User Experience

Service design or UX design? Spoiler alert: you need both

Customer Journey maps, persona’s, user research, prototyping, design sprints …are just a few of the fancy buzzwords designers like to throw around these days. And rightly so, because each of these can bring great added value to grow your business. However, it can get confusing to know exactly what you need and most importantly… where to start. Good thing you came to the right place!

Today, we unravel some of the mysteries related to service design and UX design. After this article, you will have a better understanding of why these two disciplines go hand in hand, how they differ and when to focus on which discipline to create or improve your service/product. We can already tell you, to create a well-thought-out service you both need service and UX design.  But first, let’s dive deeper into the different disciplines.

“If service design would be a novel and UX design would be a crucial chapter in that novel, both would be unpleasant and unclear to read without the other.”

Service/UX design workshop

What is Service Design?

“A service designer is focused on identifying how touchpoints work together, from both the perspective of the end-user, and those responsible for running the service.”

A touchpoint is a segment that is part of the overall operation of the service. An example could be a website, a digital app, a physical product …

A service designer holds into account the design of the service so that it meets the needs of the customer, but in addition he will also hold into account the general interactions of the end customer with the organization or brand and all the service-side users.

A short example:

You need to shop for groceries but you’re also short in time because you need to pick up your kids from school. Suddenly you remember the new service of Gorilla’s where you can shop your food online and have it delivered at home in under 20 minutes. Win-win, because now you can order anything you need while waiting at the school of your kids and the groceries will be delivered by the time you get home.

In this case, a service designer would:

  • Define the best way to translate the business proposition into a service / product-service
  • Define the needs and wants of all the stakeholders including the customer and service-provider
  • Define a map of the overall design system including all necessary touchpoints
  • Define the connection between the different touchpoints (E.g: application, delivery, confirmation e-mail, …) with regard to efficiency, business goals, user needs, durability, etc…
  • Map out the service using a service ecology, blueprint and/or user journeys
  • Keep track of the micro (touchpoints) and macro (system) design process

Quite a lot they got on their plate, no? If you incorporate service design, you can be sure every inch of your business is going to be turned inside out to reach your set goals. However, is this approach the one you (always) need? Let’s take a look at where UX design comes into the picture.

What is UX Design?

“UX design is the design of an experience that a user has while interacting with a business or a service. This can be translated into digital or non-digital products and relates to the individual touchpoints we explained a bit earlier. Examples could be a website, an application, a manual or a physical product in general.”

A UX designer will make sure the needs of the user will be prioritized in the design process. Their main focus is to minimize the cognitive load and decision-making time of users.

Thinking back to our previous example of shopping for groceries, a UX designer would:

  • Define the needs and wants of the user
  • Define the requirements regarding the touchpoint the user interacts with (E.g: the Gorilla’s application)
  • Define worries, problems or other obstacles the user might experience
  • Define the user’s goals
  • Define the specific actions the user needs to do to achieve these goals
  • Design wireframes accordingly to the acquired insights
  • Prototype and test these wireframes for validation and/or optimization

As you can see, UX designers will focus more on one specific user context and make sure every single detail is addressed and designed to guarantee an optimal experience.

So, since UX and Service design are two different disciplines. Can they be separated?

Preferably no. There needs to be some overlap between these disciplines to guarantee an optimal user experience. It is possible to separate these design processes but with a risk of losing general coherence which then again will negatively affect the user’s interaction with your service/product.

Since we’ve just discussed the difference between UX and service design, it should be clear that one discipline focuses on designing the bigger picture and the other designs for a specific context within that bigger picture. Both UX and service design should be seen as equally relevant and inseparable from a customer-centric design approach. Metaphorically put: “If service design would be a novel and UX design would be a crucial chapter in that novel, both would be unpleasant and unclear to read without the other.”

Unfortunately, in reality, we often see that these two disciplines are not included equally when designing or optimizing a new service/product. This could result in some of the following consequences:

  • Unclear ecosystem for your service
  • Friction between different touchpoints in the system because they were designed in isolation
  • Wrong requirements for the individual touchpoints
  • Rigid design solutions which are not future proof
  • No general approach to conducting your service as an organization
  • Mediocre or bad user experience

But what if I can’t do both?

As a design agency, we often come across situations where the client doesn’t have the time or the budget to go through both stages of service and UX design. In an ideal world, you would start with a service design trajectory, mapping out your complete business and service, so you would have a clear vision of your unique ecosystem. Afterwards, you would go over the different touchpoints in detail from a user’s point of view, leaning more into the UX design process.

However, getting a quick start can contribute to mapping out the bigger picture of your offering. In that case, a UX design approach could result in your business being up and running faster, which will also enable you to collect valuable data sooner.

If you are doubting where to start, the following questions might point you in the right direction:

  • Do we have clear goals and intentions set? If yes, at what goals are we succeeding, and at what goals are we not?
  • Are there any optimizations that should be done within our organization to reach these goals?
  • Do we notice friction between our proposition and how the user receives this?
  • Do we know how our users perceive us as a company and if yes, is there specific user feedback that we need to address? If not, what steps do we need to take to get more user feedback?

Define where you don’t have the leverage you wish, prioritize the aspects that would create the most positive impact once you address them, and start from there. Depending on the most urgent problem(s) you will focus on a service or UX design approach.


Increased access to high-speed internet has made it feasible for digital services to replace physical products. It will become more and more relevant to implement both service and UX design principles to ensure an optimal user experience and a favorable position towards your competition. Good design agencies (like us 😇), will understand that the process of creating or optimizing a service is an iterative process where the focus between UX and service design will alternate.

So, if there is one key takeaway we hope you remember, it is that it’s most important to know where you stand in your design process to know where you need to go (resulting in a more service design approach or a UX design approach).

Not sure about where you stand? A design sprint might be exactly what you need!

We are a UX-focused company always holding into account the bigger framework so we can guarantee a durable designed solution within that framework. We’ll guide you step by step to discover exactly what next steps you should take.

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