Understanding how design theories and disciplines have evolved in relation to major changes of culture and society helped framing the contemporary developments happening in many design fields. As the economy of the United Kingdom is largely founded on the third sector, the emerging service design field helps organization creating and improving services that ensure customers and citizens satisfaction.
Designers have struggled for decades to convince enterprises that investing in design would have been beneficial in terms of profits. The recent publication of reports on the subject and the openness towards design by leading global companies now offer valid arguments on the matter.
After the tremendous impact of 2008’s crisis on global economy, many design consultancies found themselves struggling to obtain new jobs as their clients’ budgets got cut significantly. Most of those clients were businesses that had to find newer ways to surmount the competition and they started to explore design as agent of innovation.
The wide acceptance of design as a valuable element is testified by many studies that report examples of successful integration of designers on every levels of organizations, from managerial roles in leading corporates (Apple, Nike, IBM, etc.), to acquisition of relevant design firms by the most important large consultancies (Accenture or McKinsey). It is also reported a rapid increment of top VC-funded startups that have designers co-founders and large number of service designers being hired by the PA to improve public services and governmental reorganization.
Given the recent developments of service design and the popularity of design thinking as an ambiguous concept whose application would impact business positively, companies don’t have a precise idea of what the practical role of service design is, but generally tend to refer to it as an area equally shared by design theory and business management.
Most of the educational programmes on service design have been developed in the last few years and, considered the ambiguity of the subject, most of the current service designers are senior professionals that have approached design problems following a holistic, system-view collaborative attitude and have found themselves doing service design-like work before it became popular.
Highlighting the differences between service design and design thinking could be beneficial in order to clarify what those two concepts actually are. After comparing the different definitions for the two terms and the meaning that people give to both, it seems appropriate to consider service design as a discipline - that follows specific methodologies and uses tools (e.g. the blueprint canvas to map user journeys) which are not necessarily used in design thinking – that is considered a much broader and more ambiguous approach, instead. However, both the concepts share multiple principles and influence each other.
As differences between tangible and intangible mediums increasingly blur thanks to the arrival of the digital era, services and products become inseparable entities that need to be considered from a system-view perspective in order for a designer to address the right design problem.
As education is seen as fundamental for a successful acceptance of design as a leading field, Politecnico di Milano offers a multidisciplinary two-year programme aimed at training professional designers capable of conceiving innovative solutions and tackling complex problems integrating basics of project management, supply chain management, sustainability, anthropology and ethnography, communications and media.
Macro-trends suggest a shift towards ethically-correct consumption and designers are finally holding relevant positions: the contribution they can make is tangible and they are aware of the significantly increasing responsibilities.
As challenges become more and more complicated, service design could evolve towards significantly different directions, from not being able to live up with its expectations or getting diluted into traditional business consultancy to being recognised widely as a powerful discipline and produce impact on society on a large scale.