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A client recently asked me this, looking at our portfolios:
Does your company provide a service or a product?

Me, as a designer who does not like to put things in boxes, then close them, and them label them either one of two words, i put my eyebrows as high as ai can and said:
that depends on the project!

Some tiny clients are happy-pappy with a predefined-package product and do not want to jump into an expensive, feedback-cloudy long term service contract. They just want a quick simple product about which the price and specs are known. While our biggers clients prefer, of course, the slower project pepperd with weekly brainstorms and meetings. So i think, please correct/add(your comment will be added here) that the difference are with respect tot design:

                         'PRODUCT'               'SERVICE'
properties beforehand?    predefined packages     unknown, needs custom quote
properties afterwards?    according to specs      according to custom inquiry
pricing?                  known beforehand        has to be calculated
bottomlone price?         cheap                   expensive
quality of product?       can be very good!       can be very good!
collaboration?            minimal                 according to need
feedbacks                 email/phone             email/phone/face-to-face

Now i would like the professional design community / design company owners to speak freely here in this regard:

1. Do we (involved experienced driven designers) provide a SERVICE or a PRODUCT?
2. What are the differences according to YOUR client? (i will append them above)
3. Do we HAVE to choose one or other? this client said, he wanted transparency.

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This is an interesting, but subjective question. Made CW. Please treat as per: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective –  JasonBirch Dec 7 '10 at 19:03
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I follow your logic in determining product versus service. However, I see this industry as one which provides "professional services" (a term used by accountants, economists, bankers, etc.), as opposed to selling products.

You may product-ize your services by assigning them names, features, and fixed prices, but really, it's still a service.

In a chart of accounts (your "books") your income should be categorized as a service. There could be some situations where you actually sell some products to complement the service (maybe a software package such as components you use for development, or possibly even computer hardware). In those cases, you'd want to categorize the income for those sales as product sales.

Getting back to your original line of thinking, I can see that a person might like to differentiate between packages versus time and materials billings. Typically, people want to pay for packages, but get the quality and flexibility of time and materials. Case in point, there is much criticism to the way that attorneys bill their clients. That being said, a package is a just a package, not a unique creation having the benefit of frequent input along the way via client meetings and a "dev site."

On a funny note, this exchange between web developer and prospective client is quite hilarious. It's by Xtranormal, called "I would like to buy a custom website for $600." The video doesn't answer your question, but it certainly illustrates a number of typical client requests in relation to packages. [warning: bad language in video] YouTube link follows:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFEidJQiTts

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link doesnt work but an upvote is in place! thanks. Perhaps a design is always a service? Can there be design as a product? –  Sam Dec 7 '10 at 16:20
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I think the strongest fulfillment to make the design (service) a product would be where the fulfillment is 100% automated, saying then, that a package that's very well defined still requires service which is unique to that engagement, but in contrast a fictional 100% automated delivery of a design would not require a unique engagement of the skilled person(s) providing service. Like Dave has stated, we're really getting into the semantics of these words (not to be using the word "semantic" in it's technical/applied context on this site). :) –  Chris Adragna Dec 7 '10 at 17:32
    
I'm think my link to the YouTube video doesn't work for you because of your location. Search YouTube (or the Netherlands equivalent?) for: "xtranormal custom website" and it hopefully will deliver the same thing. Enjoy! :-) –  Chris Adragna Dec 7 '10 at 17:43
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+1 for critics to the bad daily things we use to face. –  Dave Dec 8 '10 at 11:47
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This is technical-semantic question.

Software is a product. You can pack it (copy to a CD or a pen drive), ship it (once packed), you can provide assistence, maintenance, recalls, guarantee... So, yeah, it is a product.

But it can be a service. One can hire your service to make a task (a website for example, or change/implement just a functionality on a existing software).

Labeling as product or service depends exclusively on how and what you sell and tackle it.

EDIT

About design (elements composition and layout, colors and fonts choosing, stock images, illustrations)... It also depends on the POV.

What are you designing? How are you selling it? Implementing it?

The final product usually is a product (a jpg file, a web page layout, a banner, a brand manual...). But what if you stand as a service provider? Retouching images, masterizing a video, conducting usability tests that leads to layout changes on a web page. These are examples on how design can be offered much more as a service than a product.

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upvote for this way of viewing it. perhaps a design is always a service? Can there be design as a product? –  Sam Dec 7 '10 at 16:20
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I think design is a product, to be honest. You create a collection of graphical elements which you hand over. Implementing the design is a service. –  Stephan Muller Dec 7 '10 at 18:45
    
Good points, gentlemen. See my edit. –  Dave Dec 8 '10 at 11:38
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