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How experience design can be so different

Last year, I wrote an article about what the difference is between user experience design and experience design and what the impact of both could be. Some bold statements argued that UX was mainly about improving existing (digital) products, where EX or ED (Experience Design) is product innovation and creating products from scratch. Of course, design this year is not the same as last year, so that leads to some interesting new thoughts for me. The reason to reflect my own ideas and thoughts is to show the world how different (user) experience design can be within companies and in people skills. Both are defined with the terminology ‘experience’, where the user’s experience is prior in the design process and their behavior will demand constant change to the solution. In my current position at AKQA Amsterdam, I am working on two sides of the medal from day to day.

This article is by no means concluding and doesn’t claim to be the one and only approach or way to do it. I am stating that the following two chapters are different experience design methods to solve/improve problems. You can use these through different kind of projects and state what you can expect from different kind of UX designers, skills sets and projects.

(User) experience design. The strategy level.

On the other hand, there is experience design that is solving problems on a strategic level. What does that mean, on a strategic level? It’s like defining the strategy of a company — consultants and analyst are trying to grasp the market. They analyze how the markets behave, how businesses are changing and consult what companies should change to adapt. This a sustainable vision based on scientifically, data-driven research.

This kind of user experience design is actually the basis of how design should evolve through something tangible or digital. An interesting point of view is explained in a book called ‘The New Everyday’ about ambient intelligence. Ambient intelligence is referring to IoT, where devices that are controlled by data and technology are sensitive to the presence of people. The authors say that experience design is “the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, omnichannel journeys, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solution”(2). In order to define this practice and design a solution, within experience design (as in all forms of strategy), research is key. By conducting user research up front, you create a deep understanding of how people think and act. A couple of aspects that are essential for this process are:

  • User research: context mapping, ethnographic research
  • Ideation/opportunity mapping
  • Experience flow/service blueprint
  • Ecosystem thinking

I would like to call this strategic experience design (SXD), where you use design thinking principles and methods as the starting point of your process. An important note is to keep reminding yourself about your human-centred insights and design directions on behalf of them. SXD is about two aspects: experience design as a ‘why’ strategy (research) and ecosystem thinking.

Experience design — the ‘why’

Experience design as the why strategy is the reasoning why a client or company needs certain new breath. By conducting an extensive user research among all your potential stakeholders (users, clients, third-parties etc.) you can define the deeper understanding what stakeholders behaviors are and especially, you know why they want certain things. This way of thinking is retrieved from Sinek’s (3) heavily used TEDx talk about ‘why, how, what’ principle. And experience design can apply this theory to elevate design. Ask clients or stakeholders why they do the things they do, which need to lead to how and what they want to produce. An interesting methodology is the ‘5 Why’ (4) — an iterative technique to define the cause-and-effect relationship underlying a specific problem. By asking over and over again ‘why’, you can find underlying motivations and behaviors.

Ecosystem thinking

Ecosystem thinking should be the next action of your discussions and briefing with clients. Client X asks for a new website, because it doesn’t fit within their current communication or product portfolio. However, it’s essential to know what this new website is representing within your company’s ecosystem. The company’s ecosystem will reflect all the user/stakeholders touchpoints and how the website will consolidated within all this touchpoints, which can vary from social media channels to apps. Ecosystem thinking is used to define what are stakeholders ‘real’ problems and if that website is strategically the next best action for their current strategic vision.

(User) experience design. The technical episode.

The Oxford academic has collapsed all the different executions of user experience design into a generalized definition (which I do not completely agree on): “UX, UEX, UED or XD is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product”(1). In here, user experience design comes to me like A/B testing that’s extensively done by or create button logistics down car manufacturing websites. You are improving a website or an (web) app by designing by how you, as a designer, think that it should be. With user testing, you can iterate on that certain matter.

‘Wireframy’. Technical user experience design.

This episode of user experience design pushes itself more towards how design can be implemented by developers. Different kind of aspects that you are going through on technical user experience design are more focussed on how developers can adapt your thinking when the building starts. By testing your assumptions on users/stakeholders, you can elevate the product and the user experience. UX in this kind of context is in-depth annotations of how design logic & visualizations needs to be used through the website. A couple of aspects essential for this process are:

  • Information architecture
  • A/B testing/wireframes/prototypes
  • Design systems: templates, pages, page components, forms etc.
  • UI patterns/components: buttons, icons, dropdowns etc.
  • Transitions and animations

I would like to call this productional experience design (PXD), because it’s the first step within development of a product or service. Question yourself here, if people are using your product, how do they want to interact with it and how do you tap into existing gestures and behaviors.

Design from on to another

A simple model of how strategic experience design is waved into production experience design.

In the end, both of the methods, PXD or SXD can be used on itself, but always consider to use strategic experience design before your start productional experience design. It sounds obvious, but define what kind of role your product will have in other touchpoints in your company’s stream and, more important, in the market. And the other way around, design thinking is wise, but start design building synchronical, so you are can see how your strategy can live out there.


(1) Kujala, Sari; Roto, Virpi; Väänänen-Vainio-Mattila, Kaisa; Karapanos, Evangelos; Sinneläa, Arto (2011). “UX Curve: A method for evaluating long-term user experience”. Interacting With Computers. 23 (5): 473–483. doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.06.005. Retrieved 20 April 2014.

(2) Aarts, Emile H. L.; Stefano Marzano (2003). The New Everyday: Views on Ambient Intelligence. 010 Publishers. p. 46. ISBN 978–90–6450–502–7.

(3) Sinek, Simo (2009). How great leaders inspire action? TEDxPuget Sound. URL:

(4) “Five Whys Technique”. Asian Development Bank. February 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2012.