Design-led approaches can be relevant to both service design as well as service evaluation.  

Designers look to understand the needs and desires of the people who will use a product or service by spending time with them. This approach ensures solutions are both fit for purpose and desirable to the people who will use them. By focusing on human stories and insights designers build empathy with beneficiaries, and ensure ideas being developed and tested or prototyped - are relevant.

Designers have adapted many of the social research methods featured in this toolkit to make them more engaging and useful.   They do not require an ability to draw.  These techniques are often used by designers at the start of a project, which tends to be a period of discovery, gathering inspiration and insights, identifying beneficiary needs and developing initial ideas.

This exploration uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods that are usually highly visual and engaging. 

Selected methods and techniques

a)    Customer Journey Map. The customer journey map is an oriented graph that describes the journey of an individual by representing the different touchpoints that characterize his interaction with the service. Further information is available on the Service Design Tools website, in the 'Customer Journey Map' section.

b)    Personas. Personas are archetypes built after an exhaustive observation of the potential beneficiaries. Further information is available on the Service Design Tools website, in the 'Tool Personas' section. 

c)    Storyboard. The storyboard is a tool derived from the cinematographic tradition; it is the representation of use cases through a series of drawings or pictures, put together in a narrative sequence. Further information is available on the Service Design Tools website, in the 'Storyboard' section. 

d)    Design Games. Using games during the co-design sessions allows the sharing of references in order to bridge different points of view: the games provide a common platform for the conversation between all the participants. Further information is available on the Service Design Tools website, in the 'Design Games' section. 


  • Like many participatory methods, offers creative and visual methods of engagement
  • Easy to engage beneficiaries and non-specialists
  • Can be used to get understanding and empathy about beneficiary experiences and what really matters to people
  • Identifies what makes for a good experience across many different activity types
  • Can be used to understand different parts of an activity such as the different stages of a person’s relationship with a service or organisation, key touchpoints (the people, information, products and spaces that we encounter) and interactions on the journey through a service. 


  • Can be resource intensive, particularly the use of ethnographic techniques which is the study of culture and practice through adopting the point of view of the individual who is the subject of study.  
  •  Often challenging to analyse and communicate rich visual data
  • May require particular expertise in the facilitation of design-led approaches


THE IDEO Human Centred Design Toolkit provides a useful overview of design-led approaches, including the use of research tools by service designers.

Some key design-led tools can be found in the Design Council’s guide to Design Methods for Developing Services.

The Service Design Tools website has been conceived as an open platform of knowledge, to be shared with the design research community.