What’s the Difference Between Service Design, UX and CX?

What’s the Difference Between Service Design, UX and CX?

The term ‘service design’ has become overused. Partly because it’s a broad church, integrating a number of different disciplines, and partly because it’s seen as a more prestigious label for ‘user experience’ or ‘customer experience’ for agencies. As a result, it’s becoming less useful as a label – even as an industry insider, it can be hard to tell what ‘real’ service design is.

So what is the difference between UX, CX and service design? Let’s start by defining terms.

What is UX/CX? 

UX and CX deal primarily with the mechanics of how a user uses a system, and how they feel when they use those mechanics – including the effect of the non-functional elements that the system’s mechanics incorporate, such as words and images.

It’s also worth noting that while UX and CX are separate but similar fields, they are much closer to one another than either is to service design. For reasons of brevity and clarity, we’ll be discussing them as a combined discipline here. 


What is service design? 

Service design takes a fully holistic approach, and can incorporate both UX and CX. Like UX and CX, it’s user-centric, focused on improving the end-user experience. And like UX and CX, the design process is heavily informed by an initial evidence gathering phase. In the case of service design, this is usually via in-depth consultation and co-design sessions with users.


So they’re similar?

Only superficially. While there is crossover between all three disciplines, true service design is fully distinct from the more bounded approaches of UX and CX.

Fundamentally, the difference lies in the holistic approach characteristic of ‘real’ service design. A project must take into account the entire service environment – all stakeholders, actors and touchpoints, both online and offline – while considering the domino effect each small change to one area of the service will have on thoses stakeholders, actors and touchpoints in other areas.

But the differences don’t stop there. We believe there are at least three distinct properties that only a service design project will have – and that these can act as a litmus test for whether a project is true service design, or whether it’s CX dressed up. You’ll find them below.


The Test: It’s Real Service Design If…

1. It doesn’t only focus on the end-user

User-centricity is a key component of service design. It’s also a foundational aspect of CX and UX. But true service design can’t be limited to consultation with the user only – it’s fundamental that the service is designed around the service providers and commissioners too.

Who are these key actors? The service consumer is the user of a service, the service provider is the person delivering it, and the service commissioner (or ‘economic buyer’) is the person paying for it.

Here’s an example. A service design project focused on domestics at a hospital would take into account the following:

The patient (The Service Consumer)

The domestics (The Service Providers)

The NHS (The Service Commissioner/Economic Buyer)

To be fully effective, the solution must provide benefits to all three groups. Each will likely have different priorities, and this is where the skills of the service designer are tested – the solution can’t be based verbatim on the desires of each group, but the designer must arrive at a feasible solution that fits each set of needs, likely compromising on some demands in order to achieve the most effective final design. Where compromises are required, priority is ultimately given to the needs of The User.


2. Testing isn’t done in a lab

Although service design can draw on lab work, it will only be one element of the testing phase. For much of the project, the designers will be putting themselves in the shoes of the users and the service providers, and seeing how the servie works ‘on the ground’.

Back to our hospital example. Our service designers can’t possibly understand how patients and clinicians feel about the work done by the domestics from their lab or office. They’ll need to don uniforms, go to the hospital, and spend time immersed fully in the service, shadowing the real service providers and dealing with real users.


3. The brief is truly open ended

A prescriptive brief begs a solution that’s bounded, even restricted, instead of holistic. Only a truly open ended question – ‘How can this service be improved?’ – will be broad enough for a truly service design based approach.

In the hospital, this means that the brief isn’t ‘How can our domestics clean these wards faster?’, but could be ‘How can our domestics improve the overall patient experience?’.


Final thoughts                    

Real service design is fundamentally different to UX and CX – and the difference is most obvious in a project’s outcome.

Start with a UX problem, and you’ll follow a linear path to a UX solution. But start with a service design problem, and while the road to the solution might be a little longer and a little twistier, you’ll end up with a comprehensive solution covering a huge range of aspects – two of which might well be CX and UX.

Unpublished form