MDes Talks: Product-Service Systems (PSS): A Systematic Approach

Students in the International Design and Business Management (ID&BM) have to take two elective subjects, one is offered by School of Design (SD) and the other by Faculty of Business’s Department of Marketing and Management (MM).

We can choose among the four electives available this semester and I chose Special Topics in Contemporary Design II – Product-Service Systems (PSS) Design, led by a Korean professor.

A Broader View of Product Design: Service Design

I was educated in Korea and majored in Product Design in my Bachelor’s degree. When referring to Product Design, it is often associated with affordance design, sustainable design, making prototype, etc. It is a conventional way to view product design when one means physical objects or industrial products, as an expression of form and function such as lighting, furniture, home appliances, cars, etc. It is also a limited view of Product Design without considering the service or the intangible aspect that a product (now an app is also a “product”) can bring to users. In Korea, I have an impression that the general public has more or less the same view about Product Design.

Although Product-Service Systems (PSS) is nothing new, I hope to understand and articulate the link between design and service more clearly through studying this elective.

MDes Talks: Product-Service Systems (PSS):  A Systematic Approach
Photo from

Good Design = Good Management

I have always wanted to answer this question: what makes a design successful or unsuccessful in the market?

In Korea, most of the designers working in the design firms are design degree-graduates and some designers think good design is enough to gain and sustain business of their own. They believe consumers can immediately recognize the good intention behind a design. But is that so?

To me, this is hardly the case in reality.

Design is more likely to be seen working as part of a process, and so designers as part of a team. That’s why I think design schools should teach design students management skills – applicable to the context that the business is situated (creative, design, tech) – which include supply chain/ distribution and fulfillment network, purchasing/ payment system, consumer behaviour/ retailer-customer relations, etc.

Good design is the outcome of good management.

What Are Service and Service Design?

In the first lecture, Professor asked us what Service and Service Design were. Although we heard about Service Design many times, explaining it was not as simple as one might think.

As I mentioned before, people usually think of Design as styles or objects. If the object does not provide value or enable activities around it, the object is nothing but materials and form. Thus, Service Design is the human activity that requires taking a holistic view of all related users, their interactions, supporting materials and infrastructure.

Breaking-down Service Design into Processes

To develop Service Design, we were introduced to a wide range of design tools and processes for exploration and creation in class. An example of the tools was the use of Customer Journey Maps which helps designers to break down and understand the story of different customers’ interaction with a brand or product.

MDes Talks: Product-Service Systems (PSS):  A Systematic ApproachMDes Talks: Product-Service Systems (PSS):  A Systematic Approach
Using design tools to improve customer service

The process of Service Design begins with “Modeling Diversity of Values”. Here, we referred to E3 values - economical, ecological, and experience values. Society, culture, environment and technology determined the value modeling which was used to understand people’s behaviour and their culture.

Secondly, “Activity Design” – considering various context elements to be used in the Customer Journey Maps and Service Blueprint – was used to articulate interactions between each part of the process. By dissecting each service activity, I could find specific user’s action or behaviour to improve customer experience and define stakeholders.

After that, “Service Interaction Design with care on Touchpoints” took on a holistic and integrated approach to take care of all interfaces. In order to improve the solutions, I could test prototyping and simulate user situations. Prototyping that supported Service Design processes was similar to prototyping for traditional product design.

Finally, “Stakeholder Experiences Assessment and Management” was needed to see the improvement through the design intervention.

The entire set of processes needed to be iterated repeatedly, until it improved our Service Design systematically.

About the Course and Our Project Outcome

Elective subjects are conducted on a weekend mode and it takes 5 sessions to complete it over the course of 3 to 4 weeks. The schedule is intensive in order to cover a topic.

To better understand what Service Design was, we were given case studies to discuss. For example, a furniture company which connected with customers directly without any intermediaries, and another example was “Coway”, a leader in the life-care service sector that adopted the industry’s first rental service system since 90s and currently being the biggest industry player in Korea. We looked at how they created their service for product maintenance and their visits to customers’ home for appliances repairing.

In general, we learnt to identify areas to create or enhance value and service for users. To conclude the subject, we had a group presentation and it took place on the last day.

Product-Service Systems (PSS):  A Systematic ApproachProduct-Service Systems (PSS):  A Systematic Approach
Journey Maps, Service Blueprint and prototype

We presented a new rental service for sunglasses – and we considered it as a new service and also a new business model. The assignment helped us to apply and understand the process and methodology in Service Design.

What’s Ahead For Me

It was clear to me that the elective subject was just an opening. I still need to study (read Sylvia’s post on “Studying”) more deeply into Service Design since the projects in the ID&BM programme involve designing services for clients. There is no short cut to good design and in Service Design, it is about leveraging the tools within a set of processes. Good Service Design is the sum of these improvements.

During the orientation week, we were introduced to the resources in PolyU library, including books, journals, article databases, media, online audio libraries and image databases. All of these will help me dig deeper into the topic.

Therefore, I hope that, by the end of the semester, I will be more proficient in using the design tools and be able to get closer to good design.

Image credits. List image: rarye/ Flickr. Header image: Niall Kennedy/ Flickr. Content images: Jooyeon Ha except as specified.

Posted by Jooyeon Ha - I like to help others by sharing knowledge, experience, time and energy with anyone who needs it, at the same time I am also keen on learning new things from others. Personally, I would like to talk about the culture, language, food, and movie.

MDes Talks is a series of Student Blogs contributed by students in different specialisms under the Master of Design Scheme. It is set out to share students’ first-hand experience in the d-school pedagogy, their projects, takeaways, and student life in general.