The Ultimate Guide to User Experience, Design Thinking, and Service Design

When it comes to design in the 21st century, all the options can seem confusing. Isn’t User Experience the ultimate methodology? Or do I use Design Thinking? And isn’t there also Service Design? And aren’t they all user-centered?

Yes, yes, yes, and absolutely yes.

Often these three methodologies overlap, but there are differences. Let’s clear it up once and for all.

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User Experience: Optimizes the overall experience a user has with a product like a website or application. Focuses on usability, functionality, desirability, and user research.

Design Thinking: Focuses on solving problems with products or services based on a cyclical process of ideating, designing, and testing rapidly. Focuses on multidisciplinary teams, problem solving, logic, and intuition.

Service Design: Improves services by focusing on each aspect of a service in order to optimize the experience for the user and stakeholders. Focuses on touch-points, interactions between people, the big picture, and infrastructure.


User Experience: In practice, User Experience is focused on digital products, or products with user interfaces. The most common products are websites, computer applications, and mobile apps.

Design Thinking: This methodology is used in a much wider range. Use it with everything from products to services to internal business strategy.

Service Design: Here we zoom in. Service Design specifically focuses on services since most businesses tend to invest fewer resources on improving services compared to products.

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User Experience: Here, we usually use different methods to optimize each of our three priority categories: usability, functionality, and desirability. Specific methods include the following:

  • Surveying and interviewing users before anything else happens
  • Streamlining user journey including content and design, especially with regards to CTAs
  • Testing, testing, and more testing


Design Thinking: This methodology has an easy to visualize cycle of brainstorming, designing and prototyping, and testing. A closer look shows us:

  • Brainstorming (aka ideating) with people from different departments and backgrounds
  • Prototyping and testing before you’ve invested too many resources
  • Repeating the process until you’ve got what you want


Service Design: With this methodology we have more of a list of tools than a process. There are tools focused on improving each focus point of a service. That mean we have tools to make a service more user-focused, to optimize the touch-points of a service, and to improve interactions between people. An example tool from each would be:

  • Co-creation between different members of the design and dev team as well as between the team and end-users.
  • User journey mapping
  • Customer profiles and motivation matrixes to analyze interactions between different players

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You are absolutely right that these methodologies seem really similar. They are all user-centered rather than business-centered. They’re all about making changes and optimizing. But you can see that each methodology has specific areas it is best at. And you’re probably going to use a combination of all of the above at any point in time.

All three of these methodologies are useful and valuable. And in the end, the main goal is to create a product or a service that treats the users well and therefore boosts your ROI. And all three of these methodologies do just that.

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