I’ve come to a disarming realization: Everything old is new again. Lady Gaga is the new Madonna, the Tea Party movement mimics the protests of the 1970sexcept the left is now the rightand the interest in how to design for service seems much like the interest in how to design for experience that emerged in the mid-1990s.
The comparison of experience design (or UX, as it has been labeled) and service design seems to be a topic of interest in the interaction design community. Recently, Jeff Howard took to his service-design blog to argue that while service designers embrace participatory values, UX designers do not . This opened up a huge can of worms, spurring arguments about the character and nature of service and UX designs among current leading practitioners in the field.
One question that comes to mind is whether it is even important to make a distinction between these two subdisciplines of interaction design, or if the difference is purely semantic. While I think it is good to have foundational definitions to help further the field, I also believe these starting points can quickly become points of departure. Asking these questions prompts the interaction design community to consider the similarities and differences between service design and experience design, and to reflect on whether service design and experience design, and for that matter, interaction design, are really all the same. Can we and should we articulate differences among these fields? Can the methods and knowledge of one successfully transfer to another?
A good place to start is with founding definitions of both service design and experience design. Service design has been defined as an overall transactional journey, constructed of smaller encounters between employees and customers, customers and technology, and technology and employees . A service design is produced at the time it is consumed; it may have few to no tangible properties.
Experience design has been defined as the practice of designing products, services, events, and environments with a focus on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions, rather than a focus on increasing and improving functionality of the design .
In the 1980s, early practitioners were inspired by the field of operations research to define the field of service design and articulate how service designs might be represented, or blueprinted . How to design to support user experience became of interest to the design community just a decade later. Interest grew on both sides of the Atlantic, resulting in user-centered, product-centered, and interaction-centered frameworks that drew from literature on art, aesthetics, and cognitive psychology to explain the phenomena of experience and to guide designers in how to design [for an overview, see 5].
All Look Same
At first inspection, experience design and service design have many similarities. Historically, both have drawn from other fields to develop sensitizing constructs for their fields. Service design traditionally drew from operations management research; interaction design continues to draw from consumer and cognitive psychology to develop ideas about how customers frame and evaluate their interactions with a service and recover when they fail. Experience design has drawn from disciplines ranging from art to marketing to develop frames for how people experience products. In the past 30 years, both service design and experience design have advanced from the application of qualitative, user-centered design methods to understand the problems that we are designing for. Experience design led to new methods such as experience prototyping, or acting out the social and intangible aspects of product use ; service design has become fascinated with participatory methods, probably because services are co-created by businesses and consumers at the time of their consumption .
Designing both for experience and for the completion of a service is approached improvisationally and holistically. Instead of designing a concrete experience or service transaction, designers create resources or levers for establishing an experience or enacting a service, with the understanding that people’s subjective perceptions, attitudes, actions, and beliefs will ultimately shape the outcomes. While a service blueprinta process diagram for orchestrating all of the components of a serviceis indigenous to service design, other interaction design methods such as user enactments, storytelling, mapping, and modeling are useful both in experience design and service design. Additionally, the interaction design community is evolving the servicedesign blueprint, to attempt to combine blueprinting with personas and use cases , customer-centered views of service design , improvisation in art, dance, and drama , the emotional state of a customer , and changes in services and customers as information about customer preferences is gathered over time .
But Then, Again
Upon deeper consideration, one can argue there are some substantial differences between experience design and service design. One of the biggest differences is that a service is transactional, helping a customer to achieve a goal. Experience, however, encompasses a much larger set of conditions: our everyday, moment-to-moment experience, understanding the world by comparing it with what we find familiar, and understanding changes in people and contexts of product use over longer periods of timeeven a lifetime. Experience has been described as one person or a group of people using a product; service design is framed as a journey with touchpoints. Experience designers represent aspects of experience design through description, frameworks, and models, while service designers create a service blueprint as a process diagram to represent all of the aspects of a service design .
“Difference” as a Concept
Perhaps it is superfluous to reignite an old discussion in the interaction design community. Rather than waging turf wars to articulate the differences between experience design and service design, designers should instead spend time working on how to more richly frame research and design for experience and service. What’s interesting for the future of service design is the notion of serving, which is different from helping or fixing, in designing a holistic service . Rather than developing a static blueprint, the design community can explore how to express the ways in which people experience services emotionally and socially, and how services might adapt as people use them over time . Similarly, we can support what people value by looking at which symbols, elements, and constructs bring about the best services and experiences. Finally, we can uphold the goal of systemically and holistically designing services and experiences, understanding the relationships among component parts and the emergent qualities of the whole.
Yesterday’s hot concepts may be today’s classics, but as the field of interaction design continues to evolve, it is inevitable that service design and experience design will develop both individually and collectively as domains within design. It is our job to advance these fields in ethical, pragmatic, and purposeful ways.
1. Howard, J. “Rock Stars Need Not Apply.” Design for Service. http://designforservice.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/rock-stars-need-not-apply/
3. Wikipedia definition of service design; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_design/
9. Mager, B. and Evenson, S. “The Art of Service: Drawing on the Arts to Inform Service Design and Specification.” In Service Science: Research and Innovations in the Service Economy, eds. Hefley, B. and Murphy, W. London: Springer, 2008.
10. Spraragen, S. and Chan, C. (2008). “Service Blueprinting: When Customer Satisfaction Numbers Are Not Enough.” International DMI Education Conference. Design Thinking: New Challenges for Designers, Managers and Organizations, available on CD-rom.
12. Remen, R.N. “In the Service of Life.” Rachel Naomi Remen. http://www.rachelremen.com/service.html/
Jodi Forlizzi is an associate professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Her research and design interests center on notification systems ranging from peripheral displays to robots that work closely with people, with a special focus on the social behavior evoked by using these types of products.
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