Service design and User Experience design: a complex partnership

The idea behind service design (SD) is to make ‘services’ easier, quicker and more delightful to engage with. Sound familiar? It’s not too dissimilar from user experience (UX) with its goal to improve effectiveness, efficiency, satisfaction, and more recently, desirability.

The major difference between SD and UX is neither the overarching aim of the work nor is it the tools, techniques and methodologies used. What sets them apart is the scope, both internal (within a company or organisation) and external (dealing with those outside company or organisation).

UX has traditionally centred around digital interactive touch points, like websites or mobile applications. However, when using a SD point of view, people start thinking about and looking beyond the digital, to other touch points, such as the shop layout, the information poster, or the brand.

How Service Design and User Experience overlap

While the scope of SD and UX can differ, they both aim to create and deliver something people can, and want to, use. Whether these people are internal or external, called customers or users, it doesn’t matter. We still need ways to find out what these people need and how best to serve them.

To this end a number of the methods and tools used within UX are also used within SD, albeit sometimes with slightly different names. These include:

  • Customer journey maps
  • Personas
  • Storyboards
  • Ideation workshops
  • Prototyping
  • User research

By using these methods and tools, we can discover where problems exist and ascertain if anything is missing. From here we can develop the best solutions that will not only allow easier engagement, but also provide more desirable engagement for existing and future users.

User Experience and Service Design: universal challenges

There are a range of prevailing challenges and problems that affect both UX and SD. One of the most important of these is problem definition.

All too often, neither enough time or effort is given to trying to find out exactly what it is that needs to be solved.

Albert Einstein put it best when he said:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

By not correctly defining the problem, no matter how well the rest of the project goes you won’t be able to deliver the best solution.

Other challenges and problems that affect both fields include:

  • Managing client expectations
  • Working with prototypes that:
    • The user doesn’t take as a finished product
    • The client doesn’t take as a finished product
  • Removing moderator bias for user research

All of these challenges and more exist in both fields, yet you rarely find situations where we are working together to solve them.

The future for Service Design and User Experience

I have shown so far there is a strong overlap between the skills and knowledge that can be found within UX and SD, so it could be argued that the UX field is a part of the SD area, however this is currently not true. Instead there is a definite disconnect between the two fields and a lot of this can be lead back to how we communicate.

As SD is such a multidisciplinary field there are naturally areas that cannot be covered by traditional UX (and nor should it). Similarly in some cases, a digital design needs to be addressed separately by UX professionals in order to preserve the usability of the application, website or digital journey.

However rather than having both as separate entities we should be looking at how SD and UX can better complement and learn from each other. Even if the tasks within a project are being completed at different times, we should be exploring both areas within the project. And while project limitations or scope means we can’t explore this other area fully, we need to know it is there.

Overall it’s not just a case of better recognising each other’s work, but also working together, pooling our knowledge and experiences. This will lead to greater understanding and consistency in terminology for the various tools and methodologies.

Ultimately this will help us create better ideas and give people the best ‘service’ they are looking for.

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