Since service design started gaining ground in business conversations, it is not rare to come across questions or comments like: “what do you mean by service?”, and “Ah, it’s basically UX design” or “Ok, but can you make wireframes?”.
In facts, considering the increasing intangibility of products in the digital age, the distinction between products and services nowadays is subject to frequent misunderstandings and many people, both design and non-design practitioners, struggle to see the differences between design disciplines like UX design or product design.
After seeing some patterns in these conversations, I got triggered to make some reflections on the role of service design in relation to other design disciplines, and particularly UX design, and I decided to share them on October 18th at one of Amsterdam’s most popular events in the design field, Ladies That UX.
This post aims as summarising my thoughts about this topic and share them with the dedicated and passionate network of Laurea SID students.
A snapshot from my talk at Ladies That UX Amsterdam
According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, nowadays the services sector accounts for almost 70% of global GDP, as in the index which is globally used to measure the market value of all the goods and services produced in a certain period of time. I find this pretty funny, considering that GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product, but also very representative of the world we live now.
In facts, whether we are aware of what a service is, services are all around us and we experience them everyday. And yet, the word “service” is still very little understood.
Back in time, the traditional distinction between a service and a product was seen as lying in physical evidence: as opposed to a product being something we can touch, smell, and see, a service is difficult to assess. Now, considering that in the digital age that distinction breaks down substantially, if nowadays our job as product designers, UX designers and service designers is about designing intangible experiences, are we essentially all doing the same thing?
My answer is no.
This is because the distinction between a product and a service goes beyond the physical aspect of the experience.
As opposed to a product being something that the customer purchases as a one-off, a service is an intangible experience characterised by an ongoing relationship with a service provider, who offers access to a solution that delivers value.
To put it in other words, the difference between a digital product and a service lies in ownership. If products, once purchased, are owned by the customer, services instead offer access to a solution without implying the ownership over it. Think about Spotify: it gives us access to a vast library of songs, and it’s no longer asking us to buy them one by one.
If we take the distinction in these terms, a service mindset doesn’t only lead to longer term, stronger relationship with customers but often also to a different business model. For these (and more) reasons, the design of a product (be it digital or analog) and a service require different focuses.
“A service is something that a customer uses but does not own.”
Mat Hunter, CDO at UK Design Council
What UXD and SD have in common
Now that we can agree upon the fact that these two disciplines have a reason to be called with different names, we should start from acknowledging that, as both falling under the design umbrella, they do have a few aspects in common.
1. Designing experiences
One of the reasons why the term user experience (UX) design can be confusing is that all design disciplines should be directed towards designing meaningful experiences. The distinction lies in the fact that some will have a strong focus on the digital environment, some will not.
2. Designing for people
Whatever the type of experience we are busy designing, the ultimate goal of both UX and Service (as well as other types of) designers is to make sure this experience adds value to someone’s life. We aim to understand our user’s needs and design solutions that will help overcoming their main challenges.
3 Drawing from similar tools and methods
To address design challenges, we arguably go through the same creative process and draw from a very similar set of tools and methods. Whatever the design output, at the end of the day sketching, conducting surveys, facilitating workshops, and mapping stakeholder are our daily supper.
A summary of aspects Service and UX design have in common, from my presentation at Ladies that UX Amsterdam
A map of UX and Service Design tools by Clearleft
The main differences of a service design approach
In my experience, there are three main aspects that mark a different approach between Service and UX design.
1. Addressing the design challenge from a different height
The most fundamental difference between UX design and service design lies in the nature of the design problem that we are trying to solve. While UX designers typically zoom into designing very detailed experiences which are often confined to an individual “touchpoints” within a service, service designers zoom out and aim to understand the bigger picture.
2. Looking beyond and across single touchpoints
While service designers are interested in users’ experience of individual touchpoints, they are also interested in how those touchpoints are connected, how people interact with a service, and what the experience of that journey is. Provided that UX designers and service designers all start from asking themselves the same questions: “Who are we designing for?”, “What are these people’s needs, goals, and ambitions?”, UX designers will focus on identifying the most important tasks a user would want to complete within a website and an app, and turn them into a seamless digital experience. Service designers instead will look into the end-to-end experience across and beyond digital touchpoints. That could concern other touchpoints, the brand, and anything else that altogether forms an experience in the eye of the user.
3. Bridging the voice of different stakeholders
In UX design, when we talk about “users”, we are almost always talking about customers, or at least an end-user who will be experiencing the service. In service design instead, the approach is again a bit wider. As aiming to understand systems, or rather ecosystems, and connect products and services into a unique experience, gather the experiences and needs of not only the customer, but also of other users behind the service visibility line, as in behind the front stage. They identify stakeholders and work together on both the customer side and service side to co-create possible solutions and service improvements. This is because the staff, as well as other possible stakeholders like suppliers and so on also interact with touchpoints and the quality of their experience using those touchpoints—as well as the ease of their own journey around the service’s “backstage”—will have a strong impact on the eventual quality of the customer experience.
Another shot from my presentation at Ladies that UX Amsterdam, summarising how a service design approach differs from a UX design approach
UX and Service Design to improve patients’ experience across the health continuum
In the attempt to provide a practical example on how service and UX designers can and should collaborate to design greater experiences, I will share some insights on a project I am currently working on in the field of healthcare. In facts, services in the healthcare industry are systems where many stakeholders with different needs interact and share value one another, therefore requiring a thorough understanding of the context not only to deliver value to end users but to improve the experience of different players within the same ecosystem.
In this case, the project goal is to empower patients in having a better control on their health data and take a proactive role in their health management.
Below a short summary of how we are addressing the complexity of the project from a service (and UX) design standpoint.
The health continuum, known as patient lifecycle
Designing beyond in-clinic experience
Usually the peaks in a patient’s journey concern their clinical experience: in the best case scenario, that particular experience might involve professional trained staff, good and prompt communication with the patient, short waiting times etc. So, overall, a great experience. However, research shows that between one visit at the clinic and the next one, there seem to be experience gaps where patients have needs that are not catered to, such as feeling in control over one’s personal health status and being reassured. Essentially, in between one touchpoint and the other, there is often nothing in between. Building on this insight, our efforts are currently focusing on analysing the end-to-end patient journey, or life-cycle, to identify experience gaps and better frame unmet needs. We believe this will help building a solid baseline to support patients in being better informed and proactive about their health.
Identifying new opportunities by listening to different stakeholders’ points of view
Starting from the fact that this project is aimed empowering people to take active ownership on their own health, one of the main goal we as a team have is to make sure people stay healthy. After starting from framing patients needs we figured out that, if we wanted to understand the context properly, we should not only look beyond touchpoint but also understand the perspective of different stakeholders who are part of this system. As an example, by including pharmacies in the conversation, we found out that people who are prescribed with medicines very often don’t show up at the pharmacy to pick up their drugs. This suggested that, even by designing a great in clinic and home-care experience, if we didn’t cross other (major and minor) stakeholders’ insights we would have failed, somehow, at reaching our ultimate goal and missed out on some good opportunities.
Aligning different visions through service design
When I started this project, it was already at an advanced development stage. On my first week, my team members shared a link to a high resolution interactive prototype of the service we were there to design. Though, as soon as I started reading documents and talking to other team members I figured that there were many contrasting opinions about what the service proposition would be about. People would stress different aspects of it, and as a result, give quite different definitions of the service value proposition. Hence, by zooming out from the digital prototype and taking some time to visually describe a patient’s experience, we brought together all team members and kicked off a conversation that eventually led to an alignment of different points of view. By taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, we are now more confident that the experience on and across touchpoints is clear and complete and that really meets users needs, other than business goals. And mostly, we figured that neither a UX design nor a service design approach wins over the other: in order to deliver an experience that is both good at a high and low level we simply need these two design disciplines to work hand in hand.
World Bank, World Development Indicators, http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/4.2