Service Design – How does it differ from CX and UX design?

Posted on  21 February, 2024

As you enter the world of design, you might have encountered the term “UX” – denoting the overall User Experience while interacting with a product or service. Upon delving deeper, you would realize that understanding UX alone isn’t enough to guarantee smooth experiences throughout customer buying journey, but optimizing CX (Customer Experience) as a whole is required as well!

And at the time you find out about the existence of service design, have you ever got frustrated and wondered why there are so many design concepts in this world?

Take a moment to relax! Everything on Earth has a purpose! Let’s explore Service Design and how it relates to CX UX Design through our blog!

What is Service Design?

Service design takes a holistic approach to optimize the delivery of services. It involves understanding customer needs and designing the entire service ecosystem (including processes, touchpoints, interactions, and people) to align with those needs.

The work of service designers involves optimizing internal processes, policies, and structures to align both back-stage departments (e.g., IT, Finance, Accounting) and front-stage departments (e.g., Sales, Customer Service) with the specific needs of the customer. 

A prominent example of service design is Starbucks! The brand focuses on creating a welcoming in-store environment, with well-designed layouts, cozy seating areas, and relaxing music. Starbucks also emphasizes personalized interactions, where baristas dedicate time to understanding customer preferences and crafting customized beverages. Given that, Starbucks has built a loyal customer base and created a distinct brand identity centered around the coffee shop experience.

Principles of Service Design

In the service industry, service design thinking is crucial and can be the determining factor between success and failure for organizations. The service design thinking emphasizes the strategic organization of resources and the planning of business activities to enhance both consumer and employee experiences.

Principles of Service Design


In the book “This Is Service Design Doing”, the authors outlined 5 core principles defining service design thinking:

  • Human-centered: The experiences of all stakeholders, including users, customers, employees,… must be taken into account. To design services, designers need to gather stakeholders’ viewpoints to identify users’ feelings/expectations about the service, and what should be changed to improve,…
  • Collaborative: All stakeholders should be actively involved in every step of the service design process from design to development.
  • Iterative: Service development takes time. This approach involves starting with small experiments and prototypes, allowing for learning from mistakes to refine processes.
  • Sequential: A service consists of a sequence of interconnected actions, visualized by using customer journey maps. Designers should look into each step of the journey to understand how it works, what might go wrong, and how it can be improved.
  • Holistic: Service design is not about addressing isolated issues, but holistically designing the entire service. The focus is not solely on meeting customer needs but on aligning those needs with the company’s goals and internal processes. 

What are common Service Design tools?

To do service design best, designers need to empathize with both businesses and users/customers, define, iterate, and address all their problems holistically. Throughout this iterative process, designers employ various tools to aid their work, some of which some common tools include:

1. Personas

A persona is a fictional representation or reference model that represents a specific type of customer based on various characteristics. These characteristics can include Demographic characteristics (e.g., name, age, gender, occupation, etc.) or Behavioral characteristics (e.g., preferences, needs, motivations, goals, and pain points, etc.).

By creating personas, organizations can develop a deeper understanding of their customers and, hence, tailor their services to better meet customer expectations.

2. Journey maps

The journey map is a sequential description of a customer’s interactive journey with a service. It describes what happens at each stage of the interaction, what touchpoints are involved, and what obstacles and barriers they may encounter. It also represents the level of emotions (positive/negative) that customers experience throughout the interaction.

3. Service blueprints

A service blueprint is a diagram that maps out the entire process of service delivery, listing all the activities that happen at every stage above and below the line of visibility. The service blueprints help visualize all of the components of service encounters:

  • Actors: people delivering the service (e.g., Service representatives, technicians, etc.)
  • Location: an environment where customers receive the service  (e.g., stores, offices, websites, apps, social channels, etc.)
  • Props: objects used during service delivery (e.g., catalogs, POS systems, Information kiosks or touchscreens, etc.)
  • Associates: other organizations involved in providing the service (e.g., Suppliers, Financial institutions, Logistics service providers, etc.)
  • Processes: workflows used to deliver the service (e.g., Order fulfillment process, Customer onboarding process, Complaint resolution process, etc.)

Service blueprints

What is UX? What is CX?

Let’s start with familiar concepts!

UX (User Experience) refers to the overall experience a user has when interacting with a product/service. UX Design (User Experience Design) takes into account all aspects of user interaction, including usability, ease of use, and overall satisfaction,…

What is UX What is CX

Meanwhile, CX, which evolved from UX, is a broader concept!

CX (Customer Experience) encompasses the overall interactions that a customer has throughout their journey from pre-purchase to post-purchase stages. CX strategies aim to wow customers at every point of their journey, keeping them engaged with the brand through impactful interactions. The strategies must involve every product/service like brand packaging, apps, websites, the buying experience, staff interactions, and the overall ambiance and aesthetics of offline touchpoints like stores.

Differences in scope: CX Design vs UX design

To understand the differences between the scope of CX vs UX Design, let’s explore the three levels of experience, described by Nielsen Norman Group.

CX Design vs UX design

1. Interaction Level

First, the interaction-level experience involves designing the user experience of a single interaction to perform a task. Most UX designers work at the interaction level by designing interfaces on digital products (websites/apps) or across physical touchpoints, making sure every tap, click, or swipe feels smooth and user-friendly.

Examples of interaction-level design work: Adjusting button color/position/size to enhance attractiveness and usability, or incorporating gestures (such as swipe, pinch-to-zoom, or drag-and-drop,…) to make interactions more intuitive for touch-based devices. 

2. Journey Level

Moving up a level, the journey level refers to the entire end-to-end process or sequence of interactions a user has with a product, service, or system to complete a goal over time. This process may involve multiple devices and interaction channels (e.g., websites,  apps, email, online chat, social platforms,…). 

Examples of UX work at this level: Designing user flow for a flight/accommodation booking, online course enrollment or job application process.

3. Relationship Level

At the relationship level, the dynamic between customers and the brand transforms into a lasting connection. Extending beyond single interactions and journeys, this level concentrates on the overarching relationship and its evolution over time. CX designers focus on sculpting the entirety of a person’s experience with an organization, prioritizing the lifetime journey over merely evaluating the quality of a single interaction or journey.

Some examples of CX work at the relationship level, include:

  • Optimizing end-to-end product engagement: From initial awareness, research, purchasing to usage and troubleshooting support.
  • Designing a lifecycle experience with a SaaS platform: From subscribing and using the service to addressing issues, receiving newsletters, and eventually terminating the account.

Note: Interaction-level UX impacts the journey-level experience, and collectively, they shape the relationship-level experience. Each holds its significance with unique constraints and objectives, therefore, no single level takes precedence over another.

While UX tasks operate at the interaction and journey levels, CX Designers handle responsibilities at the relationship level. This illustrates the expansive scope of CX in comparison with UX. Some may perceive CX as a broader domain that encompasses numerous UX tasks (just like 3=1+1+1). However, certain CX works do not involve UX Designers, such as Developing brand identity, Building Customer Relationships,…

CX vs UX vs Service Design: What are their differences?

It’s crucial to understand that the distinctions between Service Design, UX, and CX Design are not black and white, and there are some overlaps among them.

  • CX vs service design: CX involves designing, implementing, and managing interactions across the entire customer journey. Meanwhile, Service Design steps back and focuses on designing behind-the-scenes activities to ensure a seamless delivery of services throughout that journey.
  • UX vs service design: While UX design deals with the appearance and functionality of websites/apps, service design goes beyond the screen. It involves the entire customer journey, ensuring the internal structure functions harmoniously to provide a seamless UX across digital interactions and human touchpoints.

CX vs UX vs Service Design

You may want to read more: 5 Reasons why UX Design in Asia Pacific Region should be prioritized

UX, CX Design, and Service Design in practice

To imagine how UX, CX Design and Service Design work in practice, let’s break down an example within the context of a customer’s journey to purchase new clothes.

  • UX works: In the online realm, UX comes into play as the customer navigates the brand’s website in search of potential clothing items. The well-organized and visually appealing layout, coupled with an efficient filter function, categorizes products by types, colors, sizes, and prices. This enables the customer to quickly and effortlessly find suitable items.
  • CX works: As the customer decides to visit the physical store, CX Design takes center stage. Upon entering, the customer is greeted by welcoming staff, and the ambiance is crafted with pleasant smells and music. The staff also assists in preparing clothes and expedites size changes, ensuring a minimal waiting time for customers. The brand also enhances the overall experience by offering multiple payment methods (cash, bank transfer, credit card, and wallet payment), providing flexibility for customers to pay in their preferred manner.
  • Service Design works: Service Design encompasses the broader operational aspects. This involves training staff on behaviors and attitudes towards customers or the internal communication system built by the Development team that enables staff to proactively check item availability in the storage. The Finance team also plays a role in connecting various payment methods, thereby supporting a smooth payment process for customers.

Final thoughts

Once again, the works of CX UX Design and Service Design somehow overlap, and it’s impossible to completely separate them from each other. Through this blog, hoping that you have clarified the distinction between each term! 

And if you’re planning to develop a digital product (website/app/management system) that supports creating an optimized and thoughtful customer experience, we are here to guide!

We are Lollypop Design Studio – A Global UI/UX Design Agency, crafting impactful designs and local digital experiences for the USA, Japan, Vietnam, and other parts of the world. We are ready to leverage your business, contact us for a free consultation on your project!