5 service design considerations to make as a UX designer

Published on February 12, 2018

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”

-Tom Goodwin, senior vice president of strategy and innovation at Havas Media

There’s a strong relationship between service design and UX design, with both human-centric fields sharing nearly identical ideologies and methods. The main differentiator among the two is that service design orchestrates the experience between customers and their service providers, including the various channels and touchpoints along the customer journey. On the other hand, UX designers are predominantly concerned with customers’ experience along digital channels. Ultimately, the main goal for both fields is to help customers fulfill their needs with minimal effort while also enjoying the experience.

While UX design continues to maintain it’s enigmatic reputation to the general public (and even with practitioners), service design is quickly becoming increasingly relevant as we see value shift from tangible goods to services. Technology is helping to push that forward, and some of the most well-known companies today provide services over tangible goods: Airbnb, Uber, and Facebook.

With such a significant connection, it’s only natural that UX designers begin gravitating towards service design. To build better products for customers, it’s important for UX designers to consider the service and ecosystem our products belong to, where applicable. Here’s five simple considerations to start doing this:

1. Assess the system where your product lives

As a UX designer, it’s likely that you’re already doing this. So, as a reminder, if the channel you’re designing for has a relationship with other channels, ensure that there’s a unified, cohesive experience between them. Using the same design patterns throughout the products is one way to accomplish this, allowing users to swiftly move from product to product without having to exert excess cognitive effort. For example, consider the familiarity you see between the desktop and mobile versions of your favorite social networks.

Additionally, consider the various customers, service providers, and touchpoints involved in the use of the product and overall services. Create a cross-channel view map – a basic diagram that outlines the relationship between various channels.

2. Understand customer behaviors across lifecycles

You should consider your users as customers who use various services, have various motivations that influence their decisions, and are at different stages within a lifecycle. There are several types of life cycles that one can map (such as human, consumer, and customer lifecycles) to help you understand what drives your customer to use a service. It could be a major life event, such as a wedding, or something seemingly arbitrary, such as the weather. Whatever it might be, empathizing with your customers will help you understand how to design your service to cater to their unique needs.

Contemplate the needs of a person that is travelling to a foreign country for a vacation – their emotional state and focus is largely attributed to whether their expectations are met during the trip planning process, during the trip itself and after the trip is over. Travel-based services should account for the unique emotional needs of new travelers, seasoned travelers, frustrated travelers, and beyond throughout all steps of the trip (from planning to arriving back home). Good service experiences should naturally provide the business with repeat customers and referrals.

3. Include the experience of the ‘backstage actors’ in your designs

In service design, customers are considered ‘front stage actors’, while ‘backstage actors’ are those that work for the service and interact with customers. For existing services, backstage actors have a lot of insight on customer needs as well as their own needs. Understanding their perspective helps you identify customer pain points within the portion of the service that they operate in and helps you understand trends and patterns in customer behavior. We often conduct both stakeholder and user interviews during the UX design process.

For service design, backstage actors are also considered users and should be included in every research strategy. This helps to ensure the success of a service, as the experience of a backstage actor largely affects the experience of the front stage actor. Consider restaurants for example: if a host knows a guest’s preferences (e.g. gluten-free) and can easily communicate it to the server and the kitchen staff, the restaurant can more effectively accommodate guests needs.

4. Create a living prototype by play-acting interactions between customers and service providers

As UX designers, we’re often bound to our screen, whiteboard, or paper materials when creating various diagrams, maps, wireframes, and prototypes. There are also various digital tools that help us test our products, which can remove the human element of what we do. Try play-acting scenarios with customers, stakeholders, or members of your team to demonstrate how a channel will be used and function. You can even include a physical prototype as a point of interaction in this exercise. This is a quick, low-fidelity method to gain insights about your customer and their behavioral relationship with what you’re designing.

Since interfaces are simply a conversation between users and software, seeing interactions play-acted by real people allows designers to find opportunities to humanize the conversation and potentially see scenarios occur that weren’t yet discovered. Voice interfaces soared in popularity over the past few years, likely due to the more human-like conversational experiences they provide users (when designed well, of course).

5. Create service blueprints to tie it all together

Experience mapping is a familiar concept to UX designers. Similarly, the service design industry created its own mapping concept – service blueprints. Service blueprints are basic swim lane diagrams that display the relationships between touchpoints, channels, customers, service providers, and systems, while also taking into account external dependencies and customer emotions. They sound complicated, and certainly can be, but these blueprints allow one to get a zoomed-out view of a service and help inform the work of a UX designer.

Consider a hotel – creating a service blueprint of a hotel’s offering can help designers easily identify weaknesses, such as a lack of effective communication between the front desk and a bellhop, leading to misplaced luggage and guest frustration. In this example, the problematic communication can provide a focus area for designers to improve the service.

The methods and tools listed above should look familiar to UX designers. Making these considerations will help you begin to elevate the work that you’re doing to include the holistic service experience, where applicable. While many of us will continue to work exclusively on channels, service design continues to be a fascinating and ever-growing field for our consideration.