Traditionally, the distinction between a product and a service was relatively clear.

Katie Wishlade
Katie Wishlade
18th October 2019

While a product is a tangible thing that can be measured and counted, a service is less concrete and is the outcome of using skills and expertise to satisfy a need. However, the digital space has certainly blurred the lines between products and services, so it’s no longer sufficient to define a product as something you can “drop on your foot” (The Economist, 2010) In fact, it’s actually quite difficult to explain the difference without getting tied up in quite complex linguistic knots!

In the digital space we talk a lot about products; many organisations have Product teams with Product Owners supported by Product Designers working towards their product strategy by progressing through their product backlog. There is a lot of debate about what makes a good product and how to deliver them, but what about the services that underpin them?

Are we doing ourselves an injustice within the digital space because we are obsessing about thinking in terms of products? Is this reducing our remit to tackle and design the entire system it exists within rather than merely how you interact with it?

So how do you determine if you are working on a product or a service? We created an interactive tool to help you do just that…

This model highlights that although you might be positioning yourself as working on a digital product more often than not it’s a vehicle for service provision. Afterall, people only want a product because it gives them an experience and an outcome.

The model also highlights that in some cases the entire service is embodied in a digital product, think of the likes of Netflix, Uber or Spotify. In these cases, there is a massive opportunity for ‘Product Teams’ to influence the entire service experience, thinking not only of the end-to-end customer journey but also the front-stage and back-stage workings. This would involve exploring not only the customer interactions but also the operating model, the content workflow/approvals, the business model and even down to the governance structures.

So my advice, therefore, is to recognise when your product embodies a service and push your remit to explore the entire design challenge.