The Difference Between Design Thinking and Service Design

December 27, 2022

Our playing field is sometimes dominated by jargon. However, what exactly do these words mean? There is a common question we receive: What is the difference between design thinking and service design? In light of the similarities in names and the fact that they have similar underlying principles, it’s an excellent question to ask. Before we compare design thinking and service design, let’s first examine both to gain a better understanding.

What is the definition of design thinking?

A design thinking approach helps solve complex problems in a user-centered manner. Using a structured process, it’s a hands-on approach to finding innovative solutions. Design thinking combines user desires, technological feasibility, and economic feasibility using an elaborate set of tools.

The field of product and service innovation is one of the most prominent applications of design thinking. However, less obvious areas like politics, human resources, and education are embracing design thinking more and more.

What is a definition of a Service Design?

An application of design tools and methods to improve or develop services is called Service Design. People, infrastructure, communication, and material components of a service are orchestrated to maximize business potential, build a distinctive brand experience and create value for all stakeholders.

Developing or improving services is the goal of Service Design, as stated in the definition. Designers view the world from a service-oriented perspective, where all interactions between brands and their users are considered services. Looking at drill people do not want a drill; they want a hole drilled in a wall, or even more, a frame hanging on a wall as a memorial to their grandmother. Drills are just materials used to deliver services.


A general overview of service design principles

Designers should focus on generic requirements of all services when designing services. Additionally, there are complementary principles that relate to process design, organizational design, information design, and technology design – we will discuss these in a moment.

In general, service design follows the following principles:

  • Services must be designed with a genuine understanding of their purpose, demand, and ability to be delivered.
  • Instead of focusing on the internal needs of the business, services should be designed based on the needs of the customer.
  • Rather than delivering services component-by-component, which can lead to poor overall performance, services should be designed as a unified and efficient system.
  • To create value for customers and users, services should be designed to be as efficient as possible.
  • It is essential to design services with the understanding that special events (those causing deviations in general processes) will be treated as common events (and functions should be prepared to accommodate them).
  • User input should always be taken into account when designing services
  • It is possible and recommended to prototype services before they are fully developed
  • The business case for the service must be accompanied by a transparent model and business case
  • To deploy services, they should be designed as a minimum viable service (MVS). By iterating and improving them based on feedback from users/customers, additional value can be added.
  • All stakeholders (internal and external) should be involved in the design and delivery of services.
  • All interactions with a customer are outlined in the service blueprint, an output of service design. For this blueprint to add value to customers, it must follow the principles of service design.

Principles of Process Design for Service Design

These principles underlie the design of both internal and external processes in service design:

  • Whenever possible, eliminate or minimize any activity that does not add value to the customer
  • Processes are the basis for work, not internal constructs such as functions, geography, products, etc.
  • It is not permissible to fragment work unless it is necessary. Having a single person responsible for everything reduces delays, rework, and other issues. Work ownership, creativity, and innovation are encouraged.
  • It is important to simplify processes as much as possible. The goal should be to reduce the number of steps, handovers, rules, and controls in the process. Process owners should have control over how their operations are delivered whenever possible.
  • It is acceptable to have several versions of a process if customers have different requirements.
  • It is essential to minimize process variation.
  • Keeping process dependencies to a minimum is a good idea. (Parallel processing)
  • It is better to internalize processes rather than to decompose them overly (for example, training is better than work instructions).
  • It is essential to minimize process breaks and delays
  • It is crucial to minimize reconciliation, controls, and inspections of processes
  • Process KPIs will measure only what matters

Principles for Organizational Design in Service Design

A few basic principles for organizations can help them realize their full potential when it comes to service delivery:

  • To ensure that work groups match processes and competencies, they must be organized as follows:
  • It will be possible for workers to make useful decisions with sufficient autonomy
  • A location will be chosen where work can be done efficiently
  • An organization’s design can be highly complex and a separate field altogether. Usually, HR manages the process, but UX and service designers are welcome to get involved.

Principles of Information Design for Service Design

The flow of information is crucial in delivering high-quality services; if people aren’t aware of what they should do and when they should do it, service suffers. The following are simple principles for designing information in service:

  • There should be a standardization of data between the organization and its customers as well as within the organization
  • Within the organization and with partners, data must be easily transferable and reusable
  • Whenever possible, data entry should be avoided in favor of utilities that lookup, select, and confirm data
  • DBAs (Database Administrators) will typically handle data design, but UX and service designers should be heavily involved in ensuring that guiding principles are followed.
  • Service Design Principles based on Technology
  • To deliver a service, technology design principles are applied. Among them are:
  • Service should never be driven by technology; it should always be enabled by technology.
  • Services should be designed around technology rather than the other way around.
  • As customer requirements change, technology design should be flexible and agile enough to accommodate rapid adaptation.

Design thinking vs. Service Design: what’s the difference.

Looking closely at both methodologies, there are more similarities than differences. Here are a few important ones:

  • In the rapidly evolving innovation process, where uncertainty reigns (the fuzzy front end), both methodologies are well suited to handle complex, ambiguous phases.
  • Users play a large role in both, as both rely heavily on empathizing with them.
  • There are a lot of similarities between the two processes. Koos uses the design thinking process outlined by the Stanford D. School – Emphasis, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test – as our foundation for every project.
  • Throughout the process, both use creative and analytical thinking, using the left and right brains.
  • To maximize support and draw from different expertise, both require multidisciplinary teams and the capability to coordinate people together.

What are the differences between them?

The application of design thinking to the development of services is what we call Koos: Service Design. It is the practitioners, however, who make the most significant difference.

  • Most non-designers practice design thinking. A mindset, a way of thinking, is more important. Solving a wide range of problems can be achieved by diverging and concurrent processes. There are several ‘soft’ factors to consider, such as team dynamics, mindset shifts, and user-centeredness.
  • Designers are the most common practitioners of Service Design. A broad range of methods are employed, the focus is on the development of services, and it can have a direct impact on every aspect of an organization. A business objective is to increase NPS or minimize churn, depending on the application of tools.


Services have historically received less attention than products regarding design methods.  Today, however, customers judge the experience (product+service) in the experience economy.  Customers’ experience initiatives will be commoditized, and price wars will be inevitable for companies that continue to bury their heads in the sand.

To succeed and survive, you need tools, techniques, and a new way of thinking related to design thinking and service design.

Design Thinking is a methodology for solving complex business problems and gaining a competitive advantage through innovation and creativity. Design thinking and product and interaction design methods are applied to Service Design Thinking to create seamless experiences across tangible touchpoints in a service (such as advertisements, in-stores, websites, mobile apps & desktop interfaces) and eliminate silos of customer touchpoints.

Contact us or call us to learn more about how Carmatec can assist you in creating and executing service design thinking strategies. You can count on us for assistance.