Is "Service Design" the Real "Experience Design"?

One of the disappointments I've had with the User Experience Design field, is that in most situations the product itself has been decided before the real design work begins. For example, clients are looking for a mobile app that allows users to better track their health goals, a web app to monitor finances or maybe a desktop app to aid in 3D design. In these situations both the problem space and the delivery vehicle for the solution have been identified.

Commonly, Experience Design is seen as the act of designing something with the desired end goal of producing a positive experience for the user. However this should be, and is, the goal of all good design, regardless of approach, mode or technique. This is one of a few reasons why I've grown to take exception to the term "UX Design." With this definition, UX Design, Experience Design, or whatever you call it, is just GOOD DESIGN.

I believe Experience Design should be defined as a specific approach to design that treats the product as secondary and determined purely based on the ability to contribute to the creation of a desired experience. It's a subtle nuance, but what distinguishes Experience Design is that it puts the definition of the experience first in the process. All other decisions are made in support of that.

While I don’t feel experiences can be designed, I do believe they can be optimized for, and that is a key point of experience design.

In Experience Design as I've defined it here, a problem space is established and the desired experience of a consumer/user/person moving through that space to a given end state is detailed. The products, environments, human interactions, etc. are all chosen and created with the goal of eliciting the desired responses, feelings, reactions [read: experience] from the individual.

Some situations may call for use of a mobile device, information kiosk, dynamic signage, or a helpful staff member, etc. But whatever it is, it is chosen in order to drive the individual toward having the desired experience. The medium, technology and design artifacts are secondary.

When was the last time you had a project like this? There are few opportunities where clients tell you they don’t care what you create as long as it solves the problem and made people feel a certain way, regardless of platforms or devices. Every once in a while I get the chance to work on such a project and it's amazing.

As the "Service Design" moniker grows, I can't help but hope that this is the opportunity to see this kind of design get some more time in the spotlight. My colleague, cohort, and friend Megan Grocki recently wrote a very thoughtful write-up about Service Design, and my thinking on the topic is very much in line with hers.

Service Design, by its nature encompasses all of the necessary touch points involved for a given experience or scenario. As I see it, it can encompass people, organizations, policies, products, devices and more.

This opening up of spaces may give way to the thought and understanding that we don't have to specify platforms and products before we get started designing. We just need to understand the problem space and the interactions, reactions, and emotions we want someone to have when moving through them. The products and platforms we use to deliver everything will fall out of that.


By: Adam Connor
Date Published: June 02, 2011

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Adam Connor Experience Design Director

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