Experience Design DIY

How Experience Design can help your business find new markets. Understanding business problems and user needs are skills all Experience Designers possess. These skills can unlock the natural design ability in non-designers and organisation.

Hardware stores hold an element of mystery and charm for me, being the son of a builder I spent a lot of time walking the aisles and looking at all the strange objects on the shelves and I had no idea what they were for, I still don’t. When a tradesman visits a hardware store, he knows exactly what he needs to get the job done.

Builders Warehouse on the other hand is for complete novices, who have no business attempting a DIY job, people like me. All those mysterious bits and pieces are assembled into recognisable objects like garden fences, shelving and irrigation systems. Things that with a little help from Google I can get done over a weekend. I get to feel like I’m handy despite all the evidence to the contrary and they make a healthy profit off my lack of ability. They make me and other people like me feel like we are capable of doing DIY and that’s the beauty of the service they offer, it’s DIY designed for any level.

Woolworths provide quality convenience food which makes it easy to prepare a tasty meal, Discovery Health encourages people to live a healthy life while Jamie Oliver built a career on teaching novices how to cook quick, delicious, healthy meals. By simplifying a process that was previously perceived to be too complicated these businesses unlocked the skills of their customers.

There is a shortage of Experience Designers, We could maximise the effect we have on our environments by demystifying the process and tools we use. We need to give non-designers the confidence and ability the same way Builders Warehouse gives would-be DIYers the tools to sharpen their skills.

Facing vulnerability

I have wasted a lot of time throughout my career because of vulnerability or the fear of failure. Hillman Curtis once said that there are few things scarier than a blank page. He was talking about starting a design project with no clue on the first step. Your ability to deal with the vulnerability of not knowing is what turns a good designer into a great one. Curtis got me interested in the design process, being conscious of how you solve a design problem so that you can replicate that success in the future.

Put a pen in someone’s hand and ask them to draw and they will tell you they aren’t an artist.

Creativity is often viewed as a supernatural skill, but these valuable problem-solving skills can be learned and applied to any type of problem. Designers are known for what they make; chairs, posters, buildings, and apps, but the design discipline is a thought process, a way of learning and understanding.

Being aware of my design process allows me to break it down into tasks and assign it to my team based on their skill level. For the senior Experience Designers in my team, it’s a guideline or an agreed method of how the team should work. For juniors, it provides priority, order, and direction. It’s a roadmap for skills development, once someone has mastered one step, I can give them more responsibility without overwhelming them.

I’ve watched this approach in practice my whole life, my father trained artisans for 30 years, turning novices into master welders, builders, and woodworkers. He gradually developed their skills from the ground up.

Perspective is king

Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Poisonwood Bible tells a story of an overly zealous American Missionary who takes his family to the Congo in the 1960’s. The book explores how both cultures try to save each other and fail. The American father is attempting to save the souls of the African savages, while the villagers are trying to save the hapless Americans from the harsh realities of jungle living.

Inclusive design is a movement which aims to create design teams that are made of individuals from diverse backgrounds so that they can give a voice to previously alienated communities. Both designers and business owner’s assumptions can be incredibly costly. Varying perspectives protect us from our own narrow assumptions.

Ideally, a design team is made up of individuals designing for environments and scenarios they have personally experienced. Employee’s knowledge expands way beyond their job titles and giving them a chance to contribute to the business makes them feel connected to the business’ development and growth.

Experience Design shortcuts

There is a skills arms race going on in corporate South Africa, large numbers of highly skilled designers have abandoned agency life in favor of big corporates. Both experienced, battle-hardened creatives, as well as the next generation of designers, are being snapped up to staff UCD teams.

These skills come at a premium and not every business can afford them. Building a UCD culture will give any business valuable customer insights and a competitive edge. Most UCD’s will testify to the fact that it’s a discipline, which requires a large amount of self-education, but there are subtleties, which are learned with experience.

Experience design is about learning not validation

Do you remember the last time you had a great conversation, the person you were talking to listened intently, they laughed at all your jokes and made you feel like your opinion really mattered? Now, contrast that with a time when you were having a conversation with someone who spoke over you or was just waiting for you to finish so that they could carry on speaking. It probably left you feeling frustrated and irritated. You need to create a conversation where the person you are interviewing feels that their opinion is the only thing that matters at that moment.

It’s about them

Resist the temptation to argue or defend your work. Remove your judgment and opinion and focus completely on understanding their opinion. Welcome and encourage honest criticism, ask them why they feel that way and what could you do to change their opinion.

Dig a little deeper

Don’t assume you know what they are trying to say. Ask them follow-up questions to make sure you accurately understand their opinion. You need to understand the meaning behind your user’s comments. If someone says they hate Caesar salad they may just hate the anchovies. You don’t necessarily need to take it off the menu, just remove one ingredient.


When I was a Visual Designer, I believed that I was finished when the design could no longer be improved or when I ran out of time. It made every project painful and I was constantly unhappy with the work I created.

Minimum viable products or MVP’s changed my whole perception on design. A life-changing solution, which satisfies all the user and business needs, is the end goal. It’s like training for a marathon, you start with a walk around the block and many months later you end up running over 50 km’s. An MVP is like learning to run the first kilometer.

MVP’s have made me realise that ‘complete’ is a misnomer, the design is constantly changing and the nature of experience design is to learn-as-you-go. You release an experiment, if it succeeds that’s great. If it fails, that’s ok too but only if you can learn something from that failure. MVP’s help you make design, operational and financial trade-offs; they protect the design team and the business.

Designers as enablers

I recently finished listening to the High-Resolution Podcast series. Bobby Ghoshal and Jared Erondu interviewed 25 masters from the design industry, I would strongly recommend listening to the series if you work in the industry.

What surprised me were some of the more critical observations of the design industry and they made me look at my beliefs about the role of design in business. “They just don’t get it” is not a good enough excuse and what barriers the design industry has created that alienates people who aren’t part of it. Designing in an inclusive and transparent way removes the obstacles for people who are not designers.

Tools like design systems and design thinking are already moving design out of studios. As the value of design continues to grow so will the demand for simpler design tools. The partnership between business and design is only going to get more symbiotic. Experience designers benefit from including colleagues, domain experts, and users in their creative process. Business’ can include both their staff and customers in their decision-making process.

Change can be painful, but a byproduct of change is growth, we can fight the change and end up being swept away or we can embrace change and enjoy riding the wave.