10 unconventional, counterintuitive or unique service design principles

Traditional service design principles don’t always apply.

Some principles may deviate from traditional best practices to create a distinctive user experience, foster brand loyalty, or differentiate from competitors.

Here are 10 that break the mould:

  1. Deliberate inefficiency
    Services might intentionally slow down a process to enhance the experience. For example, a gourmet restaurant may deliberately slow the pace of a meal to create a more luxurious, relaxed atmosphere.

    Example: Some luxury tea houses or coffee shops take their time to prepare your drink traditionally, using slower methods than modern alternatives. The idea is to appreciate the craft and the experience, such as Japanese tea ceremonies.

  2. Controlled friction
    Adding steps to a service that customers must follow might seem counterproductive, but it can increase perceived value or satisfaction. For instance, having customers participate in creating a product or service (like build-your-own meal kits) can increase engagement.

    Example: IKEA is known for requiring customers to assemble their furniture. This DIY approach adds a step for customers but also allows IKEA to reduce costs and gives customers a sense of accomplishment.

  3. Purposeful exclusivity
    Making a service more challenging to access can increase its allure. Some high-end services cultivate an aura of exclusivity by being invitation-only or requiring customers to join a waiting list.

    Example: High-end brands like Supreme or luxury car manufacturers often release products in limited quantities to create a sense of exclusivity and demand.

  4. Erratic reward systems
    Instead of consistent rewards, some services design their loyalty programs to offer random or surprise rewards, which can create a sense of excitement and unpredictability.

    Example: The gaming industry, especially in mobile games, often uses randomised rewards (loot boxes) to incentivise players to continue playing without guaranteeing consistent rewards.

  5. Transparency extremes
    Sharing more information than necessary, such as live-streaming the behind-the-scenes work, can make customers feel more connected to the service process and the brand.

    Example: Everlane, a clothing company, is known for its radical transparency, disclosing the costs of materials, labour, and transportation for each item, as well as the markup they take.

  6. Imperfect by design
    Some services might intentionally include imperfections or signs of “humanness” to create a more authentic and relatable user experience.

    Example: Handmade goods marketplaces like Etsy thrive on the idea that the slight imperfections of handmade items are desirable because they make each product unique and show that humans, not machines, made them.

  7. Selective inconvenience
    Certain services may be inconvenient in one aspect to highlight their excellence in another. For example, a retailer might have longer delivery times but offer exceptional customisation options.

    Example: Zara deliberately limits the number of each clothing design sent to stores to create a sense of urgency among buyers. If you don’t buy now, the item might not be available later.

  8. Managed discomfort
    In some wellness or educational services, discomfort is part of the experience. A boot camp may be gruelling to reflect the program’s intensity.

    Example: Tough Mudder or Spartan Race events are obstacle courses designed to be physically challenging. Participants expect and appreciate the difficulty as part of the transformative experience.

  9. One thing at a time
    While we may see multitasking as efficient, some service designs force a single-threaded approach to ensure deep focus and quality, such as a spa prohibiting electronic devices.

    Example: Some fine-dining restaurants serve multi-course meals with a “no phones” policy to ensure guests are fully immersed in the dining experience, focusing on one dish at a time without distractions.

  10. Randomised journey
    Instead of a linear service journey, some services may introduce elements of randomness where customers have different paths or experiences, which can feel more personalised.

    Example: Certain travel companies specialise in mystery vacations, where travellers only know the destination once they arrive at the airport. Each trip is unique, with surprises adding to the adventure.

These principles, when integrated thoughtfully into service design, have helped businesses create memorable and unique experiences that resonate with their customers and differentiate them from competitors.

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