Article image depicting an Alexa device with details surrounding it of the service and the experience

Defining the space between UX and SD with Alexa

25th March 2017

5 min read

Big things are happening in the world of tech, really, products and services overall. Not only are the advancements in many different areas and the way we’re producing and consuming still going strong from the past ~10 years (think accelerated use of the mobile phone, or ordering anything for next day delivery), but we have continued to alter the attitude we have toward producing. Getting the product or service out the door and into the consumer's hands as fast as possible isn’t the primary metric anymore (for the forward thinking companies at least), it’s what the consumer will actually perceive and feel when using it or what capabilities they themselves will have when they encounter an issue to ensure their interaction is flawless.


This is where USER EXPERIENCE and SERVICE DESIGN come into play. These two industry fields have become ever present in that same period, as more and more consumers become aware of true value and producers begin to see their P/L’s changing like a tide, directly correlated to the consumers experience and feeling toward their product or service. They’re not fields that are siloed in just one or two sectors either (such as digital), you see user experience vacancies popping up for a myriad of different companies, whether that’s Hasbro, Starbucks, Dropbox or various Kickstarter product startups. Service design too, whether it’s Amazon, a startup estate agency or the local government, companies are becoming increasingly aware that they’re not just selling something to offload for a bit of money, the consumer’s perception of value transcends the immediate.If we look at Alexa, what is Amazon actually selling consumers, a product, a service, an experience or maybe a future grasp of your wallet? (It’s early days to know they’re master plan) But Alexa isn’t just any one of these, it’s a true amalgamation of them all, a beacon of what a consumer purchase should be. As well as a step into the world of tomorrow. Hey, maybe that’s exactly what the world of tomorrow is, single products, several services, a grand experience, in one.

"All you have to do is ask" - Amazon tagline

Let’s look deeper at Alexa though. It’s one product. The intention is to offer many, many, MANY services from all the big vendors out there by way of ‘invocations’ (the spoken words used to get Alexa to use a certain service). And all these services, whilst having their own slice of an experience to offer through their ‘skill’, will ultimately sit under one grand experience, the seamless interaction through voice anywhere in your home.

Within that experience, what Alexa is offering you is the capable to ask her anything (dependant on the skills you have enabled), be informed in some way (such as what toppings are available for a pizza), give you options to choose from and then allow you to receive a service from a vendor to enjoy. Some of which will conclude with a product (such as a pizza at your door).

This illustrates then, that whilst the experience of using Alexa is so well customised for their products (echo and dot) and to be used around the home, the services that it offers from all the independent vendors sit within that experience. The experience using fluid voice recognition to ask for that service.

So this brings me to the point, that experiences are different to services (services fit into an experience), in a way that I don’t believe many would concur with at this point, as the professional fields for both are still so young and some professionals may be territorial toward what’s more meaningful. The responsibilities of a user experience person and a service designer, can sometimes be quite similar (depending on certain methodologies used), yet for the most part focus on entirely separate ideals, outcomes and metrics.

The experience isn't designed, products and services are.

The main difference I would suggest is that one is designed and one isn’t. Despite the fact that a user experience professional is deemed a ‘User experience designer’, can you really design an experience? For instance. If you can define an experience as happy, sad, bad or exciting then it’s not something you can design. The product or service however is, and with that you can influence or offer a catalyst toward the experience.

If we take into account the third pillar of an offering, the product, then we can look at a couple of different ways that these can be packed together. After all there are user experience people, product designers and service designers now, so most products and services do think about each. The experience will always be how you feel and what you perceive when doing something. The service is how you can use or do something with as much fluidity as possible. And the product is what you use. Whilst the experience, I believe, remains the encapsulating factor, both the service and product can switch roles depending on the intended outcome (ie what is ultimately being delivered). Of course not all offerings will have both a service and a product, so there are 4 ways to look at it.

Visual depicting the correlation of experience and service

The relationship between the experience and the service is a big focus right now, especially as ‘Service design’ becomes the corporate buzzword of the industry, much like UX was in the past 5 years. It’s really weird how these things, once on the corporate radar, become a sudden currency for any conversation. It’s like when ‘Pogs’ first came out, even if you didn’t know what they were or how to use them, as soon as people started talking about them, you wanted them. They are strategic principles in their own right, and the proper education and implementation need to be sought after in order to engage with consumers in the most promising way.

Effectively you want to put as much effort into your user experience and your service, strategically, as you can, as they should both work together in harmony to increase the overall value for your consumer.

So this is my belief of how these two fields co-exist and operate together, but they wouldn’t at all if it wasn’t for differing perceptions.

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