UX design vs. Service Design - what is the difference?

Updated: Sep 17


Photo by UX Store on Unsplash

Service design and user experience (UX) design are terms that generate a lot of buzz lately, although it seems as if a lot of people confuse one with the other. Some people believe that UX design is just the same as service design, but with emphasis on creating digital solutions for consumers. However, those approaches have their differences, as well as their own strengths. In a nutshell, service design is used on an organizational level in order to develop end-to-end experiences. It aims to improve both the customer’s and/ or consumer’s experience throughout different touchpoints, as well as the employee experience. On the other hand, UX design focuses on creating meaningful (mostly digital) experiences for the users alone.


The most fundamental difference between UX design and service design is the nature of the design problem that they are trying to solve, says designer Andrew Wilshere. Research is important for both, but the time and nature of the exploration differs vastly, adds Marc Fontaijn, creator of the Service Design Show. Sometimes these approaches are seen as the two sides of a single coin because you can’t have one without the other. One of the most suitable analogies that we have come across to differ those methods is that while UX design is just the tip, service design is the whole iceberg when it comes to creating valuable experiences.


UX design fundamentals


UX design is related to the experience that a user has each time they interact with a business or service provider. The term was introduced by former Apple VP Don Norman while he and his team aimed to shape the user experience of not just the software or interface, but also everything that framed that experience. However, in today’s industry UX design very often refers to the design of digital products like websites and apps.


A UX designer is likely to identify the most important tasks a user would want to complete and quickly start to generate solutions for their pain points. The jump from exploration to validation is rapid. The goal is to make your product or service that is as user-friendly as possible.


When it comes to the online journey of the consumer, the User interface (UI) design is of grave importance. And again, UX design is different from UI design, but one cannot exist without the other. If we come back to the iceberg analogy, UI is just the frosting on its tip. In that sense, service design is to UX design what UX is to UI design. And as you come up with an idea of your user’s experience, you also need to think about how the organization will deliver it and if it will live up to the customers' expectations.

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

Service design fundamentals


Service design is about creating a new service or making an existing one better so that it can meet the needs of those we are designing for. It aligns the touchpoints that the consumer has with the different silos of an organization - marketing, sales, production, and support, in order to create the overall user experience. Service design is linked with how, rather than what is being created, unlike in the case of UX design. Service designers create Service Blueprints and Customer Journey Maps that help them plan and organise a business’s systems and resources in a human-centred way, whereas UX designers mostly develop Wireframes, Personas, and Prototypes.


Service designers are likely to be consulted in response to a major problem or when changes across multiple parts of a service are required. A company needs to think about the pain points, the unmet needs and desires of the people it creates experiences for, about their aspirations and dreams. The idea generation to solve their problems should be followed up by creating a prototype that needs to be tested and refined before it is put on the market.

Research in service design tends to be more open - there is more room to explore and get insights. Whereas UX design is focused more on creating solutions and testing them rapidly without digging deeper to find alternatives. You can’t have an experience if you don’t have anyone to create it. You also can’t come up with a solution if you don’t have an end-user to experience it. “A design isn’t finished until somebody is using it.” Brenda Laurel, designer at MIT.


Principles of service design


It is not surprising that in recent years a lot of UX designers are making the transition towards service design, because of its holistic nature. In order to adapt to the method, a UX designer needs to understand the basic principles of service design thinking:


  • Services need to be designed based on user’s unmet needs and unarticulated aspirations rather than the needs of the business

  • Services need to bring value to users and customers and designed to be efficient for as many people as possible

  • Services should always be designed with input from all users, customers and other internal or external stakeholders

  • Services should be prototyped and tested with the users before being launched

  • Services must be designed in alignment with a clear business strategy and company values


Service design vs Excellent service design


A lot of companies believe that if they understand why a user or a customer needs a certain service and what they are trying to achieve by using it, they are offering a good service. This is not exactly the case. Providing excellent service design is about optimising the service for the user or customer. It refers to what is best for the consumer or customer instead of what is best for the company. Bad service design puts business profits first while it should be putting customers at the center of every service. Excellent service design would be a service designed optimally for both the user and the business or service provider, with environmental and ethical issues factored in from the very start of the product design journey.


The line between distinguishing Service design and UX design is thin because the two approaches somewhat overlap. After all, they are both grounded in the same human-centered mindset and approach and they share similar tools. However, while service designers are interested in users’ experience of individual touchpoints, they are also interested in how those touchpoints are connected. It co-creates with customers, users and employees to optimise systems for everyone's increasing demands. Experts believe that people who don’t understand the differences between the two disciplines, won’t be able to fully understand their strength and create the best possible user experiences.


- Fabrica 360


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