How to run a Service Design Workshop?

In this article, I’ll be speaking about how to run a service design workshop and a few tips and tricks to make it successful. You can read about the concept of service design and why you should practice service design here.

Hari Nallan

There are a plenty of frameworks and thoughts on the world wide web on this subject and this is what I find most credible:

In a few markets such as Europe, Service Design is analogous to User Experience design and these two are used interchangeably, where as in certain others, they are both different set of practices. I come from the belief that UX is different from Service Design and if I have to put them in a hierarchy, UX is a subset of Service Design. My rationale is that while UX is about the User, Service Design is about the Service: that includes actors and players (in addition to the users), touch points, processes, technologies and channels.

Service Design is a human centric way of organising service oriented businesses… understanding this is at the core of what I’m going to discuss further. Service Design addresses many systemic level challenges and opportunities in a very simple to understand and execute framework. That means that Service Design integrates the entire organizational working in one comprehensive framework or a map… and in order to achieve success doing it, a workshop is a good starting point.


In my career spanning 15 years, I would have had the opportunity of conducting several workshops and I have rich learnings from each of those experiences. Let’s talk about those challenges that are specific to Service Design workshops and how to overcome them:

Creating a flat hierarchy:

As organizations grow in size, they end up verticalizing roles and with that comes hierarchy. In order for organizations to work in organised and predictable manner, hierarchy is important. However, the same hierarchy becomes impediment to innovation. Service Design workshops are meant to derive inputs from cross functional teams that may be represented by vertical heads. When we conduct a workshop where we need unbiased inputs from each of those vertical heads, we have to be a facilitator, moderator, observer and solutioner at the same time; and this is by no means easy. You need to start by creating a flat hierarchy which means that everyone in the room has their fair share of time and attention to contribute and each one is as equally important as the other. If this balance is not maintained, there is a very good chance that your entire workshop is coloured by the most opinionated and vocal people… resulting in a outcome that doesnt have company wide adoption.

Scheduling boundaries & timelines:

Since Service Design is by its very nature systemic, there is no topic under the Sun that isn’t related to our context. It is important to touch upon many important and unimportant topics, but it is equally important to set out boundaries. If we don’t, there is a very good chance that we may overshoot timelines. The biggest challenge overshooting scheduled time is that you may not get this time and attention from so many people, in one room ever again!

Consider a facilitating team:

You will need more than one person facilitating such a workshop, each with clear responsibilities. While you document flow on a word processor, you also need to ask relevant questions and provoke the audience. You need to moderate discussions and you also need to elaborate ideas on whiteboard… all these cannot be done by one person!

Documenting outcome:

The real value of workshop is in documenting its outcome and presenting it in a tangible form to its audience…. more often than not, the time between workshop facilitation and presenting documented outcome is going to be really short and that is the primary reason why you need to be very organised during workshop. As a general principle, discuss how you want to document and agree upon it before you conclude your workshop. Do not delay this decision or else you are up for an infinite loop.


Creating innovation:

Lets not forget that the primary reason we are here is because we want to innovate a service or a few aspects of that service using Service Design methodologies. Your Service Design blueprint has little or no value if it represents the service in its current form or even if the outcome is incremental in nature. An organisation’s leadership is not going to spend time with you if all you deliver at the end is something that their teams could have accomplished anyway. So, here’s the real challenge: Through your Service Design workshop, you are going to identify potential areas of innovation/ disruption, detail them in Service Design framework and elaborate them in your documentation.

Avoid dis-engagement:

Your participants are very likely workshop-novices; either they may not have attended something like this before, or they may have attended seminars or talk-shows in the guise of workshops. Your participants can get easily dis-engaged if you run continuous long sessions that are heavy on grey matter… and their dis-engagement is going to be your future problem. Hence I advice you to avoid dis-engagement at all costs. Look for the signs and propose interesting breaks to get them back to life.

Consider these tips for a smooth workshop flow:

  1. Don’t run these workshops sitting remotely.
  2. Invite one person from the participant group to co-facilitate.
  3. Break down your topics into smaller chunks.
  4. Introduce interesting break every hour. 
  5. Take a 15 min break every two hours.
  6. Use this to huddle with your co-facilitators and let the participants huddle too.
  7. Keep a schedule check after every session.
  8. While you plan, leave a 20% cushion for spill overs.
  9. Dress comfortably.
  10. After the day’s end, discuss how the day went and plan for the next day. 
  11. Take as many pictures as possible.

Do let me know your own unique experiences that may be valuable for the audience here. 
Here’s wishing you all an awesome workshop, next time around!

Hari Nallan

Hari Nallan

Founder and CEO of Think Design, a Design leader, Speaker and Educator. With a master's from NID and in the capacity of a founder, Hari has influenced, led and delivered several experience driven transformations across industries. As the CEO of Think Design, Hari is the architect of Think Design's approach and design centered practices and the company's strategic initiatives.


Share on

Was this Page helpful?

Suggested Read
Using White Space in Design: A Complete Guide
Suggested Read

Using White Space in Design: A Complete Guide

The Power of White Space in Design
Suggested Read

The Power of White Space in Design

14 Things To Keep In Mind When Designing For Wearables
Suggested Read

14 Things To Keep In Mind When Designing For Wearables

Services & Expertise

Sign Up for our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated with the latest insights in UX, CX, Data and Research.


Get in Touch

Embed page