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Book Review: Service Design for Business (2015)

Posted January 5, 2016

Modern service design books are few and far between. There’s a deluge of books on UX and product design, but for those of us seeking to deepen and expand our knowledge of service design as it exists today, the options are more limited. It’s for this reason I was excited to pre-order a few months ago the latest entry into the service design library.

The book is called “Service Design for Business” by Ben Reason, Lavrans Løvlie, and Melvin Brand Flu, all from Live|Work, and was released December 14th, 2015. Løvlie and Reason had already collaborated on a previous service design book I owned, so I felt it was a reasonably safe bet to buy this book sight unseen.

The book arrived just before my Christmas vacation, and I resolved to finish it during that free time. This is my unbiased review. I was not given the book for free or had any contact with the authors. Just a genuine reaction to a book on a topic I’m passionate about.

The one sentence review.

I liked the book, found it valuable and educational, and I recommend reading it if you are a service design practitioner, beginner, or someone involved in the business aspect of an organization this is interested in service design – go buy it.


Straight to the Point Review Summary

I feel more knowledgeable and articulate after having read it, the latter being the most important part to me specifically. Why? Because a large part of my job for the foreseeable future is going to be articulating and translating it to others.

For this review to make sense, realize my personal take away: the value I found as a practitioner is that it will make me better as an evangelizer and teacher of service design in my organizations, which will then inspire and convince more people to buy in, which will then allow me and others to focus on customer experience via service design practice. And it’s that fact that excites me – I can reach countless more people as a strong voice and advocate than I can handing out books.

It is not a long book at 179 pages, and it is broken down into specific types of consistent section templates for each chapter, meaning you can always know the focus of what you’re reading; narrative, theory, application, etc. It doesn’t try to include lengthy case studies that can distract from the core narrative. It reads as a book by authors who weren’t afraid to “stick to one plot” and resist the urge to get fancy (as I reference later on). This is a good thing. It’s a book with a single narrative that leads you through it page-after-page without breaking the main focus or having to mentally put one type of idea on hold to take a detour into an aside.

Even as someone who has been studying this topic and has crunched these ideas in my mind for years now, I found myself highlighting nearly half of the content. The sentiment was “Yes, this is what I’ve been trying to say and translate to others, but couldn’t do it as well as this… but now I can!”


I give it a positive recommendation, and it will be my go-to for people who want to know what the first book they should read about service design is. If you’re interested in service design and customer experience, it won’t disappoint.

With that, continue reading if you want a review with more opinion and detail.

Audience Accessibility

As I was reading the book, I made a tweet about it being different than the other work by two of the authors, “Service Design: From Insight to Implementation.” In a tweet response from co-author Lavrans Løvlie, he said “Hoping to reach clients rather than practitioners with this one.”

What I found valuable in this book was that though it might be geared toward clients (as Livework is a service design agency), I still found it extremely relevant to me as an in-house, principal practitioner. In fact, this book articulated service design in theory in a very pragmatic, simple, and procedural manner.

But to make my point more clear; as I read the book on Christmas vacation, a relative who has never worked in design, technology, or anything remotely related to this domain that wanted to see what I was reading. He picked it up and read the intro and first few pages, and finally understood what I did for work at the highest level. In essence, you don’t need to be familiar with design thinking or customer experience at all. Maybe I’m confusing this with the new Star Wars that I saw 3 times over the same vacation… satisfies those like me who are super familiar with the universe, but still doesn’t require any prior knowledge to fully appreciate it as an introduction to an unfamiliar topic.

Given that, I believe that this book will hold tremendous value for three types of reader:

  1. Practicing service designers who don’t have the formal or experiential base to articulate, communicate, and translate the value and necessity of service design to a business minded audience as well as they would like to.
  2. People new to service design that want to work it into their practice and need a fundamental breakdown of the core tenets, beliefs, and theoretical applications – and how they manifest in the real world.
  3. Business folk who aren’t steeped in the design and customer experience world and want to get the “customer experience and service design in practice” introduction on a base, no frills level.

Simplified further, that is really two audiences. One is the “uninitiated who wants to know more,” which could mean beginner or curious executive. The other is the “initiated and wants more articulated knowledge,” which could be the practitioner or someone already customer experience minded and wants to sharpen their understanding.

Content Breakdown

The book has 5 chapters of content over 160 pages, and a 6th chapter that is a very short tools overview. It went

  1. Why Service Design?
  2. Foundations: Three Critical Factors in Service Design
  3. The Customer Story: Understanding Customers Better Provides the Basis for Customer-Driven Service Improvement and Innovation
  4. Business Impact: Designing a Service around Customers’ Needs Provides a New Way to Address Age-Old Business Challenges
  5. Organizational Challenge: Using Customer Centricity to Move Your Organization Forward
  6. Tools

I’ll keep the breakdown short. When I mention “highlights”, I mean literal highlights with a yellow marker. When I highlight something, it means I agree with it and need to remember it, explore it more, and write notes about what it meant to me for later study. I will end up typing a document that is just the highlights and page numbers as my final take away value.

Chapter 1: Why Service Design?
I highlighted probably half of the words here. It’s the introductory chapter and really nailed the core purpose of service design in a way that was very inspiring to me, and I think accessible to anyone who reads it. If you were going to convince a boss or executive to read anything, start with just having them read this. If they don’t get it from here, the rest of the book won’t help.

Chapter 2: Foundations: Three Critical Factors in Service Design
This chapter had a fair amount of highlights too. This chapter is shorter and mainly sets the tone for the authors taxonomy and how the rest of the book will be presented. It essentially codifies the authors collective understanding and packages it in a way to be used consistently throughout the book. If you’re looking for a “brand” of service design to use as a base for your own practical application, this is where you’ll find a place to start.

Chapter 3: The Customer Story: Understanding Customers Better Provides the Basis for Customer-Driven Service Improvement and Innovation
The first part of this chapter started the real meat of the book. It’s focused on experience excellence and the pitfalls of irritations and failures. This is where the practitioners live; right there inside the customer experience. However, the latter half of this chapter has less highlights. It talked about customer engagement, and then concept innovation, and that just strayed from what I wanted out of the book. For other readers, it might be exactly what they need.

Chapter 4: Business Impact: Designing a Service around Customers’ Needs Provides a New Way to Address Age-Old Business Challenges
Chapter 4 was the one that was highlighted the least. There were three core concepts: innovating new business concepts for non-digital businesses to become more digital, making higher performing customers, and designing for launch and adption. The first of this, becoming more digital, is the opposite of what I am trying to do in my work. I work in an all-digital realm, trying to become more “analog”. So migrating an analog service organization to being more digital didn’t help me much in the present.

The other aspect was achieving better customer performance. I understand this concept; it’s about helping your customers perform better throughout the service. If they are to sign up for something, helping your customer perform that task better means designing the service in a way that facilitates performance. It’s a sticky concept. It’s almost like if you were a coach of a sprinter, then the sprinter is your customer, and you wanted them to perform better, so you design your coaching service to facilitate that. It could be the topic of a whole book.

The launch and adoption part was interesting if you’re heavily focused on designing for services that are new to you and your customer. I found myself highlighting this part of the book the least. It was interesting and valuable, but not something I wanted to come back to given that most of my work is iterative right now and really focused on organizational change. Luckily, organizational change was the focus of the next chapter.

Chapter 5: Organizational Challenge: Using Customer Centricity to Move Your Organization Forward
Chapter 5 was the satisfying conclusion to the real content. As with chapter 3, this is where I highlighted the most. Organizational change is a critical concept with service design as so many organizations are new to it, if you can’t communicate and convince, you’ll go nowhere. And if you can’t rally and align, your efforts will die of starvation.

This chapter was all about structuring your organization to be customer centric, and how you can go about doing that. It’s a concept that needs to be understood since there’s no organization that is the same as the other, so each of us must take the theory and look to where we sit in the environment and gauge where we can, and can’t, have influence.

Comparison to “Insight to Implementation”

There aren’t a ton of popular service design books published in the last 5 years. And I suspect if you are reading (or thinking of reading) Service Design for Business you’ve read or are aware of another book by Ben Reason, Lavrans Løvlie, and Andy Polaine, called “Service Design: From Insight to Implementation.”

I own and have read this book. It’s a heavily illustrated, colorful book with lots of photos, sans-serif typography call-outs, and context shifts between narrative, case study, and instruction. You really need to know what they’re talking about to be able to understand it.

In contrast to that, Service Design for Business is printed in black and white, serif font, and only a handful of illustrations. No color, no typography flourishes, no photos (except a few at the very end). This is a brilliant approach. Cutting out the visual design of the content made it much quicker to read, sharp, and to the point. This is a metaphor for the content itself. You can read it and understand a plainer language that isn’t less sophisticated than the previous book.

A Great Place to Start, or a Great Place to Continue

I had to recommend one book to be the first book someone read about service design, it would be this one. One of the main benefits I can see for those reading this book is that it will give them a real clear view of where they need to start with their personal focus, as well as the focus of their business. It’s easy to take the information and say “here’s where I fall short, and here’s what I can do about it. Here’s where my organization falls short, and here’s what we can do about it.” Once these questions are answered, then further reading can be done on methods, techniques, processes, and so forth.

From my perspective, this is both a fantastic “square one” book, in addition to being a more advanced articulation for those who are well past square one. This sounds like a paradox, but the book acts as a for people at the start of their journey, as well as those who are farther down the path.

Like I said in the beginning, I recommend this book to anyone interested in service design, whether they are a beginner, experienced practitioner, or involved in the business and interested in become more customer experience focused.

If you want it, you can get it here: Want to talk about it (and other topics) with the service design community? Join the Slack and dive in to the conversation!

I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.

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