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Service design: Revamping movement for 21st century travel

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Category: Insight & Vision
Published: 03/03/2017

The future of transport is bright. With everything from driverless cars to mobility as a service on the horizon, old-fashioned, unconnected modes of transport are but a distant memory in most cities. But one of the most important elements of making mobility services as seamless, effective and enjoyable as possible is something you may never have heard of until now: service design.

Hold on, what’s service design?

Though the concept of service design is not complex, defining it seems to be; which is why service experience designer Megan Miller was forced to crowdsource a definition in 2015.

After multiple interpretations, Miller opted for the following: “Service design helps organisations see their services from a customer perspective. It is an approach to designing services that balances the needs of the customer with the needs of the business, aiming to create seamless and quality service experiences.”

Heather Martin, vice president of design at Smart Design, offers a more digested overview. It’s “the design of services: things that people use”, she says, adding: “Good service design will successfully address the needs of the user of a service, the provider of a service and have a positive impact on the world around it.”

Isn’t design supposed to be about making things beautiful?

According to Birgit Mager, president of the Service Design Network, the answer is yes.

“Most people see design as the way to make things more beautiful and work in a better and more pleasurable way and that’s what service design does for services,” she explains.

“We try to make services better in a more useful, more usable, more desirable way from the user’s perspective, and more efficient from the provider’s perspective. It’s really about creating value.”

But why is it so important?

Essentially, if potential consumers don’t understand how to use a product, they won’t. Concentrating on the consumer, according to destination marketing strategist William Bakker, is key to creating “relevant, meaningful, valuable and positive experiences”.

“Service design is a methodology and a set of tools that allows you to create products and services in a way that focuses on the end-user,” he says.

“If someone doesn’t know what to do on a website, they won’t be able to buy anything. Service design is using very similar thinking and applying it to the real world … delivering a quality end-to-end destination experience is key.”

How will service design change the way we travel in the future?

According to transport experts, efficient service design will help us to become more multimodal in the way we move around. Dr Tim Schwanen, director of the transport studies unit at the University of Oxford, says good service design is “not about simply speeding up systems and making them as efficient as possible”, but about adding value to journeys.

“In the future, good service design will mean that the types of mobility where people will have to switch from one system to another – like from local bus services to the train – will become more attractive and easier to use,” he says.

“It’s not about getting as many people as efficiently from A to B, but about making sure that people can actually do something with that time they spend on the vehicle that has value, whether working, reading or chatting. It’s thinking about the intrinsic value in the time we spend travelling.”

In essence, adds Bakker, effective service design should make travelling more seamless and pleasant, and deliver experiences that are “easier and more memorable”.

So how can we make our experiences with mobility more noteworthy?

in flight entertainment service design

According to Ben Logan, director of service design agency Spotless, it all relates to the shift from a product-led world towards a service-led one.

“The focus may become more around the car as a second living room and entertainment space, and less about the actual experience of driving a vehicle”.

“Travel-related services will be available everywhere and anytime as they move towards being on demand,” he says. “If we look at how the airline industry has evolved, it’s moved from just a method of transportation to one that focuses on customer experience and areas like in flight entertainment.

“As the momentum builds around autonomous vehicles, the focus may become more around the car as a second living room and entertainment space, and less about the actual experience of driving a vehicle.”

How will service design help us lead a more modern life?

As we move towards a more personalised world, transport will be no different: service design in mobility services will also capitalise on this modern need.

“Service design will create a richer travelling experience and be an enabler for a more efficient use of your time,” says Phil Eyler, executive vice president at Harman

“An emphasis on service design can mean a better experience for every occupant with a focus on personalisation. Whether it is in your own car or shared public transport, technology can deliver personalisation we increasingly want, as well as making the most of our precious time.”

“Service design will create a richer travelling experience and be an enabler for a more efficient use of your time.”

Phil Eyler, executive vice president at Harman

Should service design be about technology or about people?

According to the experts, good service design, while of course reliant on technology, has to focus just as much on the people using the services as the latest scientific developments.

“At the moment, I feel the biggest risk is that people believe IT will solve everything,” says Schwanen. “I don’t think that’s enough. It’s an important part but it’s part of the bigger picture.”

Mager agrees: “Of course there are a lot of technological developments happening, like e-mobility and self-steering cars, but I hope service design will be centred by the needs of people and not only driven by what technology can do.”

Will service design also impact positively on the environment?

According to Martin, as service design progresses, the landscape of travel will progress, which will translate to more eco-friendly systems.

“In the future, we will see services that prioritise commuters’ needs over the demands of the transportation systems that carry them, and we will see services that address travel and environmental problems,” she says.

“Hopefully services will be more personalised, more convenient, easier to use, more environmentally friendly and take both the users and the providers’ needs into account.”

Companies that are breaking new grounds with service design:

  • Going beyond providing Wi-Fi and free movies onboard, Virgin America partnered with Netflix, Spotify and the New York Times for in-flight entertainment with the wow factor
  • There have been an influx of startups in recent years working on smart parking apps to reduce congestion in cities and make finding that elusive spot so much easier
  • Transport for London created a fault-reporting app to allow station staff to capture images of broken areas, upload them directly to the app and automatically trigger a maintenance call, which in a year saved an estimated 20,000 people hours
  • Uber’s latest app addition, Uber Feed, aims to educate riders about their journey and make the car ride itself more engaging
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has turned to Facebook’s chat app Messenger as a new line of communication with flyers
  • Eurotunnel redesigned their booking procedure after testing found that users were confused by the tariffs on offer, adding persuasive techniques to the package selection as well as introducing a new set of simpler packages displayed in a clearer way.