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Service design is not about decorating user interfaces – it’s a link between people and technology

The more digitalisation shapes our work and lives, the more critical a success factor human-centred service design becomes, Juha Kujala and Laura Raesmaa argue. 

According to an unfortunate yet common perception, business technology exists for business and technology. Many people think that modern business platforms are used solely because they can be used to build services that automate and streamline a company’s operations.  

Service design has gained ground in recent years, but perceptions of it may still be unclear. Service design may be seen as a kind of technological finishing touch to make services and their interfaces easy enough to use that at least an engineer can use them – after reading long and complex user manuals. It’s ultimately people who must adapt to technology and not the other way round, right? 

No. Business technology truly is there for people: a company’s employees and customers. Only then will it serve the company’s business in the most efficient way possible. 

Service design ensures that technology end-users have access to services and processes that benefit them and help them with their various needs. At the same time, it ensures that services and processes make the right use of the opportunities offered by technology. In human-centred service automation, people do not adapt to technology, but technology is used in the most efficient way to help people and boost business. 

A digital hamburger 

Whether it’s a new portal, a mobile app or even a digital workspace, there are three drivers behind the development of a new digital service.  

The end-user is the person for whose needs the service is created. The subscriber is the company or organisation that wants to use the service to improve the efficiency of its business processes. The third wheel is the business platform, which supplies the technological capabilities on which the service is built. Human-centred service design is based first and foremost on the integration of all of these three elements. 

Understanding the user and their needs ensures that the service is genuinely beneficial to the user and that the user experience is pleasant. This requires not only the right processes and methods to understand the user’s behaviour and underlying goals, but often also a psychological eye. In addition, it’s important to be familiar with the visual and functional environments of the digital world, for example, to which users are accustomed. For instance, no matter how exotically fresh an e-commerce site may look, an interface that is too strange may alienate customers and lead them to return to a familiar service from a competitor. 

It’s equally important for a service designer to understand the client’s business objectives, i.e., what kind of processes the service is intended to improve. A service will not contribute to the business if it’s too difficult to use, or if experts need help from other experts to use it. The result will be reduced rather than increased work efficiency. On the other hand, even a service that users love is of no use if it remains just a nice toy. 

Finally, the service designer must also understand the technology used. How can the business objectives be achieved on the platform in use? Is the full potential of the technology harnessed, or could the platform be used to deliver a service that would help the business and end-users even more effectively than you’ve outlined in the objectives? Can the service be seamlessly integrated with existing services? 

Designing a digital service is like putting together a digital hamburger. The bottom half of the bun represents the design of the service itself and the top half represents the design of the user interface and user experience. In between are two patties: the needs and goals of the user and the business. Every burger is different, but fortunately, the design methodologies and standards that help you put it together are global. 

AI highlights the importance of service design 

The more digitalisation shapes our work and everyday lives, the more important successful service design becomes for the well-being of people, businesses and even society. It’s about much more than decorating user interfaces. 

AI is making many business processes more efficient, including service design. At the same time, it makes human-centred service design a more critical success factor.  

The easier and faster it is to create new types of digital services, the more unnecessary services are created that do not benefit people or businesses. And the easier it gets to distinguish the services that bring together user needs, business objectives and technological opportunities.  

Read more: 

Is AI your friend or foe? How to avoid digital madness on your transformation journey 


Juha Kujala is CTO in Sofigate’s Platforms business. His professional passion is to drive organisations towards better services by leveraging the potential of new technologies. Juha has strong experience in the ServiceNow platform and service management. 

Laura Raesmaa is Head of Service Design in Sofigate’s Platforms business unit. 

She is also an active lecturer and spokesperson for design thinking and strategy. Laura’s work focuses on the end-users of services, business objectives and the opportunities offered by technology.