Day in the life of a Service Designer

As part of our work to define digital career pathways, we asked foundation members of the Digital Professional to provide a short ‘day in the life’ story about their role. Stephen Collins from the DTA, shares a day in his life as a service designer.


Hi, I’m Steve. I’m a Service Designer.

Service design has become more recognisable as a part of the ecosystem of specialisations that exist within human-centred design. Because it’s a newer part of the profession, it’s unclear to some people what a service designer does and how our work benefits a team building new or changed products and services.

The UK Design Council has a definition of service design that’s a good start:

Service design is all about making services usable, easy and desirable. Service design is the process of creating [service] touchpoints and defining how they interact with each other and with the user. To design a great service, it's important to have service users in mind: are they staff, suppliers or customers?

For me, service design is about people 

It’s about making sure the services and tools people use are humane, get the job done, and satisfy needs. And those services and tools do it in a way that benefits both the people accessing the service, and the organisations full of people delivering the service.

What does all this look like in the doing and how do service designers think?

I start by going as wide as possible, to gather as much context from as many relevant places to form a robust perspective on the problem. If you’re familiar with the Double Diamond framework – just one of many tools and techniques a service designer might use – this is the Discover part of that method. 

I read a lot. I talk with many people across an organisation delivering a service, or in the community of people who might use a service – some formal user research, some more ad hoc or guerrilla research. I make sketches and use Post-it notes to get down ideas. It’s messy and iterative.

I work with researchers, other designers, and subject-matter experts. I use techniques such as user journey mapping and interviews to find out what makes things harder than they need to be. Improving things for existing service users or delivering what people need from a new or changed service is a job I can’t do at all, if I can’t collaborate actively with others. 

Describing ways it might be made better

Next, I go narrower to form hypotheses about what makes a problem space tick and describe ways it might be made better. I’ll develop artefacts including personas – if there’s one thing I can urge you to do as a designer it’s to make your personas based on valid research and not speculative, but that’s a whole other conversation – service maps that illustrate a possible future service, a written explanation accompanying those maps of how a future service might operate, and rough prototypes of touchpoints such as documents, physical spaces, or technology-person interactions.

As a team builds a new service and readies it for delivery, I contribute through detailed service mapping of interactions and touchpoints, prototyping more detailed experiences and interactions to test them in the real world, and modelling how the service can be delivered.

Service designers tend to have a very wide perspective on both business and human needs. In my experience, many service designers have previous experience in another human-centred design specialisation or come from other disciplines after finding their particular perspective on helping people navigate the world is both useful and personally fulfilling; it’s certainly how I got here.

Using tools and techniques

A good service designer knows how to use their tools and techniques to bring benefit to their team. They also know when to break the rules and do something different; following the defined ways of doing things isn’t always the right choice.

If you’re someone who is a systems thinker – looking at the world as a set of the ways things work, people and tools in them, and their interactions – you might be suited to service design. Being a good listener and being empathetic to the challenges people face in using the services they encounter might make you a really good service designer.

There are literally 1000s of books, videos, blog posts, and other media that address issues like design leadership, strategy, change, and thinking that are useful to help understand service design. This is the tiniest handful of resources that might help you:

Resources I recommend


Gray, D. (2016). Liminal Thinking, Rosenfeld Media.
Iqbal, M. (2018). Thinking in Services, BIS Publishers.
Kolko, J. (2012). Wicked problems: Problems worth solving. ac4d, Austin Center for Design.
Monteiro, M. (2012). Design is a Job, A Book Apart.
Reason, B., Løvlie, L., & Flu, M. B. (2016). Service Design for Business. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Senova, M. (2017). This human, BIS Publishers.
Stickdorn, M., & Schneider, J. (2011). This is service design thinking. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Stickdorn, M., Lawrence, A., Hormess M., Schneider, J. (2018). This is service design doing, O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Stickdorn, M., Lawrence, A., Hormess M., Schneider, J. (2018). This is service design methods, O'Reilly Media, Inc.


Bodine, K. (2011). Focus on Your Customer’s Customer. Harvard Business Review.
Chan, S. (2019). On (digital) leadership. Fresh & New.
DeFrias, K. (2017). Designing the Intersection of Government, Cancer, and the People. UXBooth.
DeFrias, K. (2017). The leader’s guide to the care and feeding of humans.
DeFrias, K. (2018). The Leader’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans: Kara DeFrias. Leading Design 2018.
Design Council (2015). Design methods for developing services.
Design Council (2019). What is the framework for innovation? Design Council's evolved Double Diamond.
Haque, U. (2018). The Work of the 21st Century. Eudaimonia & Co.
Holliday, B. (2019). Seniority in design: empathy both ways. Seniority in Design.
Service Design Network (2018). Nordic Service Design. YouTube.
Young, I. (2016). Describing Personas. Indi Young: Inclusive Software.