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Differences between Service Design and Design Thinking

October 15, 2021
Differences between Service Design and Design Thinking
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Design Thinking is a process oriented towards the acquisition of a common understanding. One of the first to use this term was Peter Rowe in his book Design Thinking, published in 1987. Although this term was coined in the 1980s its roots have grown over the last century through scientific research, social sciences and a rich history of research in design and innovation.

We can find examples of Design Thinking by looking at some innovators of the past: the Wright brothers, for example, built their first successful airplane after years of prototyping and iterating their designs, learning from their failures and succeeding.
Thomas Edison gained his knowledge through direct observation of other people, during  his collaboration with other talented innovators to develop the light bulb, and through an iterative process of trial and mistakes, he learned how to succeed.
More recently, in 1983, James Dyson invented the bagless vacuum cleaner. Dyson has spent the last five years building and testing 5127 prototypes to the most current models on the market today.

Design Thinking Models

There are many types of Design Thinking: IDEO, IBM, d.School and the British Design Council have created different versions. Below, you will find the different approaches to this process.

Let's take a look at this model in a little more detail:


The first phase of the Design Thinking process requires an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, typically through some form of user research. This stage pushes us into the world of the users we are designing for and allows us to start working on designing a custom solution.


In this phase you put together the information you collected during the previous phase and analyze your observations with the aim of defining the main problems that have been encountered so far. This is the moment when you need to make sure that what you are dealing with is clear and well defined.


The third stage of the process finds you ready to start generating ideas. With the knowledge gathered in the first two stages, you can begin to "think outside the box" to identify new solutions to the problem you've created, and start looking for alternative ways to visualize the problem.


In this phase, the design team produces a series of reduced, inexpensive versions of the product or specific features found within the product so that solutions to problems generated in the previous phase can be examined.


In this phase, you test the product you made using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is the final phase; however, in an iterative process, the results generated during the testing phase are what is often used to redefine one or more problems.

Ideo - Innovation Training | Design Thinking Workshops

Designers from many disciplines, such as architecture, advertising and industrial design, will recognize many of the activities and methods used within this process. Design Thinking is the codification of these practices and methods into a series of steps resulting in an articulated design process. It can be seen as a recipe to follow that seeks to bring order and clarity to the Design process.

In a nutshell, design thinking is an approach to solving complex problems using a user-centered methodology. It is a practical approach that follows a structured process to arrive at innovative solutions. Using an elaborate set of design tools, design thinking brings together what is desirable from the user's perspective, technologically feasible and economically viable.

What is Service Design

If we were to ask ten people what service design is, we would most likely get eleven different answers.
Service design is an interdisciplinary approach that combines different methods and tools from different disciplines, it's a new way of thinking. Service design is an evolving approach and this is highlighted by the fact that there is still no common definition or clearly shared language of service design. A single definition of service design could limit this evolving approach, while a shared language is undoubtedly important for the further growth and development of service design.

However, let's try to give a slightly clearer and more understandable definition.
Service design is the practical and creative application of design tools and methods with the aim of developing or improving services. It is the activity of coordinating the people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to create value for all stakeholders involved, build a distinctive brand experience and maximize business potential.

Service design is applied with the aim of developing or improving services.

Approach –
Service Design Model

When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he was actually thinking about his product in the context of his ecosystem, he was designing the service around it. Although he is famous for inventing the light bulb, this product revolutionized our lives only because he paired it with the invention of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company, which built stations to generate the electricity that would power those products. His service, the provision of energy, evolved over the years, with some parts visible to the user (the light bulb) and some parts hidden from the user (the power stations).

Service Design often involves creating maps, or alignment diagrams, that demonstrate the experience of the service and its moving parts. These maps come in many varieties: business model diagrams, customer journey maps, service blueprints are a few examples. From what users see and hear, to the logistics involved in making the service possible, service design mapping allows designers to visualize information and understand problems and opportunities. These maps are often created using Design Thinking methods, which include customer research and collaborative workshops with customers. Service design maps are not static artifacts, but can (and should) be built and developed as more customer and business information is revealed over time.

In conclusion, Design Thinking is a design process, a recipe that we can try to follow to define and solve problems while Service Design can make use of this methodology to solve problems that go beyond digital and product experiences.

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