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Service design glossary

August 1, 2022

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.

A little note upfront: you can also use our easy introduction to service design alongside this glossary.


Why do we even need a glossary for the service design / design thinking / CX design community?

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 terminology. Some of these words and phrases find their way into a larger audience and even might be perceived as buzzwords; some others are only relevant in a specific niche and people listing find themselves asking: What does this term mean? What is another term for this concept?

Specific 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 – a service design lexicon.

Each piece of this design thinking vocabulary 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.

At the end of this page you find a link to our collaborative Miro board and you're warmly invited to add to it!

The service design glossary


“Aha!” Moment

The moment a customer has an important insight or realisation about a subject.

Example in context: It was an AHA moment when she realized her customers couldn't even find her shop using Google.


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

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


A research method where a person explores a particular experience herself in a real situational context.

Example in context: We had 5 customers participating in our auto ethnography and noting down their experiences with our shop for a week.

More about the basics of customer experience research  


Backstage process

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

Example in context: By improving our backstage processes we are able to significantly improve our efficiency.


Channel (of communication)

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

Example in context: The bank was trying to engage with people on one channel (by post, when they should have been using something completely different (a mobile phone).


A process in which internal and external stakeholders e.g. customers, users, frontend and backend staff, partners, (...) together work on a specific challenge and come up with a solution.

Example in context: We invited 20 customers to a co-creative workshop in which they could share their needs and expectations towards the service.


A person who is consuming a product, e.g. water.

Example in context: Water can be consumed, not used. A car can be used, not consumed.


A describable vision of an experience happening in the present. Also see: Future-state.

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: 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 excellence

Customer excellence is the authentic fulfillment or exceeding of customers' concrete and emotional key expectations, wherever and whenever they come into contact with the company.

Example in context: Through their unwavering commitment to customer excellence, the company consistently exceeds customer expectations, resulting in a loyal customer base and sustained business growth.

Customer experience (CX)

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

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: We can view a customer journey at different levels of detail. On a macro-level this could be going on a large family holiday, on a micro-level it could be as detailed as checking their bags in at a hotel.

Lear the basics of customer journeys

Customer journey audit

A customer journey audit is the process of gathering and reviewing journey maps that have been created in the past.

Example in context: During the customer journey audit, we identified key pain points and opportunities for improvement in the overall customer experience..

Customer journey management

The process of overseeing and optimizing a customer's journey through all touchpoints with a company in order to improve the overall customer experience.

Example in context: Customer journey management requires us to collaborate across different teams and departments. This way we ensure a cohesive and consistent experience for customers.

Learn the basics of customer journey management

Customer segment

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

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


Design thinking

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

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

On the look-out for a good book? Check out 20 design thinking books to learn from and get inspired.

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.

Example in context: 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.

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

Empathy map

A visualization tool that helps to understand what the customer says, thinks, does and feels about a specific product or service.

Example in context: Thanks to the empathy map we could empathize with the customers feelings.

Employee experience (EX)

The specific experiences of employees within an organization.

Example in context: The overall employee experience has improved significantly since we moved to the new office.

If you'd like to learn more on how to mLearn the basics of EX management


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

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

Experience design

Experience design (XD) describes the process of creating and optimizing services and products that offer people a memorable, meaningful and enjoyable experience using them. (The term is usually used synonymously with service design or design thinking)

Example in context: By focussing on experience design, the owners of the cafe were able to create a place that was simultaneously relaxing and inspiring for people.

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.

Example in context: 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).

Example in context: 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. Also see: Current-state

Example in context: Having a clear vision of the future-state was critical for the organization for communicating why they were doing what they were doing.


Governance / journey governance

A framework that defines policies, roles, and processes around an organization's customer journey projects.

Example in context: Clarifying a journey governance framework let us keep the overview on how we wanted to collaborate on customer experience initiatives.


High-level customer journey map

A high-level journey outlines the overall stages and key touchpoints that a customer goes through. Typically it's less detailed than detailed journey maps (also called"zoom-in maps") but offer a strategic view of the customer's interaction with the business.

Example in context: In our high-level customer journey map, we identified that during the 'purchase' stage customers often encounter friction.

Human-centred design

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

Example in context: 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.



The creative process of coming up with potential solutions to a certain challenge.

Example in context: After knowing the most important pain points, we had a guided ideation session..


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

Example in context: 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.


The act of repeating a process with the intention of making gradual improvements.

Example in context: Iteation helped the team to solve the complex problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts.


Job map

A visualization of your customers' jobs to be done.

Example in context: The job map shows the customers' job to be done during the stage of purchase.

Job to be done (JTBD)

The “job to be done” describes what a product helps the customer to achieve.

Example in context: The customers' job to be done at this moment is to have an overview on their spendings.

Journey map

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

Example in context: 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 virtual journey maps.

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: 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.

More about journey map repositories


KPI (Key Performance Indicator)

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

Example in context: 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%.


Line of interaction

The line of interaction is a component of a service blueprint, where it separates the customer activities from the provider activities, i.e. shows the interactions between the two.

Example in context: The activities of backend developers are usually below the line of interaction.



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

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: 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.

Case study: researching food habitss with mobile ethnography

Moments of truth

A critical moment when a customer will form an impression of an organisation, brand or service.

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



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

Example in context: By addressing the customers need for safety the team designed extra features into the car such as a rollcage and better seatbelts.


Orchestration (customer journey orchestration)

The coordinated management of interactions across touchpoints to provide a personalized and cohesive customer experience. Also see: customer journey mangement.

Example in context: Using customer journey orchestration, a retail company ensures a smooth transition for customers from online browsing to in-store purchasing, tailoring promotions and recommendations based on individual preferences and behaviors.

More about customer journey orchestration


Generally accepted processes, practices or ways of doing things.


The actual value resulting from an activity, for example: problems solved or changed customer behavior.

Example in context: The outcome of service design workshops can be assumption-based journey maps and personas.


The result of an activity, for example: to-do-lists, evaluation sheets, product specs.

Example in context: The output of service design workshops can be sorted clusters of sticky notes.



A describable vision of an experience which happened in the past.

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

Pain point

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

Example in context: The main customer pain point that we need to solve is the clumsy payment process.

Pleasure point

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

Example in context: The customer experienced a pleasure point when the barista at their local 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.

Example in context: 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.

Learn more about the basics of personas


A sequence of actions that brings a certain result.

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


An early sample, model, or version of a product or system that is built to test and evaluate its design, functionality, and performance before mass production or full-scale implementation

Example in context: The team successfully developed a working prototype of their innovative device.


Qualitative research

Research that seeks to determine the qualities and features of peoples experience. Also see: quantitative research.

Quantitative research

Research that seeks to quantify and measure change in a system. Also see: qualitative research.

Example in context: 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.

Learn the basics of customer experience research


ROI (Return on Investment)

What it received in exchange for investing energy in an action.

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: 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.



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

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: 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 design

A co-creative and iterative approach of  understanding and intentional creation of services along the core activities of research, ideation, prototyping, and implementation. The term is usually used synonymously with design thinking or experience design.

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.

Learn the basics of service design

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).

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: By analysing and sequencing of different steps and touchpoints in a customers experience they were able to design a cohesive and streamlined service experience.


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

Example in context: 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 organisation that is somehow connected to, or has an interest in the outcomes of a particular service.

Example in context: The board of trustees were all stakeholders in the success of the company an 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 optimised.

Example in context: 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.

Learn more about the basics of stakeholder mapping


Any action that a customer takes to achieve an outcome.

Example in context: 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.


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

Example in context: The child was stereotypical of the type of person who engaged with the services on a weekly basis.


A stoyboard is a visual representation or sequence of drawings, illustrations, or images that are arranged in a specific order to depict the key events, actions, or scenes of a story.

Example in context: During the service design process, the team collaboratively created a storyboard to illustrate the customer journey.

Systems-design / systemic design

The process of visualizing, analyzing and optimizing the service ecosystem, i.e. the actors and components that are involved with the aim of uncovering lacks and potential synergies.

Example in context: Through a system map we could understand the relationships between our external stakeholders.



The interactions a service receiver has with an organization providing services.

Example in context: 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”.

Example in context: 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.


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

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


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

Example in context: 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.



An experience that someone holds of great importance in their lives.

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: By analysing the value network map we were able to understand the value that was given and received by our organization.

Value proposition

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

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: 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.

Example in context: 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.

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




What is the future of this design thinking 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!

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

We've set up a collaborative Miro board for all of us to share ideas and add wishes for further explanations – go ahead, add your two cents on what needs to be added or improved on this glossary!

Contribute to the Miro board!