Service design and UX? What is the difference?

Marlena Walburg

The times when there was just design, and it described everything are gone. Not to make our lives difficult. On the contrary, new disciplines such as user experience, product design and service design facilitate the use of modern digital goods. At the same time, sometimes, it is undoubtedly challenging to perceive the differences between different types of design approaches. Although it is pretty hard to grasp at first glance, and the dissimilarities are indeed subtle, after some reading, you will see what is what easily. As a word of introduction, service design and user experience design are not the same disciplines. However, they have many standard features, and the same tools and methods are often used. So how exactly are they different? Or maybe you need clarification on what is service design or user experience design? The answers are here; just carry on reading.

What is service design?

In short, we can describe service design as inventing new services and innovations in business and changing and optimizing the existing ones. It is a human-centered approach that aims to organize services in such a way as to ensure the best possible user experience while delivering them efficiently. A service, in turn, is a non-productive action that consists of activities undertaken to provide specific benefits or meet needs. An important feature is that service design, just like UX, focuses on people and their needs. However, service design addresses the end-user experience and the people from the organization that provides the service. Service design deals with the management of people, activities or processes so that the service can be provided in the best and most effective way possible. So there are a strong emphasis on the business side and goals to be achieved. User Experience design also usually has business needs in mind, but its primary goal is to satisfy those that users have. A service designer has a broad spectrum of work and considers many factors, starting from the organization’s business model, ways of interacting with the client, and points of contact between the client and the company. Therefore, service design should include aspects of the service design from the initial concept and business strategy to its delivery.

What is the difference between UX and service design?

First of all, the user experience is the whole event that the user encounters while using the product, system or service. Hence, designing user experience is creating interactive products with particular attention to providing users with positive feelings about it. The product should look attractive to the user, be functional, useful, ergonomic, and using it should be enjoyable and rewarding. When it comes to distinguishing UX from Service Design, it can prove to be a bit tricky. The blurring of boundaries also influences it by the designers themselves, who sometimes cover a much broader area in their positions. However, following the definitions and characteristics of both disciplines, it can be noticed that in user experience, we usually focus on a single point of contact between the user and the product, e.g. on the application and its individual elements. The app is designed and refined in terms of UX so that using it is simple and pleasant. In designing services, the scale is more significant and looking at the process is holistic. Service designers observe and design experiences at multiple touchpoints. They have to analyze the relationship between them and what experience they ultimately provide. It requires looking at the business context and processes taking place in the organization. Service design and UX are user-oriented, but service design is about the end-user and the internal user, the stakeholders involved in the service or provision of the designed service. 

Moreover, UX designers and service designers sometimes use different tools. Of course, both UX and Service Designers can use these tools interchangeably. For example, UX designers mainly create skeletons, personas, and prototypes. Service designers, in turn, build service plans, customer journey maps, and service ecology maps to help them idealize and organize business systems and resources in a human-centered manner. 

Service design basics

One of the leading books in this field, This Is Service Design Doing: Applying Service Design Thinking in the Real World from 2018, proposes six pillars of service design:

  • Human-centered – the experiences of everyone involved in delivering and receiving the service are essential.
  • Collaborative – representatives of various levels of the organisation should be involved in the design of services and the customers and competitors themselves.
  • Iterative – service design is an innovative approach that allows companies to adapt to changes, so it is worth regularly analysing and optimising services with its use.
  • Sequential – service design should take into account all interactions that occur both before, after and during the use of the service.
  • Real – needs should be studied in reality, ideas – prototyped in reality, and intangible assets should be presented as physical or digital reality.
  • Holistic – a holistic approach allows you to design services that meet customers’ needs and all parties involved in the process.

Additionally, in designing services, you can use various tools to help understand the user experience and build satisfactory, effective services. One of such techniques is the Customer Journey. It is a process that consists of recreating all experiences that occur between customers and a given brand. It enables their detailed analysis, thanks to which it is possible to identify aspects that require improvement, change, or a complete redesign, and then their optimization. By carrying out this process, a Customer Journey Map is created. It is a visual reflection of all points of contact between consumers and the company. Its creation consists of recreating complete customer paths and therefore focuses on the stage before, during and after interacting with the service/product. Design Thinking is also a handy concept in the service design process. The most popular model of the design thinking process consists of 5 stages, aimed at the best solution to the problem and improvement of the service or product. However, the design thinking process should not be treated linearly, and many techniques support the multiple interpenetrations of subsequent stages. We will provide a more detailed description of what Design Thinking strategies may look like in the next section.

Process of service design

The goal of the service design process is to find solutions to specific problems. When we consider that each company is different, the service design process can take place in many ways as to how many issues need to be solved or how many companies have individual goals. However, in designing services, many models and techniques generally applied in this field, such as Design Thinking, are used. Based on it, you can meet the two most popular models developed by the British Design Council and the Institute of Design at Stanford. The first of them created the Double Diamond model.

The Double Diamond model is based on the concept of design thinking stages and divides service design into four stages:

  • Discover – recognising and understanding the problem.
  • Define – precise formulation of the problem.
  • Develop – developing solutions to a given problem.
  • Deliver – choosing a solution with tremendous potential and testing it.

The stages of Service Design, according to the Institute of Design at Stanford are similar, but slightly differently formulated and subdivided:

  • Empathise – means getting to know the experiences and expectations of the recipients, which takes place based on the conducted research. Tools such as Customer Journey Map, empathy maps, interviews and workshops are helpful at this stage.
  • Define problems – involves drawing and formulating conclusions from previous analyses.
  • Ideate – means the process of developing solutions to a problem and choosing the best one.
  • Prototype – it is about creating skeletons of developed solutions that verify their effectiveness before implementation.
  • Testing – showing prototypes to recipients and collecting feedback.

What is better for digital product development?

Assuming you are creating a digital product, you certainly need to incorporate aspects of user experience design into your development. Without this, the product may not meet users’ needs, be unintuitive, difficult to use, or otherwise defective on that point. Although it also includes UX, service design usually concerns a different type of digital product or a specific service. It means that by designing your service as part of your application, you will embrace the process while still creating the right user experience. 

There may be a situation in which you design UX but not services. An example would be developing an application with many functions but does not require focusing on creating service because it will not offer any; it will be a complete product in itself. However, keep in mind that many design methods, whether services or experiences, can be useful in developing digital products without the need to divide them into service or UX design. However, it is, of course, relevant to know the differences between the two.


Both service design and user experience design are here to help develop a final product ideally suited to the recipients. You probably already understand the differences between them. They are closely related and do not actually compete with each other. It is also crucial to understand their value in the digital product development process. After all, addressing the needs and requirements of target groups is one of the project’s primary goals. That is why all design-related terms have recently gained greater importance in the business world. Hence, for the sake of your customers and your business, remember to take care of your digital product in this respect, too.

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