From product to service design: A thinking paradigm shift

Format: Papers, RSD2, Topic: Sociotechnical Systems

Authors: Liliana Rodriguez and Carlos Peralta

Motivation: The economy, society and industry are experiences change by a shift from products to services. It is apparent that this also brings an on-going ‘conceptual shift’ in business and industry characterised by a movement from traditional goods-centred dominant logic to emerging service-centred dominant logic.While a “problem solving” approach is commonly used for the development of products, as the primary unit of exchange moving from goods to service, new design approaches for the development of services are needed. The diverse nature of services in comparison to products, where service are specialised competences such as knowledge and skills that people can acquire and exchange, highlight the need for new design approaches. This research argues that a fundamental transformation in the design world is taking place, manifested in a thinking paradigm shift from problem solving (designing products) towards system thinking (designing services).Furthermore, the very own nature of products has also changed. From being purely physical and tangible entities, they are becoming mixed entities, with both physical and virtual (or intangible) attributes. Also, from being individual objects that stand alone, products now are part of complex systems, becoming the touch points (TP) of a service. The touch points include interactive properties that allow people that use them (users) to exchange information in and out, acting as enablers in the communication between the service providers and users.These changes have direct implications in the activity of designers, and in the way designers approach problems and issues.

Problem Statement: This paper intends to help understanding how the design activity has change from problem solving to system thinking. This paper seeks to demonstrate that the design of services requires system thinking, and that using system thinking is a more suitable approach to the development of services than problem solving.

Approach: This paper will review current literature on services design and product design to show and examine a number of examples of product and service design that typifies both approaches: Problem solving in the design of products and system thinking in the development of services.This paper will also draw on a series of semi structured interviews made to designers working on four design consultancies that have moved from product design towards services design. It will explain their account on how this change has taken place, and on how the consultancies have evolved to adopt different design methods and approaches as a response to the new challenges of designing services. It will conclude on the interviewees’ perceptions on how (or if) their way of think about design challenges has changed.Main findings The results of this research show that a change in the way designers think and approach projects has taken place. This change confirms a movement from problem solving to system thinking, when designers are faced with the challenges of designing a service.The results also indicate that the growing complexity of the issues designers deals with and the increasing access to information, have an influence on the adoption of system thinking to respond to service design challenges. It also shows that current changes in people’s mind about sustainability, consumerism, etc. have also an impact on this.

Conclusions: This paper shows that the design of products requires a different design approach to the design of services, and that there is a strong link between system thinking and the design of services. However it can not claim generalisation and can be taken only as an initial exploration on the subject. Further study would be needed to establish correlation between the design of services and system thinking approaches, and to examine the role of other alternative design approaches employed in services design. .Also, since the design consultancies studied are local to the UK context, further investigation on consultancies abroad would allow a better understanding on the subject.

Presentation & paper

Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2013
Title: From product to service design: A thinking paradigm shift
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 15 September 2013
Last update:
Publisher Identification:

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested citation format (APA)

Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

Publishing with RSD

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

Papers and presentations are entered into a single-blind peer-review process, meaning reviewers see the authors’ names but not vice versa. Reviewers consider the quality of the proposed contribution and whether it addresses topics of interest or raises relevant issues in systemic design. The review process provides feedback and possible suggestions for modifications.

The Organising Committee reviews and assesses workshops and systems maps & exhibits with input from reviewers and the Programme Committee.

Editor: Cheryl May
Peter Jones
Ben Sweeting

The Scholars Spiral

In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholars spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

The Systemic Design Association's membership ethos is to co-create the socialization and support for all members to contribute their work, find feedback and collaboration where needed, and pursue their pathways toward research and practice outcomes that naturally build a vital design field for the future.


Verified by MonsterInsights