3 pitfalls in combining Service Design with UX Design.

Emilie van Spronsen

Reading time
5 min read

Nov 27, 2021

At Koos Service Design, we’ve been combining Service Design and UX Design for over 5 years now. Service Design is about understanding the holistic service experience, as it happens over time. All touchpoints are included: from a call with customer service to a website. It is a human-centered approach that helps to solve the right problem.

Service Designers reading this may know: a lot of crazily good service concepts and ideal Customer Journeys end up catching dust on office room dividers. UX Design, or let’s say ‘digital user experience design’, is about understanding and improving the user experience of a specific touchpoint. It is the best that could have happened to Service Design, as it clears away the dust and takes a leap to actually solving the problem, in the best possible way. Better than Swiffer, I tell you. At Koos, we’ve seen a huge increase in concept implementation, since we started UX’ing.

The other way around, Service Design is the best that could have happened to UX. We’re all being battered with apps nobody wants, digital solutions to absent problems and user flows that can’t be completed without calling customer service. No matter how elegant your design may be, if it doesn’t correspond to actual user needs, it will serve its time roaming the caverns of the Internet.

I must admit, that I’ve fallen in love with the combination of the two approaches. My life as a designer has improved: I — previously a ‘hardcore’ UX’er — am enjoying my job so much more, as I am designing solutions in close relation to actual users with actual preferences and behaviors. My designerly assumptions (“I’ve found the solution”) made a place for a humble empathy with my user (“Let me understand what could work best for you”). I started to make stuff that users fell in love with, simply because I was empathising with them. It made me a better designer, as my practices became more human-centered.

In these five years, we’ve done over 40 ‘SDUX’ projects, for more than 20 different clients. Combining the two approaches has resulted in apps that hit the spot and platforms people love to use. Also, it allowed us to bring stuff to life in an effective and iterative way. We’ve learned a lot from the cosmic duo trial and error. Just by doing, we discovered three pitfalls in combining Service Design with UX Design:


Pitfall 1: It’s hard to translate the complex outline of a service concept into one coherent product.

A Koos project often follows the process of the double diamond: firstly solving the right problem, then solving the problem right.

The Service Design process can be visualised by two diamonds with divergent and convergent phases.

In the first diamond, we fall in love with the client’s user: we ask him about his interests, past experiences and goals. New insights guaranteed. We chew on findings until we’ve found the right problem statement. What follows, are walls covered in post-its with ideas to solving this problem statement. If we’re uncertain about an idea that may have a big positive impact on the user experience, we make rapid prototypes and test this idea with actual users. We end the Service Design’s double diamond with a validated solution and a web of woolly insights.

We’ve experienced some serious headaches in taking this rich fuzziness into the UX Design phase, to translate it into one coherent digital solution. Users have multiple goals that aren’t equally important (what to include and exclude in your design?): if you have different user types, they may have different — sometimes conflicting — needs and preferences (what needs and preferences are most important? How does this prioritisation affect answering other needs by means of design?). Also, some contextual knowledge is in the air somewhere or in the back of service designer’s heads, hoping for their rightful translation to the product.

We realised that ‘the solution’ that we got out of the double diamond was an inspiring, promising vision of the future product, leaving much room for misinterpretation, miss-prioritisation, and a contradictory manifestation in starting to actually design the solution.

Pitfall 2: You tend to forget the holistic view when crunching screen after screen in UX beast mode.

Once the team is in UX beast mode, it’s in beast mode — not apt to put on their strategy glasses again. Especially after an intensive period of UX designing — feature after feature, user story after user story — the comprehensive and fuzzy strategy insights tend to be far behind. However, losing touch with strategy can be dangerous, as you might end up missing the mark.

After user testing your design, you’ll discover that your designed solution is not hitting the spot. You’re in time to iterate, but miles away from working efficiently.

Losing touch with strategy can result in missing the mark while designing.

Pitfall 3: Service Design strategy becomes outdated

During UX Designing and user testing, new insights emerge, and previously gained insights shift and alter. However, who updates his Value Proposition Canvasses, Desired Journeys and previously drawn conclusions? Exactly — nobody. It would turn your design process into an administrative burden. Result: a high chance of a somewhat fragmented view on the Service Design strategy — especially when you work with multiple people on long-term projects. At Koos, outdated strategies caused serious mojo drops: We’ve spent days of fiddling, trying to get a coherent view on the strategy, rather than wrapping our brains around design solutions.


So, what do we do?

The key to combining service design and UX Design successfully lies in the connection between the approaches. Instead of regarding the two approaches as phases, start considering them as views: Service Design offers a more zoomed out view on the user experience than UX Design. In that sense, UX Design should not be a mere follow up of service design: you should alternate them along the way.

What UX designing at Koos Service Design looks like, nowadays.

Want to read how to keep the strategy alive and kicking while UX Designing? Read it in my next article “Touchpoint Strategy Canvas — a practical tool for combining service design with UX Design” that is part of a series about blending Service Design with UX Design.

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