Are visual design skills important for service designers?

Figure 1: Blog post mind map.

To understand and develop service design we need to combine knowledge from different areas, as business administration, publishing, marketing, psychology, journalism, design, mathematics, ethnography, among others. Every service solution will need a better understand of context, user needs and usage.

The natural born service designer is beholder, curious, focused, communicative, organized and creative. Among other proficiencies, we need to develop the visual design skills. Designers communicate in a visual or an object language as symbols, signs, and metaphors. They are used for sketching, diagrams and technical drawings to translate abstract requirements into concrete objects.

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly. ” Content from Wikipedia.

A world with a lot of information

It is not new that the world is now full of new technologies, products, services, brands, information, etc. We are increasingly involved by the globalization; we can find a lot information and share them using the Internet. The usage of visuals will not change and will be used even more for brand impact, presence, highlight, transmit values propositions, guide, make consistence and other usages.

No matter how rich the database and how smart is the technology, a poor visualization can confuse and bring the wrong idea to the viewer, resulting in erroneous conclusions and decisions. The good usage of visual design presents information quickly and precisely.

The role of visual design in service design thinking process

Figure 2: Quick draft about visual design usage on service design thinking process.

I went through all the stages of service design thinking process, as a brainstorm and I pointed some words that could represent the importance of visual design usage:

Understand the problem: brand values, trends, categorization, vocabulary, data analyse, metaphors, culture, communicate, mind maps,…

Observe users: visual perception, context, trends, language, signs, emotions, ethnography,…

Point of view, interpret the results: metaphors, information, results, categorization, communicate data,…

Ideate, generate ideas: drafts, sketches, highlight, emphasize, culture, better understanding, visual concept, visual vocabulary,…

Prototype, experiment: culture, values, fidelity, consistency, branding, performance, language, user interface, ergonomy, accessibility,…

Test, implement, improve, learn, evolution: focus, improvements, visual vocabulary, drafts,…

Visual design skills

The success of the visual analogies depends the correct usage of several complex cognitive mechanisms, thus involve visual thinking on the service design process.

But what kind of visual design skill is needed?

Visual tools skills – are mainly about develop graphics and editing images using softwares as Photoshop, Illustrator, Visio, Flash, etc. Pick up the most suitable for you. Some companies have their preferences and sometimes you must to adapt.

Visual vocabulary skills – this kind of ability is helpful to represent and understand better icons, metaphors, diagrams, culture and ethnography, etc.

Visual drawing skills – By drawing you easily do sketches, paper prototypes, mind maps, users journeys, drafts, generate ideas, among others.

Visual semiotics skills – A world of visual information is available in any kind of research and understand data, trends, visual information helps to get better results. Better visual understand makes possible the correct interpretation of researches and results.

Visual communication skills – In order to show the ideas, concepts, final decisions, choose the best visual way of communicate is worth.

Figure 3: Visual design skills cloud.


From the concept phase is important to think about the visual common experience. The visual service consistency, brand and values need to be recognize by the user. The only way of is establishing a common set of design parameters (visual identity) as: color palette, logo usage, fonts, buttons, signs, icons, uniforms, prints, visual language, texture, shapes, materials, etc.

We don’t choose between two brands based only on functional details but we personally identified with the visual design attributes. Customers recognise brands rapidly subconsciously using a small number of visual clues. The brand values, visibility and impact depends of the visual language and consistency. The observation of values sometimes could be measured by observing brand’s visual information through the market presence.

By using visual analogies such as images, service designers can represent situations, customers, stakeholders, touchpoints, physical evidences, etc. They can express concepts as a source and target representation in order to create a new product or design. Visual design skills helps to communicate and present ideas in early and final stages, synthesize information, understanding different manners of data visualization, sketching, prototyping, more and more.

Questions (Calling for collaboration)

Think about the following questions and if you feel instigate to answer, do it.
This is a collaborative post and your comment is super welcome!

Why visual design skills are important to the service design thinking process?

Where in the service design thinking process visual design skills are necessary?

Do we need to improve our visual skills to be a better service designer? Why?

Do we need a visual designer during the whole service design thinking process? Why?

What words come up in your mind when you think about visual design related to service design thinking process?



Brain doodles –

Design Thinking (Wikipedia): (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford):

Sap Design Guild:

Tim Brown (2008): Design Thinking (Havard Business Review)

Tim Brown (2008-2011): Design Thinking – Thoughts by Tim Brown (blog; IDEO)

IDEO: Design Thinking for Educators (free toolkit; IDEO)

The history of a picture’s worth:

Visuality group:

IBM 5 in 5 2012: Sight:

This is Service Design Thinking:

Goodwin, K. (2009). Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services. Wiley Publishing.

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam Lahti workshop and lecture –

Design Mindset, Bas Leurs and Saskia Best, Rotterdam UAS, 2012

Aline Baeck and Peter Gremett: Design Thinking. In: Helmut Degen & Xiaowei Yuan (Eds.) (2011). UX Best Practices – How to Achieve More Impact with User Experience. McGraw-Hill Osborne Media. Book review

Blog post by Jane Vita Costa, SID Master’s student.

7 thoughts on “Are visual design skills important for service designers?

  1. Pingback: Are visual design skills important for service designers? « fred zimny's serve4impact

  2. If you take a basic design approach to the improvement of services with design at the heart/base level of a process then it is inherently visual, visceral, aesthetic.

    In answer to some of your questions and from personal experience:

    My way of solving problems, spotting opportunities and generating ideas is trained from designing products for people including lampshades, toothbrushes, bike stands and coathangers. This is ultimately to do with my hands, being visual and watching people’s interactions with the world around them. This translates over to service design. My practice is informed by making ideas tangible for testing with the people that will use them, so if this isn’t visual then it isn’t design for me.

    I think the bigger question is when we say Service Design, what do we mean? Are we discussing services imagined by designers (typically customer experience and the physical representation of customer experience, particularly deep in the development/prototype stage and informed by observational research) OR are we discussing the creation of services by multiple stakeholders, orgs and departments and disciplines. I think these two are very different but ultimately need aligned.

  3. For me the simpler the drawings are, the better .
    Drawing in order to:
    share observations
    communicate and blend ideas
    explain situations
    synthesise complex processes
    If service design is ‘collaborative’, then ideally this work process would develop via a universal language.

    We can all make out cave paintings, don’t we?

    In terms of the process, I think that having someone capable of drawing ideas is enough, this person needn’t necessarily be a designer however it needs to be someone receptive. It is very important for this person to be receptive and capable of basic graphic representations.

  4. I think you should promote the visual skills in any development positions and work; it is not limited only to service designers. We all need some basic visualization skills to clarify our ideas and interact with each other!

  5. Hi,
    I’m a bachelor student Illustration, at the moment im following a minor in Service design, in which I see a lot of doors opening up. I am also gonna graduate in the field so I’m full with questions.
    My main concern is how to graduate alone (with the use of external partners) as an Illustrator with some Service design knowledge.
    Anyone cares to comment? I’m up for an conversation anytime.


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