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The Role of Service Design in Creating the Ideal Customer Experience

The Role of Service Design in Creating the Ideal Customer Experience

Welcome to a fresh episode of The Zista Podcast, where we unmask the mysteries of service design and its pivotal role in tailoring the ultimate customer experience. This week, we’re traversing the landscape of design and its profound potential to shape our future.

Join us in an enriching conversation with our esteemed guest, Jon Denham. As the Chair for Design Management and Service Design at SCAD, Jon’s expert insights will lead us through the multifaceted realms of service design. With a diverse background spanning from premium brands to the sectors of food and pharma, Jon’s professional wisdom is as vast as it is varied.

Embark with us on this thrilling exploration, as we endeavour to transform your understanding of customer experience. Ready to ignite your imagination? Stay tuned to The Zista Podcast, where inspiration meets insight.

Welcome to the latest episode of The Zista Podcast, your reliable source for enlightening discussions on cutting-edge topics in the education space. This week, we navigate the complex landscape of service design, a critical component in crafting the perfect customer experience. We embark on a comprehensive journey that reveals the promising opportunities hidden within, while also acknowledging the potential risks we must adeptly steer clear of. Join us as we decipher how to shape this dynamic frontier to drive meaningful progress and deliver the ultimate customer experience. 

In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, crafting an exceptional customer experience is more critical than ever. This episode highlights the significance of service design in creating this ideal customer journey. By demystifying the intricacies of service design, we hope to empower you with practical insights that can transform the way you interact with your customers.

We are delighted to welcome Jon Denham. As the Chair for Design Management and Service Design at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), with a solid educational foundation, both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Industrial Design, Jon’s academic pursuits mirror his dedication to the design realm. His illustrious career spans work with high-caliber brands such as P&G, along with Food and Pharma companies, and numerous consumer product organizations.

In this conversation, we traverse the multidisciplinary aspects of service design. From its role in shaping business strategy to its impact on customer interactions, service design’s potential is boundless. Join us as we uncover the transformative power of service design, and how it can redefine the future of customer experience.

Stay tuned to The Zista Podcast for thought-provoking discussions that challenge, inspire, and inform.


  • Service design is the process of improving services through thoughtful organization of people, infrastructure, communication, resources, and materials.
  • Service design works in synergy with design management. While service design provides the end-to-end analysis of service experiences, design management deploys resources based on these insights to effectively direct service-oriented ventures.
  • Harnessing AI and related technologies can provide valuable data for service designers to identify areas of improvement, not only for consumers but also for corporations or organizations delivering services.
  • Service design is unique because of its systemic nature. It is not about creating an object, but about understanding a journey and determining the most efficient, effective, and delightful aspects of that journey.
  • Service design is not just about physical space and immediate service experiences. It also deals with the customer’s lasting memory and future interactions with the brand, making it an all-encompassing field.
  • Service designers need to evolve their skills to fit within new landscapes and proactively shape how technologies are integrated into their brand or service.

Q1: What is service design?

A: Service design, according to Jon, is like discovering a diamond in the rough. It’s something that’s not always immediately apparent but upon discovery, one can’t help but wonder why it wasn’t part of their knowledge much sooner. Jon recalls how his journey with service design began during his time at SCAD. Reflecting upon his past experiences at P&G, Kraft, and Conagra, Jon expresses a wish that he had known about service design during those years.

Continuing his explanation, Jon defines service design as the process of improving services through thoughtful organization of people, infrastructure, communication, resources, and materials. He emphasizes the core goal of service design: to elevate the brand’s impact and quality, fostering a better connection between the service provider and their customers.

In essence, service design, to him, utilizes human-centered design methods with a systems thinking approach for the benefit of the planet. That, in Jon’s view, brings us back to his initial analogy, the diamond in the rough, shedding light on the latent potential of service design.

Q2: How can a student explore the career of Service Design?

A2: For students interested in service design, Jon suggests different paths to consider. It’s possible to dive into this field either at the undergraduate or graduate level. Interestingly, Jon notes that you can pursue a one-year graduate degree while continuing to work full-time. This approach allows professionals to augment their skill set with a tool that’s becoming increasingly important, given the agility required in the evolving job market.

If one opts for an undergraduate degree or a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), they’ll have more time and opportunities to shape organizations and processes. This influence ranges from the private sector to the federal level, affecting how services are delivered. Given that over 90% of brands today incorporate some element of service, Jon emphasizes the importance of this skill.

The challenge then shifts to sustaining and maximizing these service opportunities. This question opens up an avenue for students to significantly influence the future of brand organizations and their capabilities. By viewing the process from end to end, students can identify improved methods not just for consumers, but also for how corporations or organizations deliver these services.

Jon highlights that service design is about balancing both ends of the spectrum: meeting the needs of existing or potential customers, as well as those within the company. This dual approach can impact the efficacy of service delivery, from a brand’s inception to its evolution. In Jon’s view, service design holds enormous strategic and executional potential in today’s world.

Q3: Why is service design increasingly relevant nowadays?

A: Jon points out the growing importance of service design and its vast potential for the future. He first emphasizes the need for service design to better communicate its value. This conversation, he believes, is a continual one.

The second aspect, Jon explains, is where to start. As more and more brands are now venturing into the service sector, this provides an ample opportunity for service designers to make a significant impact. They can help guide a brand into becoming more productive, efficient, and arguably more effective.

To better illustrate what service design is, Jon shares a common scenario with a popular coffee brand, Starbucks. From the moment a customer decides they want a beverage from Starbucks and uses an app to locate the nearest outlet, the service design process begins. This journey continues as they approach the store, absorbing the architectural and emotional impact of the brand’s physical presence.

Upon entering the store, every aspect of their experience, from viewing the menu and making a choice, to being served their order, is a part of service design. Even the subsequent decision to sit in the store and finish some work involves elements of interior and digital design, which are also components of service design.

As Jon explains, a service designer evaluates each step in this journey, identifying what’s working well and, more importantly, what isn’t. They can then advise on whether it’s worthwhile to invest time, resources, or money into fixing the issue.

The opportunities for service design are extensive. Jon returns to his earlier analogy of a diamond in the rough, emphasizing how service design helps to bring out and improve this ‘diamond’. It involves business, consumer, and creative discussions that extend beyond just the physical space of the store. It also includes the customer’s lasting memory and their next interaction with the brand, whether in another city or a different country.

So, in Jon’s view, service design’s relevance is becoming increasingly prominent as it allows decision-makers to invest resources in improving experiences. While his example centers around a coffee shop, the same principles apply to many other services as well.

Q4: Since service design is an all-encompassing field, how do the different aspects of design play a role in this?

A: Reflecting on his students’ work, Jon notes that service design plays a significant role in various settings such as a store in Nigeria, a hospital, or an airport. These contexts all involve different experiences for both the service provider and the consumer, and service design has the power to shape these experiences.

Jon emphasizes the synergy between service design and design management. While service design involves analysing the end-to-end experience and understanding the requirements for delivery and reception of services, design management utilizes these insights to effectively deploy resources. Jon considers this partnership between service design and design management as crucial, in driving the right direction for any service-oriented venture.

Q5. Has the world of AI impacted Service Design in any way?

A: According to Jon, artificial intelligence (AI) and digital transformation are exerting and will continue to exert significant influence on service design. He recalls a conversation with his peers where they concluded that the designers who are agile and flexible, who can adapt these tools and capabilities, will truly stand out. Jon emphasizes the need for designers to embrace this change and leverage their inherent creativity to evolve their roles.

Jon mentions a recent interaction with a company in the industry discussing the integration of geospatial technology, 5G, and AI. Although these are not common terms in the design world, Jon found their potential astounding after conducting his research. He realized that such capabilities could have a profound impact on fields like sustainability, which has gained substantial attention recently.

Geospatial technology, Jon explains, is all about measuring the location of things, such as resources or various environmental elements. When combined with the accelerated networking system of 5G and AI’s predictive capabilities, this technology could dramatically improve management efficiency.

Using the example of a brand or retail owner, Jon emphasizes how crucial it is to understand where their products are, whether in manufacturing, distribution, or the store. In this scenario, a service designer can use technology to provide valuable data for areas of improvement, perhaps on the manufacturing side. Jon paints a picture of the service design stage: the consumers are front stage, the manufacturing organizations are backstage, and together they create what is essentially center stage.

By harnessing these technologies, Jon states, we can gain a much more timely understanding of our brands, the behaviors appearing on the brand, whether it’s in distribution, manufacturing, or the consumption part of the process. This knowledge can influence the right use of creativity moving forward.

To wrap up, Jon underscores that service designers need to be aware not only of their creative capabilities but also of their analytical capability. Bringing these two aspects together is essential for breathing life into a service in a human-centered way. With service design, we can align the problem-solving potential of new technologies with human needs and experiences.

Q6. What does it mean for service designers to co-create value?

A: The creation of value by service designers extends from the very forefront of innovation through to its execution. Jon observes that service design has increasingly secured a stronger position in the realm of innovation, particularly when it comes to innovating a service at both macro and micro levels. As a result, service design is turning into one of the most pivotal innovation models, especially for brands venturing into the service space.

The journey, as per Jon, is about learning and about leveraging this capability. If a brand is already mature, the challenge lies in elevating it to the next level and extracting further value. When contemplating value creation, it can certainly be approached from an innovation perspective, which is where the future of the brand or the company resides. This can be extrapolated across an entire experience, both in the short term, which may necessitate lighter, quicker innovation, and in the long term.

Jon underscores that this doesn’t make other things irrelevant; instead, it makes them even more relevant and targeted, thereby creating value in terms of making informed choices. This could relate to technology or other facets of the service that can make a difference. One of the prime values that Jon attributes to any service designer is their ability to make a difference with the value they bring. If designers can learn the process and familiarize themselves with the vernacular, the impact they can have, according to Jon, is immense.

Q7. What makes service design unique and what are some of the challenges that exist in the future for service design?

A: According to Jon, the uniqueness of service design comes from its systemic nature. The output of a service designer does not necessarily rely on a tangible creative artifact. Instead, it is about understanding a journey and determining the most efficient, effective, and delightful aspects across backstage, centrestage, and frontstage. What service designers offer, Jon suggests, is not an object but a pathway to change and improvement. They lay out where a difference needs to be made and allow other design or creative fields to bring their expertise to the table, raising that understanding to a level of effectiveness.

When discussing challenges, Jon acknowledges that service design can be a ‘diamond in the rough.’ It’s not an easy concept for designers or their partners to grasp, due to a few reasons. Firstly, service design is relatively new, becoming more prominent in the 1990s, and hence lacks the traditional history of graphic or industrial design. Secondly, getting people to understand service design and to take the perceived risk in hiring a service designer is another challenge. Once that barrier is crossed, the next task is to deliver on the promised value and build credibility.

Looking to the future, Jon believes one challenge will be integrating different types of technologies and identifying opportunities that might not be evident today. This is going to be an ongoing and rapidly accelerating creative pathway. Service designers need to evolve their skills to fit within this new landscape and proactively shape how technologies are integrated into their brand or service. This will require them to be highly imaginative, aware of societal, technological, and economic changes, and develop different skills to identify changing opportunities and threats. In essence, Jon concludes, service designers need to be agile, not just in their process but in the true sense of the word.

Podcast Host: Amit Ahuja, Associate Director, Communications & Digital, Zista Education
Podcast Guest: Jon Denham, Chair for Design Management and Service Design, Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), USA
Video & Audio Editing: Raj Soni, Communications Associate, Zista Education
Podcast Manager: Russel Aldridge, Sr. Manager, Creative & Digital, Zista Education
Podcast Transcript: Tanya Kakka, Freelance Copywriter