The field of User Experience Design, as conceived by Don Norman, was so similar to Service Design, as to be almost indistinguishable.

Andy Budd
Andy Budd
15th May 2018

Both were focussed on the end-to-end user journey, rather than specific platforms or touch points. Both required an understanding of user-centred design, and both used multi-disciplinary teams to solve complex problems. If there were major differences back then, it was in three ways:

  • Geographic (Service Design had its roots in Europe while User Experience Design hailed from California),
  • Market (service designers mostly focussed on designing social services, while UX was focussed on consumer experiences),
  • Distinct communities of practice (largely influenced by the first two factors).

Over the years, UX design, or at least UX designers, began to specialise in the digital channel—possibly because it was new and exciting, possibly because that’s where the most demand was. They designed websites. They designed smartphone apps. They designed digital kiosks, and all kinds of digital products and services. They were still interested in the gaps between channels, and understanding the entire user journey, but as everything was starting to become digital, the bulk of their effort went there.

More and more people started joining the industry, buoyed by high demand and even higher salaries. The focus started to narrow. Quality began to slip. Rather than designing the experience across multiple channels, newly minted UX designers spent their time producing wireframes, building prototypes and occasionally designing screens. The original meaning of the term became lost, to the point that anybody who designed digital products considered themselves a UX designer.

Hiring designers with that broader domain experience became difficult, so organisations like Government Digital Services started advertising for something they called a Digital Service Designer. I hadn’t come across the term before GDS, although I’m sure it probably existed. But if you looked at the skills they were looking for, and the problems they were trying to solve, these were clearly the UX designers of old.

I’ve been in this industry long enough to tire of constant reinvention. As one of the first UX designers in the UK, I’ve always been slightly protective of the term. However I’m finally coming to the realisation that the battle has been lost and “UX Designer” no longer represents the breadth and depth of what we do. Not because we’ve changed, but because the term itself has come to mean something different.

While I’m reluctant to engage in the trend of job title inflation, I’m begrudgingly coming to accept that Digital Service Designer is probably a better and more accurate description of what myself and many of my colleagues do.

For related reading, take a look at some of our other posts on the topic: