If you have a hammer… the UX perspective on Service Design

Companies transitioning to service design from UX run the very real risk of projecting a skill set and perspective onto a problem space that is much more than an extension of UX and digital.

I’ve been noticing a worrying trend in the past two years or so as some UX agencies look to make the transition to Service Design. There is a strong desire on their part to quickly make sense of this new type of design challenge and, reasonably so, they project their existing skill set on to the new domain. The problem (of service design) therefore becomes framed in terms of its extension to a typical UX project.

Service Design is not an extension to UX. It is not a more complex version of UX. It is not “just like UX, only …” at all.

Approaching the design of a service using a Service Design methodology (no, those two things are not the same) is a complex undertaking. Yes, it encompasses more than the user’s experience of a specific touchpoint. Yes, the underlying application of design methods to the problem will feel familiar to people who apply design methods to other types of problems such as UX.

But Service Design is equally about process improvement (for its own sake). And Service Design is about improving the staff experience (for its own sake). And Service Design is about infrastructure, and culture, and roles & responsibilities, and professional development, and organisational capability. And so to approach Service Design as an extension of UX as you’ve been practicing it on your ecommerce site or your app is to completely fail to appreciate the problem you’re tackling.

To approach a Service Design project you need to think holistically, think systemically, and think about the end-to-end flow as PEOPLE move through the service (on both sides of the counter). And you need to look under the bonnet at the processes, systems and infrastructure required in order to deliver on that service.

It is tempting to try and simplify it down to something that better matches your existing capabilities, but Service Design requires different skills as well as those of which you’re already possessed. Ultimately, our clients deserve more from us than an attempt to shoe-horn their problem into our skill set. We need to continually learn if we want to continually take on new challenges.

Service Design offers designers a wonderful avenue to grow their skills, experience, and portfolio. To capitalise on that opportunity, though, we need to grow and adapt to the problem, not try and simplify the problem to suit our current skills.