Mindsets, Tools and Terminology of Experience Design

A wall full of post-its is the signature stock photo for experience design work.

Experience Design & Related Fields: A map

Design research is of premiere importance to the discipline and therefore overarches everything within this map.

It is deeply integrated into the creative process, making it very different from other fields’ versions of research.


These are a few of the mindsets popular with experience design practitioners.

Going out and simply talking to people is much harder than it seems. It takes time, energy, focus, and willingness to break desk-centric office routines. Pictured here is Dalma Kadocsa working on MyTreat, a project we pitched at the Innovate Finance design jam earlier this year.

To solve wicked problems, we need to merge our minds.

One individual’s brain just isn’t enough to absorb, process and synthesize all the rich information available (Moggridge, 2006). Moreover, one individual’s definition of “a good solution” may not meet another’s definition of “good,” especially with so many cultures combining. Experience designers know this, and therefore will generally work in deeply collaborative teams to maximize their effectiveness.


A list of tools frequently employed by experience designers.

This map, made by Hyper Island students (@davislevine on the L and @karakane_kk on the R) tracks the emotional journey of teens going through a mentorship program with a youth education nonprofit. The client kept this poster and hung it up in their office because they wanted to do a better job of keeping user needs at the forefront of their minds.

Getting to know just four or five individuals in-depth can yield more vivid, inspiring results than shallow information on large swaths of people.

The purpose of these interviews can be less about information and more about inspiration, a necessary fuel for innovative and creative design solutions (Cooper-Wright and Wakely, 2016).

Figure 1. This is an “infinite souvenir” containing a small amount of nuclear waste. The gadget is sold by nuclear energy companies to tourists visiting Cumbria, England. (Well no, not really, but that’s what makes it diegetic).

However, surveys aren’t the best form of research, as users often do things like fib, under/over critique or fail to remember (Kitson, 2016).

Analogous Experience An unorthodox research technique whose goal is to trigger a serendipitous “eureka moment” rather than traditional quantitative data. Many of history’s cleverest inventions have happened in the moments when a person switches contexts (say, from the physics lab to the hiking trail) and was inspired by a surprising analogy (Stanford University D.School, 2014). Experience designers studying hospital room stress, may try to precipitate such a surprise by embedding themselves with a NASCAR pit crew, or a team studying anaesthesiology may go for a scuba lesson (Bennet, 2012).

Figure 2. A co-creation session between a Hyper Island student team (@mayrakapteyn on the upper right) and high school students.

Experience designers know that they ought to design *with* and not *for* the populations they serve.

This is an excellent technique to realize that ideal.


Some lingo that can often be heard at conferences, in papers, books, and workshops dealing with experience design.

Figure 3. It’s become popular for restaurants to personalize an important service touchpoint — the bill — by putting the slip in a quirky, charming, or luxurious-feeling container.
This trampled “desire line” illustrates what pedestrians really wanted— different from what was built.

In Conclusion: The Future of Experience Design

Experience design is a discipline with little name recognition outside of a relatively small circle of experts.

Empathy experience: Try introducing yourself as an experience designer at this weekend’s dinner party and see how people react.

When I look at inspiring examples, such as how a company like Peerby helps neighbors share everyday goods like ladders and lawn mowers, or how a company like Red Ninja helps the elderly feel empowered to use the Internet, I calm down and remember that I am in the right place.

My best prediction is that the future of the field will continue to be somewhat of a patchwork.

There are experience designers working in government making tremendous progress in usability and transparency of government services. There are experience designers working at advertising agencies coming up with new and inventive ways to get customers excited about buying soft drinks. There are experience designers deeply specialized in making digital products more usable. There are experience designers tidying the tangle of physical, digital, public-facing and internal-facing service touchpoints. I don’t expect such a wide array of practitioners to ever cohere into a tidy, easily-explained cohort. I do expect for this ragtag crew of diverse professionals to continue using the tools, mindsets and terminologies described in this paper.

Maybe these lists are the only things that connect us as practitioners.

What’s interesting is that such a wide range of professionals can unanimously agree that these tools (interviews, journey maps, prototypes, etc) and mindsets (people come first, build to think, etc) are worthwhile. From advertisers to civil servants, tech entrepreneurs to primary school educators, many have agreed that these tools are well worth using, developing, and sharing. With such an enthusiastic and diverse chorus of adopters, these tools and their power speak for themselves.

  1. Bernard, R.H. and Bernard, H. (2011) Research methods in anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. 5th edn. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, U.S.
  2. Cooper-Wright, M. (2016) Understanding People, Hyper Island, Manchester UK 7 March.
  3. Cooper-Wright, M. and Wakely, K. (2016) Meeting People, Hyper Island, Manchester UK 14 March.
  4. Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2014) Speculative everything: Design, fiction, and social dreaming. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
  5. Eberle, B. (2008) Scamper: Creative games and activities for imagination development. United Kingdom: Prufrock Press.
  6. IDEO (2003) Ideo method cards: 51 ways to inspire design. San Francisco: William Stout.
  7. IDEO (2016) About. Available at: https://www.ideo.com/about/ (Accessed: 21 July 2016).
  8. Kitson, L. (2016) Experience Design, Hyper Island, Manchester UK 31 May.
  9. Moggridge, B. (2006) Designing interactions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 729.
  10. Nesta (no date) Resources: Fast Idea Generator. Available at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/resources/fast-idea-generator (Accessed: 21 July 2016).
  11. Newbery, P. and Farnham, K. (2013) Experience design: A framework for integrating brand, experience, and value. United States: Wiley & Sons Canada, Limited, John, pp. 69.
  12. Ross, J.A. (2011) ‘Dunne & Raby’s Future Foragers’, Icon Magazine.
  13. Service Design Show (2016) Tackling the biggest challenge within design education / Lauren Currie / episode #5. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bPlAtNfKkM (Accessed: 21 July 2016).
  14. Soegaard, M. and Dam, R.F. (no date) Progressive disclosure: The glossary of human computer interaction. Available at: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/book/the-glossary-of-human-computer-interaction/progressive-disclosure (Accessed: 21 July 2016).
  15. Stanford University D.School (2014) Analogous inspiration: How to get great ideas from the most unlikely places. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJT6YMZbHDk (Accessed: 19 March 2016).
  16. Sterling, B. (2016) ‘Patently Untrue: Fleshy defibrillators and synchronised baseball are changing the future’,Wired Magazine (July).
  17. Sterling, B. (2009) ‘Design fiction’, interactions, 16(3), p. 20. doi: 10.1145/1516016.1516021.
  18. Stickdorn, M., Schneider, J., Andrews, K. and Lawrence, A. (2012) This is service design thinking: Basics, tools, cases. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers B.V.
  19. Thaler, R.H. and Sunstein, C.R. (2009) Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. London: Penguin Books.
  20. Thaler, R.H., Sunstein, C.R. and Balz, J.P. (2010) Choice Architecture. Available at: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~baron/475/choice.architecture.pdf (Accessed: 10 July 2016).
  21. Walter, A. (2011) Designing for Emotion. New York, New York: A Book Apart, pp. 33.
  1. ExperienceThis_Showcase on Instagram (2016) Apps for Good team in Bolton. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/BGuDKXHBASB/?taken-by=experiencethis_showcase (Accessed 22 July 2016).
  2. Joako_pmv on Instagram (2016) La factura en un bote. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/BH986cQjAVD (Accessed 22 July 2016).
  3. morganhopephillips on Instagram (2016) #desirelines absolute classic. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/BHmGevWAp2R/ (Accessed 26 September 2016).

Digital Experience Design

Thoughts, ideas and visions of Experience Design fanatics from @Hyperisland and industry friends


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katie shelly

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Service design, social impact & illustration

Digital Experience Design

Thoughts, ideas and visions of Experience Design fanatics from @Hyperisland and industry friends