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Service design glossary

August 10, 2021

We all make assumptions, every day. One of the biggest ones we often make is that the people who are listening to us will understand the meaning of what we are saying. Sometimes this mutual clarity of understanding will be inconsequential, however sometimes it might actually matter. So let's take a little bit of time to get on the same page, reduce some communication errors and bring some more ease into our communication. A good first step on this journey will be to clarify the language we are using, and what it means.

Every community has a language that helps its members communicate, and the world of service design is no exception. People who work in service design often use a lot of unique and specific words and phrases. For example, journey mapping (or, jmapping), customer experience (or, cx), pain points, insights and "aha” moments. This language is important and allows us to communicate important ideas quickly, however in order for our communication to be effective between our users, ourselves and our community we feel the need for an agreed upon standard where everyone is on the same page.

So here we present for your reading pleasure, a service design glossary that includes our most commonly used service design terms and phrases. Each term has been paired with a meaning, as well as an example use case. This document is designed to be both a reference point for achieving a mutual clarity of understanding, while also being a resource in the service design community to anchor and agree on a common understanding for the language we are using.

Don't agree with how we have chosen to describe a certain term? Brilliant! Let's collaborate to find the true meaning behind the words we use on a daily basis.

What is the future of this glossary?

We want this glossary to be collaborative and continue to evolve, adding new terms and refine existing ones as our understanding grows. We would love this to be a collaborative resource that service designers around the world are able to interact with and work on together. So if there is anything missing or you would like to add, please follow this link to our Miro board which you can modify!



Example in Context


A typical example of a person or thing (not to be confused with Stereotype)

When they were talking to the man they realized he was the archetype  of the type of person who shopped at their store.

“AHA” Moment

The moment a customer has an important insight or realization about a subject

It was an AHA moment  when she realized her customers couldn't even find her shop using google.

Backstage Process

Actions that are taken within an organization to deliver a service that a customer is unaware of and unable to observe.

By improving our backstage processes we are able to significantly improve our efficiency


Channels are different mediums  in which a customer has an interaction with an organization or brand

The bank was trying to engage with people on one channel  (by mail) when they should have been using something completely different (a mobile phone).


A describable vision of an experience happening in the present

The current state  is that the customer is angry that they have no effective method of having their voice heard on the platform


A person who purchases services through products, skills or a combination of both.  

It is very important to understand the different needs of a given customer  so we are able to provide them with the right help

Customer Experience (CX)

The sum of all experiences a customer has regarding a certain topic, product, or brand.

Being ignored by the receptionist for a long time led to many instances of bad customer experience

Customer Journey

A series of actions that a customer undertakes in order to achieve a certain experience

We can view a customer journey  at different levels of detail. On a macro-level this could be going on a family holiday, on a micro-level it could be as detailed as checking their bags at the airport.

Customer Segment

A group of people with a shared need that an organization identifies as it's core target groups for service delivery

Which customer segment the company decided they would focus on determined the strategic focus of different activities.

Design Thinking

Alternative suggestion: An iterative process to innovate physical or digital products or services based on co-creation along the core activities of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.

(usually used synonymously with service design or design thinking)

Design Thinking  has become a popular approach that organizations have adopted to help them solve customer experience challenges they are facing .

Dramatic Arc

A graph showing a persona’s engagement level with a service over time as an indication of each step’s importance from the persona’s perspective

By sequencing different activities for the customer we could affect their levels of excitement and engagement throughout the dramatic arc of their journey


To relate to another person's experience by having gone through that same experience yourself

It was really important for decision makers to make an attempt to empathize  with their customers so that strategic decisions were based on people's lived experience.

Employee experience

The specific experiences of employees within an organization

When effort was put into enhancing the employee experience  this had a cascading positive effect onto the experience of customers too.


The scientific description of the behaviors, values, and beliefs  of different peoples and cultures.

By engaging in ethnographic  research the team was able to have a comprehensive understanding of the customers they were designing services for.

Experience Design

The creation of services that are centred around influencing people's experience (usually used synonymously  with service design or design thinking)

By focusing on experience design , the owners of the cafe were able to create a place that was simultaneously relaxing and inspiring for people to have their morning coffee in.

End-to-End Service

A service that accounts for user experience across any and all touchpoints, from the initial moment they have a need until the end where they have resolved their need for help.

Within the company there were several departments which understood parts of the customer journey, however nobody had a complete  end-to-end picture of the service delivery.

Frontstage Process

Actions that are taken by a service provider to deliver a service that a customer is aware of and able to observe (aka onstage processes)

Customer service agents were in charge of all the fronstage processes , such as welcoming customers, doing demonstrations and showing them around the showroom.


A describable vision of an experience happening in the future

Having a clear vision of the future-state was critical for the organization to communicate why   they were doing what they were doing.

Human-Centred Design

The design of services that use human needs as a core reference point.

After many years of putting the needs of the company first, it was time to adopt some lessons from the field of human-centred design , so that the next wave of products would be better suited to customers' needs.


A realization or understanding regarding the root cause of an event, experience or issue

It felt really great reading through all the customer interviews and lead the team to have several key insights  into the reasons why customers were having a bad experience

Journey Map

A  visual representation of customer  and user interactions as they engage with an organization and the services it provides.

It was an amazing  journey map  to look at, not only was it beautiful but it demonstrated the complexity of the customer journey in such an approachable and understandable way.

Journey Mapping Software

A digital tool that allows a user to create journey maps

When they were no longer able to meet in person having good journey mapping software  allowed the team to develop and work on their journey maps online

Journey Map Repository

A systematic hierarchy where interconnected journey maps are stored

Learn more

The way of storing journey maps was no longer in a back cupboard in the office but rather a well organized journey map repository  that systematically held all different levels of the journey map.


Key Performance Indicator - a metric, or set of metrics that indicate how a person or organization is progressing towards a defined goal

The marketing department of the organization wanted to increase the number of people visiting their website so they picked a KPI : to increase website traffic by 20%.


An aspect of a person's life with which they require help or assistance

By addressing the customer’s need for safety the team designed extra features into the car such as a rollcage and better seatbelts.


A particular thing we are measuring in order to know whether we are progressing towards an outcome

The team decided that happiness was a metric  for success that they wanted so implemented a new employee wellbeing program to help staff during stressful times

Mobile Ethnography

The gathering of data using mobile devices that provides an understanding of different peoples behaviors, values, and beliefs

By using mobile ethnography  we were able to get real-time data about customer behaviour and experiences using a medium that was convenient and easy for them to use.

Moments of Truth

A critical moment when a customer will form an impression or an organization, brand or service

When the woman walked into the restaurant it was a moment of truth  whether she would enjoy the new decor and music.


Generally accepted processes, practices or ways of doing things

In the organization changes to adopt new ways of working were slow because of all the orthodoxies  and ingrained ways of working.


A describable vision of an experience which happened in the past

By looking at the past state , they were able to have a better understanding of what was happening in the present.

Pain point

A moment within a person's experience where they feel discomfort, stress or pain

The customer experienced a pain point  when they were feeling cold on a flight. When they asked the stewardess for a blanket they were told to stop complaining.

Pleasure point

A moment within a person's experience where they feel happiness, satisfaction or joy

The customer experienced a pleasure point  when the barista at their local café remembered who they were and what type of coffee they loved.


A profile representing a particular group of people, such as a group of customers or users, a market segment, a subset of employees, or any other stakeholder group.
More about personas

By engaging with the persona  of a woman struggling with poverty, decision makers in the council were much better able to understand the needs of the people they were trying to help.


A sequence of actions that brings a certain result

It was only by engaging in the service design process  that the employees could understand how it could help them improve their work.

Qualitative research

Research that seeks to determine the qualities and features of peoples experience
Learn more

The CX researchers engaged in qualitative research  by speaking to people on the street and learning from their experiences

Quantitative research

Research that seeks to quantify and measure change in a system
Learn more  

The management of the organization wanted to conduct some quantitative research  into the number of users using the app and how long they used it for on a daily basis.

ROI (Return on Investment)

What it received in exchange for investing energy in an action

When investing in a journey mapping approach within their organization they were keen to know what the ROI  would be in the long term.

Root Cause

An action which is the direct cause of a particular experience

It was important to uncover the root cause  of the problem so the team wasn't coming up with lots of solutions that didn't actually fix anything.

Service Design

A co-creative and iterative approach of  understanding and intentional creation of services along the core activities of research, ideation , prototyping, and implementation.

(usually used synonymously with design thinking or experience design)

Learn more

Learning about their customers was the beginning of a long journey in Service Design  where the company would improve and enhance how their services were delivered


Help in some form, whether this is through a product or a skill

By focussing intently on the service  they were providing their customers the organization was able to develop targeted interventions that really helped their customers

Service Blueprint

A journey map with a specific set of lanes to visualize the relationships between different service components and how they relate to how an organization provides services to its users

When they walked through the service blueprint  it was clear to all the staff how their actions influenced the customer experience and how all the actions of the organization affected service delivery as a whole.

Service Ecosystem

The larger context in which products and services are experienced which involves a network of other products, services, systems, and stakeholders (Such as competitors, government organizations etc)

It was important to understand the service ecosystem  in which they worked so that they could identify organizations who could help them achieve their vision and who they could provide help to.


The interplay and relationships between moments, steps, or touchpoints that make up a service experience.

By analysing and sequencing different  steps and touchpoints in a customer's experience they were able to design a cohesive and streamlined service experience.


That result of barriers that prevent communication, sharing or collaboration between different people, groups, or departments within organisations.

Each department of the organization was working in it's own silo , because of this it was difficult to work together and get access to important data that could improve customer experience.


A person, group or organization that is somehow connected to, or has an interest in the outcomes of a particular service.

The board of trustees were all stakeholders  in the success of the company and all wanted to see it succeed as much as possible.

Stakeholder Map

A stakeholder map illustrates the various stakeholders involved in an experience, these maps can be used to understand who is involved and how these connections can be optimized.

Learn more

By looking at the stakeholder map  it was easy to understand the interconnectedness and of all the different players and how they helped and supported each other


A widely held, yet possibly oversimplified idea of a particular person or thing

The child was stereotypical  of the type of person who engaged with the services on a weekly basis


Any action that a customer takes to achieve an outcome

Throughout her journey she will take many small steps  such as calling the organization for advice, driving to get a form or reaching out to someone for help.


The interactions a service receiver has with an organization providing services

As a customer undertakes a journey with a company there will be many touchpoints  where they come into direct contact, for advice, help or to receive services.


Understanding is being able to comprehend why something is happening - often this is what people are doing when they are empathizing.

When the CEO of the bank visited the branch and had conversations with frontline staff he immediately gained an understanding  about how service delivery could be improved.


The notion that services that are provided are focussed on addressing the needs of the users who engage with that service.

By building the voice of the customer into the product team members could see what they were creating was more user-centred  and based around actual customer needs.


A person who uses a service or physical/digital product.

When the team had finished building their prototype it was important to test it with different users  in order to get feedback.


An experience that someone holds of great importance in their lives

Having lots of free time to spend with their family was something that we uncovered in the research that was of high value  to our customers.

Value Network Map

A map which displays the value exchanged between different organizations within a network.

By analyzing the value network map  we were able to understand the value that was given and received by our organization.

Value Proposition

Summarizes the offering of a company such as it’s products or services, including the unique selling proposition that distinguishes it from its competitors.

The organization was able to provide potential customers with a compelling value proposition  that they believed would convince them to buy their product instead of their competitors.

Voice of the Customer

How a customer is able to articulate their own lived experience

To clearly understand the voice of the customer , it was important to speak face to face and hear them express their experience in person. This voice could then be used to inform design decisions.  


A report that describes a particular problem and explains the value of a given solution.  

Reading the whitepaper  on Service Design was a critical step in the organization's readiness to do some research into the needs of their customers.


A desirable experience

The customer wanted  to go to the theme park and experience the rides, however they needed help with transportation to get there.

Do you think there's a specific phrase or word missing that you use regularly?

Contribute on our Miro board!