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UX Design and Service Design – What’s the Difference?

Trinidad Wiseman

Service design is often seen as user experience design and vice versa, even though we are dealing with two very different approaches. In this article I will talk about bit about the goals and differences between the two design principles. 

What is service design?

A service is comprised of several touch points between a user and service. Service designers are called in when a service needs improvement and/or there is a rise in customer complaints. They then use a number of different methods to redesign this service. The clip below does a great job in explaining the methods and process.

Service design is mostly used when services occur in face-to-face situations. An example of a service design process is a visit to the emergency room. We have probably all been in a situation where we need quick help, but are stumped when we arrive to the hospital. Often enough we need to spend several mind-numbing hours in the waiting room before getting the treatment we need.

This process can in fact be much smoother and pleasant for the customer, i.e. you. The whole goal of service design is to simplify everyday life. Great services benefit both service providers and customers themselves.

Why this separation between UX design and service design?  

It all comes down to different tools for different needs. We talk about user experience design or interaction design when we are dealing with a person vs. system scenario and you need to use a product or a system.

The UX design process concentrates on more specific touch points in the process, e.g. opening a door, pouring a drink or using a software tool.  

Both UX designers and service designers do a lot of interviews, observations and user journey mapping. Prototyping and testing are used somewhat differently.

Different methods and methodologies

Service prototyping often consists of generating mock-ups, while testing means playing through these hypothetical scenarios. You can film the test scenarios and make notes, but these are where the possibilities end.  

In user experience design there are several software tools that help you analyze your tests and write reports. Good examples are Morae Recorder and Silverback, testing tools that record how users use a website. We also use eye tracking and a variety of different analysis tools.

Card sorting is a method that is used purely in interaction design. It is used when navigation is complicated and users can’t find the information. This makes it very easy to build the content structure of even the biggest of websites.

Holistic approach works best

Here at Trinidad we use the tool-sets of both design principles and employ both interaction designers and service designers. If you have both a face-to-face service AND also a website, information system or a phone app then all these details need to work in sync.

In the end this translates to good customer experience and can change your entire business for the better and more profitable.


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