3 Books Every Service Designer Should Read

There are many books out there that can help you become a better service designer—and they’re probably not the books you’re thinking about!

To become a better service designer, you can’t just read the books about service design. Of course, it’s important to learn how to use all the different service design tools and methods, and become a really good craftsman.

But, that’s not enough to really stand out and create services that have an impact on people. I know it’s easy to get caught up in discussions about the nooks and crannies of service design and design thinking. The truth is, our clients don’t really care about that.

The big question is, do you want to be the person who’s great at creating customer journey maps?
Or, do you want to be the person who’s really good at solving business challenges through a design-driven and human-centered approach?

If it’s the last part, then I’ve got three books that I can really recommend you read.

The Experience Economy by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine

This book has changed my perspective on what it means to design services and what it means to design products.

I still use one of their key models in this book. It’s a progression of economic value, where they explain the differences between products and services from an economic offering perspective. That’s important—when we talk to clients, we have to show them how it’s quite different designing products versus designing services.

This book really helped me understand what we do as service designers and where our added value is from a business and economic offering perspective. This a classic a must-read for any service designer.

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action by Bob Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer

Ever gone through the design process and come up with great solutions that everybody agrees are valuable and should be pursued, but the company doesn’t act on them?

I think we’ve all been in this situation. It’s a common theme within the service design field. How do you turn ideas into action? How do you implement them?

If you want to understand why companies don’t act upon certain ideas and do act upon others, I recommend this book. This is a must-read for any service designer, because it helps us understand why companies do the things they do.

One thing that stuck with me from this book is that companies take action on those things that get measured, or “What gets measured, gets done.”

This has really impacted how I approach my design process and the conversations I have with my clients. From the start, I try to understand both how they measure success and how to incorporate this into my design. Here, they’ve identified drivers of company action on available knowledge and ideas.

So, if you if you want to increase the chance that your solutions actually see the light of day and get implemented, this book is vital as a service designer.

The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion by Annette Simmons

This book is about the art of storytelling.

The thing is, we’ve won projects and pitches through the way we’ve shared stories about those projects, not necessarily because we’ve scientifically proven they’ve impacted the bottom line or we’ve presented hard numbers.

We’ve been telling stories as humans for a lot longer than we’ve used statistics to share knowledge or persuade people. We as a service design community can benefit from understanding how stories work, how we can structure them, and how to find and collect them.

This book is great for that. It helps you really think in stories and see stories everywhere. This has influenced my practice as a service designer—we’re now incorporating storytelling in every aspect of our process, even before the project starts!

In the pitch toward a client, we think about which kinds of stories we’re going to tell throughout the project and how we’re going to share those that emerge. So, storytelling is woven into the way we practice service design at 31Volts.

We as a service design community have so many stories. Stories drive us, and they are everywhere. We just need to be more conscious of them, and learn how to share and tell them (and how to influence our clients through storytelling). There are many books on storytelling, but this one lays out the fundamentals service designers need.

Like I said in the beginning, it all comes down to this:

Do you want to be the very best at making customer journey maps? Or, the best at solving business challenges through a design-driven and human-centered approach, in the most effective and efficient way?

That depends, in part, on which kinds of books you’ll read!

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