Digital services, such as Google Maps and Foursquare, are a fast-growing part of our daily lives. These services can be beneficial and much loved, like Amazon Prime, but poorly designed services can revile, causing customers to terminate brand relationships.
So what is service design all about? At Fjord, we use service design to shape delightful experiences wherever people meet the products they use. Service design is about creating living entities that evolve and change over time. This is fundamentally different from other forms of design, which generally aim for permanency. Successful service design changes in three ways:
• In response to people’s evolving needs and expectations.
• According to feedback loops from users and related service systems.
• Natural growth and added functionality over time.
It’s not that the design of services is inherently better or more important than other forms of design. But it’s different. It’s more multidimensional, and it requires different skills and a different approach--because digital services are living entities, not static or one-off things.
Instead of getting stuck in industry jargon, we like to compare services to human relationships. After all, people’s relationships with services mirror their relationships with people. Users go through different stages of service engagement, and when service design is great, they have a long-lasting relationship of trust--they might even fall in love. It’s been proven through many studies that users’ relationships to their mobile phones (and the digital services that they use) can be as powerful as their relationships with people. They feel incomplete or cut off without their gadgets and services.
At Fjord, we aim to design services that people fall in love with. When you design for love, you have to design for the heart, for an emotional connection, rather than merely for the mind. When you appeal to the heart, you can usually create more value. Compare Alessi and Ikea dinnerware--the functional utility is similar, but people pay way more for Alessi objects that are designed with passion and for the heart. Or you can compare Manolo Blahnik shoes to Skechers--arguably Blahniks have worse utility, but people are still willing to foot the cost.
The same logic goes for digital solutions. In a recent post explaining why Facebook bought Instagram for a whopping $1 billion, GigaOm’s Om Malik put it this way: “People like Facebook. People use Facebook. People love Instagram. Facebook lacks soul. Instagram is all soul and emotion.”
When the iPhone first came out in 2007, it wasn’t the most feature-rich phone, and an over-burdened AT&T network made voice calling a real pain. However, the iPhone design and overall package was so good that people were effectively prepared to give up calling in order to have one--and pay very good money for the privilege.
At its best, digital service design helps create a strong bond between a company and its customers. Disjointed and impersonal solutions are a real turnoff, but delightful experiences can make people loyal and valuable advocates. At Fjord, we often talk about “the service as the marketing,” meaning that the most powerful marketing is the “Look at this!” or “Let me show you!” effect that well-designed and considered digital and mobile solutions can have in the real world. Investing in carefully crafted and well-packaged digital service experiences is probably a better investment than sinking money into traditional one-way marketing to create buzz about something that doesn’t buzz on its own.
Just like love in real life, falling in love with a service is something that happens gradually. Yes, love at first sight does exist, but it’s an exception, not the norm. Usually there are three stages of engagement with the service:
The matchmaking stage is about people discovering and understanding the service in the first place. Services must be designed so that they are easily discovered and understood. They have to feel real and relevant, by way of meeting real human needs. Importantly, there should be a strong “hook” or strong point of differentiation--the thing that people will mention to their friends. If you’ve done a good job designing for this first stage of engagement, you can hope for a user reaction like “aha!” This type of reaction indicates that they understand it, and could see how the service could be useful for them.
Fjord has collaborated with Foursquare, and the company offers a good example of how to do matchmaking the right way. It has a focused offering that is both social and approachable, and a playful personality that appeals to a diverse group of users. As a result, Foursquare has become the winner in its domain. With more than 20 million users and over 2 billion check-ins, the three-year-old business has clearly earned more “aha!” reactions than its direct competitors.
The dating stage is the first trial of the service, and it’s really important to reduce all barriers to usage in order to make it as easy as possible to get going. It’s also very important to appeal to the heart and make people really engage with the service. Gaming dynamics, social service components, and beauty can be very powerful at this stage. Great content, humor, and a winning personality are key. A successful design for the dating stage often results in the famous “wow!” reaction from the user.
When we worked with Citibank to design its iPad app, there was a clear focus on rethinking how to represent financial information on the tablet. The service makes it easy for Citi customers to visualize and understand their finances--a first for many users just getting started with online banking. It’s a true post-PC user experience, and the app succeeds in making Citi customers feel that their money is more tangible. Results show that during the first six weeks after the Citi iPad app’s release, the number of downloads was more than five times that of the number of Citi iPhone app downloads. And more than 5,000 Citi customers who had never created online or mobile user IDs signed up for the iPad app, suggesting that the tablet application had managed to woo users trying online banking for the first time. Citi has clearly done a good job in getting that “wow!” reaction that is fundamental to success during the dating stage.
The third and most powerful stage is true love. If you’ve designed a service that adds value and is meaningful over a long period, users will stay loyal and let the service become a life companion. Consistency and trust will be essential during this stage. Just like with a human companion, you want to be able to always rely on the service. As you trust the service with more of your content and more of your secrets over time, you should never have doubts about privacy or the true intentions of the service provider. An ability to fluidly use the service across platforms and locations will be important. But with multiple touchpoints and interactions, complexity is a real issue--both for people using the services, as well for companies that provide them. In digital, there’s a tendency for complexity to take root and grow like weeds in a garden. For service designers, the trick is to make complex systems simple and elegant. When users fall in love with a service, a typical reaction is “of course!”--an indication that the interaction feels intuitive and natural.
Fjord partnered with Qualcomm and the Prevention Plan to design Macaw, an app that turns your smartphone into a personal wellness monitor. The service takes a proactive approach to helping people understand and improve their health. Macaw turns a topic that could feel heavy and dry into the opposite--fun, engaging, social, and immediately understandable--through the use of clear visual information. The app effectively uses gaming dynamics and empowers people to take their health literally into their own hands. While some users may start with Macaw as a simple experiment via their mobile device, the app’s ability to make managing your health simple and accessible gives it the power to become a long-term and cherished service companion.
Just like any great romance, getting to that “of course!” reaction is never easy. But as anyone who has ever fallen in love can attest to, when it happens, it’s magic. The companies that design seductive digital services will ultimately be the ones that create the most successful and long-lasting bonds with their customers.