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Backstage Tickets to the World of Service Design at Spotify

October 2022


Article credits
Grace Kwon
Marco Righetto
Rebecca Stonebraker

January 2022 marked the first official full-time, in-house service design hire at Spotify. Since then, the service design guild at Spotify has expanded to over 30 members, embedded within various teams across the company. So, what do service designers at Spotify do, you might wonder? How do they show up? Who do they serve and how do they go about doing it? Three service design practitioners share the behind-the-scenes of what service design looks like at Spotify today.

What is service design?

Have you called your internet provider, bank, or insurance and shared your name, account number, date of birth, address, and whatever else just to be asked for the exact same information by the next customer agent? 🤬 That’s the result of bad service design — or complete lack of it. 

Now, have you ever opened a bank account only with a selfie and a passport picture, in less than five minutes? 🤩 That’s service design at work, pulling together compliance, digital, operations, design, and much more to create something that just works.

Good service design optimizes the conditions to enable a consistent, cohesive, and pleasant experience between all these touchpoints. Here at Spotify, we believe service design is crucial in maintaining a standard of excellence with our products, systems, and services.

How we show up

Whether it be Spain, Sweden, London, South Korea, or the United States, service designers at Spotify are distributed across the globe and across the company. 

We work on framing and providing solutions to large-scale problems — e.g. compliance, messaging, licensing — alongside tech, product design, product management, and insights partners. We co-design with stakeholders who are domain experts in trust and safety, IP-law, and licensing agreements, just to name a few.

That said, due to the type of challenges we tackle, we rarely have a chance to collaborate among fellow service designers on a project as our specialty is relatively small within the design function. Community-building is critical for us. That’s why we recently created a service design guild. We gather monthly to build community, share feedback on our work, and compare notes on how to connect people, tools, and processes.

Who we serve

At Spotify, service design’s customers are internal teams; from product teams innovating on the Spotify products, to lawyers looking at delighting our content partners such as publishers, licensors, and labels. We use service design to map out and resolve the complexities of customers, technical systems, and content journeys. A lot of the work we do is about connecting tech, product, and business stakeholders, and orchestrating decisions that maximize the likelihood of meeting user needs and business goals. 

How we go about it

Solving problems and putting people at the center is expected across all disciplines at Spotify, from product and engineering, to user research and operations.

What differentiates the design practice is the focus on:

  • Human considerations: From ergonomics to ethical implications, cognitive capabilities, and behavioral nudging. A good solution has to be usable and useful.

  • Experience components: How did this make me feel? A good solution should maximize the chances for users to have a net positive experience.

Within the design practice, we service designers are usually responsible for bringing clarity where there is a complex problem and an ambiguous question that can’t be answered right away. Sometimes it’s high-level and strategic like, “how can design support scaling our operations team?”, or something more specific like, “how do these tools work together to create the experience?” Oftentimes, we start by understanding the current state, which can be discovered through stakeholder interviews and current-state blueprinting.

We transform research findings into insights to create a holistic picture so that our cross-functional partners and stakeholders are all on the same page. Our main focus is on highlighting and communicating cause-and-effect chains and their cascading effects throughout systems — only then do we engage in a collaborative process to provide answers and find the biggest opportunities for improvement. 

The outcomes we create

Beyond pretty drawings and fun workshops, service design delivers critical business value for this team, including:

1. Shortening time to execution: Through the tools of service design — such as alignment workshops, ecosystem mapping, future-state journey mapping, and so on — we can simulate, visualize, and experiment with possible visions and solutions. This way we integrate multiple perspectives to foster collaboration early on. For example, we strategically use co-design — a participatory approach to design where customers and stakeholders are actively involved in the design process to ensure the results meet their needs and are usable — at the beginning of the project. The result is a strong sense of ownership with our product and tech partners. Service design enables teams to converge on a shared understanding of the problem space and of problem-solving strategies with speed, which in return shortens the time to execution. That’s how we create shared business value, as soon as possible.

2. Incentivizing desired behaviors: A relevant example here is how we’ve been hard at work to provide Spotify teams with the tools, incentives, and knowledge to include safety considerations at the very start of product ideation. As a result, we are now testing the power of AI to review documents and provide safety prompts just when employees need them. We support teams to foresee the unintended consequences of their product ideas. That’s how we get teams to build products where safety is an enabler for growth.

3. Reducing operational costs: Delivering services and internal tooling that “just work” means our operations teams spend less time responding to repetitive questions or filling in when tech breaks. Service design inherently includes designing for the employee experience. We want our employees to focus on higher and more relevant business goals. Planning and considering the people, time, and money flows behind the product is just as important to the growth of our revenue.

Insights from the inside

In the process of growing our practice, design guild, and community, we’ve come to crystalize a few things that we hope may be of support to your journeys as designers at large: 

1. We are sense-makers, storytellers, and decision influencers. Building a service is a team sport. As service designers, we are responsible for orchestrating a decision-making process that maximizes the likelihood of meeting user needs and business goals. Our contribution is to use traditional design craft to exercise our influence by making sense of complexity, articulating various ways of thinking, and facilitating tough conversations between stakeholders. 

2. We are responsible for communicating the “why”. Autonomy is deeply ingrained in Spotify’s DNA. Therefore, having a clearly articulated “Why” behind a large-scale initiative is critical to driving alignment. Thanks to our techniques and methods as service designers, we are in a prime position for discovering and articulating the “why”. In return, this means that highly independent teams understand the relevance of the work they are doing and how it fits into the bigger picture. Everyone is more driven and autonomous as a result. 

3. Being a generalist is a specialty. Uncontrolled, unsupported growth is unsustainable. Whether it be internal stressors like increases in inefficiencies, duplication of work, and demotivation or external stressors such as bad macroeconomic conditions and changing regulations that impact our business and growth. Behind and beyond the UI, service designers think about improving how we build and work as an organization for the long term. Taking note of the capacity to absorb stress and designing for resilience requires us to have many tools under our belts. Given the wide spectrum of the challenges we tackle, the outputs service designers produce can be equally broad. For example:

  • Creating system maps

  • Designing workshop experiences that aim to align various stakeholders from across the organization

  • Visualizing technical systems in a way that is customer-friendly

  • Delivering "internal marketing" materials

  • Facilitating co-design sessions

  • Setting up governance mechanisms

The tension between being a generalist vs specialist becomes less relevant. The generalist is the specialist.

What’s next?

Spotify has always been innovative — from the way we shifted the music industry with streaming to how we approach the world of audio. As we continue to grow and evolve as a company – with many exciting features like Audiobooks, new partnerships like Roblox, and Spotify launching in new markets around the globe – service design is crucial when it comes to scaling and maintaining a standard of excellence with the user experience. As we evolve as practitioners in the field, we hope to share our journey with you along the way! 


Grace Kwon

Senior Service Designer

Sense-maker by trade, storyteller by heart, Grace brings clarity and alignment amongst the people, processes, and systems behind content at Spotify.

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Marco Righetto

Senior Service Designer

Marco focuses on the challenge of keeping Spotify safe and maintaining users’ trust. He loves hanging out with his daughter, making pizzas, and playing improv.

Read More

Rebecca Stonebraker

Senior Service Designer

Rebecca helps to streamline the messaging experience for listeners globally. She loves to explore new places and design spaces in her home.

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