Essential skills for service designers

Sarah Drummond
5 min readOct 27, 2022
A purple background with black circles and blobs sitting in horizontal lines

By far the most common question I’ve been asked throughout my career is ‘what makes a good service designer?’

Whilst there’s no perfect ‘mould’ a service designer should fit, there are some consistent skills that I and most organisations Ive worked with look for when recruiting service designers.

No one person should be expected to be good at everything, but as Lou mentioned in their blog post on ‘what is a service designer?’ all service designers need to have a balance of skills that both allows them to design services, and create the conditions for that service design to happen.

So, here’s the my wish-list when interviewing service designers;

1.Designing services

Understand the materials of a what makes a service

Overall, knowing how services are made and what influences them is important. I wrote about this in full stack service design to break down the various materials. This means being able to see and visualise services and communicate the edges of them for others to understand.

This also means being able to understand what’s broken and ways in which it can be fixed. The more experience someone has, the more quickly they can ascertain what the problem is and ways in which a service/organisation might need to respond.

Taking a user centered approach

  • Being able to identify who your users are and what they need from your service(s)
  • Being able to plan and conduct user research or working with user researchers to do this
  • Understanding the difference between user needs and the desires of the use
  • Championing user research and the need to focus on all users to your stakeholders
  • Ability to work in collaboration with people in co-designing services

Defining solutions

  • Reviewing all of the user needs, constraints, agreed outcomes and research you’ve found and creating simple elegant solutions to solve those problems
  • Absorbing large amounts of conflicting information and using it to produce simple designs

Prototyping and testing

  • You can generate multiple solutions to a problem and test them
  • Prototyping as a team activity, actively soliciting prototypes and testing with others
  • You can use a variety of methods of prototyping and choose the most appropriate ones
  • Prototyping in code is a bonus. A curiosity at least for ‘modern’ materials and an active interest in them

Technical perspective

  • Being aware of and responsive to changes in technology, adapting your approach accordingly
  • Understanding technical or delivery systems enough to be able to work with others to understand the effect your work will have on those designers
  • Being able to create prototypes in the technology your services are delivered in, or collaborate with people to do so

2. Creating the conditions for service design to happen

Agile working

Service Design is ‘live work’. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) be happening in a vacuum

  • Show experience of working in an agile iterative environment and use agile planning tools and methods.
  • Show how someone adapts and reflects on their planed work when the plan needs to change.

Assessing organisational problems

  • Reviewing the challenges your organisation faces when delivering services
  • Understanding the effects these challenges will have on the delivery of more user-centered services

Working with constraints

  • Identifying constraints to your work, including areas where those constraints can be challenged or removed

Getting buy-in for work

  • Understanding and negotiating organisational power structures
  • Creating a case for change based on user research and financial evidence
  • Negotiating approval structures to get work to happen

Leading stakeholders

  • Identifying your stakeholders and their needs
  • Creating plans for work that make the best use of stakeholder expertise and create and maintain buy-in
  • Supporting the education of your stakeholders in agile, user research and service design

Creating delivery strategies

  • Identifying the barriers to service delivery and defining what needs to be changed or put in place to deliver the services you’ve designed
  • Creating new organisational delivery and approval structures or ways of working to enable better service delivery on the future
  • Spotting common patterns in your work and the work of others and creating design patterns that can be re-used by others

3. Critical Analysis

Over and above all of these skills, I look for a sense of critical analysis when it comes to what you’re designing which for me means considering and caring for;

Inclusive design — ensuring your approach and designs are inclusive

Accessibility — ensuring your approach and designs are accessible

Understanding the consequences of your designs — ensuring your designs will be safe for people to use and that they seek to actively not harm the planet, and wherever possible, promote and bake in a regenerative approach

Purple background with black text that says Agile Service Design, masterclass, the school of good services

Lou and I have taken this wish-list of skills and experience and turned them into a packed three-day Agile Service Design course at the School of Good Services for people who are moving into service design, or want to build their expertise in the discipline.

What you’ll learn on our Agile Service Design course

You can read more about the course on the course page, but by the end of the three weeks, you’ll be able to:

  • Understand the discipline of Service Design and how to integrate the practice into agile service delivery, from discovery to live
  • Understand user research methods and put them into practice
  • Create a detailed user journey and set of user needs for your service
  • Prototype and scale your ideas into a real, working service
  • Understand the legal obligations of a service provider and how to work with standards
  • Understand how to continuously improve your service over time

The next course course starts on the 3rd November, and is every Thursday for 3 weeks and there are a few tickets left. After that, our next course will kick off on June 6th in 2023 and November 14th 2023



Sarah Drummond

Founder @wearesnook @dearestscotland @cycle_hack @mypolice | Service Designer + Boss | GOOD Magazine’s Top 100 influencers 2016|Google Democracy Fellowship 2011