Service Design vs. User-Centered Design

SIGCHI Finland organized yet another interesting seminar on 1.4.2015: “Service Design – User-Centered Design in a New Package?” As a hard-core User-Centered Designer with just a little experience about Service Design I was curious to learn more.

Similarities and differences

Simo Säde from Cresense laid the ground to the discussion by sharing what he thinks are the similarities and differences between Service Design (SD) and User-Centered Design (UCD).

Service Design vs User-Centered Design








My visualization of the similarities and differences between SD and UCD according to Simo Säde.

GOAL: Both SD and UCD aim to create something useful and usable. Both try to create value to both user and the business owner. And both want to be ethical and do the right thing.

ROLE OF DESIGNER: In both SD and UCD, designers are (or should be) like good hosts, serving the needs of user.

PRINCIPLES: Both SD and UCD focus on user-involvement, they are multi-disciplinary, they visualize things and are iterative.

PROCESS: Same “think – do – learn” –cycle in both SD and UCD. Understand -> produce solutions -> evaluate.  And repeat.

METHODS AND TOOLS: Many same methods and tools are in use (e.g. contextual interviews, personas…) and both take a lot from other fields such as social sciences.

THE DESIGN TARGET: One of the core differences between SD and UCD is the design target. In SD it is a sequencing process that is being designed. In UCD it is often an individual product or application.

THE LEVEL OF HOLISM: SD is often more holistic than UCD; all the various elements that affect the service experience need to be considered.

ORGANIZATIONS WHO USE IT: SD seems to be more widely used not just commercial organizations, but also public sector and non-profit organizations etc.

THE RELATION TO BUSINESS: SD often works on issues closer to core business of the client than UCD of a product. SD may require more understanding of business models and development.

Service Design seems like a daughter of User-Centered Design. And more capable than her mother? – Simo Säde

Customer journey map

Helena Sustar from Aalto University concertized what Service Design is by presenting her studies related to immigrant services. She had used one of Service Design –specific tools called Customer journey map to visualize the immigrant services.

Customer journey map of immigrant services







Customer journey map of immigrant services in Finland

Customer journey map is a visual representation that describes the journey of user by representing the different actions and touch points that characterize its interaction with the service. It is a great way to summarize and visualize the pain points and improvement needs of a service.

Customer journey map was a real eye-opener – Helena Sustar

Service Design in public sector

Mikko Kutvonen from Design Driven City talked about public sector service design for Helsinki City. Turns out that even though there is clear need for service design in public sector, there are also challenges, such as silos between departments that are part of the service. And often innovation efforts are just buried under day-to-day work.

Kutvonen stated that service design adjusted for public sector should:

  • encourage to experiment things and approaches in real-life environment
  • engage various stakeholders for open interaction and collaboration
  • facilitate change and transformation processes

The focus should shift from “trying to incorporate service design approaches” to “just doing it”.

We’re all service designers – Mikko Kutvonen

A tip of an iceberg

Antti Koskinen from Palmu reminded that designing customer experiences is just a tip of an iceberg. Even though companies want to provide great service and utilize service design companies, they still don’t always succeed.

Service Design - the whole iceberg







Customer experience is only a tip of an iceberg

Lesson to learn is that service design should improve both customer experiences AND the underlying business challenges as well. Only then will it succeed.

In 2015 service design will be the tool to change organization cultures, develop new business and create competitive edge – Antti Koskinen

My takeaways

I believe there is a need for both great products (user experiences), AND great services (customer experiences). I was personally inspired by the Service Design viewpoints, methods and tools discussed in this seminar. I’m tempted to try if some of those could be applied even in User-Centered Design.

Here’s a growing list of good resources to get started with:

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