It appears that brand builders have a powerful new process to help them build strong brand relationships. The design methodology called service design gives every indication of being a robust methodology for delivering high levels of brand value. In fact, as a method of value delivery it may be more effective than traditional brand practices based on communications and persuasion.
Service design and the evolution of brands
The service design approach meshes nicely with the process of how a brand creates customers. It also fits rather neatly into the final stage of the three-phase evolution of brands. In that model we see brands begin as marks, proprietary symbols originally branded on shipping casks. The second phase is an age of brands as media, where mass media advertising and messaging drove brand development. In the present era brands are emerging as a means, as strategic enablers that help customers (and companies) move to the next level in their planned growth.
Service design and “brands as a service”
As a design discipline, service design focuses on maximizing positive user experiences through high-value touchpoints. Brands use much the same methodology. In fact, we could design a brand as a service of value innovation, aimed to unlock more value than a product alone could provide. To be sure, every brand also needs a well-constructed identity and a command of relevant metaphors, but beyond that it’s largely a mutual value creation effort between company and customer. As a service the brand rolls up its sleeves to do meaningful work, delivering results customers can use.
The creative context of service design
At its most rudimentary levels, service design is about helping companies and organizations deliver better services. That’s valuable in itself, but conventional services are often conceived too narrowly, as little more than interactive tasks. They’re prosaic by intent, often because companies lack the vision to leverage them creatively (and strategically).
There’s no reason we can’t design services in a more creative context, in which new realms of expression and proactive behaviors open up to customers and to companies alike. We could define the service as a means of discovery. (It’s part of a shared brand journey.) A service (like a brand) is a collaboration in context. Reinvent the context. Shape it to enable the customer to be more, and to do more. Free it to deliver new layers of meaning in addition to those of its elementary functions.
Service design is more strategic than traditional brand myths and symbols
Because service design is customer-focused and results-oriented, it contains more strategic potential than traditional brand myths and symbols. Brands built on symbols, myths and stories are not strategic. They’re customer dead ends. Their usual goal is to end innovation and lock customers in place. In so doing, however, they often lock the company in the same corral, creating innovation advantages for competitors. In contrast, service design can easily incorporate strategic brand goals into its processes, advancing customers into new market spaces that competitors can’t reach.
A brand is how you experience a company
There is significant overlap between brands as enablers and the goals of service design. For instance, check out this interview with Peter Fossick, who teaches service design at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Everything is moving toward service design. Design is becoming more intangible, less about product and more about the experience of the product. Look at Vélib’, the bicycle rental program in Paris. The technology is ancient–it’s a bicycle, after all–but the program is so brilliant thanks to the service architecture. I’m not saying we’ll stop inventing new products. I’m just saying that designing the experience of the product is becoming just as fundamental as the product itself.
Include the experience of trust in a product offering and you are well on the way toward building a brand.
Service design: creating the customer platform
Professor Fossick also makes this interesting observation about Apple:
You know, Apple really had an enormously difficult time with hardware in the nineties and earlier this decade. They seemed to be focusing too much on product, without considering the product experience. Then–whop!–iTunes, really even more so than the iPod, changes all that. That’s not a music player. It’s a design of the user’s interaction with sound.
One might even argue that in spite of the vaunted product design ethos at Apple, the core of the Apple brand is the (software) service to customers that Apple delivers–first in the Mac OS, then iTunes and now with the iPhone and its wondrous apps. This enabling service creates a platform of customer experience that makes everything else possible.
Also see: Interaction design: the new key to brands
Hat tip: John Schneider (Twitter @johnfschneider)