Experience Architecture

Looking beyond singular states, accounting for the blind spots between our static wires and designs. Creating cohesive, multi-screen experiences with responsible and evolved experience architecture.


Not long ago the term “Experience Design” didn't exist; as the litany of screens and mediums have grown, the demands on designers have grown with it.

Today many creatives are acquiring skill sets that go beyond traditional design, focusing on prototyping, developing, wireframing, motion design as well as visual design, typography and branding.

While these new, multi-disciplined, better-rounded designers are a healthy iteration for the design industry, they still tend to focus on singular states — wireframes and static comps. Designing each view and wireframe with little thought to what happens between them or to bringing a cohesive experience to the system as a whole.

Early prototyping of Skippy the Stone Skipping Robot my team and I built at 11inc.

Prototyping has begun to make significant strides towards remedying this problem, integrating the I.O.T. and new digital frontiers, however I think it’s just the beginning. I believe that the role for designers needs to evolve further, that the concepts found in development, architecture and motion design are now required skills for crafting high-quality experiences for mobile, desktop, wearable devices and beyond. It’s not just about using new and fantastical tools, but changing our mindset about how we approach the entire role of experience design.

I foresee design/experience leadership evolving towards Experience Architecture [EA] —where the responsibility of XD leadership is to help steward a cohesive experience across nearly every touchpoint a consumer has with a product or platform. Driving a mindset that individual views and wireframes are essentially keyframes of an experience and we constantly work towards defining the experience sequences between those keyframes. An EA’s focus should be on creating a cohesive experience across all screens through the elimination of sudden change, experience centered design driven by thoughtful research and an ecosystem wide design system.

Following are high-level principles, in no particular order, I use to define what Experience Architecture is to me, as well as insights I’ve found along the way to defining it.


Principle One:

Frame It Up Tightly


“If there were no constraints, it’s not design — it’s art.” ~ Matias Duarte

There is an age old myth that creatives need a large canvas, total freedom to create. Yet every decent creative manager — as well as many creatives themselves — know this to be false. This realization, that without boundaries there’s no catalyst to break through them, is at the core of this principle.

A problem neatly defined is a problem half-solved.

When designers hit a wall or lack focus or get into trouble creatively, it’s not because they can’t find the solution — it’s because they can’t see the problem. Meaning that a tightly framed project will create energy and a wide-open one will sap it.

Experience Architecture takes on many challenges — multiple screen sizes, product unboxing, application design, experiential, retail, etc — it’s important that each challenge be framed up tightly in a clear brief, so that a clear focus on experience design continuity can be achieved.

Frame It Up Tightly — maintain continuity through tightly framed experience solutions.


Principle Two:

No Jump Cuts


It’s said that nothing feels more unnatural than a sudden change, because sudden change just doesn’t exist in the real world.

A lot of people consider animation to be decorative, generally viewed as a nice-to-have, tacked on to the end of the project, if ever. This is prescriptive of a generation who still remember the term Flashterbation — a time when an overwhelming amount of useless animation and movement tended to confuse and detach the user from the experience.

google.com/design

When the view changes or a user interacts with an element, change happens — usually requiring the user to reevaluate everything in order to understand what has changed as well as why. Small and well timed transitions that provide affordance to the actions taken by the user — helping to provide context to what is changing as well as why — should be used to limit these experience jump cuts.

Actions taken by the user requires a reciprocal response from the interface.

Animated responses from the interface should be efficient and coherent, primarily used to maintain experience continuity by eliminating jump cuts as well as helping to guide the user’s focus. Additionally, motion should connect a user’s actions to the corresponding change in the interface, thus improving their understanding of the relationships between the two views.

google.com/design

While still important, the level of delight and decoration that motion and animation bring to an experience should be a product of it’s primary purpose — helping users to better understand the intention, relationship, reason and outcome of interactions.

Resources:

No Jump Cuts — Use motion to provide context to what’s changing and why.


Principle Three:

Cohesion Is King


The King is dead! Long live the King!

Over the years the practice of Experience Design has had many Kings — the user, IA, the client, RWD, motion, mobile first, hamburger menus, etc… however I believe the foreseeable future will see the true King come forward to grab the throne: Cohesion.

Call alert distributed across all connected screens via Apple’s iOS8/Yosemite
Experience Architecture is not RWD.

I don’t need to go into the benefits of Responsive Web Design (RWD), as I’m sure you’ve read more then enough on the topic. I myself know RWD deeply and consider myself a major proponent of it. However, since we are exploring the evolution of multi-point experiences and how Experience Architecture can work towards addressing it, it’s necessary to note RWD’s benefits as well as its shortcomings.

For the last few years, RWD has been the only appropriate answer to the multi-screen problem that’s presented itself. However, the key issue with RWD is that the solution ends with the browser. Experience Architecture needs to push for cohesion across not just browsers stretched across multiple screens, but across nearly every touchpoint the end consumer has with a product or service — web based, app based, packaging, experiential, retail, commerce, OOH, physical , etc.

But be wary! It’s easy to lull yourself and team into a sense of ease and confidence that your design system can simply be carbon copied across every experience. It’s as important to avoid senseless replication of design elements and systems as a solution. The end goal is an undivided experience, where the affordance to change in the experience matches the context of the experience’s environment.

Establishing cohesive experiences in a landscape where users are increasingly comfortable transitioning between mediums is demanding. However when a holistic, contextually cohesive experience with limited jump cuts is made available to users, their natural understanding of a product or service’s intention, tone and functionality become easily enjoyed and understood.

Cohesion is King —The end goal is an undivided experience, where the affordance to change in the experience matches the context of the experience’s environment.


In summary, the goal of Experience Architecture is to deliver a seamless, consistent user experience that is contextually relevant to the reason why and how the consumer interacts with the product or service.

Admittedly, this is a big goal with a lot of challenges in-front of even the smallest companies. Regardless, the ones that put the effort and focus behind these types of cohesive, articulate experiences will usher in the new era of successful user experiences.

I look forward to your thoughts!

Thank you for your time.

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