Introducing the service model canvas

Woman looking at a blank canvas

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As a UX designer, I find myself thinking more and more about services these days. I find myself thinking about where a particular app, website or product fits into a wider service and how designing a great user experience is not just about getting the small stuff right, like UI design, but also the bigger stuff. But services are complex, and I’ve found it difficult to know where to start when it comes to exploring and de-constructing an existing service, or indeed thinking about a new service. In my search for help with this I came across the excellent Business Model Canvas – a tool designed for developing and documenting business models. Inspired by the Business Model Canvas I’ve created the below Service Model Canvas (see what I’ve done) to help develop and document not business models, but service models. Along with this article you can also view an introduction to the service model canvas tutorial.

Service model canvas template

View full size Service Model Canvas

The Service Model Canvas asks a number of questions about the service, such as who are the users? Why would someone use the service? What competition is out there? The canvas is not intended to capture every detail about a service, but instead as a set of thought starters. I’ve created an example for Spotify to hopefully show the sort of information you might capture.

Spotify example service model canvas

 View full size Spotify example Service Model Canvas

How to fill it out

On first pass of the service model canvas there seems to be quite a lot of information to fill out. However, fear not. You don’t need to capture every detail about the service, just high level points and if you don’t know enough about something at this stage, or don’t think that it’s relevant, simply leave it for now. However be warned, if you find yourself making lots of assumptions then be sure to mark these (e.g. different colour, or highlight) so that you can come back to validate the assumptions later on.

I’d recommend that you ideally fill out the canvas as a small group, or fill it out yourself and then go through with others to check and validate your answers (especially if there are lots of assumptions). Individually the canvas is likely to take less than an hour to fill out for most services, factor in more like 2 hours for a group. If you’re filling the canvas out as a group it’s a good idea to print out a large version to go through, and you’ll find there are 2×2 and 3×3 poster versions of the canvas (courtesy of the excellent PosteRazor) available at the end of the article. If you need to fill out the canvas on-screen (for example others are remotely joining the meeting) then I can recommend the splendid to create, store and share a digital version of the canvas.

The boxes explained


Obviously a very key piece of information for any service is who the users are, or for new services, who you expect to use the service? Think about all the different people that currently use or that might use the service in the future, and whether there are any distinct user groups. For example, enthusiasts, as opposed to very occasional users. What are the different characteristics of these groups? Who are the most important users? Designing a fantastic user experience starts with knowing your users, so also make a note of any unknowns that you might want to investigate.


Along with users, it’s also important to identify actors and any key partners. These are all the people and organisations without which the service couldn’t be delivered, such as suppliers, distributors, support staff and so on. Actors might be front of office, such as sales staff, or back office, such as admin staff. For example, for an online magazine actors might include authors, editorial team, web team, advertisers and so on. It’s important to identify actors and partners, together with their needs and requirements because a service designed without any consideration for those delivering the service is doomed to fail from the start.

Lego people in a coffee shop

Don’t just think about your users, think about who is involved delivering the service as well

Service proposition

This is probably the most important question you can ask – why would someone use the service in the first place? If a service isn’t going to add value for a user, then it won’t get used, period. Now that value is typically in the form of something useful, but it could equally be value in the form of entertainment, such as an online game. Think about what benefits the service brings, or could bring to users and why they might recommend it to a friend. Also think about any unique selling points. What does the service provide that a user can’t just as easily get elsewhere?


When designing a service it’s important to think about not just how a service is currently used, or is likely to be used, but also how it is ideally used. By identifying desired user behaviour, you can start thinking about how the design of the service can encourage that behaviour. Also think about how frequently the service is used, or is likely to be used. For example, will it be something that users will use on a daily basis and therefore will get to know very quickly, or much more infrequently.


How will or do users access the service? Is it via a website? Via a mobile app? Via a store? Which channels are users most likely to favour, and which are most cost effective from a service delivery perspective? For example, users might prefer to speak to someone on the telephone for help but is it more cost effective to deliver that help via a website? For most services you will want to think about not just the delivery channels, but also the cross over between channels. Providing a multi-channel service is increasingly becoming a must have, not just a nice to have for users.


When it comes to the competition you need to think about what other choices users have. There will no doubt be other similar services, but there also might be very different alternative options. For example, a hire car service doesn’t just have to compete with other hire car services, but also arguably public transport services as well. How does the service compare to the competition? What alternatives do users have? Why would they use your service over the competition? Ideally the service should be differentiated from the competition, otherwise you risk it becoming a commodity, with price being the main differentiator (which never leads to a great experience for users).

Key activities

Which key activities are required to deliver the service? These should be both activities that the user must undertake, and activities that actors (i.e. those delivering the service) must undertake. Going back to our online magazine example key activities might include writing articles, editing articles, publishing content, curating comments, securing advertising slots and so on. Don’t worry about listing everything that happens, or needs to happen, just outline the high level key tasks and activities.

Key resources

Along with key activities, it’s also useful to outline the key resources that a service needs. These might be resources in the form of people, such as sales or admin staff. They might be physical resources, such as goods and materials, or even intangible resources, such as know-how and experience. Once again, don’t capture every tiny resource that is required, just the key ones.


When designing a service, or indeed optimising a current service it’s important to consider both the current challenges and likely future challenges. By considering challenges you can think about how the service might overcome those challenges. For example, will persuading users to actually try the service be a challenge? Will utilising the necessary technology be a challenge?


Any service for which the costs outweigh the benefits is never going to be viable in the long run. It’s therefore important to outline what the key costs are for delivering the service. Also think about how the service delivery can be made more cost effective. For example, encouraging user self-service, or nudging users towards cheaper delivery channels, such as the web.


As I’ve already mentioned if the costs outweigh the benefits a service is never going to be viable in the long run, so it’s important to outline how the service will deliver a return on investment. This might be a return in monetary terms, but equally could be in the form of improved customer satisfaction, brand strength, employee retention and so on.


You not only need to identify how a service is going to provide a return on investment, but how this return is going to be measured, and how the performance of the service is going to be tracked in general. KPIs (key performance indicators) could include the number of users, conversion rates, usage stats, service net promoter score (i.e. would someone recommend the service to a friend) etc…

When to use it

I’ve found the service model canvas to be most useful for the very early exploration of a potential new service or existing service. What are the most important design considerations? What are the key design challenges? It’s also a good tool for considering the wider service for a particular user touch point, such as a website or app. For example, given that I’ve been asked to redesign a website, how does that website fit in to the wider service?

The service model canvas is not intended to be a comprehensive list of everything you need to think about when designing, or improving an existing service. Instead, think of it more like a set of service design thought starter questions. It will hopefully initiate some of the conversations and debates necessary to set you on that long journey to designing a truly excellent service for your users.


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