Skip to main content

How do I become a service designer?

Published on 05 Sep, 2023 by Suzan Martens

The road to becoming a service designer is covered with diverse experiences, skills and backgrounds. We gathered some inspiring stories from colleagues who share how they got introduced to service design. We also share some skills that service designers have in common and tips on how to develop these skills to get started as a service designer.

To all (future) service designers, welcome!

To all user researchers, experience designers, service experience strategists, customer-centric designers, user architects, experience strategists, human-centric innovators… also welcome!

In your current job, do you ever think "surely we can make this easier for an end user”? Congratulations, you are already thinking like a service designer!

As a service designer, you research the needs and expectations of an end user - a person who uses a service. You try to tailor the service as much as possible to the needs of that end user. You look for solutions in collaboration with both the service employees and the end users.

But how do you go about applying that co-creative approach and human-centered way of thinking that service designers possess? Now that you've found this blog, you're probably hoping for a magic ready-made roadmap to put yourself on the map as a service designer.

No wrong door

The bad news: that magic roadmap doesn't exist. The good news is that you can take numerous career paths to the role of service designer. So the chances of going down a "wrong" path are very slim.

The road to becoming a service designer is covered with diverse experiences, skills and backgrounds. In a world where traditional career paths are increasingly giving way to winding journeys, we've collected some inspiring stories from colleagues. They share how they became infected with the service design virus. These testimonials illustrate that there is more than one path to becoming a service designer and that the versatility of backgrounds and experiences actually adds to the richness of our fascinating field.

From HR transformation consultant to service designer

Anouk has a background in psychology and worked for several years for a company that develops software for HR employees. She worked there on change management projects but soon noticed that she wanted to involve end users more closely and felt the need to work bottom-up. She took an online UX course on her own. A colleague informed her about Knight Moves: the type of clients and the co-creative approach immediately appealed to her.

User research is what I find most exciting about my job. Just like during a conversation with the therapist, I try to dig deeper into a particular topic. If you can put yourself in the shoes of others by demonstrating empathy and being aware of your own assumptions, there is a solid foundation to take on a role as a service designer.
Anouk; service designer and researcher at Knight Moves

From having his own design studio to becoming a service designer

Jeroen started his journey with an education in product design, where he developed a vague idea about involving users in design, unaware that this would be the starting point for a career in service design. However, he inserted a way station by starting his own design firm, with a focus on aesthetics. After several years, it was time for a new focus and he started as a junior consultant with human-centered design. He eventually found his niche as a service designer, where he can combine several skills.

A role in service design allows me to combine my various strengths: bringing together the user’s point of view, the technical perspective and the marketing perspective.
Jeroen; service & strategy designer at Knight Moves

From guiding migrants to service designer

After studying social and economic sciences, Suzan wanted to create a social impact in her professional career by giving vulnerable groups more opportunities. She guided migrants in their integration process and evolved to a position where she did policy preparation work for a government department. She came across the principles of service design by chance through an internal job change. As an in-house service designer, she allowed individuals with disabilities to experience better government services. After some time, she wanted to broaden her horizons by surrounding herself with other service designers and applying service design to more diverse audiences.

Nothing more interesting than trying to observe the gesticulation of passersby from a terrace. Reading people, understanding their needs, observing what pleases and irritates people. Applying what you enjoy in your spare time in your job, who wouldn't sign up for that?
Suzan; service designer and researcher at Knight Moves

From a love of the word to a role as service designer

In her communication management course, Jade learned a number of research techniques, such as interviews and focus groups. Little did she know that she would later apply these methodologies frequently in the field of Service Design, until she ended up at Knight Moves for an internship. She finds it crucial to go a step further than doing mere user research. In fact, Jade's true passion lies in facilitating co-creative workshops where plenty of new ideas emerge. She stresses the importance of being able to humble yourself with the customer while still demonstrating sufficient expertise and assessing the behavior of both user and customer, and then adjusting your own behavior and communication accordingly.

Being flexible enough to be able to change gears in a timely manner is very important when working for clients. In addition, you must be careful not to fall in love with your own ideas, but work out the idea that forms the best match between user and customer.
Jade; service designer and researcher at Knight Moves

Indispensable skills of a successful service designer

It may have already dawned on you that you don't have to have a specific degree to become a service designer. Especially when you combine different backgrounds you get a rich mix of perspectives that lead to innovative and holistic solutions. Nevertheless, we can identify some common skills among our service designers.

Judge your judgment

As a service designer, you work for and with people, so empathy is crucial. You must be able to put yourself in the shoes of the end user. It is important to recognize your own biases and how they can influence your interpretation. This awareness helps you to remain objective and empathetic without imposing your own beliefs. Take the time to really listen to what users are saying. Ask open-ended questions and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings. This will help you gain deeper insight into their needs and perspectives.

Do you see the big picture

The ability to connect the dots is critical. You must be able to distinguish main and secondary issues, discover patterns and cluster and prioritize information. This is how you know which are the most important problems, needs or opportunities, and then you use these insights to guide your design decisions. By using visual aids, you convey information in an understandable way.

Two ears and 1 mouth

Being communicatively strong is an indispensable skill for service designers. Understanding the needs of the customer, the user, the workshop participant, requires you to ask the right questions. When you ask open-ended questions during interviews or workshops, you encourage the other person to share their thoughts and feelings. But active listening is perhaps even more important than asking questions. You show respect for the interviewee, it helps to build trust and it reduces the risk of misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

In addition, storytelling is a powerful tool for communicating the purpose and impact of your ideas. It allows you to build a bridge between complex concepts and stakeholders and brings designs to life in the minds of the audience. The emotional connection you create helps you convey the relevance of a design.

Be the glue

Another important aspect of service design is connecting different silos. You often work with people with different backgrounds and expertise. It starts with communicating transparently and proactively with all actors involved and letting them know what the goal is and how their expertise contributes to the bigger picture. Developing a shared vision and language that all parties understand leads to creating a common purpose that unites everyone and provides direction. Connecting silos is not a one-time task, but an ongoing effort. It requires patience to bridge differences to ultimately achieve holistic design solutions.

Where do I put my mark?

Service design is a dynamic and multifaceted field where different skills and specializations come together. Besides some general basic skills needed to be a strong service designer, everyone puts their own emphasis depending on their interests and strengths.

We asked some colleagues where they place that emphasis.

Visualizing: stimulates and memorizes

"By translating things into a visual concept, you can better communicate about the end result and insights will be better memorized. It is also important that methodologies (such as personas, journeys) can continue to be used by the customer. We lower that threshold by making this visually attractive or displaying concepts in a clear presentation."

- Amber, Maria, Kathelijne; service designers at Knight Moves

Strategic service design reveals the broader ecosystem

"As a service designer, you look at the user experience as a whole across different touch points. Being able to capture and shape the broader picture is a logical step: the needs of the organization, the interaction between partners within the ecosystem, the impact of changing beliefs and habits.... Our service design competencies can help tackle complex problems, make abstract issues concrete and, above all, turn ideas into concrete experiments."

- Yalenka; service designer at Knight Moves

Applying behavioral science to create intuitive user experiences

"People are not at all as rational as they sometimes think they are. They are driven by emotions like fear and greed and by the social context. When taking psychological insights into account as a service designer, you develop strategies that subtly guide choices and user behavior. The result is that you encourage positive behavior change and increase the effectiveness of services."

- Lien, Suzan; service designers at Knight Moves

Training and coaching are a necessity for sustainable success

"In every Service Design process, we hope that the impact continues to grow after our last session. For me, training and coaching are therefore the perfect tools to make projects more sustainable. Participants put the service design methods and tools to their own use, to continue to build people-centric solutions even after the end of our project."

- Karen; service designer at Knight Moves

How do I build my service design career today?

With these tips, you can start working today to further develop the basic skills a service designer needs through self-development, training, your current job experience or leisure projects.

  • Tip 1: Ask yourself the why question more often in conversations. Delve into your conversation partner's emotions: ask yourself why they feel the way they do. What underlying factors are there that you may not yet understand? This approach will awaken your empathy.

  • Tip 2: Bring back your inner child: remember when life was simpler and every problem had a magical solution? Dare to think playfully again. Build that Lego prototype and brainstorm with colored pencils and let your imagination run wild.

  • Tip 3: Find out what your interlocutor's needs are with the LSD technique (Listening - Summarizing - Dig deeper). Listen actively, without interruptions or opinions. Summarize what you heard, identifying the core message. Then dig deeper to clarify ambiguities. You can also discover hidden motivations and needs this way.

  • Tip 4: Facilitate and encourage open communication. Use icebreakers in workshops or meetings to get off to a relaxed start and find out about expectations. Ensure that diverse voices are heard, for example, by alternating group and individual brainstorming sessions. Also encourage the sharing of ideas without restrictions and end the meeting with a check-out where key lessons are shared.

  • Tip 5: Presenting results of a study? Bring them to life with visualizations from an end-user's perspective. Emphasize the joyful and difficult moments and avoid a dry enumeration of facts. Guaranteed that your message will stick and your audience will feel an emotional connection with the end user.