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As a designer, you could be just starting your career. Like any starry-eyed, young design professional, you’re looking to navigate your journey and familiarize yourself with the dizzying amount of industry jargon and job ads.

On the other hand, you could also be a seasoned professional taking a leap to user experience (UX) design, customer experience (CX) design, or service design (SD).

No matter where you are on the path, you’re not immune to drowning in jargon.

The design world is a cornucopia of buzzwords (the “design disruptor” title, anyone?) and is constantly evolving. We often find ourselves using a dozen words to describe one thing, and it can get confusing.

We’re no strangers to discussing terminologies. We hear a lot of mixup around terms like UI, agile, lean, empathy, and design thinking. This time, what we’re tackling are the differences and similarities between these honored disciplines: UX, CX, and SD.

We know that UX is not UI. Shouldn’t we consider how service design is neither UX nor CX? Also, how much do these distinctions really matter at the end of the day?

A Quick History on the Terminologies
When the internet hit the public in the nineties, the design community changed. The “UX” label was born as a product of the digital landscape.

After UX came more terms, “customer experience” and “service design”. While these terminologies are newer, they are based on principles that have been around for ages.

People not only desire and deserve a good digital product but a great overall journey, too.

Breaking Them Down: Customer Experience Design, User Experience Design and Service Design
UX and CX pertain to the mechanics of how users interact with a system, including how they feel and the environment in which they buy a product or use the service. This includes how they respond to non-functional elements, such as visual and written content.

Customer experience, user experience, and service design are similar, yet separate. While some may argue that CX and UX are more alike than service design, others compare CX more closely to the service design field.

Not to mention, service design can incorporate both UX and CX.

Confusing, right?

Source: Forrester

Source: Forrester

Service design has been around for ages. However, the work it encompasses has evolved. It involves the entire user experience and human journey, going beyond the screen. As a service designer, you can be taking care of strategic work traditionally assigned to directors or operations managers.

Here’s a different perspective on how UX and CX stack up against service design by UXPA Boston:

Source: UXPA Boston

Source: UXPA Boston

We’ll break this down further…

UX vs. SD
Some UX hard skills may not be transferable to service design.

UX designers get more screen time focused on the product or touchpoint, while service design doesn’t always involve the usual tools that today’s typical UX designers work with: HTML, Sketch, or Balsamiq. Also, user experience might deliver more tangible products connected to UI or even interactive voice response systems. In service design, your work can be a set of instructions you don’t personally carry out for optimizing a system.

So, what is service design?

Service design can incorporate both CX and UX. According to ExperienceLab, it’s user-centric and aims to improve the end-user experience, which can include service providers and commissioners. “And like UX and CX, the design process is heavily informed by an initial evidence-gathering phase. In the case of service design, this is usually via in-depth consultation and co-design sessions with users.”

If you’re a UX professional exploring SD, Eric Flowers does a great job talking about migrating from UX to SD. He shares that service design in tech is new, so be prepared to make that shift in design in tech.

CX vs. SD
Forrester defines customer experience as focusing on “the design, implementation, and management of interactions that happen across the entire customer journey. This includes the interactions that take place as customers discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, get support, reengage, and leave.”

However, service designers may also design the behind-the-scenes activities that allow those experiences to be delivered as planned.

Why do we hear conflicting views in terms of SD’s relationships with UX and CX?

Well, as Forrester asserted, plenty of the UX and CX work involve digital marketing touchpoints, like landing pages, banner ads, and microsites. And although, there’s no reason why service design and digital marketing don’t overlap, that’s just doesn’t seem to be the current reality in modern business.

CX vs. UX
Even with the similarities between CX and UX, they aren’t equal. Customer experience casts a wider net and usually deals with all interactions a customer has with a brand outside of product interaction.

With CX typically covering analog, as well as digital, it’s focused on optimizing physical processes and services.

What’s Next in Design?
It’s interesting to explore where the sands of design are shifting.

More users and customers are opting to spend their money on experiences over simply purchasing commodities. This experience economy has given rise to a new title, “experience designer”.

Source: UX Collective
The shift in design thinking has been towards “staging experiences and transformations rather than convenient products and services”. Experience design combines the brand’s narrative, customer experience, and the framework for the people managing the experience.

Over to You
Different authoritative views may have varying opinions on the differences and similarities of the CX, UX, and SD design processes.

However, when it’s all been said and done (and as design terminologies and job titles rapidly shift), how much do the specifics matter?

Practically, we should use the language and perspective that’s relevant for the application. We ought to spend our energies on building better and sustainable products (over endlessly arguing definitions of terms).

As designers at Somia, we seek to make the “experience design” process as comprehensive as possible — no matter the nomenclature.

Recently, we worked on the “Save Cash and Bank It!” project to help a microsegment in Indonesia spend their money wisely, as well as Bank BRI increase their CASA (Current Accounts Saving Accounts). Read about the project and how we approached research, service design, prototyping and implementation.