supply and demand data. In this sense, a simple digitalised entry point for healthcare becomes the first manifestation of a Living Service, where data is used to enrich the experience and start to build a critical mass of users. Having established a strong and sustainable user community, the next phase of Minimum Living Service (MLS). This is focused on delivering an optimised experience that can drive broad adoption. Finally, a Living Sustainable Service focuses on facilitating value co-creation and operational excellence.

In conclusion, moving to service design realisation is the next stage in maturing our discipline. It means taking a more open-minded view on technology and reverse engineering tweaky services from the north star. We shall never lose Polaris or we ain’t doing service. Likewise, we need just enough research to get that minimum viable service so we can get actual data from use. These tweaks will maybe go some way to move from service design to service design realisation — a slight semantic shift that could help amplify our contribution to nicer world.

© John Knight, 2023, Aalto University of Arts, Architecture and Design



John Knight

Entirely personal views on #DesignScience #Ergonomie #NewWaveUX Making sketchy futurstic stuff with paper, pencils, humans and binary since 1964 PhD @aaltoARTS