This question, like other "What's the difference?" questions on this site, is pretty broad and shows a lack of understanding. However, I hope we'll entertain it because defining these emerging fields is helpful to members of this site.

My guess is that UX Design focuses on on-screen user experiences, whereas Service Design encompasses both on-screen and off-screen user experiences, i.e., in person and on the phone as well as on the screen of a device. I'd also venture to guess that Service Design involves People Management and Operations Management more heavily than UX.

The similarities would probably include that both are human-centered problem-solving disciplines, and that both work with UI touchpoints.

  • 4
    No need to guess. lmgtfy e.g. How Does Service Design Relate To CX And UX Also - meatspace is a detestable term. Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 21:48
  • 1
    Meatspace is a great term.
    – bjb568
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 4:55
  • Probably a meta discussion, but i have to agree with @RogerAttrill on this. Good design thinking requires empathy and a sense of proportion -- even in caricature -- and 'meatspace' provides neither!
    – tohster
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 2:14
  • @RogerAttrill "meatspace" removed. Not very humanizing, and therefore antithetical to human-centered design fields of UX and Service Design.
    – Crowder
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 4:09
  • @tohster Point taken. Question revised.
    – Crowder
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 4:10

9 Answers 9


In the book This is Service Design Thinking1 One of the definition quoting The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design is:

Service Design is an emerging field focused on the creation of well thought through experiences using a combination of intangible and tangible mediums. It provides numerous benefits to the end user experience when applied to sectors such as retail, banking, transportation, and healthcare.

Service design as a practice generally results in the design of systems and processes aimed at providing a holistic service to the user.

Then, the same book spells out the constituting fields. I have ordered them roughly based on how much overlap there is between these fields and those in UX:

  • Interaction design
  • Product design
  • Design ethnography
  • Social design
  • Graphic design
  • Strategic management
  • Operations management

While you can argue that certain disciplines with UX could cover all these fields, UXers hardly deal with strategic and operational management.

Another way to look at this is that a retail business may hire UX professional to improve their interactive products (internal and customer touch-points), a business aiming to excel on the service front would normally approach service designers.

As others have mentioned, there is no agreement on what UX or SD include or exclude, but the reality is that while they overlap, there are differences.

1 Stickdorn, J.S.M., 1009. This is Service Design Thinking.: Basics - Tools - Cases by Marc Stickdorn, Jakob Schneider (2014) Paperback, 1 edition. ed. Bis Publishers.


My general view on define-the-damn-thing discussions is that they're in the same good idea category as "get involved in a land war in Asia" ;-)

The most common definitional differences I see are something like:

  • Service Design - design of services that cover everything the user touches in their journey. This will cross multiple channels, involve online-and-offline stuff, digital and human interactions, involve the business model, etc.

  • UX Design - the design of products, sometimes specifically digital/online products.

So UX Design would be a subset of Service Design in this context. To give an example the design of the Apple Store App would be UX. The design of the Apple shopping experience, including the apple stores, how they interact with the apps, the websites, the support lines, the genius bars, etc. would be Service Design.

That said I've seen folk use UX in a broader way that includes the non-product/service aspects. I've occasionally seen folk use Service Design in a narrower sense where folk were talking about services as separate from products (e.g. accountancy as a service, as opposed to QuickBook as a product). So I'd still dig into what the person using the term would mean conversationally to be sure.


There is no 'right' answer to this. But to give a very broad definition, I'd say:

  • UX Design: business presents their need/desire, UX team(s) create the best user experience to address said need/desire.
  • Service Design: Business realizes it's best to have a holistic approach to understanding what they really need/desire and let the service design team(s) help figure that out (and who ultimately help with the UX design once the needs/desires are defined).

In some ways, I'd say the differences are scope based on political will.

A UX team might be able to tweak the UI of a database, but not the DB itself as it's not part of their domain. A service design team might be able to successfully argue that the real UX problem is the DB itself, and be able to enact changes to the underlying infrastructure as much as the customer-facing UI.


I've always treated UX as scalable. It applies to how a widget animates to a click or how to repair a printing press. And definitely always have modelled the complete user journey and services involved - and called it UX.

If you want to call that superset "CX" that's just definitions - either one could be the superset. So what is the impact of defining something new? An upside may be people approaching a topic fresh and in a different light.

But also "define things" is deeply, subtly negative valuable, as it

  • Creates silos were efficiency and communication break down
  • Creates new branch of practitioners, experts and new snake oil salesmen.
  • Creates new business fads that make bad managers worse
  • Creates competing schools of thought that have pointless "religious wars"

And we all basically end up like http://xkcd.com/867/

Thus no up-vote for the question


UX is more of an umbrella term for experience journey of a user with a particular product, but UX design in today's world is restricted in its scope and majorly looks at digital product experience. Ideally service design would also fall under the purview of broader definition of UX, but in a practical world the main difference is that service design encompasses all touchpoints for an end-user right from the point of learning about a brand to all mediums of interaction whether it is digital or real-world. Service design looks at improvising overvall experience of the user in entire service delivery and is multi-disciplinary so its design involves not just designers and technologists but many more participants who understand the entire service delivery process and its various customer journey maps thereby improvising and linking all aspects together.

In short, Service design is more wholistic look at a business model and making it better whereas UX design restricts itself to improvising/designing experiences for one of more products within a business.

  • The last paragraph there could be written a little differently but I kind of agree with the premise. However I would pose a consideration. That the 'User Experience' is grander than the 'Service Experience', because, ultimately the service caters for the user, and the user experiences all of the service, even more at times. (those times being, parts of the service that have not been considered within the service design/blueprint) An experience is grander than a service, the service is only there to deliver the experience. True? This is to create conversation, not hit at your input. Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 17:39

While I think each of the answer provide different perspectives on the overlaps and coverage of these fields, I still wonder whether it comes down to the particular organisation or practitioner as to how these different terms can be defined. Which makes me think that we should actually look at what the ideal definition of these terms should be rather than what it is at the moment. So with this in mind I think:

User/customer experience design - should cover any aspect of design where a user/customer interaction with an organisation, its brand, service, product and employees will create an experience that then becomes associated with that interaction. The focus of the design should be to engineer or create a particular experience for the user by combining different channels of communication and interaction with the user.

Service design - should cover any aspect of design for a service, from the initial conception, business strategy to its delivery to the user/customer. The focus should be on developing the end-to-end infrastructure and support for services that takes into consideration of the people and processes involved.

In my mind user experience should be across the entirety of the organisation but can be broken down or grouped by how the organisation operates(e.g. product streams, services, digital channels, mobile apps, regions or territories), whereas service design by its definition is confined to a specific service, of which an organisation may offer one (which will make this function similar to UX design) or many (so the individual service designers will need to align their designs to create a consistent experience).


Let me first define both in two paragraphs:

In the past, investments within research and design were made primarily in the manufacturing industry. Means and processes of production were optimised, products innovated, and investments in market research, marketing and design of products were made as a matter of cause while research, development and design for services was an exception. This situation is now changing essentially – and this is where Service Design comes in.Within Service Design, Service Interfaces are designed for intangible products that are, from the customer’s point of view, useful, profitable and desirable, while they are effective, efficient and different for the provider.Service Designers visualize, formulate and choreograph solutions that are not yet available. They watch and interpret needs and behaviours and transform them into potential future services. In the process, exploring, generating and evaluating approaches are used similarly and a redesign of existing services is just as much a challenge as the development of new innovative services. - See more at: http://www.service-design-network.org/intro/#sthash.FioegsxS.dpuf

While User experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_experience_design

If you go through two definition, you would fully understand that Service design is very vast area which is mainly use in marketing research, business start-ups ,in manufacturing industry or so on but UXD is sort of equivalent of that which is use in (HCI) design. They are both sort of conceptual thinking and have lots of thing in common.


UX is open, it's generic. UX is the wide open space that deals with the experience any one user has.

I highly suggest that as UX is generic, Service design is not, by principle, and so fits under the term UX.

For instance, to be a 'UX designer' you can come from several backgrounds and have one of several focusses. Generally, a UX designer has a background in:

• Interaction Design

• Visual Design

• Ethnography

• Information Architecture

To design a service, is a specific thing. To design an experience is extremely open, surely? UX design is in no way anchored to 'screen'. That is of course 'Digital design', which also comes under the UX umbrella.

  • Your definition of UX fully disentangles it from digital interaction design. Interesting!
    – Crowder
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 20:20

SERVICE DESIGN is more holistic and examines ALL touch points that influence the customer service experience.

UX DESIGN focuses more on the digital touch points (interface) in which the user interacts with the product/service.

Service designers utilize different tools/methods; however there are overlapping elements such as: user flows, user personas, and, of course, user research. As services become increasingly delivered through online experiences, UX thus becomes a more integral part of designing successful services/products. They work hand in hand; however, I think there is greater demand for UX designers from tech companies (at least in the US market).

  • UX design does not silo itself to 'digital touchpoints'. Be wary that just because the majority of UX related jobs, roles and projects you see may in fact be digitally focussed, the field in and of itself is indeed not subjugated by the digital realm. The user experience of a toilet roll holder is in no way digital or possesses digital touchpoints (depending on how fancy a holder it is), yet it is still a design that both considers and effects the user experience of itself. Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 17:29

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