Product and Service Design: What Do Customers Want?

Today, we’re going to look at a very interesting topic, that of product and service design in a differential comparison. The thing is, there are many similarities between the two, but also many disparities as well, resulting in distinctions that are major, but similarities that make them mistakenly interchanged on a moment’s notice. 

Ultimately, we need to determine which the customer really wants; but, before we can do that, we need to understand what the two are, and their differences. In doing this, we can see the different applications that work well for product and service design, because surely different situations call for different solutions. So, with that said, first let’s look at product design.

A product is, at its core, a tangible construct, something with a physical presence. It can be stored, retained and shipped. It is a thing which takes a shape in this universe, and is not perishable.
A copy of Windows 7 is a product, a movie on DVD is a product, and an eBook or printed book are products. These are things which a customer may own and call their own, something that they may claim the right to, and with some products, bequeath to others out of kindness or inheritance.

Software is arguable on whether or not product design is the best choice for it, but with things such as movies or literature or other such properties, there is something to be said for them. While the stream concept for media delivery is growing in popularity, people still like to have a copy of it to hold in their hands, and add to their collection. And that’s the crux of product. In many cases, it’s the collecting nature of many of us which means that some things will be in productized form for the rest of time.
Now, let’s compare this to service design.

A service is intangible and cannot be stored, reused or given to others at a later date. It is not a physical thing that takes form in the universe, but rather a per diem access to a short-lived product or consumer good which requires continued providence and often purchase in order to retain. This is a useful structure for some things, such as broadcasts, communications and analytics. These things people do not wish to retain, to cherish or to collect. These are things that have a short lifespan of being useful, and such, being productized is less necessary.

So, which one do customers want? It depends on the topic of choice. Things of artistic value will forever need to at least have the alternative of product as a form for them to take. People like to collect things, to reuse them, to attach sentiment to them. As a service, these things become disposable and less special.

Other things are far more efficient in the form of services, such as practical business solutions and many software solutions which become obsolete over time anyhow and are by their nature perishable constructs.

Customers want both. In judging which of the two is better, consider if someone will attach sentiment to it, and wish to relive its features over and over regardless of the march of time. If they will not, service is the way to go, but if they will, then product is the path to follow, at least partially. Perhaps a service model of product-conducive concepts is not a bad idea in parallel.

So, this may clarify and reduce the polarization resulting from the duality of product and service design in the future, as neither trumps the other in totality.

Bo Amidor
Boaz Amidor is Head of Corporate and Marketing Communications at WalkMe and Contributing Author to ux blog