Design practices are additive not hierarchical.

How does Service Design relate to UX Design? UX Design to UI Design? Any design to any other design etc. It’s a common question but one that’s often very poorly answered. If you’re about to stop reading just remember that design practices are additive not hierarchical. UI design is it’s own thing, so is UXD so is any other type of design.* They work along side each other and bring their unique characteristic to solving the design challenge. But we get all these hierarchical diagrams that create an unhelpful understanding of how the design practices relate. They aren’t part of each other, one is not bigger than the others. We can do better!

Instead, think of design practices as a group of super heroes coming together save the world client; weirdo freaks on their own, beautiful and fearsome working together as a team. UX design PLUS UI design PLUS Service design PLUS User research PLUS Brand design PLUS whatever else is needed. Each bringing their own history, context and super-powers to collaboratively solve the current design challenge. And the role of well formed design teams is to assemble all the disciplines they need to bring their individual super-powers to overcome the evil baddy creative challenge.

(Pedantic but important note: Design disciplines are different than job titles. When I say UX Design, I mean the professional discipline of UX Design rooted in the context and history of UX Design. The same for Service Design, it has different roots than UX that bring different perspectives. And especially for UI Design with it’s rich history. One person might be able to cover multiple disciplines or the multiple people might have enough between them to cover a discipline none are experts in.)

Rant 1: Don’t ship your ego-chart

Why do we get hierarchical diagrams? If your way to explain design ends up with you saying you are the most important person in the room then perhaps check yourself. Drawing pictures of things is a power move and so are these hierarchical diagrams. First was UX making a land grab to ‘own’ UI design, now Service Design, CX, Product are all drawing circles around UX Design, planting their flag of authority. If I’m feeling generous I’d say hierarchical diagrams are an example of shipping the org chart, if I’m feeling less generous I’d say they are insecure designers shipping their ego-chart.

‘Look how important UX is it’s so much bigger and more important the little UI.’ On behalf of all the brilliant UI designers that I’ve collaborated with: stop that condescending bullshit!

Rant 2: It shows deep ignorance

If you think UI design is a subset of UX, please read up your history of design. Good UI design taps into the vast world and history of graphic communication arguably going back before humans existed (but for convenience let’s agree to leave it at 100 years and the Bauhaus). Typography, layout, colour, fashion etc. It then combines it all with a deep understanding of front end tech and makes it work on flexible responsive layouts. That’s big skills, refined craft, deep human history – it doesn’t fit inside UX design.

If we limit the experience of our users to the imagination of experience designers we’re doomed. UI design existing only as a subset of UX design ensures boring. Instead, embrace the richness of both disciplines, collaborate as equals, find unexpectedly exciting solutions.

It’s the same with UX design, Service design, CX, Product. Each are separate professional disciplines with different origin stories. It’s these origin stories – the unique culture of each – that shape how the disciplines frame the design challenge, subsuming one in another is drowning it’s identity and holding it’s creativity for ransom. Don’t do that.

*Not product design but that’s a whole other discussion.