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Kristin R. Fritsche: What is Service Design?

A simplified guide to aid in today’s confusion about a new discipline of business

The aim of this work was to (1) gain a sturdier grasp on what service design encompasses and (2) pose as a resource or handbook for the customer, Kolmas Persoona, on how to become a more global player in the field of service design.

Prior to research, the terms, meanings and definitions surrounding service design were skewed and sometimes misleading to those stumbling upon this new business discipline.

This thesis provides a more in depth look at the different aspects surrounding service design, including what it is, how it is done, and examples of a few large companies which use service design in their daily business.

The research conducted was mainly from pieces of literature as well as email interviews with several handpicked service design companies, both in Finland and abroad.

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Also by a competitor website analysis which was done just before the thesis was started, which was done with Kolmas Persoona’s help.

The e-mail interviews were of both theoretical and practical use, aiding in advice on topics such as the difference between service design and design thinking, as well as how to grow a service design company.

The thesis writer gained a great deal of information in the area of service design and how to apply it to other works. As a result from this thesis, the customer, Kolmas Persoona, gained a great deal of new knowledge about service design and more ways to use and channel their creativity into a more human-centered experience, as well as how to possibly expand in the near future.


This thesis looked at the new discipline of service design including a description, the processes and how companies can use it within their work. The research focuses mainly on the Finnish and United States of America markets and was done through a mixture of literature reviews, interviews and by personal observation (ethnography) of the service design company, Kolmas Persoona.

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It was meant as an aid to help in today’s confusion about this new discipline of service design, trying to give a more meaningful definition than just opinions from those who use it. Due to this reason, it seemed more useable to divide it into two parts for this work, the first being a background on service design trying to gain a better idea on what it is and how it works and the second being a handbook describing how a few large companies are using it.

The results were favorable, however, since service design is so new, there is no one set definition to define it. It is merely characterized by many things in which it is not considered to be or things it could simply include. One can look at it as a holistic discipline of business, which is used to rethink how a company works, through the planning and organization of employees, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service, by utilizing user experiences and more empathetic situations. In the next few years, a more set definition will be created and used to describe service design in a more fulfilling manner.

The exploration began by defining what service and design meant, looking at elements of the marketing versus service mix and the different areas and ways in which design can be applied. It showed that while the marketing mix is still very important to services, three additional P’s (people, processes, and physical evidence) are needed to aid in the understanding of how services are developed, this is due to the fact that services are intangible objects. It continued by describing what a company can gain by incorporating service design into their business: innovation, growth and an enhancement in quality. Additionally it gave insight on what type a person one would be dealing with when working with a service designer.

The second half of the research was done by looking at a handful of select companies that utilize service design (Harley-Davidson, Inc., MRoom, KONE Corporation, and Caribou Coffee) and then giving tips on how to stay competitive in the global market. Both a service design look at one aspect of each company represented and also a strategy canvas against competitors were given to show their innovativeness.
Limitations were not as bad of a misshapen as what was initially thought. There is a lot of literature on service design, if you are willing to go through service design company blogs, newsletters, conference readings, etc. There were very few actual books, however, on the subject, but this was easily managed with the aid of seven (7) service designers: Reetta Keränen (Kolmas Persoona), Leo Kokkonen (Komia Design), Anna Kulonen (Kolmas Persoona), Mikko Kämäräinen (Provoke), Camilla Masala (Experientia), Tanja Verho (Kolmas Persoona), and Tom Wynne-Morgan (Engine Group). Many companies were unable to respond to interviews, due to the busy holiday season in December, but were nice enough to point to different reviews or other useful links when possible.

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Options for further work on this thesis would be conducting more interviews and company visits to service design companies within Finland and the other high competitor countries (UK, Germany and Sweden) during less busy times of the year. Also, a visit to the Köln International School of Design would aid in further research to gain a more hands on experience with how this discipline is being taught or a visit to the yearly Service Design Network Conference.

Furthermore, more look into the difference between service design and marketing could be conducted after service design ages and becomes more popular, to determine how they are connected if at all. A look to see if service design is in fact replacing marketing or merely fulfilling it, or if it will simply be a new discipline of business and work side-by-side with marketing and other areas of business. However, at this point in time, the only new research which could be made would be more ethnography of the service design companies, watching their every moves to get a better picture on what happens when dealing with client companies and seeing how close it works with marketing.

Lastly for a service design company to succeed they need to take chances and even fail at times. If something does not work the way it should the first time, try a new way to conquer the problem. The only true way to fail is by not doing anything at all.


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