Some first insights on service design

Based on one of the tracks at the DMI academic conference in Paris this April, the latest issue of the Design Management Review (which is a special issue on service design) ,and an earlier hunch on the relevance of BDI to service design and vice versa, I will share with you some of the insights I have on service design in relationship to the ‘traditional’ design disciplines (which I categorize according to Olins in Product, Environment, Communication and Behaviour, because it works really well for me).

Where the ‘traditional’ design disciplines are geared towards creating individual touch points, service design seems to focus on integrating these into a complete and meaningful consumer journey. Therefore it is tempting to say that service design is just another word for multidisciplinary design. Tempting but unsatisfying: Somehow it seems to me that the added value of service design lies more in what happens between the design disciplines than within them. It looks at the connections rather than what gets connected, at the white space between the words (the people from live|work confirm this view judging from their contribution to DMR).

At the same time however, I’ve noticed how familiar the tools and methods applied for service design are to those involved in integrated multidisciplinary design management. This suggests that a significant part of the effort of creating meaningful and profitable service models lie in creating the consumer touch points that make the service tangible. These touch points have to be designed, and thus require the ‘familiar’ research/ design/ execution tools and methods. I’ve also gathered from the Design Management Review that many of the leaders in the field have a product- or interaction design background.

This little insight left me wondering what specific methods and tools there are within the domain of service design to connect the touch points. What is the white space between the words? At Zilver have started to prototype our own answers to this question. What we have developed is an alternative to the traditional brand touch point wheel (Davis and Dunn, 2002), or rather, something that comes before it. We’ve baptised it the relationship wheel. It tries to uncover the relationship between your organisation and specific types of end users by looking at how specific kinds of relationships are built over time. We don’t look at pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase, but at getting acquainted with each other, becoming familiar with each other, spending time together, getting to know each other, challenging each other, celebrating together etc. These phases in the relationship are then translated into opportunities for interaction and accompanying touch points.

relationships grow over time, photo by john&mel kots

It is clear that what connects the touch points in this model is the evolving relationship between organisation and end user. This relationship, on a fundamental level, is the brand. The specific consumer journey represents the execution of the brand for that specific product/service/consumer. This puts the brand in a place where it connects the touch points, and forms the white space between the words, whether it concerns a product or a service experience.

4 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. Christina Madsen

    Dear Erik Roscam Abbing,

    I am a Master student at Copenhagen Business School doing my dissertation in the area of brands, innovation and experiences. Currently I am in the phase of searching as much literature as possible on this topic. A preliminary idea is to look into Volkswagen’s Autostadt as Experiential Marketing and look into brand touch points. I have found your research proposal on the internet ‘Brand Driven Innovation (2005)’ and I am very interested in the outcome. On this page ( you refer to an alternative to the traditional Brand Touch Point Wheel by Davis & Dunn (2002) is it possible to receive more information about your research?

    I look forward to your reply.

    Best regards

    Christina Madsen

    Ph: 0045 20229597

    Aug 25, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

  2. erik roscam abbing

    hi christina,

    thanks for your interest in my work. Your plan to look into volkswagen’s Autostadt sounds sensible, except what I (as a product geek) would miss is the actual product touch points that would follow from that. Unless off course volkswagen has found a way to use the insights they gather from their visitors and use them for product innovation and design.

    You can download my latest article for the DMI Academic conference in Paris this year at:

    I will send you my ideas on an alternative to Davis and dunn’s touchpoint wheel by mail.

    Good luck with your studies!!

    Oct 06, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  3. Qin

    Hi Erik,

    got to this blog via Ralf (thanks Ralf!) and I find these insights really interesting. I remember discussing where we should position branding in service design management at the early stage of my PhD research with my supervisors, but did we find it difficult! The relationship between branding and innovation itself is a big topic and hard to define… yet, I wonder what is your comments on experiential branding and all that stuff :)

    I found it really fresh to see some reflections from a different, yet related, background… anyway, keep good insights coming!

    I will be following 😉


    Feb 02, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

  4. Volkswagen

    Great thanks
    Cool blog :)

    Jul 23, 2009 @ 2:25 pm


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this is Erik Roscam Abbing's blog on topics relating to the synergy between branding, innovation and design. Erik is a consultant (, teacher (, and frequent speaker on the topic of Brand Driven Innovation. He is also the author of the book by the same title, to appear in autumn 2010 at For inquiries, contact erik at erik at
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