Perspectives in Experience Design

Designing for Customer, Employee, User and Brand Experiences

Note: this post has been originally published on blurringboundaries.eu, a rather deserted blog now moving to MEDIUM to get some company.

Last week, Jesse James Garrett gave his talk on Design for Engagement at UX Paris. He showed us a new model that puts the goal engaging people in the centre of User Experience, and differentiates between engaging with perception, action, cognition or emotion.

I don’t want to delve too much into the question what an experience is or whether it can be designed, but rather whether and why it is a user experience. In the Q&A after the talk, exactly this question — “Why ‘User’?” came up. Jesse’s response was that while he is uncertain what exactly differentiates User Experience from Customer Experience or similar concepts, his hunch is that the concept of Use is a quite important notion for the field.

So, what is the difference between these things, and how do they interrelate? For me, the word Experience in the context of Design work refers to the way people experience the world, and making everything we produce fit into their lives. The word preceding Experience is about the perspective you use when talking about someone’s experience, the roles and the scope you want to focus on. For an enterprise, this translates to the ways it chooses to appear in people’s lives. Let’s look at some of the concepts floating around — and please be aware that these are fairly personal views:

Customer Experience
The experience of your customers with your products, services, communications, operations etc., allowing to look at the big picture of all enterprise elements comprising these experiences. It involves touchpoints via automated channels such as web sites or self-service, but also human interactions. It includes not just the product itself, nor just the things around its delivery or just the customer service — it is about everything that makes the relationship between an organization and its customers. While the customer is at the centre of this view, a Customer Experience initiative needs to look at everyone involved in this relationship, including front-line staff and other actors. This of course is complicated by the fact that “customer” today may also refer to other internal departments, or even job candidates, depending on the particular perspective of the party commissioning design work.

Employee Experience
This perspective is looking at the experience of people inside an organisation, its staff — an is increasingly present in modern enterprises in one way or another. At eda.c we gained a lot of insight into the particularities of this perspective, after working for years on subjects such as the Digital Workplace, Intranets or professional tools for specific job roles like Airline Pilots. Working on an Employee Experience involves looking at the entirety of peoples’s activities and their relationship to the enterprise. It a way, a good Employee Experience can be seen as a prerequisite to achieve a good Customer Experience, since it is often employee behaviour that makes or breaks a customer relationship. In both cases, designers have to bring together strategic business goals or choices with the aspirations and characteristic of people they are designing for. Some approaches such as Service Design already see both staff and customers as equally important target groups for design work.

User Experience
A User Experience perspective is about somebody using something, such as a product, a service or a system of some kind — and that system can be quite large and complex. Just as Customer and Employee Experience, it is about the quality of the relationship resulting from this exchange. For me, the key difference is that there is a more or less well-defined thing that is being used, which brings design work on a User Experience topic much closer to the artefacts and environments we produce in the end. While it is clear that whatever is the object in question is only a small part of people’s experience, at least we know what we are supposed to be working on: a product, a web site, an app, a museum, or an intersection of streets, designed to be used. This is also visible in another fact: the disciplines associated with the term User Experience are (at least to date) less business-focused and more looking at the way people deal with technology and digitally supported services, such as Information Architecture or Interaction Design.

Brand Experience
For me this seems to be most recent addition to the canon of Experience Design. Unlike the other concepts, it is not the people addressed by a design work describing the perspective (the word preceding “experience”), but the Brand of the party commissioning it. This brand then represents the role an enterprise of some sort wants to play in people’s lives, and the experience resulting from their interactions with it. Consequently, a Brand Experience initiative has to look at the entire range of actors in the enterprise ecosystem, and influence all elements that make the brand, all the time and everywhere. How is it like to buy products, to work for them, to invest in their stock, to supply materials to them? Some relationships might be considered more important (Prospects) than others (Job Candidates), but nevertheless they take place in the same experiential space. The brand appears in this space in many forms and roles, and its behaviour, communication and offerings are subject to design work for Brand Experience.

Experience Design in an enterprise context is about designing whatever needs to be designed to influence human experiences, and thereby transform people’s relationship to the enterprise. I see no value in saying one perspective is part of the other — for example, it has been suggested that User Experience is a subset of Customer Experience. My guess is, as in most cases, it depends! Consider these cases:

  • Sometimes a Customer Experience comprises several touchpoints, several User Experiences so to speak.
    But the User Experience of one system in turn might be relevant to several roles and their experiences, like a Customer and an Employee Experience — think of a web site or a space used by both staff and customers.
  • A Brand Experience can be seen as everywhere, since a brand appears so ubiquitously all over the place in an enterprise ecosystem.
    But then again many brands play a role in our lives today — think of all the fancy Web 2.0 stuff you use on your Smartphone. In that case, many Brand Experiences are part of one User Experience.

However, I find it vital to make one final remark: if taken seriously, no perspective in Experience Design can be restricted to the digital sphere, to the scope of your latest brief, or other more or less artificial boundaries. It is about human reality, and it is just as large and complex as this reality happens to be. And the strategic, business-critical question of how an enterprise wants to appear in this reality is what Experience Design practitioners need to answer. Our knowledge seems to be split across multiple communities — User Experience, Customer Experience, Service Design, Enterprise Architecture and Branding to name some. And it’s really good that these separate groups start talking to each other.

Other’s thoughts on that topic:

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