Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to report on the findings of a research project into strategic planning and design in the service sector sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and supported by the Design Council into Design for Accounting. Design/methodology/approach – The research used a mail survey questionnaire to gain information on design and strategic issues. Findings – The findings are that the majority of medium-sized service enterprises do not have a design function or use design. For those that do use design, the majority see design as very important: the benefits of design relate to the brand image of both the organisation and the services provided, closely followed by increased profits. Design has been used in the past to add value and improve quality, while innovation has been and will in the future be the main strategic area to concentrate on. Key strategic activities in the past have been adding new customers, whereas in the future the key strategic activities will be to understand customer needs. Originality/value – The findings of the paper are important because they shed light on the importance of design and the benefits of design in the service sector, the service design strategies responsible for current performance, how the performance of service sector medium-sized enterprises is assessed in terms of financial, market and service supply criteria, how service sector medium-sized enterprises have reached their current status and how they intend to progress in the future, and the organisational, service supply and market factors employed in the past and how these might change in the future.