The journey from UX to service design

As digital products are increasingly integrating the fabric of all types of businesses, I wanted to look at why great UX is just the bare minimum and how the mission of UX teams is broadening.

What I see happening is that UX has moved towards a fuller, end-to-end kind of product design, and is now coming closer to the more general approach of service design.

Great UX is the baseline

According to the “Interacting With Computers” journal, the goal of UX design in business is to “improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product.”

Good UX and UI used to be a big differentiating factor. Today, they’ve become the norm: just one of the necessary components in any digital product.

When building their digital products, businesses have realized that they needed to understand their users. Most have also accepted that successful products stand at the crossroads between user needs, business objectives and constraints.

Companies are clearly investing in UX and UI. Just look at the tools that digital platform owners like Apple and Google are making available. Material Design, UIKit, Human Interface Guidelines, etc. serve the purpose of building digital products with “good enough” UX and UI on Android, iOS and on the web.

Another sign is that UX methodologies and deliverables have also become more mainstream. Today, it has almost become unthinkable to put out a new digital product or feature without first doing user research, mapping user journeys, creating personas, drawing wireframes, building prototypes and doing usability tests.

The job market also reflects that trend. We’ve noticed that it’s easier to find a good UX designer now than it was 5 years ago. UX services and agencies are commonplace and a lot of companies have internalized UX just as they internalized development and visual design a few years ago.

When you are committed to a customer-centric approach, it is not enough to simply have a great UX that takes into account business objectives and user needs. The next step is end-to-end product design: breaking down silos inside the organization, involving everyone in the product life cycle and thinking more holistically about digital products.

Towards end-to-end product design

As Faruk Ates puts it “Product Designers must articulate their ideas so clearly that people from quite different disciplines understand them. In a sense, they are like generalists acting as the glue between more distinct specialists and subject matter experts.”

In our experience, one of the biggest pain points in many businesses is connecting the dots between marketing and strategy, and UX design and development.

Marketers and business strategists should be involved in the hands-on design process from the get go. They can often provide the ‘why’ behind a company’s product. Their buy-in during the design phase is also essential because once the product is launched, they’ll need to provide analytics to further steer product design: customer satisfaction, churn rate, etc.

Developers also need to be involved from the start. Since they’re the ones who translate the design into code, involving them early will reduce the product’s “time to market.” It will also decrease the difference between what has been designed and what is actually launched.

Style guides or pattern libraries are tools that can be produced by a cross-functional UX team to involve everyone in an end-to-end product design pipeline. They allow sales and marketing as well as developers to contribute, streamline the work of everyone and are great internal tools for evangelization.

That transition to a more holistic end-to-end product approach and cross-functional UX teams is well underway with businesses that have a digital product at the heart of their value proposition. Product owners and product managers are a common sight in those companies nowadays. The rest of the market will likely follow suit.

UX meets service design

Digital products do not exist in a vacuum, they are part of a service that people use and that extends far beyond just a digital product. To be successful, a digital product needs to be well thought out strategically, well researched, well conceived and well implemented. Again, those traits are necessary, but not sufficient.

Traditional UX and end-to-end product design mainly focus on the product itself and the processes and workflows used to ship it. They are mainly concerned with the part of a service that clients see and experience.

With service design, UX is now starting to look at all the parts of a service that happen “behind the scenes” to support customers’ and employees’ overall experience and the product.

Nielsen Norman Group defines service design as, “The activity of planning and organizing a business’s resources (people, products, and processes) in order to directly improve the employee’s experience, and indirectly the customer’s experience.”

  • People: focus not only on the customers of a service but also on employees and partners that are running it: great tools, sound decision processes, clear career paths.
  • Products: focus not only on the digital products and channels, but also on in-store experience, swag, analog communication tools, billing, etc. They all contribute to the user experience and support your product.
  • Processes: focus not only on the code base, design deliverables and processes, but also on onboarding new team members, knowledge management, customer care and support processes, company culture, etc.

Conclusion

In short, we’re clearly seeing a broadening of UX’s mission.

Traditional UX started by designing a product around user needs, business objectives and constraints.

With end-to-end product design the mission of a UX team now includes breaking down silos, as well as supporting, documenting and evangelizing a user-centered process throughout the product’s entire life cycle.

By meeting with service design, UX continues its journey and starts to apply a user-centered approach to processes and functions supporting employees, the product and its customer experience, thereby shaping the very culture of a company.

This blogpost was originally written when working with Central, a design consultancy that helps organizations create successful digital products.