Take a Service Safari

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Fancy mailbox in Quebec
Fancy mailbox in Quebec

It may be cold outside, but the weather’s perfect for a Service Safari. One way to get inspired for service design ideas is to experience good and bad services yourself. Get out of the house and into the wild. Explore everyday services in your neighborhood with the sharp eye of a service designer.

What to pack

Take a small camera, a small notebook and a pen. Keep it light.

Start the journey

Chances are, you’re surrounded by service. Mail a letter. Grab a bus or taxi. Order a coffee. Borrow a library book. Get a haircut. Use a public restroom. Pump gas.

An underwhelming bus stop in San Francisco
An underwhelming bus stop in San Francisco

Switch into “observer mode”

Pay attention to what you see and how you feel while experiencing your service. Snap pictures and scribble notes.

  • How does it begin?
  • How are you spoken to by the service provider?
  • Are you given anything to read?
  • Are you expected to guide yourself through the service?
  • What does payment feel like?
  • What happens if something goes wrong?
  • Is it personal or anonymous?
  • Does it make you feel good?
  • How does it end?
Public hygiene humor in Pittsburgh, PA
Public hygiene humor in Pittsburgh, PA

Moments of Truth

Pay attention to the smallest moments of your service experience. Has anyone taken special care to ensure that the service is pleasurable? Look for funny or well-crafted language on signs, packaging or receipts. Is there tangible service evidence? You may have received a freebie or souvenir like shampoo, food samples, or a punch card. Perhaps there was a bump in the road during your service journey. Did you get lost,  confused about what to do next, or felt that something was missing? Were you able to recover on your own? Did someone appear to help? How did your emotions change as you moved along from beginning to end?

Wayfinding with an environmental success story in Portland, Maine
Wayfinding with an environmental success story in Portland, Maine

Reflect and critique

You’ve just played the role of the customer. Now you’re a step closer to empathizing with the needs of your future potential customer. You may now realize that your contact with the customer isn’t limited to the few seconds or minutes you might spend with them face to face. Your customer could use guidance to learn about how to use your service, and may want follow-up care after the service is complete.

The customer is a person

The needs you felt that may have had nothing to do with the primary service. For example, was there a period of waiting? Was there somewhere to put your things, something to read or watch, or a cup of coffee to tide you over while you waited? Look at the artifacts your service produces: the menu, the signage, the packaging of a product. What sort of voice is being used to speak to your customer through those pieces of service evidence?


Learn more about Service Design and Service Safaris. Read This is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stickdorn and Jacob Schneider, 2010, BIS publishers.

Article and photographs by Jessamyn Miller. Boston Service Jam. Copyright 2014.


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