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What’s the difference between UX, Service Design and Digital Product Design?

They’re great careers for people who are curious, analytical, creative, tech savvy. But which one is right for you?

With the recent shift towards experience design and design thinking in digital, there are a few fields that overlap one another. UX design, service design and product design are the big three (although there’s also UI design and CX design to consider, too). Ultimately, they all deal with the same broad problem – how users interact with and consume digital products – but they attack it from different angles, have different career prospects, and require their own specific set of skills. That doesn’t mean you can’t move between these roles, or build a CV that excels in all of them, but if you’re looking to start your career, it’s worth figuring out which one suits you best.


Service Design

Service design is a big picture discipline. It’s job is to look at an interaction between a customer and a service, then break down all the elements of that journey, optimising along the way. Put it this way: when you have two cafes opposite one another on the street, service design is the reason you walk into one and not the other. It might be a combination of the layout, the coffee quality, the customer service, the comfy chairs, the ambient temperature, the price, or even wheelchair accessibility. Service designers are detectives, using qualitative research (interviews and feedback) to improve every service touchpoint through customer-centred design. They often work across digital products, but also physical spaces and retail services, mapping customer journeys, chatting to users, and helping the business optimise its flow. You’ll need good communication, creativity, analytical skills and a curious mind. It’s a good field for those who favour empathy and human-centred design over raw numbers. 


UX Design

UX stands for user experience design, which sounds a little like service design. But while service design takes a broad view, looking at all the factors of a customer journey from start to finish, UX designers focus only on the touchpoints in that journey. The moments when a user interacts with a product. Usually this will be a digital product, like an app or a website, but it could also (in theory) be anything from a train timetable to a restaurant menu. The line between UX and service design can be blurry, but generally UX designers specialise in specific digital touchpoints. When you navigate a user-friendly website, or find an app really intuitive, it’s because a UX designer designed it that way. If service design is how users interact with a brand, UX determines the what: what does a user do with this product, what do they take away from it? UX designers are in hot demand in Australia, with SEEK projecting 12.9% growth over the next five years, and salaries averaging around $115,000.


Digital Product Design

It’s important to remember that UX design and product design aren’t in competition; they’re two sides of the same coin. While UX designers focus on how a digital product looks, and how easy it is to use, product designers are more concerned with how it works. Like service design, it’s a big picture discipline, linking things like UX design, user interface design, customer experience, business strategy, and commercial objectives. Does this app do what we want it to do? Does it capture the right data? Are we losing users in the funnel somewhere, and why? Is it hitting its KPIs? Product designers need to be good at stakeholder management, as they won’t just be looking after the UX team, they’ll also be dealing with stakeholders from all over the business: IT, commercial, brand, marketing, everything. They need to factor in high level business goals, moving a digital product from ideation through to rollout. Product design is one of the fastest growing roles in digital, with 19.4% projected growth, and salaries around $115,00.


How to choose?

Ultimately, UX design, service design and product design all work in similar ways. They’re great careers for people who are curious, analytical, creative, tech savvy, and get satisfaction from seeing users interact with their product. Which way you go is ultimately down to your personality and your interests. Are you more of a big picture thinker? Do you like taking a bird’s eye view of a problem? Service design and product design might be the way to go. Are you more visual? Do you appreciate good digital architecture? Are wireframes and Adobe Suite your thing? User experience could be the field for you. The beauty of these three careers is that they overlap. It’s very easy to make a start in UX and then branch out to product design, or vice versa. RMIT Online offers short courses in all three disciplines, so you can always upskill on the job.

Interested in learning more about UX, Service Design or Digital Product Design? Check out RMIT Online's short courses here

This article was originally published on 5 July 2022