Service Design: The Overlooked Part of User Experience

Walking through IKEA over the weekend with two young children was a healthy reminder of what contributes to an ideal customer experience: innovative product design and thoughtful service design. IKEA covers product design with innovative home furnishings that are cost effective. Providing this outstanding product experience is only made complete by wrapping an amazing service experience around it.

Service Design of IKEA

What made our weekend visit great was not the design of the products but rather the design of the service. When done properly, service design creates a consistent experience across the touch points where the organization and customer intersect. There were four key aspects that worked well:

Connection of website to store experience

My wife and I were able to browse the website to find the exact products we wanted to see in the store. The product information included where in the store we could look at the item, down to the specific aisle and bin where we could collect the item.

website tells you specific aisle and bin number of a product

Store maps and bags

Providing maps, pencils and giant shopping bags on entry to the store provided us with tools to plan our journey through the store, and the bags made impulse buying very easy.

there are maps of the entire store so you won’t ever get lost

giant shopping bags for everybody

In-store cafeteria

The very inexpensive meals in IKEA’s famous cafeteria allowed us to fill the kids’ stomachs and keep them happy as we plotted our journey through the store.

a restaurant and café so you can shop and eat


The ability to quickly checkout through a fast moving line meant that the majority of our visits to IKEA was spent with the products and not waiting in line.

self-checkout lanes so you can get in and out fast

The above aspects were all part of an overall service design that helped provide a good customer experience and improve sales. Service design is every bit as important to customer purchases as the products themselves. IKEA’s ecosystem empowered us to shop in ways that were comfortable to us.

Just as the user experience industry has moved from usability to the broader field of user experience, service design will start to gain more attention over product design. With increasing market competition, the ability to differentiate yourself in a way that is not easily replicated becomes more difficult. Designing both the product and service experience together is a key strategy in differentiating your organization.

Shifting to a holistic approach for user experience is a challenging task and can often go against the existing structures of an organization. But the combination of product and service is the only way the customer can experience a complete business.

Organizations must overcome resistant departmental structures that can make it difficult for them to think this way. As UX practitioners, we should focus on creating both product and service experiences that are so memorable that they leave an everlasting mark in customers’ minds.

UI Design Kit


elegant wordpress themes

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Daniel Wu Reply

    Totally agree on your points, and recently found this book which is along the same lines what you described:

    I’ve an industrial design background and current have brought the user experience element into service based organizations. The closest concept of user experience is customer experience and voice of the customer. There’s alot that UX can bring to this area and this is only the beginning.

    • Shailesh Manga Reply

      Glad to hear that you are seeing this opportunity for organizations as well! Thanks for the book recommendation, I will certainly look it up.

    • Nk Reply

      That book is a good read, indeed. Consider that even beyond the customer experience, service design also takes into account the back-end processes of the service and even the interaction the actors (employees, associates, etc. who “act out” the service) have with the service as well. Your well laid customer experience only goes so far if your service actors are miserable or don’t have to tools to provide great service.

  2. Kevin Hollingsworth Reply

    I agree with all of your points of what makes up a good UX experience, but I disagree that IKEA embodies them.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve meandered through IKEA only to get to the bins and see that what I wanted isn’t there.

    I’ve had IKEA reps lie to me that something was out of stock but it would be back in a matter of weeks only to be told upon my return that it would be back in months.

    The food is convenient, but gave me stomach problems.

    The checkout process at the IKEA I’ve been to is annoying. There are usually long lines, then your are prevented from taking your shopping cart to your car. Someone who will guard your stuff gives you a number, then you go drive your car from the parking lot to the loading area, give your number back to the same gentleman, and so on. Ugh.

    This doesn’t even cover products with missing parts. Or the flimsiness of some of their components.

    I avoid going to IKEA if I can.

    • Shailesh Manga Reply

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I certainly can’t disagree with what you experienced just as much as you can’t disagree with what I experienced. My key points, which I am glad align with your thinking, are what I really wanted to communicate to people and my recent IKEA experience helped me communicate those points.

      I am sure that there are plenty of experiences that people have at IKEA that aren’t ideal but isn’t it great that they think about this stuff and get it right some of the time?

      Service design is not a very easy thing to do and it takes commitment over time. I hope that IKEA continues to progress some of this good thinking.

      IKEA aside, I am sure you have some good experiences of your own that could demonstrate these points.

  3. Carl Myhill Reply

    Hi Shailesh,

    I dream of an IKEA like the one you describe but I wonder what you would think of a trip to the Wembley store in North London.

    It certainly does at least have the commendable focus on making the place kid friendly but the other similarities with your article stop there.

    The London store is so busy that the carpark is full most of the time. About the only place to park is atop the multi-story. Not the best for buying furniture.

    Selecting the right combination of parts for a kitchen cupboard is surprisingly troublesome (did you need the 120 degree hinges or those other angled ones) and you need to hunt down an illusive member of staff to help you with the Bill of Materials before your quest really begins down in the swamp (warehouse).

    Let’s assume you find what you want in reasonable time and heft it onto a trolley amid hundreds of people who could care less that you are having a hard time shifting something THAT BIG on a trolley.

    You approach the checkout. There are massive queues. Sirens constantly blare because the alarms on the barriers near the checkouts are triggered by people pushing through. On my last visit, I was standing next to an alarm for 30 minutes before I insisted that someone do something about it. The guy at the checkout reached over and pulled the barrier shut – the alarm stopped. He had apparently been conditioned to not care that an alarm was blaring in his ears all day. I was more annoyed by this – if it was so easy to stop the noise why were we being subjected to it. With one alarm stopped I simply had to endure the cacophony of noise from the alarms of the other checkouts for another 30 minutes in the queue before I get served and can try to move this wardrobe up to the top floor of the multi story car park and then hit London’s inner ring road, the laid back North Circular, for about an hour before the battle with the new furniture (and usual dismay at having picked one of the wrong parts amid all the stress) ensues.

    IKEA is great at some level. Nice furniture at nice prices but I’d be very keen to do an experiment. You come to my house, borrow my kids and go buy a wardrobe from my local IKEA. I think you’d struggle to find an experience closer to going to HELL. Out of interest, where is the IKEA you are talking about?


    • Shailesh Manga Reply

      Hi Carl,

      Thanks for your comments.

      You certainly painted a vivid picture of a stressful trip to IKEA in London. Fortunately my closest store in Bolingbrook Illinois (USA) didn’t quite have the same issues but I am sure there are some horror stories from other people that visit the same store.

      IKEA may not provide a great experience for everyone but it is good to see them experimenting here.

      One thing that a couple of the comments illustrate is how the overall experience from IKEA on a single visit can have such a significant impact on customers and whether they would return. I hope more organizations start understanding the impact and put more focus on this area.

  4. Alex Reply

    Have to agree with those having ugly experiences at IKEA. I dread having to go there and do always find it amusing when the brand itself is held up as a bastion of great design and experience. Not to take away from the success of it as a business, but if I never went to another one again, I wouldn’t be sad.

    But, also as other have said, I liked the principles you mention, they are just undermined a little because many of us have a comparison immediately available.

    Also in terms of service design, did you buy anything from IKEA that required assembly – in my experience the instructions provided with furniture, for example, demonstrate that their service design is not end to end. 😉

  5. Linda Reply

    I also agree with your comments about service design, but like a lot of the others here, I dread shopping at IKEA. They’ve obviously given a lot of thought to their processes, but even so, it seems impersonal. I always have the strong feeling that I’m being manipulated. Getting caught up in the pathway through the store is a nightmare, and I get completely disorientated and can’t find my way out (which is probably what they want).

    I know that, many years ago, when it first opened here in Australia, it was a fantastic experience – not too crowded and so filled with amazing things I hadn’t seen before. Now that I can see what I want online, and plan to just run in and buy it (after hunting for and paying for parking), I find I get in there and can’t get out!

    I seem to be using this as a chance to rant against IKEA! Sorry. You are right that they have at least given the experience a lot of thought, and have some good ideas, I just don’t think that it works for the customer as well as it used to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *