This is service design thinking

For my project work after the summer I will be working with the emergency room (ER) in Trondheim to improve their patient experience. My design supervisor for the project recommended that I read the book: “This is service design thinking: Basics, tools, cases” to get an overview of the process I should apply to such an open task. Service design is not new to me. It is, in a way, what I study in Trondheim, however I had never read a whole book on the topic before. I read the book and this article is a summary of the things I learned. 


There really is no good definition for service design. It is an evolving field and its borders are unclear. However there are five principles that always apply to service design.

User centered

To make services you have to include the customer in some way, since services can not exist separately from the user experience. However, making your services user centered is not always easy. The book uses this example: “Think of two customers. Both were born in 1948, male, raised in Great Britain, married, successful and wealthy. Furthermore, both of them have at least two children, like dogs and love the Alps. One of them could be Prince Charles and the other one Ozzy Osbourne.” Data is important, but you can not use it alone. The designer has to get an insight into the cultural and social context as well as the motivation of the users. It is also important to have a common language that you share with your users. This makes operations like customer service much easier.

Everyone can be creative, and they should! Putting the customer at the center of the process involves opening creation up to them as well. As more stakeholders are added such as cashiers, customer service operators and management, more opportunities for co-creation opens up. These people know exactly what they need to do their job effectively and only by allowing them into the process can they show that to the designer. It also makes transitions across interactions smoother. Making it vital to the service design process.


Imagine your service as a movie. An ever changing picture for the user that takes place over a certain period of time. It is important to arrange the pictures in such a way that they make sense, and tell the story that you want to tell. To influence this one can map out all of the different interactions the user has with the service, so called touchpoints, and arrange them in the best way possible. Perhaps some steps occur too early, or crucial information is not given at the right time. It is also important to think about the user’s action before they encounter your service. For example, imagine going to the hairdresser, the first point you should consider is when the user thinks about getting a haircut. Where, what, and how they get information are important points to consider if you want to capture the customer at an early stage.


Some services, like housekeeping at a hotel, are designed to be invisible. However, if customers do not notice it and it shows up on their bill, they are not going to be happy. Imagine your last holiday, you probably brought home some souvenirs. Pictures, a jar of sand or a shot glass with a flag on it. These all help you remember the experience you had and evidencing for service design works the same way. As a physical object to remind you of something and prolong the user experience. However, there is a limit to this. Think of junk mail as evidencing gone too far.


Completely holistic design is sadly impossible. The world is just too complex for us to take every single thing into account. However, one should always strive to see the bigger picture. The context around the service is very important to consider to ensure user satisfaction. The also says: “At the level of the service sequence, there should be a focus on alternative customer journeys. There are always a number of alternative touchpoints and approaches, which need to be taken into account. Sequences change and need to be repeatedly reappraised from various perspectives to ensure a great customer experience. Hence, it is important to map the mood and feelings of all stakeholders throughout the service journey.” Holistic thinking is important to ensure satisfaction.

The book summarizes it better than I could: “service design thinking supports the

cooperation of different disciplines towards the goal of corporate success through enhanced customer experiences, employee satisfaction, and integration of sophisticated technological processes in pursuing corporate objectives.”


There are many tools presented in the book. I want to highlight two that I found interesting and plan to use. 

Stakeholder maps

Stakeholder maps are created by making a list of all known stakeholders to the service and then mapping it out visually, often grouping by internal and external stakeholders. Furthermore stakeholders with similar tasks or many interactions can be clustered together making it easier to spot potential synergies. Flows between different stakeholders can also be visualized, materials, money, information or labor. This also contributes to a simpler overview of a complex system.

Service blueprint

A service blueprint specifies and details each specific part of a service. This is then presented visually, usually showing the chronology and level of the touchpoints with the customer as well as what is going on in the background. Service blueprints should be made collaboratively, bringing together people from different departments, as well as users, to create a more holistic overview. This might also create understanding between different departments. It should also be a ‘living document’ that changes when the service or service provider does to give an up to date image.


There were also some cases in the book that were interesting as they laid out how these tools, methods and principles could be applied in a real life environment. I really enjoyed the book as it made many principles I had learned about before more concrete and laid them out in an easy to navigate way.

Reactive Video: Movement Sonification for Learning Physical Activity with Adaptive Video Playback

Paper by Doga Cavdir, Chris Clarke, Patrick Chiu, Laurent Denoue, and Don Kimber

This project aims to improve physical learning, in this case Tai-Chi, by implementing audio along with visual feedback. As you do your Tai-Chi exercises music composed of bell, chime and wind sounds plays in the background and two parameters: tempo and alignment of the joints compared to a reference video, are measured. If you drift from the reference in either parameter you will be given an audio-cue that you are getting off course. When drifting in alignment a low pass filter is applied to the soundscape cutting off some of the ethereal richness in the music and if you drift in tempo the tempo of the music changes. I think this sort of feedback is very appropriate for physical exercises considering the fact that you often have to use your vision for balance or coordination. The way they implemented the feedback in such an unobtrusive and unannoying way is very fitting for the meditative act of Tai-Chi, however I think it is a great way to approach any sonic project. They did not mention it in the paper, but I guess you correct your posture by looking at a visual. However, I wonder if it would be possible to eliminate the visual component by adding more parameters. For an activity like Tai-Chi this might not be feasible because of all the factors at play, but for a simpler activity, for example biljards, it might be possible.

One decisions I often get wrong

And what makes me do it.

Looking through my day, I singled out one thing I often find myself doing that I recognize as poor choices.

My biggest vice: Getting up in the morning.

Most days I go to sleep full of motivation. (I have a theory that I am like a big, complicated machine that takes a while to get up and running and that also takes some time to shut down.) Making plans for the next day is always on my mind before I jump in bed. Realizing the amount of stuff I want to fit into this day I usually decide that I will have to get up early and I fall asleep pleased with that decision, looking forward to the productive day I’m going to have. This is where my problem starts because the Fridtjof that wakes up the next day has a completely different set of priorities, and on top of that list is sleep. And so, I hit the snooze button on my alarm. One time, two times, three times, and so on until all I have time for before I must get up is putting on some clothes. My productive day has started with disappointment. If I have any obligations it usually turns out okay since I hate to not keep appointments, but if I have none I can easily sleep for two or three hours more than planned, putting a major spanner in the works for the perfect day I envisioned the night before.

Aside from being my biggest vice, and something I face every day, I bring this up because it is so obviously an irrational decision. I know I have to get up at some point, I know it ruins my day, I know that I have (usually) gotten enough sleep to function, and I know I’m going to be mad at myself for not getting up earlier. I know that in every single aspect this decision makes my life worse, but I still do it. All the time. 

Just for extra context. I know this is not a biological thing, when I wake up early I am completely fine for the entire day. Usually I feel better. Also, it is not because I loathe school or doing work. This is something I also struggle with if I am doing something on my own in the morning that I really like. Anytime I don’t have an obligation. So this is purely a bad decision.

So why do I keep doing it? I am reminded of a quote from the book “As I lay dying” by William Faulkner. He writes:

“I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on moving once he does get started off, the same as he was set on staying still, like it aint the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping.”

Perhaps it is not so much the being awake as the getting up that is causing my struggle. The phase change might just be the root cause of my troubles. This change, early in the morning, is especially challenging due to a couple of factors:

As my mind is clouded by wonderful sleep I wake up to the harsh noise of the alarm pulling me out of my dream-world as well as my warm and comfortable bed (I leave my alarm a bit away so I have to move to turn it off). I am now cold and tired and just two steps and one click of a button I am back to the wondrous place I was a minute ago.

Scope of the task

Waking up is starting the day and so leaving the bed I am in my head, not just going to the bathroom to have a shower, but simultaneously embarking on making breakfast, doing school, and fulfilling all of my life’s roles to the fullest extent. Which, to my tired and slightly confused self, seems oh so overwhelming. 

Lack of presence

Dazed as I am, thinking of the day that was and the day that is to come, trying to decipher that weird dream I had tonight I am not really there. My brain is not fully on yet and I feel like I am in the back of my own head while my body just acts. Finally getting up after hitting the snooze button six times is not unlike the feeling you have doomscrolling realizing that 15 minute break suddenly turned into 45 minutes. 

I believe these three points are transferable to most bad decisions we make in our day to day lives. The decisions where you are not really weighing the pros and cons of the different options, but where you rather instinctually go “eh, screw it”. However, now that we have some key factors identified, the job of the designer begins. Figuring out what mechanisms might counteract these and implementing them seamlessly into a normal day.

Decisions I usually make in a day

And why I sometimes make the wrong choice

Let us zoom in. Now that I have established some characteristics of decisions and decision making let us try applying it to my own life. Since I want to look at everyday decisions I have chosen an average day as a starting point. 

The two red points are decisions I struggle with more than the others. One thing that stands out to me is that for most of the decisions there is a pretty clear cut answer as to what the ‘right’ decision would be. Should I hit the snooze button? No of course not, I’ll have to rush to get to school on time. Should I eat breakfast? Yes, obviously, it will help me concentrate at school. Chores and exercise? No doubt, it very directly betters my quality of life. However, I make the wrong choice all the time. Why? Because I feel like it. There is a very appealing temptation at play. Setting up a boxing match between short term and long term gain, and that temptation makes the long term gain seem oh so far away. Another factor is the notion of work. How much work do I have to put in to do this? Often it is not so much the actual work, but the job of starting a task. Cleaning all my clothes into the closet from the floor probably takes about seven minutes, it is the getting started that is actually hard. And going for a run, why does that seem like work when I am sitting on the couch, even though I really enjoy running once I am out. It might seem like the notion of work (or effort) is much less enjoyable than the actual tasks where I am doing work. And afterwards I always feel better, it is just hard to remember that before you start.

When do we make decisions?

To get people to make better active decisions, we first have to look at when those decisions are made. I spoke to several people when trying to figure this out and it seems like it all comes back to feelings, which is not that weird when you think about it. However, it means that for everyday decisions, for most people, we can rule out trying to appeal mostly to reason. When it comes to the small but crucial decisions that make up a life we don’t make pro-con charts, we go by our gut feeling. For more important decisions there is also another complicated thing we do, we ask for advice, but we’ll get back to that later. If you go for a run, it’s most likely because you feel like going for a run or it’s part of some plan or system that you feel like following. If you grab that tub of ice-cream in the store it’s because you want ice-cream. Sometimes we also make decisions that are not beneficial to us in the long term because it feels good right now. Like sleeping in, eating unhealthy, laying on the couch for a day or procrastinating. Our urge for satisfaction is stronger than our motivation or willpower to do what we ‘ought’ to be doing. Some ways of influencing this pattern might be to make things that are rewarding in the long term more rewarding in the short term or simply to strengthen your willpower. It seems like the urge to make a decision, good or bad, builds up over time and is finally triggered by something. The more buildup the smaller the trigger can be. Like your unconscious telling you ‘Hey, pay attention to this!’. Maybe it is also possible to make this feeling of urgency build up faster or to trigger it when it is convenient to you.

Two types of decisions

All decisions are not created equal. Examining my own choices I have a theory of two extremes with a sliding scale in between. The two extremes are passive and active decisions. Active decisions are taken at your own initiative while passive decisions require a decision to be made. An example of a good active decision would be sitting at home without any obligations for the day and deciding to go on a run. It is not required by anyone that you go for a run, you do it purely because it is beneficial to yourself. Either because it feels good or because you know that it is good for your body, or a mix of the two. An example of a passive decision would be picking your elective subject for this semester. There is a set time-frame that you have to make the decision in and the number of choices are limited. The active decisions are often harder to make as there is no accountability to any external force involved and that the number of choices that can be made are practically limitless. You can go for a walk, run, bikeride, play the guitar, buy new socks, learn to paint, write a poem, learn to paint and infinitely many more things. Structure is required to make a meaningful choice. There are also decisions that are a mix of active and passive and many chores fall in this category. You have to do the dishes eventually or you will run out of forks, but you do not really have to do it right now. It is the same with laundry and house cleaning. Choosing what and where to study and similar ‘key decisions’ also fall in between. You can of course take another path than studying, but for a lot of people studying is a given and so the choice is in a sense already made. However, the amount of study programs and universities in the world is so vast it would take a lifetime to look through it all. But, as the years go on the need to get an education and then a job becomes more pressing for most and so like the chores you have to make a decision in the end. Making no decision is also always a choice, but I do not think anyone would count drifting through life without doing anything a fulfilling existence. There already exist tools to help you make passive decisions. Career counselors, study counselors and quizzes that help you decide which political party to vote for. However I am not aware of any tools that help you make good active decisions except for your own discipline. Often we know what the best thing to do is, we just do not really want to and cannot force ourselves to do it every time. It would be interesting trying to create a tool that helps you make good active decisions.

Designing decisions

We face thousands of decisions every single day. Ultimately these decisions shape our future, who we are and who we become. Thousands of decisions every day. It is not easy to get every single one right every single day. On top of this, the amount of decisions we face is increasing. Fifty years ago there were not twenty different salad dressings in every store or three hundred-different jeans on the market. With the advent of internet shopping, choosing what to buy has become a question of how long you are willing to search. One might think this would make us happier with our choices, however studies show that all these choices are actually making us less satisfied with the choices we make. Furthermore as society becomes more and more liberal social norms are becoming more and more blurred. Our grandparents were likely married in their early twenties. Meet someone you like, marry them and then you have made that choice for the rest of your life. Anyone who has ever been in love knows what a distraction it is and now we get to fall in love many times over before we find “the one”. But how do you know when you find “the one”? It is a decision you have to make. And a hard decision, that requires tons of thinking. Ultimately more choice is ultimately a good thing. There is, however, room for improvement. I want to research how design can help people make good decisions without overwhelming them with choice.