User Experience Design and Service Design, what’s the difference!?

Service design and user experience design are not the same. The people who understand the strengths of both are those who can create solutions with the most impact.

Curious what the strengths are? Stick around!

Some say that user experience design is just service design with a focus on digital interfaces. I don’t think that’s entirely the case.

Yes, they have a lot in common, but they are different with their own strengths. And I think the people who don’t see the differences won’t be able to fully use these strengths and create the best possible user experience.

Let’s talk about the relationship between the problem space and the solution space.

The problem space is where you do research to try to understand your users, the world and their specific needs. It’s a space you enter with an open mindset, trying to make sense of it. It’s a space where you try to find problems that are worth solving.

In the solution space, you generate new ideas. It’s a space where you explore new scenarios and try to make a future tangible by prototyping.

For me, the big difference between user experience design and service design is how they deal with the problem space.

Yes, research is important in both service and user experience design, but the type and nature of research differs vastly.

Let’s look at this from a case study perspective. Imagine that a bank has the ambition to make the first-time home buying process more user-centered with a typical service design project. You’d first try to understand who these first-time home buyers are and what they are going through. What’s their life like? What are their dreams, ambitions, fears, and the challenges of buying a home for the first time?

Based on the insights you get through field research, you’ll start generating new ideas. Service design is by its very nature is channel agnostic. These ideas will come in a lot of different shapes and sizes that range anywhere from training the bank staff to handle questions from these first-time home buyers differently to creating a YouTube channel where you share videos to educate your target group. You could even decide to restructure internal processes, removing some of the touchpoints that weren’t adding any value.

When you approach the same challenge from the user experience design perspective, the scope is already narrowed down.

You know that the outcome of the process will be a new or improved digital product or service and yes, that can still mean a lot of different things. That makes research still very important, because you’ll want to know what pain points first-time home buyers have that you should be addressing.

In general, user experience design tends to move from research to ideation much quicker than service design does.

It’s likely you’ll start generating solutions for these pain points relatively quickly. And the solutions will be in the digital realm and most likely screen-based.

It’s at this stage where user experience design takes a different turn from service design. The nature of the research shifts from exploration to validation. You start to focus on creating the best possible user experience with English digital products or services and it becomes about optimizing how your product or service works and feels, and how can we make it as user friendly as possible.

Let me be very clear about this, this isn’t a bad thing. I’d go as far as saying that it’s a blessing that user experience design is gaining traction and the clients see the value and are willing to invest in it. Heck, if I were a client, I’d pick an agency that knows a thing or two about user experience design over one that doesn’t, any day of the week.

So, what about the problem space and the solution space?

Research in service design tends to be more open. There’s more room to explore and gather insight, and it tends to take a holistic perspective on challenges. In other words, you’re working in the problem space.

User experience design spends more time in the solution space. It focuses on creating solutions and optimizing them. Research is about validating ideas rather than exploring alternatives.

We could say that user experience design is more about execution with a user in mind, although they are both grounded in the same human-centered mindset and approach, and the shell of the same tools and methods.

Again, I want to stress that I’m not saying one is better or more important. I think it’s good that we recognize the differences and make use of each other’s strengths.

So, what do you think? Could it be that service design and user experience design are converging to a point where there won’t be any differences in the future? Let me know!

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